Occupied VR Knows How to Unnerve You
Occupied VR speaks with VRTL about their companion VR piece to Fatih Akin’s “The Golden Glove,” a horror film (based on real events) in competition at Berlinale 2019. VRTL Editor-in-Chief, Justine Harcourt de Tourville found the VR piece to be just as scary and creepy as the movie and directors J. Lee Williams and Timur Musabay explain their approach and decisions to make an escape room piece with volumetric capture with painstaking detail.
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Justine: Hey, it’s Justine. We are at a very funky spot here. We’re in the VR lounge in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. And we’re here talking with two VR creators and makers J. Lee Williams? I’m sorry, I didn’t get your last name.
Timur: Musabay. Timur Musabay.
Justine: Wow! And why don’t you tell us about your experience that you’ve been?
Timur: We met Fatih. Fatih Akin has a new film called The Golden Glove, Der Goldene Handschuh, Warner Brothers, at Berlin International and it’s premiering here at Berlinale.
We met Fatih Akin at GIFF, another film festival in Mexico a few years ago. And we’ve always discussed doing a project. And couple of years later, we’ve made a company VR piece that basically allows the user to step into film as a participant. And it’s quite a movie. It’s a horror film. So, it’s kind of a scary experience, but, J?
Lee: Yeah, the movie’s called The Golden Glove. It is intense. We saw the premiere a couple days ago and I mean the audience loved it. Fatih’s a brilliant director, so I’m working with him for the VR pieces. He’s really amazing.
Like Tim said, we met him, and he really got excited about virtual reality. And he really is just waiting for the right project to do, so this is kind of it. I mean it kind of came up because Tim was in Berlin a couple months ago and we called up Fatih just to hangout, and he just happened to be wrapping up the sets. And so, he said, “Come over. Check out the sets.” And then, a couple days later, we’re flying out to one of our guys in Toronto, some of the guys from Toronto to photo scan the sets and start building this VR piece that we have.
The film is about a serial killer named a Honka and so we kind of made an escape room based on that. So, you’re in the piece and you sort of wake up there and you got to figure out your way through it. There are a couple ways to escape and a couple of ways to get caught. But everyone’s received it very well. Everyone seems to like it a lot.
Justine: Well, there’s just one thing we got to go back a little and talk about this context. It is a true story. It is a real serial killer that lived in Berlin.
Timur: Hamburg, actually.
Justine: Oh, sorry. Hamburg, that’s right. Tell us a little bit about what you’re trying to encapsulate in the experience.
Timur: Well, one thing I wish to mention, the approach was… we didn’t like 3D model scenes from the movie. When I actually went to Hamburg, the first thing we did… it was the one last three days of shooting and I walked into the closed set and recreated the bar, The Golden Glove, and then recreated the serial killer’s apartment. And painstaking detail, when I walked into that set, like I got scared and it freaked me out. It was like a horrifically, beautiful set. And the first thing that I thought was, we have to capture this. And this is one of our first pieces for film that we’ve done this with., but we’ve been working on this pipeline for a couple of years now. And, J?
Lee: Yeah, I mean Tim and I both come from film. And so, we’ve been in film for quite a long time, done a lot of projects like from commercial, to film, to television, you name it, visual effects. We have another company too that does all visual effects and then 2D stuff.
And then, when we got our first experience with virtual reality, it just blew our minds and the possibilities of what we could do with that. And I guess, you know, in the beginning of VR, a lot of 360 videos sort of came up, and that’s what the standard became. It was sort of new, but we knew there was so much more. So, when we talk about volumetric capture, we’re now like, for us, it’s really exciting, because now we can actually really bring the essence of a set in or put somebody in a place that looks really real, and really make that cinematic.
And so, our company is called Occupied VR in Toronto. One of the main things that we’re now focused on with the volumetric capture, which is fairly new, is now we can actually film people in three dimensions, which is incredible, because instead of, you know, doing motion capture on a 3D model of them, or a scan of them, we can actually capture their whole performance.
So now, in terms of film, we’re bringing the best of both worlds in it and we’re kind of going back to what we love in film and bringing that into a virtual space where we’re allowing the viewer to be the camera. But the cinematic representation of things now has gone to such a huge level and it’s really like it’s night and day where 360 video was showing everybody.
And so, you know, a lot of you are like 360 or your virtual reality is they’ll kind of hope here are a little bit dead, but the next wave of VR is exactly what virtual reality should be. And we really just want to the forefront of that and as cutting edge as possibly as we can, make it interactive and make it a lot of fun.
This piece is a little bit scary. So, you know, there’s been nine people. I was going to say 10. Nine people escaped. You were saying you too that you escaped but in a different way.
Justine: I’ve seen it. I took off the headset, because I was scared. It did capture the feeling of being in a very creepy serial murderer’s home very well. And with that, let’s talk a little bit about the name because one of the cool aspects of it is the golden glove. What does that represent?
Lee: Well, I’ll let Tim answer that.
Timur: The Golden Glove is a bar that actually, if I’m not mistaken, I know there’s only seven days a week, 24 hours a day. So, it is maybe it’s for I don’t know. I haven’t seen any much renovations, but this place might have been open for the last 40 years. And if you could imagine the clientele that frequents a place like that. It’s a landmark.
What they did with one of the sets was they recreated it perfectly like how it was like ‘74 or ’75. So much so that after I saw the set, after the wrap party, me and Fatih we’re like, “Hey, we still want to hang out, you know, and celebrate wrap the movie. We’re like, “Where do we go?” We’re like, “Let’s go to the Golden Glove”.
So, we went to the Golden Glove. When I walked in, I was insane at how well they had recaptured your original place with the set. And then, we captured the set with the VR experience.
Justine: Well, good. That’s phenomenal to do that. But let me ask you about the workflow. Was there anything challenging in the production workflow of getting this recreation and this experience?
Lee: I think the biggest challenge that we encountered here, I mean at Occupied, we really take pride in our work, you know. And we really want to be cutting edge and do something great and always just as clean as and as good as and then as high quality as possible. It was time. Time was actually our biggest challenge because like we said, Tim just happened to be there. And then like, two days, they were flying people out, capturing the set, closing out three days, then bringing 27,000 photos back to our studio to recreate the sets just for that. And then, there’s a lot of cleanup and whatnot.
And up until now, at the Berlinale Film Festival showing, it was like a month and a half. And we because we got a team that’s really passionate about our work, we probably created three months of work into that time, but we would have loved to have four or five months. And so, we did real justice, so we’re still actually kind of working on it a bit just because every project we do, we love to make sure that we check all the boxes.
We didn’t really have much time to even test the project itself on like a large group of people, so we’re kind of hitting the festival words you know, the release and launch to actually test and we’ve been getting great feedback, all sorts of different types of feedback like people really love it you know, and it’s really got immersed. And you know, like I said, some people escaped and suddenly we see people like ripping their headset off because they’re too afraid because it feels so real to them.
And also, people that are in the VR space that are just like running around. They’re not even paying attention to the story, but they’re just looking at the level of detail and the quality that we did put into it. And you know, there are some people that we know that do volumetric capture and they’re doing for a while and so that it gets really topnotch and it’s really looking good.
So, I think though we’re touching people in different ways, which is great. And going back to your escape, the awesome thing is Fatih as he said about his movies is like, “If people don’t walk out of my film, then I haven’t done my job.” You know, we watched the premiere and then the movie starts off with a bang. And the first person that left was like within 10 seconds, right? And they were right next to us, right? They just got up and they’re like, “I can’t take this.”
And we watched this audience just cringe. People are cringing and laughing, and people are hiding their face. I mean, generally, it’s kind of bad that people rip your headset off and they walk out of your thing, but we’re like, “Hey man, if we don’t have people taking the headset off then maybe we didn’t do our job.”
And so, this kind of experience has been a big range of like how people accepting it, but I think that’s what this medium is meant to do. You know, that means that we’re doing it right, that we’re actually affecting people. We’re not just showing them something and they’re just taking it in just the same passive way, that they’re actually feeling it.
Timur: That’s like the main goal is always to blur the lines, right? To take the virtual out of it where it actually seems so real that you’re genuinely freaked out. That was the main goal of this film.
Justine: Well, gentlemen, I am here to confirm, you hit the main goal. Congratulations. Thanks so much for stopping by Virtual. And take care and best of luck.
Lee: Thank you.