If you haven’t heard of Brazilian film director Ricardo Laganaro, that’s about to change. Working behind the scenes for almost 20 years, Laganaro started his career in post-production for live-action and animated cinema before transitioning into directing and overseeing 3D and special effects at one of Brazil’s biggest production companies.
Today, he’s known as the man behind the world’s most-viewed 360-degree music video and a pioneer in virtual reality filmmaking.
“We haven’t had anything this revolutionary since the invention of television,” he said. “It’s the beginning of a truly new format.”
This year, Laganaro is one of ten filmmakers from around the globe who’ve been selected by Oculus Story Studio to create a VR documentary premiering at January’s Sundance Film Festival. Here’s what he has to say about the thrilling world of virtual reality – and what it means for the future of storytelling.
Expertly constructed stories and content make a strong impact, regardless of medium. What makes VR so much more powerful?
With VR, you’re no longer watching the content. You’re inside of it. It’s more of a teleportation machine than a screen. When you’re reading a novel, if you’re really into it, you can feel like you’re inside of a scene, witnessing that world or universe – but it’s much more of an intellectual process than VR.
You can be really into a movie you’re watching, but when your phone rings and you look down, the attention is lost. There are lots of possibilities for distraction, and then it takes time to get back into the story. Only if you’re really intentionally focused and into the content will you feel true immersion.
How does that kind of immersion work in VR?
The thing that changes everything with virtual reality is that it’s so immediate – even if you don’t want it to be. When you’re watching a horror movie in VR, for example, you’re constantly trying to tell your brain, “I’m not there, I’m not there, I’m not there.” But when the thing that you’re supposed to be scared of is all you can see, you will be scared.
You can’t run away from that; you’re forced to be there. It’s much more sensorial than intellectual. In VR, you don’t have to think to feel – that’s why it’s so much more impactful on the viewer and why we can push the limits so much with the content that we’re creating.
Can you share an example of where you’ve seen this in your own work?
I made a movie for the Museum of Tomorrow here in Brazil called Cosmos. When I was writing the script, I had a scene that was just lava along walls, where the viewer is inside a volcano. But when the team read it, they found that part boring. I told them it’s boring if you watch it on screen. If you’re in it – inside the volcano – it’s completely different. And when it was ready, that 30 seconds of just lava flowing ended up being one of the most powerful scenes of the whole movie.
As VR becomes more commonplace, do you expect the excitement over these kinds of novelties to die down?
When you think about movies in the beginning, they were very simple yet very impressive to the public because they were something new. People saw the [Lumière brothers’] train coming and they got scared; it was good enough. But as the language of movie making began to evolve and filmmakers started creating narratives, people forgot about the gimmick and began to focus on the story. It will be the same with VR.
How do we get closer to that moment?
Now is the time for storytellers and filmmakers to really understand the potential of VR and create stories that are powerful for reasons beyond the fact that they’re in VR. If we want the technology to go mainstream, we have to give people experiences that they can’t get in any other format, and that make them want to come back for more.
What barriers are currently keeping VR from going mainstream?
On the tech side, it’s still very much in development. The resolution isn’t that good yet and the audio – which is so, so important for a fully immersive feeling – is very far behind the image. We don’t have microphones to record positional and binaural sound. Our tools are in their early stages, but, as they improve, people will really understand VR’s potential. I’m excited to see what happens when PlayStation VR is released in the U.S. That will be the first real test of mainstream VR.
As for audiences, for most of us, consuming the content is still too difficult. People don’t have goggles to watch real VR right now, which is why 360-degree video is on the rise.
How does 360-degree video compare with VR?
There are various levels of immersion. We’ve had the 2D flat screen, then the bigger screen (which really changed content), then 3D, 360-video and VR. We’re consistently increasing the level of immersion. It’s a very engaging format that likely won’t be forever, but right now, is an important tool for getting people used to this kind of content.
Your first experience with 360-video was an especially fruitful one. How did that project come about and unfold?
When Facebook launched the 360-player, we created a music video for a pop singer here in Brazil. Before the reveal, we did a month-long campaign, telling people we were going to make a new kind of music video that meant having to spin their cellphones and swivel their heads to watch.
We effectively taught people to watch 360-video, and in the comments, users were thanking us for showing them a new way to use their phones. When it came out, everyone was crazy to watch it, even though they were unfamiliar with the format. Most of the fans had never experienced 360-video before, but it was a huge success. Everybody wanted to see it because it was something new and different, but still something they could engage with while using devices they already had.
That went on to become Facebook’s most-viewed 360-degree video. What was one of your biggest takeaways?
After the success of that video, I had all these conversations with major players that hadn’t thought to consider 360-video while focusing exclusively on VR. But nobody has the equipment yet, and meanwhile, we made something that 18 million people saw. It’s important now to make audiences understand that they can use their devices in new ways.
Do you foresee a future in which VR is the main mode of storytelling?
VR will be one of the main methods of storytelling, but we have to create good content for that to happen. There won’t be just one main format; people get content from so many devices now and that’s the future. VR will be another one of those, and when people finally see one really good movie in VR – when they have an experience that they can’t compare to any other format – it’ll change everything.