#290: Storytelling in VR & the Tradeoffs of Empathy and Interactivity

eric-darnellEric Darnell got into animation in the 1980s and eventually landed at Dreamworks Animation where he co-directed Antz, and then co-directed and co-write four Madagascar movies. He’s a storyteller at heart, and now he’s diving deep into writing and creating short VR animated experiences in a start-up venture that he co-founded with Maureen Fan called Baobab Studios. I had a chance to catch up with Eric at Sundance to talk about his process of crafting a story, and why he’s so excited about the narrative potential of the medium of virtual reality.


Eric says that VR is the wild west and that he doesn’t really know what’s going to work and not work yet, but that his ultimate goal would be to create a VR experience where you’re completely engaged and emotionally invested within the story of the main character. He recognizes that there will be interactive components within VR, but he’s cautious about how interactivity will impact much you can empathize with characters within the story.

For example, if you have to make a choice in an experience as to how to console a character who’s in pain, then does it turn into more of a video game experience where your intention is to achieve a specific goal? Can you still completely witness the character without your ego getting worried about whether or not you’re taking the right course of action?

There could in fact be a tradeoff with how much interactivity that you have with a story and your capacity to empathize with specific elements of the story. This seems to be an open question at the moment, and dynamic of empathy in VR that I hadn’t fully considered before. Eric is really interested in exploring empathy in VR not from a documentary perspective, but more from within the context of traditional 3-act or 5-act story structure. He suspects that a more passive experience of watching someone’s story unfold is more likely to cultivate empathy than if you’re somehow dynamically interactive with that character within their story.

Initially, Baobab Studios will be producing a series of short films to be able to explore the language of VR and start to get their production pipeline ironed out. At the moment, Eric is relying upon detailed descriptions that he’s writing within his scripts, but VR may be a medium that requires more iterations with immersive storyboards or new ways to choreograph the action within a 360-degree landscape.

Eric suggests that perhaps there’s a lot to learn about this process by going back to see how how Disney character animators would operate. They would have the freedom orchestrate a character’s arc through a number of story beats and then they would pass this along to the environmental artists who would construct the scenes from this starting point. At this point, the short VR experiences from Baobab Studios are small enough that they can just dive in and start creating them, but they will be learning how to more efficiently create a collaborative process for constructing stories within VR.

Eric feels that there’s still a lot to be learned about constructing and telling stories in VR, and so this has been inspiring him to write a flurry of different scripts. These different ideas span many different genres and types of human experiences that are inspired by a range of observations in nature to traditional folklore and fairy tales. The possibilities for what can be done in VR is so wide open that Eric is casting a wide net, and looking forward to doing more rapid iterations across these many genres to start to find those universal components of the language of telling stories in VR.

After I stopped recording, Eric made a very important distinction about the differences between the mediums of film and virtual reality. He said that film is a medium where someone can share the story of an experience, whereas virtual reality is a medium where you can give someone an experience where they can generate their own stories from.

This is one of the most insightful takeaways that I got from going to Sundance this year, and it helps focus the challenge of how to give someone an experience that is uniquely their own, but yet still use the power of the medium to construct and tell the story that you want to tell.

There will be a range of different levels of interactivity, and whether or not you have local agency that flavors your personal experience or whether you also will have global agency to determine the overall outcome of the story. For Eric and Baobab Studios, they’re going to be focusing primarily on telling stories that you can wash over you and really sink in. They’re not as interested in creating highly interactive stories where your actions change the outcome of their story, but they’re looking into how to create a sense of presence by embodying a character in a scene where you may have a little bit of interaction and small ways of flavoring your personal experience.

Eric sees that the ultimate potential of storytelling in VR is that we’ll be able to live out the stories that we could only previous read, listen to or watch. Technology is progressing a lot faster than a lot of us realize, and he does believe that we’ll at some point have our own holodeck-like technologies where we won’t be able to really distinguish between reality and virtual reality. And perhaps it’ll be so convincing that we’ll never really want to come out. One thing that is for sure is that we’ll be using the technology to tell stories, and that Eric will be continuing to explore the frontiers of storytelling in VR that provides people with rich experiences that are emotionally moving.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.972] Eric Darnell: I'm Eric Darnell, and I'm one of the founders of Baobab Studios. We just started this year. We were funded, I think, late summer, early fall. So we're brand new. We're working on our first project called Invasion, which is approximately five minute, computer animated, short, in 3D for VR headsets.

