Ultimate Beginners Guide to Virtual Reality Storytelling

What is VR?

Virtual Reality [VR] is a magical alternate universe where all of your wishes come true and where pain and suffering don’t exist. Just kidding. Ok, seriously VR is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Unlike traditional user interfaces, VR places the user inside an immersive experience. Instead of viewing a screen in front of them, users are “immersed” and able to interact with 3D worlds.

Who is this for?

This guide is for everyone who is dipping their toes into Virtual Reality storytelling and filmmaking. This includes VR game developers, filmmakers and amateur enthusiasts who are discovering the freedom of the new medium.

Types of VR

Virtual Reality comes in different forms. Either Computer Generated Images (CGIs) and display live images from the physical or real world. There are Heads Up Displays [HUDs], or Heads Mounted Displays [HMDs] that can superimpose CGIs onto the real-world . This function is often referred as mixed or Augmented Reality.

What do I need to know about VR Storytelling vs Traditional Storytelling?

Virtual Reality is now firmly established. The technology that we have been craving for is now at our fingertips; We have the ability to spread the word and show the people the freedom of the new medium, and we can make them comfortable with VR to use the right way. This means establishing new routines and especially showing them what they can do in the world you have created for them.

Before you start filming… I mean creating stories

There seems to be a confusion if VR filmmaking is possible. Most of the confusion comes from not understanding the difference between 360 videos and VR. The simple differential factor is one element — Interactivity.


Hundreds of VR projects are being developed by various artists and studios; I’ve collected few core principles, or should we say axioms, that you will have to take into consideration before you even start shooting.

  • Think of yourself more as an influencer then a director. It’s all you can do, because you’re not showing your audience just a frame but a world.
  • The core of VR is experience and presence. As a director, you’ve got the huge responsibility to keep your viewer engaged. Your viewer can’t switch the channel or look the other way — the VR device is mounted onto his or her head, and something major has to occur for him or her to pull the HMD off.
  • VR Storytelling is a lot like being in a video game.

Tip 1: Ease it in

The first goal we have to achieve with the viewer is making him feel comfortable. Oculus Story Studio recommends 30-second introduction video. This will give the viewer time to adapt to the headset first and familiarize themselves with the new medium.


Tip 2: Guide the Viewer’s Attention… Or not!

You will have to decide beforehand how do you want to treat your viewer. Would you like to guide him through the story and lead her where to look? Should we discourage a viewer from looking somewhere else?

Tip 3: Presence

Total immersion is often the end goal of VR storytelling. The first obstacle you need to overcome is a functional technology. This means you have to prevent or repair the stitching issues; use the highest quality picture possible and the right sound equipment. The last thing you want is to cause headaches or nausea to you viewers and thus ruining the chance to show him your world.


Tip 4: Pacing

A sudden shift from flat screen frame to a 3D immersive world can be confusing and overwhelming at first. If you’ve done a good job with settling in your viewer and making him or she feel comfortable you’ve completed the first goal.

Tip 5: Conditional Storytelling

In “Mass Effect”, a popular Sci-Fi Role Playing game, we are put in the role of Commander Shepard’s point of view. We are responsible for our spaceship, the SSV Normandy, its crew members, and choosing which mission to tackle. As we progress through the game, we are forced to make difficult decisions. The decisions carried huge consequences — a death of a crew member, genocide of a certain race, even the destruction of the whole planet.

Mass Effect. Make a choice and face the consequences…
Will you take the red or the blue pill?

Tip 6: Experiment

VR is an exciting sandbox where we find endless tools and tricks to play with. The tips so far are not the rules of filmmaking, but rather suggestions. However if our tips were the rules, we should break or bend them any way you can.

Tip 7: Test, Test, Test

Product and services are always tested before release into the public. So should your VR creation. Since we have established a developmental l relationship with our work, we are not the right person for testing our design. We might be too critical or forgiving of our creation.

This expression is usually a good sign.

Recommended Reads

Follow this person for more VR Storytelling goodness:

Jessica Brillhart — Principal Filmmaker for VR at Google

Growth Marketer, Perennial Student and Eggs Benedict Aficionado. I like barbells and growth at dgajsek.com. Twitter: @dgajsek.

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