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How VR Changed My Career

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

Just to be upfront, I’m writing this blog to proudly share the VR teaser — that we completed in 2016 — for our sci-fi animated virtual reality series, The PhoenIX. This 3 minute 360 video changed my career and made me believe in the power of VR as a storytelling medium. It put me on the rollercoaster ride of my life (a ride that I’m still on!). This is my story.

How it all began

The year was 2015 and I looked at virtual reality like many other people did: interesting, pretty cool, but what was there to watch? A short live-action piece here, an animated thing there and so, so many gimmicky experiences (roller coaster ride anyone?). There was nothing really that would keep me coming back to VR. Everyone around me was talking about VR devices and the VR games but what else was there? What about non-gaming content? Why weren’t more people creating content for this new industry? I found out the hard way.

Back then I was a banker who dabbled in filmmaking. I co-founded Warrior9, a content creation house a few years ago. We originally focused on short online films and documentaries.

I had this sci-fi script burning a hole in my pocket and finally decided to create an animated teaser to help raise funding for it. The animators I was working with had just started playing around with VR and said, “Why don’t you try it in VR?”.

“Is that going to work?” I asked.

“Let’s find out!” They said.

I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. But once we put together that first scene, just 90 seconds long, I felt the intensity, the immersiveness, the scale. The awe of it sent chills up my spine. I knew we had something special and I became a believer in the power of VR to tell amazing stories. I quit my day job and was all in.

90 seconds is no 3 minutes

It took us about six months. Six months to build the assets from scratch, to do facial and motion capture, to experiment, to figure out how to direct something in this new immersive medium. Six months for 3 minutes of content. And I learned… A LOT. We completed the teaser and it blew me away. We were able to form a cohesive narrative and it worked. I realised that a space epic in VR was perfect. It was immersive and it was exhilarating. This is how we would get people excited, not only about The PhoenIX but about VR.

In 2016, we took the teaser on the road to a number of industry events and comic cons in the region and showed it to more than 1000 people. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Nothing like seeing someone remove a headset from their face with a huge smile on their face, and big eyes filled with wonder… nearly 1000 times over! However, one of the most gratifying things was that professionals from within the industry were equally blown away. They couldn’t believe this had been created by just a handful of people.

People watching The PhoenIX
This is what makes it all worth it

A lot has changed in the past year. When we first started more than 90% of the people we met had very little knowledge about VR. We got questions like: “So it’s like 3D?”, “It’s a game right? VR is just for games right?”, “How do I even see stuff in VR?”

I’ve gotten fewer and fewer of these questions since then. A lot has changed with The PhoenIX as well. Our pilot episode was accepted into the Cannes Film Festival Next VR showcase earlier this year, and we are now in production for Episode 2. We’re able to create content a lot faster. Our small but elite team is all in-house and the technology has advanced at such a breakneck speed that the look and feel of our show has improved by spades. Take a look at the photos:

Initial design sketch for The PhoenIX Teaser
Original storyboard from the teaser by yours truly (it’s the running joke in the office)

Man awakening in space
Image from the teaser in 2016

enhanced man awakening in space
Image from Episode 1 in 2017

Oz - leader of The PhoenIX
The character, Oz, from the teaser on the left and the latest version (still WIP) on the right

Sticking it out

This is a tough path that I’ve chosen but I’ve also learned that I’m not alone. There are other content creators out there and VR content is finally getting more focus. People are asking: “What’s the point of all these headsets if you don’t have anything to watch?”

Well, I look forward to sharing The PhoenIX with you in 2018.

You can see the VR version of our teaser here. And you can find out more about The PhoenIX on the website.

Note: To those not familiar with watching content in VR — if you don’t have a VR headset you can always use the scrolling option on your phone or laptop, though it’s not the full immersive experience.

Otherwise go grab a Google Cardboard and launch the YouTube link on your phone. Press the cardboard logo on the bottom left of the screen, insert your phone into the cardboard and voila, you’re in VR.

Till next time… #LoveVR

The Phoenix Logo
The Phoenix Logo

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