Storytelling has changed since the invention of moving pictures — from the advent of sound to a wider screen to 3D. But virtual reality in a 360-degree canvas, promises to change storytelling in a way that may be at least as transformative as those advances, if not more so.
So says Chris Milk, founder and CEO of VR tech company Within, and founder and creative director of Here Be Dragons. He is the recipient of the Deloitte Media and Leadership Award at the Variety Home Entertainment and Digital Hall of Fame.
Milk began his career creating music videos for Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Jack White, and U2. He is known for weaving together artistry and technological innovation. Milk’s interactive projects include “Wilderness Downtown” (with Arcade Fire), “The Johnny Cash Project” and “The Treachery of Sanctuary.” He has partnered with the United Nations, Apple, and NBC on his Within projects, and presented his views on VR at the influential TED conference programs
“VR can depict or recreate lifelike moments, same as traditional media,” the VR guru says. “But this unfolding technology can allow us to accomplish much more than depiction.
“Probably the clearest-cut difference between the old media and this new one is the difference between witnessing a recounted story and living within one.”
The medium offers a whole new canvas for artists, Milk says.
“The rectangle has been the format of the medium of cinema since its birth. But at one point, cave paintings were the visual gold standard of storytelling. So things change.”
He sees VR as a completely new medium in its early days.
“You’re seeing a lot of talented filmmakers starting to experiment already,” Milk says, citing Sam Esmail’s ‘Mr. Robot’ piece as a great example. ” You have characters and a world originally designed for rectangular storytelling, now perceived through a new medium. Sam was able to invite fans into the world of ‘Mr. Robot’ and give them a new way to experience the story,” he says. “With the change in medium, Sam made deliberate choices with regards to camera movement, pacing, tone, and music that he wouldn’t have been able to make in the traditional rectangle.”
Since audiences “experience” stories, many wonder if film directors will have the same artistic control.
“A lot of people worry that virtual reality is not a medium for storytellers because the director loses control,” Milk says. “I say this kindly: they are completely wrong. Each medium requires a different type of authorship, and the role of an artist, storyteller, or director has to adapt to each new format. VR can take us to new worlds, and those worlds need to be created by someone with a vision and voice.”
It’s not so different from the development of storytelling in film’s early days, he says.
“Don’t forget that someone had to discover the close-up before it became a staple of traditional filmmaking. We’re witnessing those same discoveries happening every day in VR.”