Skybound Entertainment and Delusion Producing VR Horror Series

Immersive theater has become extremely popular in the last few years, particularly in New York and Los Angeles. Rather than plunking an audience down in front of a stage, immersive theater invites guests to become the protagonists, often requiring them to walk, crawl and maneuver through sprawling sets and interact verbally and sometimes physically with actors. Some shows even require audience members complete tasks or solve puzzles before advancing to the next part of the story, similar to escape rooms. Virtual reality offers a similar immersion. While each medium offers something the other does not, both seek to fully envelop an audience member in a narrative. That’s why it should delight you to know Skybound, the company behind The Walking Deadand Outcast, has announced its plans to develop Jon Braver’s interactive play Delusion for VR.

If you haven’t seen Delusion, it popped up in L.A. during 2011’s Halloween season. Los Angeles has a slew of haunts every year, and Delusion is by no means the only immersive show (it’s also reluctant to call itself a haunt, though the stories they tell are often the gothic horror variety). It is, however, one of the most popular, with tickets that routinely sell out right after they’re released. Even after only its inaugural year, it managed to attract Neil Patrick Harris as a producer for its 2012 show.

Skybound’s VR adaptation will surround Delusion’s 2014 Lies Within show. Written by Braver and Peter Cameron, Lies Within places you in the year 1947 and in the home of Elena Fitzgerald, a dark fantasy author who has vanished, along with her daughter. You are one of her biggest, most dedicated fans, and you have broken into Elena’s estate to suss out clues as to where she’s gone. However, inside her home, her creations had become reality.

Skybound and Braver have worked together to create new characters to inject into this fresh adaptation. As such, instead of it being a first-person experience where you are only you, you’ll be able to experience the story via multiple perspectives as those characters explore their surroundings.

“You’ll basically be able to follow a couple different PoVs whenever you watch, so you won’t have a strict autonomy, but [it’s not as if] you won’t be given any choices,” Rachel Skidmore, Skybound’s director of media development, told VRScout.

The experience won’t be like a game, necessarily, but, as in the play itself, there may be objects one must locate to move forward or other tasks that raise the stakes beyond a simple viewing. It will also mimic various pieces of the live show, where guests must hide, crouch or otherwise escape monsters inside Elena’s estate.

One might recall the game Steady Rain, which is ostensibly about a father who is searching for his son, who has been kidnapped by a serial killer. However, you’re not just that dad. You’re also an investigative reporter and a private detective, and each of those perspectives are crucial to getting the entire story. One might also recall GONE, a VR series that Skybound created with Wevr and Samsung for Milk VR. GONE also tells the story of a missing child and her mother, but because it is in VR, the viewer has several choices as far as what to look at while the story unfolds. There’s a re-watch value there, as paying attention to different focal points reveals different pieces of the whole narrative.

The same is true in live immersive theater. For instance, I went to Delusion’s most recent show only last week. This show, His Crimson King, is a vampire tale, full of the all the tropes any bloodsucker aficionado loves. We entered a dilapidated mansion and had to navigate the often deadly rivalry between the two distinct bloodlines that dwelled within. MILD SPOILER AHEAD: At one point, I was sent on a weapons finding mission only to be locked into a coffin and dragged, still inside said coffin, into another room where an indecisive vampire couldn’t decide if he wanted to feed on me or not. What’s key here is that I had no way of knowing what was happening to my friends while I was being primed for supper by my vampire kidnapper. I mean, sure, I could have asked them, but I will never have that actual experience unless I buy another ticket and go toDelusion again. I’ll never have every one-on-one interaction unless I go several times. But I could if I could replay the scene as someone else, multiple times. The tangibility of being thrashed around by a vampire wouldn’t be there, but it would offer me a complete narrative without requiring me to buy another ticket and physically go through it again.

“That’s the idea,” Skidmore said. “We’d like to provide those different PoVs for that very reason, the FOMO that you might have from not doing the same thing as your group. It’ll give you a chance to experience the story in different ways.”

