Dear Angelica has been a VR favorite at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. We sat down at Sundance with the creators, Saschka Unseld and Wesley Allsbrook, to talk a little bit about how they created one of the best VR stories to date.
A VR Story
Storytelling gets thrown around a lot in VR. It sounds good in theory. Every new medium provides new ways to tell stories. But virtual reality is such a dramatic shift in the user’s role that, in practice, many immersive narrative experiences often feel too voyeuristic or interactive to be labeled as such.
Dear Angelica is an exception. If you have an Oculus Rift, check it out.
The story starts with a young woman writing a letter to her mother, Angelica. As the story unfolds, the daughter falls asleep and you realize she’s coping with the death of her mother, a famous and heroic actress. She keeps her Mother alive through the memories and movies she left behind.
As she recalls the memories and films imprinted upon her, you stand in the middle of a constantly morphing world of her illustrated consciousness. As virtual brush strokes flow in and out all around, you’re left in a constant dreamlike trance. It would be difficult to recount where the illustrations begin and end if not for the narrators, Geena Davis and Mae Whitman.
Created by Oculus Story Studio
Dear Angelica is the third release from Oculus Story Studio. It was conceived back in 2015 by Director Unseld shortly after he, Max Planck, and Edward Saatchi announced the launch of Oculus Story Studio at the Sundance Film Festival and released their first VR short, Lost.
As the renaissance of VR creation at Sundance continues, so does Oculus Story Studio’s commitment to embed themselves in the Sundance community to pioneer narrative VR. They’ve done so not only by creating these original pieces of content, but also sharing the knowledge and tools they use to make them for creators and developers to build on.
Illustrated in Quill
Last year at Sundance, Oculus Story Studio hosted an event to give everyone a sneak peek at what they were working on, the beginning illustrations for Dear Angelica. Art Director Wesley Allsbrook took the stage to give a live demonstration of Quill, their new VR creation tool.
Quill was created specifically for Wesley to free her from having to draw on a flat page and allow her to illustrate directly in VR. Wesley worked with Oculus visual effects supervisor, Iñigo Quilez, to build the tool at the same time they created Dear Angelica. It’s a pretty great microcosm of where we are in VR. We’re all building the plane as we fly it.
The fact that the entire story was created inside of virtual reality is probably the main reason it works so well. In Allsbrook’s own words, “If you have an opportunity to stage in VR, to draw in VR, and to iterate really quickly, your ideas of what you can make are so different from your preconceptions.”
Narrated by Geena Davis
Unseld said that as they built Angelica’s character, the team often asked themselves which actress she would be in real life. Someone who kept coming up was Geena Davis for her badassery in films like Thelma Louise and The Long Kiss Goodnight. She had just the right spirit for the woman-forward art piece.
It wasn’t until they were halfway through with the project that they gave real thought to the voice of Angelica. They were able to get a meeting and show Davis the legacy of some of the movies she made in VR. She was deeply moved and she was in.
When they showed her a WIP version of the piece, she was excited to see the homage to Thelma and Louise. Then Unseld said she stopped talking, got really quiet, and just started crying. As he told us this in the interview, he teared up a little himself.
Stay tuned for more Sundance VR content and interviews through the rest of the month.