You’re a long-limbed anthropomorphic creature about to journey forth in director Vincent Morisset’s 360-degree digital forest. “Go on. Make your way. Stop to see the smallest things," says the landing page. "No one’s waiting, no one’s keeping score.” With a press of the “W” on your keyboard, you can run until you’re out of breath, the “E” key will have you strolling at a leisurely pace, and with a bump of the spacebar, you can hop over obstacles. To peer at the sky, the trees, focus in on the ground, just use your mouse.
Though it may sound like a video game, Way to Go is very much grounded in the film world. Premiering at Sundance earlier this year, the panoramic experience was adapted for Oculus Rift from its original browser-based web project. Today, the online version goes live on the National Film Board of Canada's website, fulfilling Morisset and his team’s vision to make their creation accessible for anyone with an internet connection.
“We are less and less ‘lost’ in our environment. We always know where we are,” says Morisset, who previously manifested other worlds to get “lost” in, including the interactive music video for Arcade Fire’s Just a Reflektor and Sigur Ros' live album. As a child, before Morisset had dreams of becoming a filmmaker, he was both an avid video game player and a bird watcher, two wells of inspiration he tapped into at the start of crafting Way to Go. Birdwatching is about patience and about noticing details, he tells The Creators Project. He wanted to recapture a former curiosity and hone in on what it feels like to explore nature without a set destination, but with the express purpose of having viewers absorb the beauty of their virtual surroundings. “The interactive experience puts in perspective how we relate to our environment. Depending on how fast you go, you have more or less attention to your environment. If you take your time, details will emerge,” he explains.
But while Morisset left video games on the backburner as a teenager, and as an adult is less interested in solving puzzles, killing characters, or succeeding on missions, this past year provided the opportunity for Morisset and his team to return to the scene to instead see how players connect to playable characters, stories, and scenes. “I just wanted to explore worlds,” he explains. “So I said, okay, I will take out all these aspects that are technically the decor of video gaming and just keep the ‘space and time’ premise and environmental controls.”
All good games have great heroes, and in Way to Go, the anonymous protagonist is an ambiguous hand-drawn entity, a blank slate onto which viewers can project their own emotions. The idea was to create a character “that would be able to not interfere with your own interpretation of that world," describes Morisset. "It was really important that participants get what they want, that people could experience the same project but have a different read of it.” At the same time, he liked drawings that carried a fragility that could amplify a story’s emotional power. Simple, neutral, mysterious, and lovely, the hand-drawings are hat tips to classic films like Mary Poppins and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, that have imagination and reality coexist side-by-side.
In its most broad sense, Way to Go is a metaphor of our awareness and lack of awareness of the final destination when it comes to journeys both big and small. “We walk from point A to point B every day... is there an end?” the filmmaker asks. The purpose of the experience is to let go of the need for purpose and to just dig into your surroundings. Explains Morisset, “Even a path that you use everyday can become something different if you change your perspective.”
Click here to learn more about Way to Go, and be sure to check out our profile on Vincent Morisset below: