The Ferryman Collective were back at SXSW presenting another immersive theatre piece in virtual reality, but this time they were translating an adapted a piece called Find WiiLii that was originally produced in South Korea by GiiÖii Immersive Studio. Set in a far-future, science-fiction VRChat world, the creators wanted to invite participants to do more open world explorations this section of a nostalgic city that recreates architecture from a section of Seoul. This piece also explore staging of immersive characters that are much more dynamic in how they move through a space to the point where there are some literal chase scenes and elevation changes that mirror a building and culmination of dramatic tension. Overall, Find WiiLii is a synthesis of best practices from immersive theatre, but is also start to explore the types of interactive, participatory, and immersive qualities of a story that could only happen within VR.
I had a chance to catch up with Whitton Frank, who is the director of the English-version of Find WiiLii, as well as an Immersive Producer, Performer, and member of Ferryman Collective. Also joining us were Jay Kim & Hyewon Lee, Executive Producers from GiiÖii Immersive Studio. We talk about the unique international collaboration between the Ferryman Collective and GiiÖii Immersive Studio as GiiÖii licensed Welcome to Respite as announced back on April 6, 2022. This lead to an international collaboration of translating immersive experiences across cultures, and then GiiÖii invited the Ferryman Collective to help translate Find WiiLii from it’s original Korean version into English as it was accepted into SXSW. We talk about this unique collaboration, design process, and their further innovations of the immersive theatre format in VR in this discussion.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing and the structures and forms of immersive storytelling. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voices of VR. So continuing on my 24-episode series of looking at different experiences at SXSW, today's episode is about Find Willie, episode 1, The Gatecrasher, which is a VR chat immersive theater piece co-production from Studio Gioi as well as the Fairman Collective. Studio GEOE is based out of South Korea, and they actually licensed Welcome to Respite, which was originally an immersive theater piece that then got translated into VR, and then in that VR translation then got translated into different productions that were happening in South Korea that was being facilitated by Studio GEOE. So the Ferryman Collective has had other immersive theater productions that have shown at both Venice Film Festival as well as South by Southwest and Tribeca. So last year they had Gumball Dreams that had a chance to catch up with folks from the Ferryman Collective. And this year with Finding Willie, this was originally produced by Studio Gui out of South Korea, an original IP that was originally in Korean but then got translated into English by the Ferryman Collective actors at South by Southwest. So I had a chance to check out this piece ahead of the festival because, you know, it's an hour long piece and I could do it from the comforts of my home. And so, yeah, just to see all the different ways that they're using the affordances of this open world exploration that they were really leaning into in this particular piece that give audience members an ability to go out and explore a little bit, but then be corralled back into an overall journey as you're taking through these places and have these different interactions that you're doing, as well as have different dramatic theatrical elements at the end with like escape and chase scene, as well as like this kind of culmination of using the elevation and space to mirror different aspects of a climactic dimension of the narrative that is being told. And so we kind of unpack a lot of those things in this international collaboration that's happening between the Fehrman Collective and Studio GUI on today's episode, The Voices of VR Podcast. So this interview with Witton, Jay, and Haywon happened on Wednesday, March 15th, 2023 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:26.444] Whitton Frank: I'm Witten Frank and I started my VR career as a performer with Tender Claws and The Under Presents and then their production of The Tempest and then I was invited to join Ferryman Collective by Deirdre Lyons in 2021 since which time I've been mainly a producer and performer and then this year I was given the privilege of directing, for my first time, a VR production, which was Find Willy with the fabulous Korean company, Gioi.
[00:02:54.459] Jay Kim: Hi, I'm Jay Kim. I work as a film festival creator for several years in South Korea, and we found a studio called Gioi three years ago. And we produced several projects, and some of them were invited by international festivals. And this year, our latest project, Find Willy, is set in South by Southwest. And also, we are collaborating with the Paramount Collective's team to make an English version of it.
[00:03:27.850] Hyewon Lee: Hello, my name is Hyewon Lee. I'm a producer and CEO of Kiyoi Immersive Studio from Korea, and I'm also executive producer of Fine Willy. My previous VR piece, Carving With Memories, Lee Hyang Jung, also selected SXSW 2022, and my studio Kiyoi founded in 2020. And we produced missing pictures, collaborate with international partners, and also carving with memories and find Willie. We've been exploring the immersive medium as a creative form to make more audiences immersed in a story-driven world.
[00:04:14.294] Kent Bye: Perfect. And maybe you could each give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into working with virtual reality.