[00:00:31.463] Kent Bye: So tell me a bit about what was the story of you getting into virtual reality?

[00:00:36.626] Eric Darnell: You know, I've, I've been interested in technology my whole life and, uh, got involved in computer animation in the mid eighties. So I've kind of been a part of it, you know, for a big part of my life in early nineties, I took a job with Pacific data images, which is at that time. one of the oldest computer animated companies in existence. In fact, the oldest. And then found my way to DreamWorks, ended up directing the first feature animated film that they released called Ants. From there, I went on to be a director and writer on all of the Madagascar franchise feature films. So that was the next 15 years of my life. And then when DreamWorks consolidated and moved everybody down to their Glendale facility, because we were all working in Northern California. In fact, PDI was absorbed by DreamWorks in the mid-90s. And that's where we produced Antz, was up north. And I managed to stay there for my whole feature film career. So when they all went down to Glendale, I decided it was time to do something new. And what's exciting to me about VR is not only VR, but the fact that it's a lot like it was for me when I started out in computer animation. back, you know, whatever. You know, it's the Wild West. Nobody really knows what they're doing. Everybody's in it because they love it, not because they're going to make a buck. And there's just so much energy and so much enthusiasm. And it reinvigorates me, that's for sure.

[00:02:02.118] Kent Bye: Great. So you've got a background in writing and storytelling and film. And so as you're starting to craft and tell stories in virtual reality, what kind of insights do you have of what works and what doesn't work?

[00:02:14.447] Eric Darnell: You know, I don't really know what works and what doesn't work yet, you know. We're just trying stuff and I'm a little wary of anybody that claims they do know. I think that VR has a ton of applications and a ton of ways in for people to experience it, whether it's drawing from things that we already know like traditional computer animation or even 2d animation or Brand-new experiences that we haven't even imagined yet I do think it's going to be a big part of the 21st century in terms of how we consume entertainment education and journalism, you name it. But for me, you know, my goal is really to stay with what I know, which is storytelling. That's really where 90% of my time was spent working on the films at DreamWorks, was storytelling. Because without that, you don't have anything. You have a bunch of pretty pictures strung together, and it doesn't sustain the interest. And I'd rather see a great story told with stick figures than a poor story that's like a beautiful oil painting every frame. And I do think a lot of people underestimate how difficult that component is, but it really deserves probably the majority of your time. If you're going to tell a story in any medium, the story has to come first, and then the characters, and then the technique, and then the world, and the production design, and then everything else.

[00:03:34.795] Kent Bye: So yeah, tell me a bit about your process since you've made and told a number of stories that have seen some success in the film world. Like what is your process? What is the inception of a story and then how do you kind of incubate it coming into fruition?

[00:03:48.688] Eric Darnell: Well, there's a lot of things that can be a catalyst for a story. You know, sometimes I just have to flip through books, or I sit on Google and, you know, think of a topic and see what comes up, or travel. But, you know, that's where a story starts. And then it's just a matter of living with it. You know, a lot of times the best ideas or the things that kind of really make a story idea coalesce for me could be like the time, you know, between sleep and wakefulness where there's nothing but just random brainwaves and neurons firing and somehow, because I've been thinking about something enough, it just bubbles to the surface and I find a solution. It's like the way they discovered the double helix. I think the guy was drowsy on a bus. Imagine kids going around a maypole and said Eureka DNA There's those kinds of epiphanies, but then ultimately it's the hard work of sitting down and for me. It's sitting down and writing and I'll write and throw stuff out and give it to the people for feedback and circle back and try something again. And slowly over time, hopefully something starts to form that seems interesting. And only then, really, do themes start to come up. And then once you can find those and you can tune things to the theme. I usually don't start with, you know, I want to tell a story about, you know, everybody needs to be nice to orphans. You know, I don't necessarily start with a message. I start with something that just excites me and is compelling usually out of that you can come up with the things that are universal and other people can identify with and connect with. So, lots of writing and the typical process in a DreamWorks is lots of drawing. You start drawing characters, you start drawing the story and pictures or storyboards as I'm sure most people are familiar with. Again, iteration after iteration. It's a lot of collaborative effort and finally It's really pretty much done, ideally before you even create your first frame of final imagery.

