Talking VR content with Phillip Moses of studio Rascali

Phillip Moses, head of VR content developer Rascali, has been working in visual effects for over 25 years. His resume boasts some big-name films, including Alice in Wonderland, Speed Racer and Spider-Man 3, just to name a few. Seven years ago he launched a small boutique visual effects studio, called The Resistance VFX, with VFX supervisor Jeff Goldman.

Two years ago, after getting a demo of an Oculus pre-release Dev Kit 2, Moses realized that “we were poised on the edge of not just a technological breakthrough, but what will ultimately be a new platform for consuming content. To me, this was a shift almost as big as the smartphone, and an exciting opportunity for content creators to begin creating in a whole new ecosystem.”

Phillip Moses

Phillip Moses

Shortly after that, his friends James Chung and Taehoon Oh launched Reload Studios, with the vision of creating the first independently-developed first-person shooter game, designed from the ground up for VR. “As one of the first companies formed around the premise of VR, they attracted quite a bit of interest in the non-gaming sector as well,” he explains. “Last year, they asked me to come aboard and direct their non-gaming division, Rascali. I saw this as a huge opportunity to do what I love best: explore, create and innovate.”

Rascali has been busy. They recently debuted trailers for their first episodic VR projects, Raven and The Storybox Project, on YouTube, Facebook/Oculus Video, Jaunt, Littlstar, Vrideo and Samsung MilkVR. Let’s find out more…

You recently directed two VR trailers. How is directing for VR different than directing for traditional platforms?
Directing for VR is a tricky beast and requires a lot of technical knowledge of the whole process that would not normally be required of directors. To be fair, today’s directors are a very savvy bunch, and most have a solid working knowledge of how visual effects are used in the process. However, for the way I have chosen to shoot the series, it requires the ability to have a pretty solid understanding of not just what can be done, but how to actually do it. To be able to previsualize the process and, ultimately, the end result in your head first is critical to being able to communicate that vision down the line.

Also, from a script and performance perspective, I think it’s important to start with a very important question of “Why VR?” And once you believe you have a compelling answer to that question, then you need to start thinking about how to use VR in your story.  Will you require interaction and participation from the viewer? Will you involve the viewer in any way? Or will you simply allow VR to serve as an additional element of presence and immersion for the viewer?

While you gain many things in VR, you also have to go into the process with a full knowledge of what you ultimately lose. The power of lenses, for example, to capture nuance and to frame an image to evoke an emotional response, is all but lost. You find yourself going back to exploring what works best in a real-world framing — almost like you are directing a play in an intimate theater.

What is the biggest challenge in the post workflow for VR?
Rendering! Everything we are producing for Raven is at 4K left eye, 4K right eye and 60fps. The rendering process alone guarantees that the process will take longer than you hoped. It also guarantees that you will need more data storage than you ever thought necessary.

But other than rendering, I find that the editorial process is also more challenging. With VR, those shots that you thought you were holding onto way too long are actually still too short, and it involves an elaborate process to conform everything for review in a headset between revisions. In many ways, it’s similar to the old process of making your edit decisions, then walking the print into the screening room. You forget how tedious the process can be.
By the way, I’m looking forward to integrating some realtime 360 review into the editorial process. Make it happen Adobe/Avid!

These trailers are meant to generate interest from production partners to green light these as full episodic series. What is the intended length of each episode, and what’s the projected length of time from concept to completion for each episode of the all-CG Storybox, and live-action Raven?
Each one of these projects is designed for completely different audiences, so the answer is a bit different for each one. For Storybox, we are looking to keep each episode under five minutes, with the intention that it is a fairly easy-to-consume piece of content that is accessible to a broad spectrum of ages. We really hope to make the experiences fun, playful and surprising for the viewer, and to create a context for telling these stories that fuels the imagination of kids.

For Storybox, I believe that we can start delivering finished episodes before the end of the third quarter — with a full season representing 12 to 15 episodes. Raven, on the other hand, is a much more complex undertaking. While the VR market is being developed, we are betting on the core VR consumers to really want stories and experiences that range closer to 12 to 15 minutes in duration. We feel this is enough time to tell more complex stories, but still make each episode feel like a fantastic experience that they could not experience anywhere else. If green-lit tomorrow, I believe we would be looking at a four-month production schedule for the pilot episode.

Rascali is a division of Reload Studios, which is developing VR games. Is there a technology transfer of workflows and pipelines and shared best practices across production for entertainment content and games within the company?
Absolutely! While VR is a new technology, there is such a rich heritage of knowledge present at Reload Studios. For example, one question that VR directors are asking themselves is: “How can I direct my audience’s attention to action in ways that are organic and natural?” While this is a new question for film directors — who typically rely on camera to do this work for them — this is a question that the gaming community has been answering for years. Having some of the top designers in the game industry at our disposal is an invaluable asset.

That being said, Reload is much different than most independent game companies. One of their first hires was senior Disney animator Nik Ranieri. Our producing team is composed of top animation producers from Marvel and DC. We have a deep bench of people who give the whole company a very comprehensive knowledge of how content of all types is created.

What was the equipment set-up for the Raven VR shoot? Which camera was used? What tools were used in the post pipeline?
Much of the creative IP for Raven is very much in development, including designs, characters, etc. For this reason, we elected to construct a teaser that highlighted immersive VR vistas that you could expect in the world we are creating. This required us to lean very heavily on the visual effects / CG production process — the VFX pipeline included Autodesk 3ds Max, rendering in V-Ray, with some assistance from Nuke and even Softimage XSI. The entire project was edited in Adobe Premiere.

For our one live-action element, this was shot with a single Red camera, and then projected onto geometry for accurate stereo integration.

Where do you think the prevailing future of VR content is? Narrative, training, therapy, gaming, etc.?
I think your question represents the future of VR. Games, for sure, are going to be leading the charge, as this demographic is the only one on a large scale that will be purchasing the devices required to build a viable market. But much more than games, I’m excited to see growth in all of the areas you listed above, including, most significantly, education. Education could be a huge winner in the growing VR/AR ecosystem.

The reason I elected to join Rascali is to help provide solutions and pave the way for solutions in markets that mostly don’t yet exist.  It’s exciting to be a part of a new industry that has the power to improve and benefit so many aspects of the global community.


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