Beyond the Frame: Storytelling in Virtual Reality is an ongoing TV series with musicians, artists, and directors creating the future of storytelling in VR on Viceland. We will explore the power and capabilities of these new technological opportunities through a series of profiles and features.
The virtual reality pioneer Chris Milk, founder and CEO of With.in, sees the future of VR as not just a blurring of the lines between art and life, but an indistinguishable blending of the two. Milk is out to end artistic mediums as we know them.
For thousands of years we’ve been telling stories about people over there, we look through these frames,” Milk tells The Creators Project. “The frames can be a movie screen, it can be a television show, it can be a book or a play.” This framing of a work or experience creates what Milk calls “a translation gap” that requires a suspension of disbelief to feel fully immersed in a performance or to fully experience it.
If that sounds grandiose, Milk suggests looking at how far we’ve already come. It was just 130 years ago that Eadweard Muybridge dazzled the world with his series of horse photos that paved the way for motion pictures. He grants that “there’s a tremendous amount of hype around virtual reality,” but that its potential should not be underestimated.
Normally new mediums have a long time to evolve before the spotlights of the world are put on them,” says Milk. “People thought that the nickelodeon was pretty awesome, but they didn’t have a Twitter account or a Google Alert for ‘moving pictures.’ It grew naturally.”
Take, for example, the experience of listening to music. For much of human existence, there was only one way to enjoy it: be in earshot of performing musicians. But then the wax cylinder allowed music to be captured on an object that could be listened to in one’s home—though no one listening to it would mistake it for an actual orchestra performing in the living room. As the ways to enjoy music have evolved, from LPs to high-definition sound, the distance between a recorded song or symphony and the real thing has shrunk. Milk sees VR as the means to finally bridge this Uncanny Valley.
"The medium ceases to exist,” says Milk. “It lives within us and we live within the stories that the medium makes possible.” He emphasizes that the benefits of blending art and life in this way go beyond entertainment. It can serve as a means for not just seeing the lives of other people, but literally step into their shoes.
“[VR] is really bottled human experience, right?” he says. “We can record a Syrian refugee camp and distribute it around the world and people can live that human experience and what it’s like to be there first-hand.” (While he acknowledges that this does not yet allow for one to also experience touch, taste, and smell, “it’s early days.”)
Within’s eight-minute film Clouds Over Sidra, offers a sense of what this might look like, allowing viewers to join a Syrian girl as she moves through her temporary home in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp. Milk sees this as representative of the “second stage” of VR, in which “we’re essentially still employing the same techniques” of traditional film. His team is working on the “third stage” in which “you look around, inside of it, rather than just [follow the] chosen frame from a director.” Milk and team have made three of their VR films available on the Samsung VR app My Mother's Wing, Waves of Grace, as well as Clouds Over Sidra.
But while he expects VR to end the need for distinctive mediums, he does not predict existing mediums to go extinct. “In the same way that there’s different genres of filmmaking—like going to a horror movie is very different from going to an adult drama love story—I think some people will want to interact, but some people won’t.
Check out Beyond The Frame: Point Of View: A Samsung x VICELAND documentary here: