Virtual Reality

There is an assumption that virtual reality is a recent arrival on the technological scene, but in reality, it goes back further than you may think. Virtual Reality was brought to media and public attentions in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. We can relate this to pioneering computer scientist Jaron Lanier who coined the term ‘virtual reality’ in 1987. The growth in popularity of virtual reality was matched by a growth in public expectations which then over hyped the abilities of what the equipment at the time could provide. This led to dissatisfaction with virtual reality in general and a scaling back of much of the research into it.

We know the world through our senses and perception systems. Humans have many more senses than just the five taught to us as children, such as a sense of balance for example. These other inputs, plus the processing of sensory information by our brains ensures that we have a rich flow of information from the environment to our minds. The logical progression of this then, is that if you can present your senses with made-up information, your perception of reality would also change in response to it. You would be presented with a version of reality that isn’t really there, but from your perspective it would be perceived as real. This would be referred to as a Virtual Reality.

There are a range of systems that are used to simulate reality, such as headsets, omni-directional treadmills and special gloves. For our project we are going to be using the Occulus head set and surround sound Head phones to immerse our viewers. The technology is used to actually stimulate our senses together in order to create the illusion of reality.This is more difficult than it sounds, since our senses and brains are evolved to provide us with a finely synchronised and mediated experience. If anything is even a little off we can usually tell. This is where you’ll hear terms such as immersiveness  and realism enter the conversation.

There are many different types of virtual reality systems but they all share the same characteristics such as the ability to allow the person to view three-dimensional images. These images appear life-sized to the person. Plus they change as the person moves around their environment which corresponds with the change in their field of vision. The aim is for a seamless join between the person’s head and eye movements and the appropriate response, e.g. change in perception. This ensures that the virtual environment is both realistic and enjoyable.

I’ve been doing some research into why we’re using virtual reality and how it works. As a team we felt that keeping this experience of PTSD as immersive as possible would really allow our audience to empathize with our character, the WWI Veteran who is witnessing the beginnings of WWII. By using the Oculus headset we can literally show the audience this character point of view and I think that going to be one of the most important parts of this experience and what feelings it will evoke from our audience.

I used this website to get a brief overview of how our VR would actually work as I am the only member of the team to have not previously used an oculus headset before this project.

One of the reasons we chose to do this project in particular is that Post-Traumatic- Stress-Disorder (PTSD) affects millions across the globe, it may develop from a terrifying ordeal involving physical harm or threat. Most PTSD sufferers repeatedly relive the trauma in their thoughts during the day and in nightmares when they sleep, usually through flashbacks. Evidence and research has shown it is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated.It is estimated that around 70% of people in the UK who suffer from this, do not seek out professional help. So we decided we wanted to spread the awareness to others,by allowing the users to experience what a PTSD sufferer may experience aided by Virtual Reality.

Why in Virtual Reality and not another medium?

We believe that no other medium could leave a lasting impression on the viewer more so than Virtual Reality.VR allows us to create real world situations that can be mimicked and intensified to devastatingly intense effects. These highly imaginative universes can be created for a player to traverse through extraordinary and lifelike simulations. Virtual Reality headsets, melded with headphones allows the users to physically move within the 3D space and become immersed in an entirely new dimension not seen before.

Sound is quickly becoming one of the more intense areas we are looking at and the sound database I’ve been creating for us keeps coming up short in some areas, because of this I have begun to explore foley sound a lot more. I can see how in certain areas such as the characters breathing, we as a team are going to have to record our own sounds. We may need to do this in other areas such as the clacking of the tube lines to get the sound to match the visuals more accurately.

Time Line and Roles

Currently our team is trying to streamline our creative process in order work most efficiently given the time we have left. We have decided to divide up our roles more clearly so we can concentrate on areas that need to be developed with more careful consideration. As I have gained the most experience using Marvelous Designer I am going to be making all of the clothing assets including the civilian clothes and the soldiers uniforms.

My team is keeping an ordered schedule of when we hope things should be created for thus far it’s been useful and has been going well, though we do understand that as we get closer to our deadline things may become more rushed and we may have to re-organise ourselves and our schedules more frequently.

I’m also gathering all the sounds we need to build the audio environment of the station, tube, trenches and battlefield. I’ve signed up with several royalty free ambient and specific sound sites in order to gather a wide database of sounds we can use. I can see that for some of the sounds we need though I will have to use foley sound and create them myself. We also have several incidents of dialogue which may need to be recorded by either ourselves of voice actors if we can get any.