[00:05:48.945] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it seems like there's a couple of other steps in there in terms of, like, do you write a one-page treatment of, like, this is all what happens in the story? Or, you know, then do you come up with your tagline with how do you pitch it when, like, 30 seconds or less? Or what are some of the other things that you do that are kind of essential before you start to actually sketch out, you know, the... It seems like you have to kind of figure out the architecture of the story before you can really just start writing.

[00:06:13.208] Eric Darnell: Well it's true, and for me it really depends on the form of the story, if it's short, if it's four or five minutes long, which is the kind of content we're doing now, so that we can move quickly in VR, learn a lot, iterate, take what we know and apply it to the next project, learn from our mistakes, all that kind of stuff. Those stories can come together fairly quickly, so I might be halfway through an idea that just popped into my head, and I'm writing a paragraph, and suddenly it's like, okay, I know what this has got to be, and I'll just go write to a script, and I'll start working on a script, thinking that I'm going to be done with it in an hour or two, and then suddenly it's 30 pages long, and I go, we can't make that, I've got to go back. And then other times, it's a more drawn out process, but for me, it's the longer the duration is, there's just more pieces that have to connect, there's more dependencies, and so, you know, for a feature film, You could work for years to develop a project before it sees the light of day. I've worked on films that took two, two and a half years under a lot of pressure to meet a production schedule to get something that was ready to go into production. And even then it wasn't ready. On every film I've worked on, we were writing and rewriting until the test was over, put your pencils down, you know, damn, I never got to that final question. So it's that old thing of, you know, it's never finished, it's abandoned. But for me, it's all about iterating. And if a treatment helps me, that's great. One of the things that helped a lot for pitching, especially for a big project at DreamWorks is to try to come up with a one or two sentence description of what it is you're trying to do. And if you can walk up to somebody on the street and tell them what you're trying to do. And if that elicits the reaction you want, if that brings a smile to their face, or if they go, oh, wow, that sounds so cool, then I think you've got something that is worth continuing to work on. So as an example, for those that have seen Ants, which was a story of, well, here's what it is. If you haven't seen it, see if it brings a smile to your face. So Ants is a story of a colony of millions of ants, and everybody thinks the same way, except one ant decides that he wants to think different. And what if that one ant was played by Woody Allen? And so that's how we would pitch to people. And inevitably people would smile and go, okay, I want to hear more. That sounds interesting. And even Woody Allen smiled when he heard it. So we had something.

[00:08:32.884] Kent Bye: So what's the pitch for Invasion then?

[00:08:36.509] Eric Darnell: Now you've got me. The pitch for Invasion is aliens with their superior technology, this advanced civilization, bent on dominating the galaxy, have come to Earth to destroy everything in their path that will prevent them from accomplishing their goal. And what they come across is a little white bunny. And that little white bunny has more to offer than these aliens could ever anticipate. So, I haven't tried that yet, so I think I can do better. So, come back and ask me later.

[00:09:08.351] Kent Bye: Did you just make up that pitch on the spot here? Yeah, I did. I did. That's pretty good, all things considered, yeah. But, you know, there seems to be, like, the fundamental challenge with virtual reality, I would say, is that we're working with a medium that has proportion scale, 3D immersion, you know. There's a certain amount of constraints that film has that you can do a paper treatment in storyboards. But yet when you're working with a VR environment, sometimes you don't even know if something's going to work until you actually are in VR and you can see it. And so to me that kind of presents a challenge of how do you map a story out using the full advantages of all this 3D space of proportion and scale and virtual reality. and be able to do it in a way that you can map it out in your mind without having to actually create everything in VR first. Which we may do that eventually, but right now we kind of have to make this leap from this abstracted 2D into 3D.

