Felix & Paul Studios are known as masters of cinematic VR storytelling, both with their documentaries and their more dramatic work with partners like Cirque du Soleil. But when the Montreal-based VR studio started to talk to Funny or Die some time early last year, they realized that they had never really done anything comedic before.
Both sides began to shoot ideas back and forth and quickly settled on “Miyubi” — a retro-futuristic 80s comedy that tells the story of a Japanese toy robot, given to a little boy, observing a typical suburban family with its trials and tribulations, and being plagued by increasingly serious technical issues.
“Miyubi,” which was produced together with Oculus, first premiered at Sundance earlier this year. On Thursday, it was released on the Oculus Store, where it is now available as a free download for Gear VR and Oculus Rift. And it is likely going to stand out among the many 360-videos and featurettes on the platform, if only for one thing: “Miyubi” is a whopping 45 minutes long.
However, the team behind the movie never set out to pioneer feature-length content for VR, explained “Miyubi” executive producer and Funny or Die president of digital Chris Bruss during an interview this week. “We weren’t out to push the boundaries,” he said.
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The length was instead driven by the story, co-written by Funny or Die’s Owen Burke. The kicker: “Miyubi” lets the viewer experience the story from the perspective of the robot, who itself is a kind of voyeur, in the middle of everything but not really doing a whole lot. In many ways, VR viewers are kind of like robots at this point, argued Felix & Paul’s chief content officer Ryan Horrigan, capable of looking around within a set, but not of interacting with it like one would in a video game. “We didn’t have to gamify it too much,” Horrigan said.
“Miyubi” does play a bit with interactivity, and blends filmed sequences with real-time rendering, including one scene that cleverly mirrors the robot’s likeness, including any head movements undertaken by the viewer. There’s also a hidden easter egg, giving viewers the ability to unlock a bonus scene featuring Jeff Goldblum by looking at three key objects throughout the film.
|Jeff Goldblum is the biggest name in Miyubi, but he only appears in an easter egg scene that has to be unlocked by the viewer. Courtesy of Felix & Paul|
But what’s even more remarkable is that, while funny, the story feels like more than just a comedy. “This is an intimate story,” said Bruss. “It is comedic, and yet it’s also got a ton of heart to it.”
Bruss attributed a lot of that to Felix & Paul’s signature sense of presence, and the intricate set design — but he also suggested that it may be about finding the right way to do comedy in a medium like VR.
“The thing about comedy in VR is that there is no easy laughs,” he said. Giving the viewer agency to look anywhere also means that cheap visual jokes may simply not work. “You need to make sure that whatever you do in VR has a strong and compelling story to tell.”
And once you have such a story, you’re also able to go longer — even if the result is something like “Miyubi” with its 45 minutes. Oculus head of experiences Colum Slevin argued that existing assumptions about the best length for certain content may simply not apply to virtual reality.
“Nobody has written that rulebook for VR yet,” he said. To which Horrigan replied: “I hope nobody does write a rulebook for VR.”