Sound Checklist

War Sounds

  • Gun Shots
  • Shouting
  • Shrapnel Falling
  • Rain
  • Muddy Footsteps
  • Thunder
  • Shells (Explosions)
  • Echoes
  • Grenade

Station Sounds

  • Quiet Chatter
  • Crowd Noise
  • Tunnel Wind
  • Echoes
  • Train Brakes (Far Away)
  • Newspaper Seller
  • Busker (penny Whistle/ Violin Maybe?)
  • Tube Arrive
  • Tube Depart
  • Porter Voices/Conductors/ workers

Train Sounds

  • Passengers murmurs
  • Clunks/uneven rail sounds from inside carriage
  • Footsteps on wood/linoleum/hard plastic
  • Crinkling cloth
  • Cotton on Cotton
  • Cloth hitting wood (Sitting Sound)

PTSD Sounds

  • Heavy breathing
  • Gasping
  • Heart beat slow
  • Heart beat accelerated
  • Activities magnified (Louder sounds for quiet things; blinking, swallowing, skin on skin)
  • Broken sounds
  • Glitches sounds
  • Static
  • Tinnitus

As we want to keep our idea as accurate as possible we organised an interview with an expert at the Royal Ulster Rifle Museum. Gavin Glass whom we spoke with for a few hours, was very informative and gave us a lot of information and ideas about the type of sounds we should be putting in the scene. There was a lot of memorabilia at the museum as well as uniforms and weapons which would have been worn and used in WWI. The trip to the museum was incredibly helpful and gave us a lot of references to use and a lot of information to put to use in our VR.

It is particularly important for our team to be able to work to the same system, as we all have fairly varying schedules because of jobs and other commitments. We wanted to create a way of keeping all our assets in one place online so we wouldn’t have to worry about team members being off sick or not bringing the correct machine with them on any given day. We got ourselves a dropbox business account in order to create this online asset storage space and in order to avoid confusion we attempted to adhere to the naming conventions set up by James.

Our VR itself is being created in Unity rather than Unreal engine so I’ll have the least experience in this area in the team while Daryl would have the most, as he worked with it when creating a game intro on his placement year. I’ve been looking into it a little and watching a few tutorials but as I’m such a novice I may not take on as many roles as the other team members when it comes to working with unity.

Creating a character with realistic PTSD is going to be difficult and we want to make this as accurate as possible. We’re looking at several different methods for creating characters with PTSD and also trying to get some real input from people who have suffered with it before. We know that we won’t be able to get any interviews with people who suffered from Shell Shock during WW1 but we can use written accounts for that and also speak to other people who have fought in more recent wars and get their accounts of the experience and what their PTSD has been like.

During WWI, thousands of soldiers were treated for what was at the time referred to as “shell shock,” a condition encompassing a range of symptoms both psychological and physical.

“Shell shock has most often been located within a “genealogy of trauma,” and identified as an important marker in the gradual recognition of the psychological afflictions caused by combat.” – Source

Creating a character with this sort of experience can be difficult but, getting an accurate depiction is the best way to follow through. There have been quite a few characters in the world of fiction who are depicted with PTSD or similar symptoms, analysing some of them may also help with our own creation of a character who shows these symptoms accurately.

PTSD can play a dominant feature in several character archetypes, provided it is not shown as an overwhelming feature of their lives, and so not always the focal point, and also given a few specific triggers that you can expect to come up at irregular intervals. PTSD shouldn’t prevent a character from functioning, and if used in something longer than the short VR experience we’re creating,it shouldn’t dominate the over all themes and storylines. You could even change the emotional reaction of the character so that rage becomes the response to the panic attacks or other emotional symptoms associated with the PTSD.

Examples of fictional characters with PTSD – Source

1930’s Visual Design

In order to create the most accurate visuals for this project I’ve been doing a lot of research into the clothes, hair, advertising and general aesthetics of the 1930’s. I’ve created a pinterest board to gather relevant reference images for my team and I’ve been teaching myself how to use Marvelous Designer.