[00:10:01.547] Eric Darnell: Well, a lot of the scripts I write, even for the shorts, are pretty heavy on description so that everyone's clear of the components of virtual reality that we're taking advantage of. So there's a lot of discussion about, you know, a bunny appears far away on the shore of a frozen lake and spots you from a distance and cutely and comically hops your way. So there's ways that sort of help describe the space. As far as storyboarding goes, I know that people are working on tools that allow you to put storyboards into your space and pop from one to another. And I haven't done that yet, and maybe that's a great way to go. But for me, by the way, for this first piece, we didn't storyboard anything. I just kept it in my head. We had a really small team. We spent a lot of time talking about what was going to happen. But I know we can be more efficient if we get some images up there, especially for acting moments. So it's really everybody understands exactly what the acting beats are. But I go back to the old ways they did it at Disney long ago. The storyboard artists were not responsible for the cinematography or the staging, in some cases even the shots. They were responsible for the beats of the story. What's happening? What is the character thinking here? And then how does that thinking change by the time we get to the end of this beat or this moment? They would have then the story of what was happening inside the characters' minds. Often no backgrounds or anything would be part of the storyboards, but then you understand the core of the story, and then that would get handed off to a layout department that becomes the production design, the cinematography, and all those other components get sort of worked in with the director. and the luxury the story artist had is they didn't have to worry about all of that. They could just focus on the story itself and the characters and what's happening inside their heads and how are we going to connect with them as an audience. And then the director could then funnel that into the rest of the production process. So I think for me that's the best way to work because there's so many discoveries to be made at every level that I don't want to ask the story artist to keep all of this other stuff in their brain and you know where is everything and how many degrees do I rotate my head until I'm going to see the other thing I need to see. and then just work out all the cinematics, for lack of a better word, once we've nailed down the story.

[00:12:13.229] Kent Bye: Yeah, the thing that I find the most fascinating is the fact that virtual reality is still so early in its infancy of what the language of VR and all the rules and that people from all different disciplines are taking different approaches and just talking to somebody who has an audio production background and creating an audio escape in the way that she created her audio escape really made the VR experience that she did beyond anything else that I'd ever seen. And so, you know, starting to use some of these animation techniques, it sounds like you're kind of diving in, but yet you'll be kind of refining, iterating, and really trying to figure out ultimately what the most efficient production pipeline will be for planning out, imagining the story before you actually kind of dive in into actually making it.

[00:12:53.840] Eric Darnell: Ideally, I think that's the way to go. If you've got a little bit of luxury of time to explore that and take advantage of the time to make those connections between what you're trying to do with your story and how the mechanics of telling it can better support that. And it's different in VR. It is a little bit different because you can't cut. Well, no, I'm not going to say you can cut all you want. You can do whatever you want to do, but it has a different impact. So to be able to get in there and experiment with that kind of thing and have the time to do that is really valuable. Like even in the piece we have that's coming out in the near future. There's only two cuts and those are cuts to different locations but I've started to experiment with cuts inside a particular location even when it is from a point of view of a character that's actually inside the scene. What I found is if it's done when it's connected to visceral emotion that you hope the viewer is feeling at a particular moment that it actually works and you can get away with it. You know an example would be you know if I point a gun at you and you've committed yourself to be in this story in this 360 degree virtual reality world hopefully The fact that another character has pointed a gun at you will have some meaning. And so you're not going to want to be watching the clouds roll by or look down at your boots or whatever. You're going to be paying attention to that gun. It means something. And imagine in real life if somebody points a gun at your head. the rest of the world probably just falls away. And that's the only thing that matters. Maybe the gun and the two eyes that are behind it. And, you know, I think there's ways to experiment with things like that, to strip away everything else and to bring the viewer into that thing that they're already experiencing in a way that doesn't distract them from the story, but actually underscores what they're already experiencing.

