CBS Digital’s visual effects creative team has entered the race for an Emmy Award. Executive Creative Director, Craig Weiss and Executive producer, George Bloom, elaborated on the collaboration with Netflix. The Stranger Things Virtual Reality experience had one key mission. It was to create an interactive media faithful to the show. Our vision was to weave the narrative of Joyce Byers empathetic role so the user assumes her struggle to find her son.
The challenge was to design an experience beyond anything that could be achieved from off the shelf VR and make it scalable to other platforms. We laser scanned the actual house in Atlanta which allowed us to build an exact replica in 3-dimensional space. This allowed participants to walk unobstructed through the Joyce’s home.
We used optical tracking so participants could use their own hands and interact with real objects in the virtual world. This interactive dimension added realism by allowing users to explore the home with a flashlight and answer a real telephone. The immersive experience had a story arc with a climatic ending. All users experienced the same unanimous surprise. Every person had an unforgettable memory into the world of Stranger Things.
Netflix deployed the VR experience at publicity stunts domestically and internationally. From development to completion the production period was four months. A behind the scenes video of the cast experiencing it for the first time garnered over 1 million views. There was added buzz from social media and more VR versions were launched onto: YouTube 360, Gear VR and Google Cardboard.
This memorable interactive media gave people a unique opportunity to participate in the story world of Stranger Things.
Netflix’s newest hit series GLOW, tasked CBS Digital with creating seamless visual FX shots to support the story of a crew of misfits reinventing themselves as the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, in 1980’s Los Angeles. The VFX team ensured that allof the scenes remained authentic to their 80’s roots; removing modern day cars, signage, and technology. For high-flying wrestling scenes, extensive wire removal through 80’s perms, atmosphere, and sequined outfits was needed to sell the acrobatic moves of the actresses.
CBS Digital, visual team is working on the serialized military drama Valor. The theme of Valor walks on the boundaries between military discipline and human desire which are tested on a U.S. Army base that houses an elite unit of helicopter pilots trained to perform clandestine international and domestic missions. CBS Digital worked on the pilot which demanded over 300 visual effects shots and the plan for many missions remains high.
The virtual world meets the real world in real time.
We create unique ideas beyond the limits of consumer-level VR. Our advantage is our knowledge of visual effects, which translates well into this new technology, where our engineers and creatives work diligently to achieve bold new visions of possibility. Our VR developments over the past year have been an invitation to explore and test how to achieve even more immersive concepts. For our next project, Macbeth in Virtual Reality, we decided to start with a familiar classic as a base, and to extend the story into a futuristic world where it is familiar and yet reborn at the same time.
We all love a good story, yet no story is complete without the presence of a great actor. Our challenge was in re-imagining the scene with a live actor and allowing the actor’s performance to control the outcome. The typical solution for a piece like this is for a producer to add content with pre-built animation baked into the scene. Instead of using those traditional methods, we decided to heighten the experience by adding physical contact, further blurring the lines between the real and virtual worlds.
We tested the concept with a live MOCAP actor on a humanoid CG character with a facial rig. The software, latest tools and our pipeline techniques enabled us to deliver exceptional results. We expect to begin showcasing the piece later this spring, so if you haven’t been over to visit our VR lab, let us know and we’ll schedule a time for you to come in and experience the next level of virtual reality.
Netflix kicked off their “See What’s Next” press event in Berlin during the first week of March and CBS Digital was there to present our Stranger Things Virtual Experience to the public for the first time. The excitement was palpable, as our collaboration with Netflix’s publicity team was about to be fully realized and enjoyed by Netflix staff, tastemakers and fans of the hit show alike. It was the culmination of months of work that ended up being a fun and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
For any virtual set or serious excursion into VR, the first step to success is always authenticity. For the Stranger Things Virtual Experience, our team laser scanned and rebuilt the actual house from the show. We then added the voice of Joyce Byers, Winona Ryder’s character, to an actual phone call within the virtual house that puts the user in a similar role to that of Winona’s character within the show. The result is a completely immersive, at times unnerving, trip down the rabbit hole that is Stranger Things.
The culture of Netflix is built on disruption and our job was to deliver a virtual adventure that was as innovative as the Netflix brand. We did so by building a custom, room-scale experience beyond anything that anyone could buy off the shelf. Mission accomplished. Our VR experience enables users to freely walk the entire house while using their hands to hold a flashlight and answer the phone, putting each person who enters our virtual set into a suspenseful, real-time interaction on the show’s set.
Fully immersive? You bet. Compelling? Very much so. Intense? Judge for yourself by looking at the Stranger Things cast going through the experience for the first time.