Of course in VR, I might not necessarily have a group. While VR would be a more solitary way to experience the show, Skidmore doesn’t think it’s necessarily isolating, and that people will still want to discuss their own experiences with others.

“I hope that this gets people talking. You can’t repeat someone else’s experience,” she said. “In the same way that there have been conversations about GONE…I think there will be conversations about [Delusion].”

Right now, Delusion is Skybound’s focus for this type of adaptation, and Skidmore says they chose Braver because he’s “a great creator” and they’re excited by his vision. That may extend to Delusion-themed comic books or other media, too. So, at this point, it’s not clear if Skybound will take on more immersive theater adaptations, but Skidmore said Skybound would love to create additional VR experiences in the future. We’d love to see a VR version of The Tension Experience or Creep, and perhaps the most exciting thing—if VR were to become a common companion to immersive theater—would be the ability to experience these narratives without physically traveling to the cities where they’re mounted.

Sports Illustrated partnering to produce first complete Mt. Everest climb in Virtual Reality

Sports Illustrated will partner with Endemol Shine Beyond USA to produce the first documentary series of a complete climb of Mt. Everest to be presented in virtual reality.

The production, titled “Capturing Everest,” will debut in early 2017, on Time Inc.’s new LIFE VR platform, and will also be released on in 360-degree video. The production is presented by Sports Illustrated

The video was shot over the span of two months, using cameras on zip lines and on the body harnesses of climbers, who include six-time Everest summiteer Garret Madison and three-time Everest summiteer Brent Bishop. For the first time, viewers will be able to experience the climb in first-person using virtual reality. 

"Attacking the world’s highest summit seemed like the perfect place to go with our new VR initiative, and by partnering with Endemol Shine and adding in the world-class storytellers from Sports Illustrated, I think we have something truly special and unique to offer our audience," said Mia Tramz, managing editor of LIFE VR. "We can’t wait to bring viewers along for this once-in-a-lifetime journey. This is exactly the type of experience LIFE VR was created for."

Adds Time Inc. Sports Illustrated Group editorial director Chris Stone: "Capturing an ascent in VR makes the unattainable seem attainable while at the same time reinforcing the mythology of Everest. This production is both extraordinarily real and unreal all at once. We are thrilled to bring the viewer along for the odyssey."


Virtually Mike and Nora Debuting on Hulu for Daydream View Launch

This week sees the launch of Google’s next virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD), Daydream View, on Thursday. There’s going to be plenty of videogames and apps to get owners started, one of which will be Hulu. As part of the Hulu content line-up will be HuffPost RYOT’s scripted comedy Virtually Mike and Nora, debuting on Google’s headset.

Virtually Mike and Nora first came to light in September when HuffPost RYOT announced the show alongside 10-part news programme The Big Picture: News in Virtual Reality.

Shot using Nokia’s professional 360-camera, OZO, the comedy show will have five episodes for the inaugural season. Starring Nora Kirkpatrick (The Office, Edward Sharpe) and Mike O’Brien (SNL, Portlandia), the pair also co-created, co-wrote and co-directed the sketch series.

Virtually Mike and Nora experiments with what’s possible in VR using a narrative. Viewers will find themselves as a character in sketches and an omnipresent voyeur in others. Through the entire series the audience will be a necessary part of the humour.

While Virtually Mike and Nora will premiere on Hulu for Daydream View, the app is also available for Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift, with the series due to arrive on the latter headsets in the near future.

In addition to Hulu’s library of VR content, Hulu subscribers can stream the company’s entire library of 2D content, including current season content, past seasons of hit shows, movies and Hulu Originals, in immersive 3D environments.


Stop what you’re doing and find a Gear VR

by Samit Sarkar@SamitSarkar  Sep 14, 2016, 8:00am EDT

Late in "Follow My Lead: The Story of the 2016 NBA Finals," there’s a shot of Tyronn Lue, head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, urging his players to shut down the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 and secure Cleveland’s first sports title in 52 years. "One more stop!" Lue yells from the sideline.