[00:04:21.978] Whitton Frank: Sure. I'm an actor by trade. I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University from their School of Creative Arts and also their School of Humanities. And I've lived in Los Angeles working as an actor in stage, film, and then also more recently in voiceover, mainly audiobooks and podcasts. But I think, as with most of my life, the things that led up to me becoming a part of VR and falling in love with it really was a series of happy accidents. Seeing a friend of mine who is a script writer who suggested that I audition for this company, Tender Claws, for this crazy project where they wanted to have live actors in a video game and really knowing nothing about it. and getting to discover this incredible creative world that seemed to draw on a lot of different skills that I had gained over the course of my career as a performer, and then gifted me the opportunity to use them in a completely new art form. So, yeah, it feels like I've been preparing for this for my entire career.
[00:05:31.948] Jay Kim: My major was film directing in Korean National University of Art. And I started a career not as a director, but as a producer. I joined some producing of feature films in South Korea. And about 2016, I started make some kind of 360 videos. And one of my project was invited by Sundance in 2018. The project was Eyes in the Red Wind. And I met several nice projects in Sundance in those times. Overseer in the Worlds and Better Scribe and so on and so on project and I found that it's so potential and I could find some vision of virtual reality storytelling. So after that, I tried to make some kind of exhibitions in the festivals. I also kept producing some projects and some other things, like lecturing, consulting, or some kind of organizing some events like that in South Korea. So those times, I met very good friends in this field, in this industry, and communicating with them, and that makes me keep working in this field.
[00:06:48.428] Hyewon Lee: I have been working over a decade of experience in various new media projects combining art and technology. And prior to the Kiai Immersive Studio, I was one of the founding members of ScreenX, which is the world's first multi-projection theater and award-winning immersive cinema platform. I've been exploring the immersive and more impactful experience by blending storytelling with art or technology, and different cultures exploring a wide range of art forms. And I started my first VR project five years ago, and I've been interested in collaborating with the great talents from all kinds of art form. So, yeah.
[00:07:46.122] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I know that there's been a number of different immersive theater projects like Welcome to Respite that then maybe explain the collaboration between your two studios of an immersive theater and VRChat and how that came about.
[00:07:58.417] Whitton Frank: So we met them last year. We met Gioi last year at South by Southwest when we were presenting Gumball Dreams, when Ferryman Collective was presenting Gumball Dreams, and you guys had seen Welcome to Respite, right, and come through and been very impressed, and so we got to talking at South By last year, and they expressed an interest in, I guess what you'd call the equivalent of, like, licensing the show for the Asian markets, for Asian festivals and things like that. China, Korea, Asia, all over. And so we thought that's such a cool idea and we don't think it's ever been done before in the XR world, but of course it's a thing that happens often in the film industry. So it was exciting and we've never shied away from a challenge at Ferryman Collective. So we worked it out. We decided how we were going to do that, how long it was going to be, what that would entail, which obviously meant translating the script fully into Korean and adapting some of the elements so that it made more sense to a Korean audience. So, for example, there's a very sweet scene with the macaroni and cheese in it with Alex, the child, who's the audience member, and the mom. And we changed it to curry. Yes, curry. Because that would be a more common comfort food in Korea. So it was things like that, and then a process of training the actors. And then Gioi took it to festivals all over Asia, where it did very well. And that was the start of our collaboration together.
[00:09:28.135] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd love to hear from your perspective how that went. And you had seen it in English, and then translated, and then, I guess, had to get immersive theater actors from Korea and do a whole production. So yeah, I'd love to hear a bit more about that process.
[00:09:42.265] Jay Kim: We're interested in live performance with a new medium. Since 2018, I saw a Jack VR in Tribeca and I brought them to South Korea for their lectures. And after that, we began to produce Scarecrow from that moment. And also, I think this kind of medium should be expanded more with some language medium, you know, a film or theater performance, something like that. So we need to collaborate with Korean artists in different fields. So when I saw Wreck-It-Morrispec and maybe in Venice or Tribeca 2021, yeah, I think it's very brilliant to use some kind of tools and some kind of triggers in VRChat. It's very, very talented. So we love how to tell a story with that medium. So we decided to adapt this project in Korean so we could collaborate with Korean actors and also learn from them how to use VRChat. So, we tried that and learned a lot of things. Then, we could make FindWheelie from that experience.
[00:10:59.614] Hyewon Lee: Thanks to COVID, we were lucky enough to have a chance to experience Welcome to Respite online version. So, KEOI also has a web-based magazine to introduce really good VLPs and some new media projects from all over the world. So we were very interested in introducing this piece. And then when we had a kind of small exhibition in Korea in a physical art center, we really wanted to embrace more audiences to the VR world. So the theater people in Korea really wanted to know how they can make more digital audiences to their art. So that's the reason we really wanted to bring this piece to Korea and then let them know this is really cool and you can also make more immersive experience with even if digital. So when we had our first show in last May 2022, we were sold out. Everyone loved it and we got really great feedback from our potential audiences. It means a lot to us because we realized that there is a lot of potential audiences that really wanted to explore more. So That's the reason we wanted to produce our own original immersive theater, and finally we did it. But we really need more experts in training and directing the English version of the Fine Willy. So that's the reason we wanted to collaborate once again, and they did a really amazing job. The Korean fine wheelie version director Mina and Sooyoung, they've been really amazed by Ferryman's expert and then thanks to them we could make more audiences to the world.