[00:14:46.259] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's really interesting. And it kind of reminds me of this other dimension that I learned from the academic world. They kind of have a shorthand for testing presence as a bat test. So the point is, is that if you swing a bat at somebody's head, if they duck, then they felt like they were present. And so I was actually just in a VR experience. It was called The Interrogation. It was from Funny or Die. And the character literally pointed a gun at my face. And that moment when that happened, it broke presence because I was like, oh, I'm not in danger. This is a VR experience. Like, this is not real. And actually it kind of ruined the story in that way. And so I think there's elements about maintaining and keeping presence that when you have that moment, you have to also consider like, what is this going to do to presence to do this in a VR experience? Because it may actually feel like it's going to take people out because they're going to feel really threatened. If you had a real gun pointed to your face, then you would act in a certain way. But when you know that it's VR, then there's something about your conscious brain that sort of rips out the subconscious brain that gives that suspension of disbelief.

[00:15:45.219] Eric Darnell: Right. And, you know, I think the gun analogy may or may not be the best analogy for this, but on a broader context, it's like if something is happening in front of you that is really interesting and you really care about and you really want to see what's going to happen next, that same kind of thing can apply where I think where you can start to peel away stuff and it's okay because the audience is not caring about that. They really want to focus on this thing and you can bring it closer to them in ways that aren't quote, realistic, but again, underscore hopefully what they're feeling. If they're not feeling it and they do want to watch the clouds roll by, then you made a mistake and you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. And these are the things that, you know, you have to test with audiences because you'd never know.

[00:16:29.625] Kent Bye: Yeah. And talking to one of your co-founders, Maureen, it sounds like you've written a lot of scripts and that you've already, you know, your mind is kind of going wild with all the different things that you want to create and see in VR. And I imagine there might be a little bit of frustration of, like, the speed of having to go through all the process to do just one. But, you know, talk a bit about, like, what you see, you know, coming next and, like, what you want to see in VR.

[00:16:53.397] Eric Darnell: Well, you know, for me, it's like having worked on 90 or close to 90 minute films and taking, you know, 15 years to do five. It's like I'm just like, yeah, you know, three or four minutes short. You know, it doesn't have to. change anybody's life. It just has to be enjoyable and it's fun and interesting and exciting for those few minutes that the audience is going to give their time to it. And for me it's so much easier than writing a longer form. It's just fun. It's just these little vignettes, these little comic moments, sets, characters, little Ideas that don't have to be fleshed out and turned into some monumental thing And so it's so easy for me to just spit stuff out in ways that I never could so I think for me It's just like maybe there's just been this bottleneck in my brain for so many years So it's great to just explore all these different genres and tones. So I just feel like a kid in a candy store right now It's just a matter of getting them produced Yeah, and so what type of things do you want to experience in virtual reality then? You know, I don't know yet. I'm really curious about just narrative storytelling, not even necessarily where you are part of the story. I just think that there's something that VR has to offer that's different. I don't know if it's better, but it's different than cinema and can allow you to tell stories in a different way and give the audience sort of a different insight into the story. There's a lot of talk about how You know, being present and being a part of a story in VR and having agency and all these things leads to a more intense opportunities for generating empathy. I'm not so sure about that personally. You know, I've gone to and we all have gone to many films. And all you do is sit there and let it wash over you, and it can be a profoundly moving emotional experience. And grown men cry in the darkness of a movie theater and nowhere else. And, you know, why is that? What is it about that? And I'd like to see how to reach that level of emotional connection with an audience in VR. But I think, in fact, if you are a part of that world and a part of that story, it's not the same. You're not just allowed to sit there and watch. You're not just allowed to sit there and care or empathize. Suddenly you're there too. It's like, well, what am I supposed to do? How can I help them now? And so now your ego is a part of the equation. And I think every time your ego steps in and you're, did I do the right thing? Or which path should I take? Or should I tell them to go left or right? Suddenly now you're part of the story and you're part of the action and the agency and the ego is there. And so you're not free to just absorb what this other character's experiencing like you can in cinema, which I think is a big part of what allows us to just connect with these characters. with unqualified, just be part of their journey. But the analogy that I look at is like if you're watching a film and you see a kid crying on a bench in a park, you could be like 10 feet away from that kid in a movie theater and just watch that kid cry. No action is required from you except just to sit there and go, God, that poor kid. Oh my God, where are their parents? I can't imagine what horrible thing could have happened to them. What's going to happen next? And in a game, It's like, okay, I gotta go talk to this kid and figure out how to get to the next level. There's no empathy necessarily. Very few games, I think, generate any kind of empathy like that. It's more about moving the story forward. So how do we, well, in real life... You're jogging through the park, you see a kid all by themself, a seven-year-old girl crying on a bench. Well, you're going to take action like you would in a game, but for a completely different set of reasons, you know? Whatever you're at, you're going to make a choice. You're going to keep running, you're going to call 911, you're going to look for their parents, you're going to sit down next to them and comfort them. You have to make a choice, but it's a choice based upon empathy that you're feeling for this child, not on some ulterior motive. So how do we get to that in virtual reality? I don't know. But I think if that to me is like the Holy Grail. To find the level of empathy that we experience watching characters go through their trials and tribulations in cinema or in real life and get that kind of emotional response from the audience in virtual reality. I think potentially because of the immersion there's a chance that we can make the audience actually care about that child on the bench or actually care that that gun is pointed at their head in a way that they really buy into it.