Watching through a virtual reality headset, I felt like I was right there at courtside with him.

"Follow My Lead," available today for free in the Oculus Store for the Samsung Gear VR and as a 360-degree Facebook video, offers an incredible glimpse of the possibilities of 360-degree video — not just for sporting events, but for all applications. In addition to bringing basketball fans closer to the action of the unforgettable 2016 NBA Finals, both in the games and off the court, the mini-documentary could serve as an example to VR filmmakers of how to best use this nascent medium to its full potential.

I watched "Follow My Lead" in its entirety during a visit to the NBA Store in midtown Manhattan yesterday, sitting in a chair that could rotate 360 degrees. That was key to the viewing experience, since half the fun of watching something like this is being able to look around you in all directions. It really adds to that sense of presence when you can look up and see the Quicken Loans Arena’s gigantic scoreboard above you, or scan the crowd to see fans pumping their fists in the air.

Here, presence is more than a mere novelty; it’s the heart and soul of "Follow My Lead." Plenty of sports documentaries promise never-before-seen clips, and the footage provided by the 360-degree cameras used to film this documentary is spectacular in and of itself, both for the games themselves and for other situations. But more importantly, "Follow My Lead" is a never-before-seen way to experience one of the most unbelievable, memorable NBA Finals in basketball history.

The sheer variety of the camera angles in the film goes a long way toward bringing you into the action. Here’s an incomplete list from my notes: above the backboard, in the tunnel to the court, in a pregame huddle, on the practice floor, at center court in an empty arena, below the arm of the hoop, in the television broadcast control room, inside a Cleveland barbershop, at a postgame press conference and at multiple locations among the crowd.

The in-game footage speaks for itself in showing off the action. But the behind-the-scenes clips provide the glue that holds together "Follow My Lead" and helps tell the Cavaliers’ incredible comeback story. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving take control of the team’s destiny on the court, and you can also see James embracing his leadership role, telling his teammates during pregame huddles to rely on him for guidance. Even establishing shots are better in 360-degree video — going from a bright day on the San Francisco Bay to a spot by a dingy bridge in Cleveland says more than Michael B. Jordan’s narration ever could.

"Follow My Lead" is shot and edited in a way that minimizes the chances of breaking immersion; I only noticed a few instances — usually when the camera was situated in a thicket of screaming fans — in which it felt like I was occupying the same space as another person or object. Although some would consider it a nauseating no-no to move the camera in VR video, the film employs a few gentle tracking shots that made me feel as if I were being ferried through a simulator ride at a theme park.

Audio is just as important as video for VR, and "Follow My Lead" doesn’t disappoint in that respect. The documentary was shot with microphones that provide positional sound, which further contributes to immersion even in the most mundane applications. When I turned my head at a postgame press conference to catch a glimpse of the assembled reporters, the Warriors’ Steph Curry was speaking from behind me. And in a shot near some Cavaliers cheerleaders, I could hear their pom-poms rustle even though the crowd was raucous.

All that said, I kept coming back to Lue, the Cavs head coach, in the waning moments of Game 7. By now, it’s a cliche to say that VR and 360-degree video make you feel like you’re there. But that’s simply what I experienced in "Follow My Lead." And although I’ve never sat courtside at an NBA game, I now have an idea of what it’s like to be on the floor, close enough to hear coaches lead their players to a historic championship.

Standing on the court during the Warriors’ introductions at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, during the 2016 NBA Finals. 


The NBA told the producers of "Follow My Lead" that "it should feel like a 30 for 30 [film]," said Ari Kuschnir, referring to ESPN Films’ vaunted documentary series during an interview with Polygon yesterday.

Kuschnir is an executive producer and founder of Missing Pieces (stylized as m ss ng p eces, with the i’s removed), the production company that worked with Oculus VR and the NBA to make "Follow My Lead." The project came together very quickly — Eugene Wei, head of video at Oculus, told Polygon that he called the NBA a few weeks before the Finals to spitball ideas, and Kuschnir said that Missing Pieces got the green light perhaps one week before the series began in June.


It was a logical step for the NBA, which began looking into virtual reality long ago. As a test, the NBA first partnered with NextVR to record a game between the Warriors and the Denver Nuggets back in the 2013-14 season, and in the subsequent year, the league filmed parts of its annual All-Star Weekend in VR. These efforts led to opening night of the 2015-16 season, when NextVR livestreamed a game between the Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans in virtual reality. (These tests only offered a 180-degree field of view; "Follow My Lead" is a full 360-degree video.)

Sports leagues have begun experimenting with technology like this in recent years. The NHL has a partnership with GoPro to provide fans with on-ice footage from cameras mounted around the rink and on players’ helmets, and the league provided 360-degree video from its All-Star Game and Winter Classic this year. NextVR and Major League Baseball delivered VR highlights from the 2016 Home Run Derby. But the NBA is undeniably leading the charge.

"It's been established pretty clearly by Adam [Silver, the NBA commissioner] that not only innovation generally, but VR specifically, is strategically important for the NBA," said Jeff Marsilio, vice president of global media distribution for the NBA, in an interview with Polygon.

Tipoff at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, during one of the games of the 2016 NBA Finals.

In that respect, the parties involved in making "Follow My Lead" also wanted the film to push the boundaries of the medium forward. Wei noted that "VR video is a relatively new art form" in which "people are still stumbling through and figuring out what works and what doesn't work."

Even the length of the film is notable — at 25 minutes, it’s "the longest live-action VR video anyone’s seen," according to Wei. The vast majority of videos in this format are a few minutes long, since filmmakers aren’t yet sure that people are willing to sit in VR to watch a single piece of content for a long period of time. Kuschnir told us that until he saw the positive reception to "Follow My Lead" at the NBA Store, he had been worried that a half hour was too long. (In fact, the film is broken up into two parts, just in case.


In order to create a film that would work as a sports documentary and an innovative 360-degree video, Kuschnir brought together filmmakers from both worlds. "Follow My Lead" is co-directed by Gabe Spitzer, who has directed and produced documentaries for ESPN, HBO and Fox Sports, and Ray Tintori, a pioneer in VR video.

The directors had to figure out how to overcome three major limitations of the medium: You can’t move the camera (much), because it can be nauseating; you can’t zoom, because viewers must be able to look anywhere; and you can’t use cuts too frequently, because it can be disorienting.

They worked within those constraints, according to Kuschnir, and even bent the rules a bit in an effort to innovate. VR filmmakers tend to be conservative in changing camera angles, usually leaving about 10 seconds between cuts. In "Follow My Lead," the directors often made cuts after eight or even six seconds. I was able to follow the action in just about every instance; it was only once or twice that I had to take a second to figure out where I was.

Oculus Store artwork for "Follow My Lead: The Story of the 2016 NBA Finals." 

All of this required an "unprecedented level of access," according to Marsilio, and the project only worked because the NBA was willing to provide it. Kuschnir explained that the working relationship between the league and the filmmakers became more comfortable over time, and indeed, I noticed that the film featured camera angles from games later in the series that didn’t exist in the first few contests. (The Game 7 shot of Tyronn Lue that I raved about comes from a camera mounted on the scorer’s table along the sideline — you can actually see it behind Lue, to his left, in this photo.)

It all comes together in "Follow My Lead" to give you a new perspective on the highest-stakes basketball in the world, regardless of whether you watched this year’s NBA Finals when it happened. And if this is where the spectator experience for professional sports is headed, I’m fully on board.

Asked about Oculus VR’s interest in nongaming applications, Wei pointed out that John Carmack, the company’s chief technology officer — who, of course, was a renowned game developer for decades before he joined Oculus in 2013 — said at Oculus Connect 2 last year that VR adoption will be driven by content such as photos and videos.


"For broadening the audience to VR, video is a huge gateway experience," said Wei. "It’s going to be incredibly important.