×

MWM Immersive’s ‘Chained’ Combines Immersive Theater With Virtual Reality

Imagine finding yourself in a Victorian-era mystery, complete with dark spirits and a haunting quest of self-discovery. Now imagine you’re doing all of that while wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset, with live actors talking to you, holding your hand, guiding you through their dream-like world.

That in a gist is “Chained: A Victorian Nightmare,” a new location-based VR experience that debuted in Los Angeles last week. Produced by MWM’s MWM Immersive unit in collaboration with Here Be Dragons, “Chained” combines VR with immersive theater for a very unique and moving interpretation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

The experience was created and directed by Justin Denton, whose 13-year work history in Hollywood included stints as VFX supervisor on movies like “Battleship” and “47 Ronin.” When Denton discovered VR, he also began to explore the immersive theater space, which seemed to closely mirror the potential of VR to turn viewers into participants.

“I don’t think of this as a VR experience,” Denton recently told Variety following a demo of “Chained.” “I think of it as an immersive theater experience that uses VR.”

Popular on Variety

CREDIT: Courtesy of MWM Interactive

One of the interesting aspects of “Chained” is that it uses immersive theater as a kind of gateway to the world of VR. Viewers/participants enter a Victorian-era styled room, where they are met by an actress who prepares them for their spirit journey while staying in character, taking down their name with a fountain pen in an old log book, and ultimately handing them the headset to send them off into the VR world.

Once in VR, audience members meet and talk to some dark spirits, who adapt the story on the fly based on these conversations. “There is no pre-recorded dialogue of any kind,” Denton said. “No one will have the experience that you just had.” Actors, sounds, and animation help to guide the audience’s attention, but how people will actually respond is somewhat unpredictable. “People just behave differently,” Denton said.

CREDIT: Courtesy of MWM Interactive

To account for this element of surprise, Denton and his team decided not to pre-record or pre-render any of the spirits. Instead, “Chained” uses live actors and real-time motion capture to animate the spirits on the fly. The result is an extremely immersive experience, with animated spirits reaching out to you and their hands actually touching yours.

“Chained” also uses a number of other physical cues for heightened immersion. A spirit may hand you an apple or ask you to sit down on a bed. However, compared to other location-based VR experiences, “Chained” uses these cues sparingly and only if they’re in service of the story.

Likewise, “Chained” doesn’t use the latest and greatest in location-based VR tech, opting for a tethered headset instead of a VR backpack. However, you’ll quickly forget about the cable floating over your head, and not even realize that you walk around in a space that only measures about 25 square feet, thanks to set changes that work like dreamlike transitions from small and intimate rooms to much bigger spaces. “All of the technology is in service to the story,” Denton said.

CREDIT: Courtesy of MWM Interactive

Another difference between Denton’s piece and location-based experiences like ones from the Void: You’ll enter the world of “Chained” alone, as it is decidedly not a social experience. “I definitely want to play with multiple people,” he said. “This isn’t the story for that.”

At $40 a ticket and slots of 25 minutes for each participant, “Chained” is very much a bespoke VR experience, admitted MWM Immersive executive producer Ethan Stearns, who previously produced Alejandro González Iñárritu’s award-winning VR experience “Carne y Arena.” The company decided against optimizing for throughput, and instead wants to use the Los Angeles debut as a way to introduce the world to the story of “Chained.” “We are looking at it as a launch event for the content,” he said.

To that end, MWM Immersive ultimately aims to produce a home-based VR version, but also bring “Chained” to other cities next year. “We see it as an opportunity to launch something very special,” Stearns said.

“Chained” is scheduled to run in Los Angeles until Jan. 6. Tickets for the show are currently sold out, but new tickets are being made available from time to time.

More Digital

  • Vudu

    NBCUniversal in Talks to Buy Walmart's Vudu

    Comcast’s NBCUniversal is looking to add some Vudu into its streaming-video mix. The media conglomerate is in talks to buy Vudu, the Walmart-owned entertainment rental, download and free-streaming service, sources confirm to Variety. It’s unclear what the terms of the pact would be or the timing. News of NBCU’s interest in Vudu was first reported [...]

  • Tubi

    Fox in Talks to Acquire Free-Streaming Service Tubi for Over $500 Million (Report)

    Fox Corp. is in discussions about acquiring Tubi, the ad-supported free streaming service, in a deal worth more than $500 million, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources. With Tubi, Rupert Murdoch’s TV broadcasting and cable company would be adding a dedicated streaming component — offering over 20,000 older TV shows and [...]

  • Zombies 2 Disney Channel

    How Disney Channel's 'Zombies 2' Production Team Made Monsters Kid-Friendly

    Traditionally spooky creatures like zombies and werewolves get the Disney treatment in “Zombies 2,” the follow-up to the 2018 hit TV-movie musical of the same name. While the undead have now assimilated into the community of Seabrook, they’re confronted by a new set of outsiders: werewolves. Milo Manheim and Meg Donnelly return as Zed and [...]

  • Baby Yoda - The Child Animatronic

    Hasbro's Adorable Baby Yoda Animatronic Toy Is Already Sold Out on Disney's Online Store

    The Force remains strong for toys based on Baby Yoda, the breakout star of Disney Plus original series “The Mandalorian.” Less than a day after becoming available for pre-order, Hasbro’s new $59.99 Baby Yoda animatronic toy is no longer available on Disney’s official online store: As of Friday morning, Shop Disney listed it as “sold [...]

  • BTS Leads Spotify’s New Music Friday

    BTS Leads Spotify’s New Music Friday Playlist Rebrand

    Spotify has launched a global rebrand of its popular New Music Friday playlist, which this week features BTS, The Weeknd, Noah Cyrus, Trippie Redd, Kenny Chesney, Rei Ami and others. The revamped playlist, which has 43 versions worldwide, has more than 3.5 million followers in the US and eight million globally. New elements include a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content