[00:13:06.868] Kent Bye: Yeah, so maybe just take a step back to 2020, because I was at Sundance 2020 and saw the Scarecrow project, and then the pandemic hit, and then that project actually got translated into VRChat. And so were you a part of making that translation into VRChat?
[00:13:23.168] Jay Kim: But, you know, scale query, there's no dialogue inside that. Yeah, language barriers. And, you know, the director, Seung Moon Lee, is actually my professor in art school. So we talked a lot about that project. And originally it has a lot of dialogue, but he really wanted to meet an international audience, so he chose a number of things. But I felt without dialogue, it's very hard to express some emotions and concepts and some relation between characters. So we really try to make something real of play in VRChat. So yeah, the attempt to change to VRChat, Scarecrow, is a really nice project and can approach to many audience in the world, even in rain dance and some other performance in South Korea too. Many people could experience that by online platform.
[00:14:23.217] Kent Bye: So, yeah, at what point did you decide to then do your own experience of finding Willy after doing this translation of the Welcome to Respite?
[00:14:32.160] Jay Kim: It's kind of two factors, you know. We could make some show using VRChat, so how to use triggers and how to make some assets, and we should consider the data, you know, not too big. And also, it's a different thing to make a play with actors. It's a very different side. So, we approached that following the experience from the Korean version of Welcome to West Bed. There's many things from there. And already we had an idea of Find Willy because it was submitted to CanX development showcase in 2020. So already we set up all the characters and storylines, something like that, but we adapted to live theater things. because we learned from Welcome to Redspit, so still going on. We need to make another project with that experience. So we decided to make it as a live theater in VRChat.
[00:15:37.782] Kent Bye: Yeah, that makes sense. And so, what point did the Furman Collective get a chance to... Did you see the show in Korean? Or, like, did you, like... How did you come on to, like, understand enough of the story to know that you would want to take this on and back into the context of... English context with the Furman Collective?
[00:15:56.333] Whitton Frank: Well, it was... So we'd done Welcome to Respite, and then I think the last week of December of 2022, we got a call, an email from Gioi being like, hey, so our project has been accepted into South by Southwest, but it's in Korean. And we really think it should be, in English, to be better understood by a wider range of people. And we want to do a collaboration with you to make this happen. And Ferryman, we sort of thought about it. We were like, that's a very short time to make all of this happen. But as I said previously, we've never shied away from a challenge. And personally, I I really wanted the opportunity to try and direct something in VR because I hadn't yet, and I thought this would be a very good learning experience. a really unique project to get to do that with. There's a lot of incredible themes and storylines in the piece, family relationships, the both good and bad parts of memory, the way it can lead us down the right path or teach us things. And then also, of course, the very relevant theme of corporate overreach. And all of those combined together to make this very interesting kind of sci-fi experience that I think all of us at Ferryman Collective were really intrigued by. We got to see a Korean performance with subtitles. And then we spoke with Gioi about the piece and what they wanted from us and the changes that we thought were necessary to make it doable in the amount of time that we had. And we came to an agreement about it. But yeah, I think it was really the subject matter that piqued all of our interests at first.
[00:17:51.128] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I guess the advantage is that the world's already built to some extent. So you have the architecture of the space, which in a lot of ways can be the most difficult part of building the world. And then it's a matter of having the actors perform it. But yeah, maybe you could talk about your process of building this world, of finding Lily and... You have different locations. I guess as I was going through, coming from the United States, you know, there's a very specific town that I'm going to in Korea and I don't, I don't have any connection to that town. I don't know what the town is. And so, yeah, maybe you could describe the place that we're at in Finding Willie and this corporation and this town that you're in. And yeah, if you want to have any specific reference for why this specific place in Korea and what that means.
[00:18:34.013] Hyewon Lee: In Find Willy, we have a lot of research, the real locations that can bring to the virtual reality. And then that neighborhood called Changshin-dong, which is really located in the center of Seoul, it has a small hill. And then on the top of the hill, there is a really unique buildings there. So as a teleportation company, maybe we really need a very special spot for the teleportation spot. So we captured a lot of images from there, and then we transport to the beautiful images to fit the virtual reality. And then, so we collaborate with one of the great Korean animators and who specialized in the sci-fi images and so even if it's the real locations, but we really wanted to make to put some more fantasy into the visuals.
[00:19:33.765] Jay Kim: Yes. Some comment, you know, because even in virtual reality, people's memory is very linked to physical world and physical relationship or something. So to make this story concrete, we need to find something in real space. And the space has kind of a symbol in Seoul. Seoul grows so fast and still some specific areas still looks like 80s or 90s. So that space looks like that, you know. Before growing so like this, the house is rather old and some here looks very old. So it's combined of 80s and 2020s or something like that. So we point out that space and some memories of people can be stored in real life in that world. So we chose that kind of things.
[00:20:28.203] Kent Bye: Yeah. OK, that makes sense. So it's a town in Korea that people have a sense of nostalgia and memory. And the themes of the piece is about memory. So I can see the connection there now. And maybe you can give just a bit of a synopsis or the themes of Finding Willie in terms of where we're at and what the journey that we're taking on.
[00:20:46.661] Whitton Frank: Yeah. So it's a piece that both our companies specialize in the idea of live performance and virtual reality, so non-pre-recorded interactions with audience members and actors. So the audience members enter the world as employees of the company EOIG. And this is ostensibly a teleportation company. But the company has discovered that sometimes when people are teleported, they lose very small parts of their memories. And so it is your job as company employees to help them clean up their data system of the memories, basically. You think that you're doing it to restore them to people later, once we figure out how. What you learn is that that is not exactly the case. and that they're being used by the company to potentially entrap people or to be used for prosecuting criminals by collecting the bits of memory and replaying them, recreating the scenario. Of course, that creates problems because as we know, even in the court system today, people's memories are not always accurate. And this becomes very clear when you discover that one of the designers of the system was actually gotten rid of because there were issues with some of the teleportation products. And he believes that his daughter has disappeared because of the teleporters. And he's using all these memories that he's found as proof of that. Whether that is true or not, we don't actually know, as this is only part one of a four-part series. But it brings up a lot of interesting themes there about how much we rely on our memories as a path forward, but also to define ourselves. And on the flip side, what right do companies have to our personal information in a way? The things that define us. So that's the basics. And in the English version, we decided for the purposes of South by Southwest, we really wanted the audience to have agency in this so we used the idea that given all of this information in the story the audience can now choose at the very end to either destroy the system as a result of this ex-programmer lines is memories and search for his daughter and Or they can choose to give it to the current head programmer Kingsley who stands for the company, right and the company is what matters so you do have a choice and there is a different ending for each and I think that for us is When Deirdre and I were working on the script translation, we thought this was really crucial, actually, to give the audience a real agency, because that's also part of the story, right, is what we choose to do with information once we have it.
[00:23:52.610] Kent Bye: Oh, interesting. I didn't realize I was making a choice. But I guess I did make a choice, or that there would be other consequences of that choice. So you say it's a four-part series. We're seeing episode one. Has all four parts been produced in Korea, or has only the first episode also only been produced in Korea?
[00:24:11.412] Jay Kim: We produce only one episode in South Korea now and still have some script and need to collaborate with Fairman for episode 2 and more. Because you know, I found that there's some kind of cultural difference in South Korea and English audience. For example, an interaction. Korean audience tend to be shy to do something. So they complain there are so many things to do for this show. But English audience always think, I need something more. I need to do something more. So we need to talk about and discuss about that for next episode. Yeah. So we are planning to do later after South by rather a short pause. Because they also have a lot of projects, also we have a lot of projects, but we need to push forward for the next episode of this because I think it has some potential, right?
[00:25:10.030] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's interesting to hear the cultural differences and how you've been going back and forth and translating and retranslating and adapting and modulating and tuning based upon the cultural preferences of maybe have a little bit more agency. Or maybe you would have a Korean audience that wants more agency, or you have an American audience that wants a little bit more passive. And so maybe go both ways into having different variations. So that's an interesting thought. Part of my experience of this piece was, as I was going through, is that I did feel like there was a bit of ability to explore around. I feel like there's a lot to explore and there's like these objects that I'm holding within VRChat which sometimes would glitch out whenever we'd move into different spaces and so it would be like we're already teleporting and so we're already kind of in this magical realism and so with things magically disappear then oh we'll just magically have things reappear so there's kind of like a way in which that working within the constraints of VRChat but to build it into the narrative of us going off on assignment and then coming back and so there seemed to be a beat of go off and do something and then come back and then we'll have another story beat and then culminating with this big epic kind of like interaction and actors and kind of walking through spaces. But I think a theme throughout this piece is walking through spaces. You know, it's not just in one space, but you're moving through spaces. And so love to hear about as you're designing the narrative and trying to wrangle the cats, as it were, people kind of going off on their own and, you know, having to bring people back together and move around. And so, I'm curious to hear about that process of designing the journey throughout these different spaces.
[00:26:49.515] Hyewon Lee: Well, Korean audiences really wanted to explore the space in virtual reality. And so that's the reason why we wanted to make the various kinds of space inside of the narrative. And from my experience, whenever I had a chance to experience the VR piece, I loved the most that when I can move around as much as I can. So that's the reason our primary goal is to explore a nation, and then second one is to make more interaction like a hard interaction or real interaction with the real actor and then third one is could be the mysterious things that we've been thinking that they're something that audiences really wanted to solve the problem so question and answer or they really wanted to know what's going on in the next so in the story side we wanted to make more mysterious things and drama ties the elements there. But the interaction side really wants the simple but entertaining interaction there. And for the experience design, there is a narrow space and wide space. Blending the different sides of the space could be the more immersive way to It could be more immersive, sorry. Sorry, my English is not enough to explain, but yeah, that's our intention.