[00:21:35.414] Kent Bye: Yeah, I just did an interview with Devin Dolan from Synetic Media, and he kind of characterized this quadrant system, which I think is really helpful to thinking about the different types of stories. And you can kind of think of it as either you're a ghost or you're a participant, or either you have impact or you don't. And so you can kind of look at all four of those different quadrants. And if you're a ghost with no impact, then perhaps you have more of a capacity to experience empathy because you have no guilt about making the right choice or not, which it sounds like a little bit of what you're saying. And then, you know, if you're sort of a character that you're actually part of the plot and you can actually have an impact on the outcome of the story, then that's something that, you know, you're a participant and you're active into the story. So I think there's different dimensions of each of these and I think the genres of that will be kind of fleshed out and have different strengths and weaknesses depending on how much agency, both local agency and global agency. So the global agency being sort of how much impact you can have. The local agency being that like some of the impact as a ghost maybe that you're able to kind of impact your environment but it's not really changing the outcome of the story but you're still being able to participate. I think that, you know, thinking about that helps elucidate that a little bit with what you're saying about, I don't know if you're being skeptical about, you know, the potential of empathy in VR, or when you say you're kind of like skeptical about empathy, what do you sort of mean?

[00:22:52.185] Eric Darnell: No, it's specifically I think about the kind of empathy that I think audiences have in a cinematic experience specifically. I think it's going to be a real challenge in VR, whatever approach people take. I think every approach you described is valid. And I think in particular for what Chris Milk is doing and a lot of other folks like Felix and Paul is that they're taking you somewhere. It's more of the empathy that comes from sort of a journalistic approach or a documentary approach where it takes you somewhere and puts you in that world and allows you to sort of feel like you're a part of it and understand it from that point of view and make that kind of connection. Sometimes it can be a really heartfelt connection where it's like, you know, wow, now I really get a sense of what it's like to be a person living in this war-torn city or whatever you're doing. But for me, it's specifically I think about stories and fiction and you know the art of storytelling and the three or five act structure and that sort of classic narrative storytelling that I think can be as if not more successful at generating these kinds of emotions. I mean, it's why we tell stories and have since, you know, we were all around the campfire. It's part of our DNA. There's something magical about fiction and storytelling, I think, that has this great potential and does create this amazing impact on people. And exactly how to generate that kind of an experience in VR is a mystery to me right now. And it could come out of anyone. I don't know that it's an approach-specific solution. I just think we're too young in this industry, in this genre, in this medium right now to know how we're going to get there. But that's what interests me and excites me, because that's my background, primarily. You know, it's like, there's nothing more satisfying than being in an audience and hearing people emotionally respond to something at the moment when you'd hope that they would. And just to feel that rush that you actually don't get from a single person watching. You really get it from a room full of people. And that's another challenge I think we have. I remember when I was a kid, well a kid, I was a college student. And I took every course I could take that Stan Brakhage taught. He was an experimental filmmaker who happened to teach at the college that I was going to, University of Colorado. I had no idea who he was when I started, and then, you know, he changed my life. He changed my life. But I remember there was a, he showed Dreyer's Gertrude to the class, and when it was over, he got up to the front of the class, and he was in tears, and he said, and he was thanking us all. for allowing him to see this Dreyer movie in a way he'd never seen before. And he said, you know, he was supposed to do a lecture, but he was too overwhelmed to even give a lecture, and so he left. And that was just, T.A. came down and goes, well, Stan left, so I guess the class is over for today. But there was something about, for him at least, that experience of watching that movie with a different dynamic of people that had a huge impact on him. And that always stuck with me. And so I think it's another challenge we have with VR, because you're kind of locking yourself into this little world all by yourself. And it's going to be a very different thing.

[00:26:10.293] Kent Bye: Yeah, just a quick point on that is that 2-Bit Circus has some technology to kind of sync Gear VR experiences. So just today at the Exemption Theater, they were showing collisions synced with all the people that were there. So they were able to kind of experience VR at the same time. But I do think that there is something to be said for going into a theater and watching it at the same time. And I can imagine that instead of having the virtual reality sort of sloughed off into the corner where you have to wait in line, it's just terrible to actually see anything. Perhaps we'll have a theater full of people kind of synced up watching a VR experience all at the same time, and they can kind of like share that emotional intensity that comes from that collective consciousness of having multiple people share an experience at the same time.

[00:26:52.774] Eric Darnell: Yeah, I think it would be interesting, you know? You know, I thought this one mother that I spoke to, who I showed our teaser to, and in the teaser for the first short that we have, this hawk comes in and grabs this little cute white rabbit and flies off with it. And that's it for the rabbit. We never see him again. We did that because we had to get ready for an event where we had to show it, and we didn't have time to animate the bunny. So we killed the bunny. And in the final version, I hope I don't get anything away, but the bunny doesn't die. But this mother watched the thing, and she said, I really enjoyed that. And I think my daughter, I forgot how old her daughter was, five or something, would really be enthralled by this kind of an experience. But I would never show her this. And I said, well, why not? And she said, well, because you kill the bunny. And she goes, now, I wouldn't have a problem with this if I went to the movie theater with my daughter and the bunny would get taken and some adults would be laughing because they'd realize the dark humor. And my daughter could turn to me and say, mommy, what happened to the bunny? And I could explain to her what happened to the bunny in whatever language I chose to explain it to her. And it would all be fine. But when she's all by herself, you know, really feeling like she's in this world, and she would feel it, she would believe it, a five-year-old, and that bunny gets taken, and there's no one to turn to, no giggling or laughter to hear, or no mommy to ask a question of, I think she would be horrified. I thought that was very insightful for somebody who really had no VR experience, and there is a difference, and it's something, you know, I think we have to take into consideration.

[00:28:27.257] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:28:34.915] Eric Darnell: Well, you know, you hear all the things that people are doing with therapy and education and manufacturing and, you know, so everybody's always talked about that. And so, yeah, I mean, I think it's going to enable so many things, many things that we can't even imagine yet. But ultimately, I think it's going to allow us to live the stories that we can only listen to or read in a book or watch in a movie screen. And there will be the holodeck equivalent, you know? And I don't think that's going to be that far away, honestly. The way technology is moving and how things are changing so quickly, it could be a lot sooner than a lot of us think. Who knows, with the singularity coming, and then it's, what, how many years is that? 20 years or no 30 but decades and you know imagine that you know what if you could just suddenly be anywhere you could want to go or anywhere you could imagine and and Experience that as if it was real and that's coming What kind of impact will have we'll have to wait and see maybe no one will ever come out again Okay great well, thank you so much all right.

[00:29:47.492] Kent Bye: Thanks a lot. It's been a pleasure And thank you for listening! If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com slash voicesofvr.

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