Image 1 Mens Suit: Source

Image 2 Dress Pattern: Source

Image 3 Collars and Cuffs: Source

This has been particularly useful as you can create specific clothing patterns in Marvelous Designer, because of this I can research particular dress and suit patterns from the 1930’s and recreate them for use with our 3D characters. We used Make Human to create the bases for our characters in this animation as we realised with such an asset heavy project that we would need to create extra time for ourselves by reducing the amount of basic modeling we would have to do on our minor characters who are mostly only seen in shadow or in 3/4 views.

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Image 4 Finger Weave: Source

Using these two sites has really helped to stream line our work flow as it means we can concentrate more fully on other areas to develop them properly. In particular this week we are concentrating on creating our tube station so I’ve been gathering posters and graffiti which would have been popular or seen a lot during the 1930’s. We’ve been overlaying these on the station walls and building textures over them so they show the wear and tear you would expect from a tube station.

Image 1 Riccadonna: Source

Image 2 To Keep Pace With Time (Artist: Frederick. C. Herrick): Source

Image 3 Tube Plans: Source

Image 4 Carriage Interior: Source

Image 5 Art Deco Underground Station: Source

As the train is where the character will spend most of their time and therefore is the area the viewer will see the most of, we would really like the scene to be as accurate as possible. The basic designs of the tubes have not truly changed much in the last 100 years and I think we shouldn’t edit the classic design, keeping the seats parallel and facing each other should be really important to scene especially as we want the train to emulate a trench. Keeping the seats parallel under the windows to the carriage should look similar to where the benches and ledges of the trenches would have been positioned.
The underground electricity is also something I think we could use visually to help with our transitions, as the lights would have tended to flicker with the movement of the train and also sway a little as they were rarely inset to the roof or ceiling of the tubes of the time. I think that we can match some of our blink transitions and jump cuts with the flickering of the lights to better immerse the viewer in the scene.

 

Concepts

For much of the concepts in this project I have been looking at Art Deco for inspiration into the character design, but using the artist Michael Malm for inspiration into how we light the scene. We’re also looking at the cinematography in the film Cafe Society  particularly the use of the mellow lamp lights in the office scenes creating a sepia like effect.

cafe-society-woody-allen-kirsten-stewart-jesse-eisenberg.jpg

When thinking about the characters and how they would stand and move, I was completely drawn to the work of Peregrine Heathcote who’s work features strong and dynamic poses.

The poise exhibited by the people in these paintings is something I’m going to try and emulate in my animation once we start animating the characters in our VR experience. I feel that the almost stoic attitude of these character will really help to carry through the tension we want to create in our veteran characters and how those around him feel. The emotional response from the audience when we do our first user test will really help me to see how effective this is and whether or not it is worth trying to emulate that kind of feeling in our own characters.

train-concept-art-3-tonedtrain-concept-2train-concept-1

This is some of the concept work I’ve been developing, I’m trying to keep the clothes, hair and make-up as close the 1930’s as possible for accuracy in our designs.

Working Script

Train Script Draft 01

Platform:

ECU on Newspaper headline (Headline relevant to 30-year anniversary of WWI with by-line about Hitler’s rise to power); Pull out to reveal an older man reading the newspaper on a bench on a train platform. He is in a spotlight surrounded by heavy shadow so he’s the only thing the viewer can focus on. Newspaper shuffles but is never take away from his face so the viewer can’t see it. The only sounds heard at first are the sounds of coughs and shuffling feet on the platform and the newspaper pages rustling.

Suddenly the sound of a train breaks in and a light appears from the right side of the viewer’s peripheral vision. The older man lowers his newspaper and we see he’s wearing a wide-brimmed hat with his face in shadow. He wears a military style coat with wide lapels and padded shoulders (possibly a medal on display or other such decoration). As the train draws into the station bright light fills the view fading the scene to white, when vision returns the viewer is now looking the stationary train with its doors sliding open and a newspaper in their lap.

Veterans POV:

Walking up to the open carriage doors a slightly weathered hand rests on the edge of the door before boarding.

Train:

POV, looking up and down the carriage the viewer sees a few other passengers but a mainly empty carriage. Walk to the seat nearest in front of the viewer and sit down facing the opposite window and watch the station move away and the tunnel fades to darkness with a very faint/blurred reflection of the Veteran.

Carriage:

POV, all passengers mostly ignore each other there’s some shuffling and minimal movement from them as they settle. The viewer is able to look up and down the carriage at the 5 other passengers on board. The lights flicker a little overhead with the motion of the trains movement. The newspaper gets set down on the seat next to the viewer as the flickering lights begin to dim and flare faster until they suddenly go out.