[00:28:23.090] Kent Bye: Yeah, it sounds like what you're saying is that by building narrow, constrained spaces and wide open spaces, that you're creating a contrast to create that level of immersion, right? Yeah. One of the interesting aspects of this piece is that there's a lot of acronyms and jargon that's being thrown about, and I've noticed that When I watch science fiction films, you're kind of in the future, and you do have all this sort of language that there's a bit of confusion. And so I felt that level of confusion, but also still being able to track what was being said. But maybe you could describe some of the acronyms that are in this piece. You kind of rattle them off, and yeah.
[00:28:58.103] Whitton Frank: So I think one of the funny things that I think a lot of people thought the name of the company, EOIG, was an acronym, but it's not. It's just GEOIG. I suppose we could come up with something if we really wanted to, which we actually did for the wheelie, which are the bits of the memories that we have to collect because if we don't they become volatile and they distort spatial reality at the teleportation point. So let me see if I can remember what we came up with. wayward, intellectual, information, logistically integrated instances, or wheelie for short. And those of you who went through the experience might recognize that, because I was the voice of the voiceover that said those things.
[00:29:41.551] Kent Bye: MARK MANDEL – So these are teleportation pods, or they're the memories?
[00:29:44.292] Whitton Frank: LESLIE KENDRICK – The wheelie are the volatile bits of the memories that are left behind when people teleport. So I think one of the ideas that we really thought was good here is that I think there's corporate speak, right? There's tech speak. And if you are not a part of that, it feels very impenetrable. And it's meant to. Right? Because in a very light way, corporate culture, there's a type of cultishness to it. And just like a cult, you know, they always have their own language and their own words for things so that it becomes an insider feeling. Oh, I know what this means. I know what this is about. I'm a part of the culture that understands. And so when we first throw the audience members in, we treat you like employees. You've been hired. You're so lucky to be here. Look at where you are. You're a part of this very elite group. And you as the audience, as you expressed, sort of have to go, oh, shoot, I'm supposed to know all these things. And it puts you in the mindset of wanting to please. to prove that you know. I think when you went through, we hadn't done this yet, but we actually integrated a quiz into it about all the slides that you see to keep that feeling going of eager to please and wanting to please at the beginning so that when the rest of the story starts to unfold, you hopefully will personally feel a sense of betrayal from the company that you were trying to support. And all of that to say, I guess that was sort of the idea with using those things,
[00:31:23.015] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was talking to Andrea Katsukaru, who's an architect, and talking about spatial connections to memory. And she was saying that she was talking to you, that you had told her that you were practicing the lines in physical space and then going into virtual reality and forgetting the lines. And so a piece about memory. and then going into the piece and having trouble remembering because of the spatial architecture and their distributed cognition of how we're in a virtual space, that then it changes our memory. So yeah, I'd love to maybe elaborate on those themes of the distributed cognition and just your experience of that.
[00:31:55.170] Whitton Frank: When you're directing for theater and you get to the stage where you're blocking the piece, so you're outlining where performers are supposed to go, The lines are connected to that. There's a reason behind why you walk a certain direction or even look up on a certain line. And it's one thing to visualize that outside of the space, and it's another then to be in the space, whether it's real or virtual, and then try and remember why you made the decisions that you did. To choose which lines go where. And so we'd be walking through as we were trying to work out the blocking and I would say, I think they say this now. I don't remember. And I'd have to go back to the script and go, oh right, that's what's happening right now. So even though by the time we got into the virtual space I felt very comfortable with the script, I found myself misremembering parts or getting confused about where I was in the virtual landscape because I hadn't had the chance to really map out the correlation between the blocking and the lines in the virtual space.
[00:33:08.990] Kent Bye: Did you find a similar thing with the Korean actors, that they needed to practice more in virtual reality rather than in the physical spaces?
[00:33:18.012] Hyewon Lee: When we train the Korean actors, they have never experienced VR before. So for the first time, we have to train how to use the device. And then we really want them to be familiar with this virtual reality. But the first time we had a kind of workshop together in the physical space, because we really wanted to hear what they felt in the virtual reality. And then after they accustomed to how to log in the VRChat or how to handle all the buttons, and then we finally could have a preparation, training inside of the virtual reality. But they felt that it's more like voice acting, but they felt also it's more like puppet acting. But one of the Korean actors, But he couldn't control his voice as much as he can because he used to be an actor for the media, but we really wanted him to make the voice in an expressive way, but it took a while to be accustomed to the virtual reality acting. But finally he did it after lots of workshops and training and lots of shows. I realized that we really need a time for all the creators to be familiar with the virtual reality and what's good for them and they have to realize that acting can be different in this medium so after that they could enjoy the improvisations of acting and finally they did their real reactive expressions into the play so after that we really satisfied with their acting and the play. In case of the Welcome to Respite, we were lucky enough to collaborate the musical actor. He has a really good voice and he's a kind of the talented, trained voice. So At that time, he played in the Welcome to Respite Korea version. His voice is too high, but the other characters, the woman's voice is quite low compared to him, so we had to balance it. So from those two experiences of the immersive theater, we realized that It has its own acting language and we really need to find out what's more suitable, the creative languages for this museum.
[00:36:06.065] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I guess here at SXSW you had a booth where people were seeing it, but did you also have the actors off somewhere else? Maybe just talk about your own acting process here. You've done this a number of times at a number of different festivals, and so I'm sure you're getting it more and more dialed in, but how was your setup here logistically for where everybody was at?
[00:36:26.302] Whitton Frank: So I think the beauty of this style of theatre is that actors can be anywhere in the world and perform for anyone in the world at any time in the world, which is incredibly freeing as a performer. as a director, because you could just work with actors in the virtual medium. At South by Southwest, similar to what we did last year with Gumball Dreams, we had three, sometimes four, audience members come to our booth and get in headset. And then our performers, this time we had two actors, three actors in LA, one actor in Bangkok, and one actor in Canada. Oh, and then Braden Roy, who's from South Dakota, but he was here with us at the festival and he performed from his room at the Fairmont Hotel. But yeah, so the actors get to be off-site and then we're there at the booth facilitating the audience members getting into headset and making sure that they're okay. You know, in the off chance that someone feels ill in virtual reality, we're there to help them and deal with any immediate problems because As many of your listeners probably know, working with VR, lots of things can go wrong. And you're never quite sure if or when they will. So we were able to deal with headset freezing, or someone falling out of the world, or a battery going dead. So we had our people at the booth there dealing with that, while our actors could be anywhere, as I said.
[00:37:55.412] Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess one of the things I'll be taking away from this piece was just like the ending of the epic nature of feeling like I'm moving through this space, kind of moving upward in a space while the climax is coming, and so you have this mirroring of the drama that's increasing with the positionality of where I'm at, whereas you're kind of coming up into like a literal climax of the piece. I'm not sure if I've experienced anything quite like that before, and I don't know if that was in the original piece or if that's something that was added, but yeah, any comments on that? Moving up an elevation and coming up to that key moment of that conflict Yes, so that was in the original piece.
[00:38:31.744] Whitton Frank: That was a part of the story where it starts in this kind of very easy pace and As you said almost a low elevation and the story as well as the movement of the piece both build, which is a really powerful storytelling tool. that Gioi had presented us with, and I, as the director, was like, oh, this is great. Literally, the movement of the audience mirrors the movement of the play. Fantastic. And so, in the first part, the audience gets to kind of wander around, and it's very relaxed, and it's kind of nice, and then... things start to go wrong, secrets start to be revealed, we're building, we're moving from one place to the next faster, there's even sort of a chase sequence with that type of music. Everything is meant to make you feel that way and where you physically doing such an elevation change, you would be out of breath, right? You would feel the air getting thinner. You would feel things start to become out of joint, as Shakespeare says, and that was the idea. It was all sort of built to facilitate the emotional reactions and feelings of the audience getting up to this climax where then, at least in one ending, you literally fall all the way back to the bottom again, as everything that you've built up almost is falling apart around you. Yeah, very intentional.
[00:40:07.131] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd love to hear any other reflections of where that idea came from to have that sense of elevation change.
[00:40:15.622] Jay Kim: I got a feedback from a Korean audience. One of the audience told me that even in a chasing scene, even in the digital world, and, you know, jumping with the controller, but after that, he could not breathe. It's kind of a real chasing, something like that. So it stimulates something really happening in virtual reality. So that kind of feedback made me so happy. I can make something similar with physical things also in virtual reality. So that kind of moment can come to because of the real actors and some sense that these kind of things are real. not a recorded one. So that is the potential of live something. It's very hard to operate and hard to get audience, but it has some potential things for near future, future storytelling. I think so, yeah.
[00:41:14.893] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and what it might be able to enable?
[00:41:26.801] Whitton Frank: That's okay. The ultimate potential of virtual reality and storytelling. My goodness. I feel like I'm just going to be cliche. I mean, I think it's completely endless and open in a way, but also the potential is to create a vibrant coming together of the best parts of theater, film, and video games. especially with the addition of haptic technology where we actually can make you feel what we want you to feel. And I believe though that it is crucial that live performance remain a part of this. In this production, even our avatars in the scenes are a little low-poly intentionally, but people still have real reactions to those characters. This was the same thing when I was performing in The Under Presents. Because once people understood that there was a real human behind the avatar, they felt able to connect. And I believe that that is key. Human connection. That's the thing that will make this technology sail. and will bring people into it. The idea that they can be in a play or a film with live actors or with their friends and tell a story together. That's the ultimate potential. This idea of bringing people together through one of the oldest performance mediums using the technology of one of the newest. I think that's incredibly beautiful and moving. And I think it has the potential to bring the world closer together because we can share across cultural differences and experiences because we're in a piece together in the virtual world experiencing the same thing in the same way that that happens in real life with theater with immersive theater when we have a shared experience it brings us closer together and if we can continue building towards that I do think the potential is limitless. I think we can create incredibly wonderful things that will help bring people from all over the world closer together.
[00:43:39.215] Jay Kim: Yeah, I believe that that exists in somewhere and still needs to be found in many aspects, you know, how to create and how to enjoy those kind of things. It's kind of Eldorado, you know.
[00:43:57.169] Whitton Frank: What is that? Eldorado, the city of gold.
[00:44:00.171] Jay Kim: Yeah, it exists, but we still don't know how to get there and where it is. So it's a little bit different with current cultural things, something different, and that makes audience feel differently and react differently. We always get something from the original present one, films and webtoons or some plays and something like that. But sometimes, a week later, in near future, we can find something new. And till then, we need to survive.
[00:44:40.239] Hyewon Lee: We do believe a potential and importance of this kind of new medium. That's the reason why we started our own studio. And we really wanted to continue commitment to creating impactful or powerful virtual experience blending all kinds of art forms. And as a producer in working in creative industry, we always exploring more immersive way to embrace more audiences. That's the reason we try to keep lots of experiments. I know there is a kind of barrier, like a technology barrier or language barrier or what other barriers, but barriers can mean that the challenges that I really wanted to fight for. And we are very open to the test. Emerging technology has a creative element that make more story immersed. So we would like to keep continuing this journey to make more great immersive content.
[00:45:56.116] Kent Bye: MARK MANDEL Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?
[00:46:04.321] Whitton Frank: I feel very privileged to be a part of this community. I think it's filled with incredibly creative, inspirational people and every time I'm here at a festival like this I walk around and I see people's projects and I go, wow, I would never have thought to do that or how did they come up with this idea and I'm fascinated by just how effective XR is as a storytelling medium, whether it be 360 video, whether it be live performance, whether it be pre-recorded performance or an AR piece overlaid, people seem to be very excited about it and intrigued and titillated by it because it feels very new. and interesting, but within that we're using all of these story- everyone is using all these storytelling techniques that are meant to share things, share experiences, share emotions, and because of that it feels like maybe we finally discovered a way to blend technology and human experience in a potentially positive force for good.
[00:47:12.510] Jay Kim: Almost same. Same as Hinton's words, you know. I learn from the people in this industry and this industry has very good moment, you know, helping each other, share their experience always, you know, that made me growing every year. So that's why I travel around. I meet new people and talking with their experience and some nice approach to the art and humanity, something like that. So I'm happy to be in this industry, you know,
[00:47:48.791] Hyewon Lee: I'm also happy to be part of this community and then I'm very honored to be here with the ferryman and then in Korea we have a lot of creators there. We hope more Korean virtual reality creators can be introduced to the global. And we used to be the frontiers in Korea, but I hope the more frontiers can make more wider community. And it's been an incredible journey since we met the Fairyman Collective. Without them, it couldn't be possible. And then I really wanted to thank our original creator, Sooyoung, Mina, Jungmin, Sohee, Jigyeong, without them it couldn't be possible. So thank you and keep exploring together.
[00:48:42.443] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, very much enjoyed watching Finding Wee Lee and hearing more about this really interesting collaboration you have across this international borders of the South Korea here in the United States and around the world. And you have this kind of this interchange between these two studios and adapting and modulating and inspiring each other about what's possible at the medium. So thanks so much for joining me to help break it all down.
[00:49:04.435] Whitton Frank: Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure talking with you. And I'm really excited to be here. This is so lovely. Thank you.
[00:49:12.832] Jay Kim: Thank you.
[00:49:14.496] Hyewon Lee: Thank you so much.
[00:49:16.814] Kent Bye: So that was Wynton Frank, an immersive producer and performer and member of the Pheromone Collective and director of this piece, Find Willy, Episode 1, The Gate Crusher, as well as Jae Kim from Studio Gyo-E, who's one of the executive producers of this piece, along with Hye-Won Lee, who's also one of the executive producers of Find Willy and from Studio Gyo-E, immersive studios based out of South Korea. So I've never print takeaways about this interview is that first of all well just really quite fascinating to see this interchange between Both taking different pieces and translating them across cultures and licensing them across cultures So starting with welcome to respite which started as immersive theater piece got translated into an immersive theater piece within the context of VR with the fairman collective and then got licensed to be translated and have a whole adaptation that happened in South Korea with welcome to respite and then after learning all the different tools and everything then studio goe went off and created their own world and their own production of find willie episode one gatecrasher apparently this is like a four episode series so it's a little tricky and anytime that there's like a multi-episodic series it's a little bit tricky to know the full arc of where things are going to go and this was an hour long Experience and so if it's four episodes you're talking about like a four-hour immersive theater piece that's happening over these multiple episodes And so I guess they have in their mind this full arc of how things are going to continue developed I feel like we're just getting introduced into this world with some of the characters and some of the different dynamics of what's happening and there is a like a branching path ending that they had mentioned and so I feel like one aspect of making a choice like that, it ends up if you have three or four people, then you can have one person that is essentially unilaterally making a choice, which I think is what happened in my case, where I didn't necessarily deliberate with the other people that were with me. And so something like Mandala, which is a piece that's showed at Venice, had this mechanic, like if there are six people, then you would have to have like half of the people would have to take an action in order for something to happen. And so How can you start to make it so that's more either of an explicit deliberative process or? Emergently happening where I just kind of unilaterally made a decision at some point and that kind of flipped it into a certain outcome But I didn't necessarily at that moment deliberate with my other folks that I was doing the experience with to see what would be the best course of action at that moment and so yeah, just figuring out if there is going to be certain aspects of agency, and that creates this split ending. And then if it's a multiple episode series, then how do you have this continuity from one episode to the next, especially if it's a four hour type of experience. And so, yeah, lots of, I guess, logistical things for how do you do more extended elaborate immersive theater productions that are multi episodic ones, and still maintain that continuity and then if I'm even going to remember all the different specific nuances that are introduced in the first piece and each immersive theater play there's different things that are happening with different actors and whatnot so yeah it's just I think a lot to think about as you think about the multi-episode arc but given that I feel like there's enough satisfying things even at this first episode that made it feel like a somewhat complete experience even though it does potentially have other dimensions of the story that are left yet to be told in these future episodes. And so you just kind of get a glimpse of the pilot episode of where this world is going to be going. So they're really focusing on these aspects of memory or the implications of memory when you start to have the corporate involvement of those memories. and deeper themes of surveillance capitalism and what happens to this data and how it's being used. And they're a teleportation company, and so, yeah, they've kind of created this glitched-out dimension of this teleportation that has this connection to memory that allows them to explore these human dimensions of memory that I think are just more universal and independent of the context of virtual reality. The specific cities that they have in this section of Seoul that they have featured in the virtual reality has more of a nostalgic dimension of things from the 80s and 90s that are pretty well preserved. And so they have embedded within this particular virtual representation in this experience, things that are maybe more tightly coupled with the South Korean audience than necessarily translate over to myself. They had mentioned that in the context when I was going through the piece, and it felt like a very deliberate decision that had a specific cultural context that I wasn't quite aware of. And so as things go across these different cultures, then to what degree do you specify things like that in the world design and have to adapt it? Because, you know, they talked about how Instead of mac and cheese. They have like some type of curry soup. That's more of a comfort food That's more appropriate to the South Korean audiences. And so in that context of fine Willie for the South Korean audience They have this place that's invoking this sense of nostalgia and memory. Whereas, you know, is there an equivalent place that maybe I? relevant to other cultural contexts as this pieces like this start to move around, which includes lots of different world design and everything else. And so, you know, it's perfectly reasonable to keep it just for this thing that may be only specific to South Koreans that are picking up to these extra dimensions of what's happening in the story. So, but they had to kind of elaborate that in the course of when I was doing the experience. But yeah overall I feel like you know this conceit of Exploration and agency and immersive theater most the time when you're doing an immersive theater piece You don't have the ability to go around and look around at stuff very much But I feel like in this piece they're able to have this kind of like you're collecting different things or finding different aspects of these Corrupted memories and it gives you an excuse to go explore around this place and yeah there is this element of being able to fill that dimension of exploration and they have you come back into a group and regather all the dispersed Participants to be able to have the next story beat and so there's this kind of like go out and explore come back and then go back and forth between that and and different dimensions of like a chase scene and a whole culmination and a climax at the end that I felt like as you're rising up in elevation, the whole story is coming up to a climax as well. So, yeah, lots of ways that the story unfolds as you get more information. There's a bit of a mystery, there's a bit of confusion because there's a lot of science fiction jargon and you're trying to figure out what the rules of this science fiction world are because it's a speculative world that has different aspects of how technology is interfacing with the culture here With this startup type of mentality you learn about in this sci-fi conceit so yeah some interesting ways of using the virtual reality technology to explore these sci-fi worlds and have these explorative elements and To still have this through line of the narrative in the story and the performances that are tying it all together So yeah quite quite interesting to explore both the process of creating it but also just the dimensions of my experience as I was going through it So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.