Trench Flash Back:

POV, in the darkness the shapes of the seats and the walls of the train materialise into a trench. The viewer sees flashes of gunfire around the edge of the trench and muffled bangs. The silhouettes of soldiers move around the viewer who is able to turn their head and look at the soldiers moving around them and hear heavy running feet thumping closer to them and then further away again.

Carriage:

POV, the lights flash back on and the trench disappears replaced again with the train walls and seats and passengers. The veterans breathing is more noticeable now (Not fast just deeper and a little louder. Everything stays stable some of the passengers move in their seats and the lights don’t flicker any more. The veterans breathing quiets a little and he settles into the seat. The train gets very quiet and even the veterans breathing seems to disappear. The veteran’s hands sit in his lap. The viewer’s perspective is forced to look down at the hands in the veteran’s lap and watch as he turns the hands over to see his palms. The lights flash off and on and when the light comes back on the viewer sees bloody palms.

(Bloody Hands Flash Back)

The viewer finds themselves back in the trench this time with weapons and loose shrapnel all around them and bloody hands. The sound of the veterans breathings picks up again as the viewer can look around the scene. A single pair of running feet comes towards them from the left until and soldier (General/commander?) runs up to them and starts yelling, ͞Tickets! Tickets!͟ in their face.

Carriage:

POV, the soldier (General/commander?) flickers and becomes a train conductor looking down into the viewers face and asking for a ticket. The veterans hand comes up showing a ticket clutched tightly in a fist. The conductor nods and moves on walking down the carriage. The veterans breathing becomes very loud and the viewer is forced to look at their hands again before regaining the ability to control the views direction. When they look up the other passengers are staring at the veteran shuffling a little uncomfortably before their eyes slide away and then their heads follow. The veterans breathing continues loudly.

Carriage:

POV, the breathing is still heavy and other noises on the train are muffled. A passenger starts coughing somewhere to the left of the veteran. The coughing gets louder and louder until it rivals his breathing. The coughing passenger lifts a handkerchief to their face but it becomes a gas mask. The veteran closes his eyes and when they open again the view is restricted to two eye holes as if he is looking out of a gas mask. Everything is misty and shadowy, nothing is defined there’s only a warm smoky haze of light and the vague silhouette of the other passengers/soldiers can be seen through it though all now look as though they are wearing gas masks. The veteran closes his eyes again and when they open everything has returned to normal except for his breathing which is loud and rapid.

Carriage:

POV, the passengers have all turned to stare again their bodies stiller and their eyes wider this feels more hostile than the first time they were staring. There’s a screech of metal on metal as the train breaks. The lights flicker out and the viewer is back in the trench.

Trench:

POV, there seem to be shells falling into the trench all around the viewer and earth exploding around them from all sides. The lights flash back on and the carriage returns.

Carriage:

POV, the Passengers are staring again eyes wider than ever and all leaning forwards towards the viewer, the screeching break noise continues and the lights flicker and die again.

Trench:

POV, the passengers have all been replaced with staring dead soldiers, all staring at the viewer.

Carriage:

POV, the lights come back on and the passengers are still staring the viewer. The train finally comes to a stop and the doors slide open. Many of the passengers get off and all stop staring. The veterans breathing is still raged and loud as her stares at the open carriage doors. As he stares another man in a military coat boards the train he makes eye contact with the viewer and nods walking over to them. He bends down touches the veterans hand.

Carriage:

WS, the viewers point of view slides away from the veterans so they are looking at both men in profile as the second veteran sits down beside the first and gently pats his shoulder.

END

This is the current working draft of our script I wrote it after our groups first chat about where we wanted the story to go with the VR and how we could best affect the viewers emotions. I’m sure it will be subject to change in the future but currently this is the way in which we want it to go.

Final Idea

For our final idea which we will develop into our project we are taking a few of our previous ideas and merging them into a fuller more well rounded project. Currently our two favourite ideas have been the “Train to Wonderland” animation and our “Trench Runner” game. The things we liked most about the “Train to Wonderland” idea was the time period we wanted the animation to be set in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, we thought that the visual aesthetics to so with this period suited the visuals we wanted to create. While the “Trench Runner” game had the interactive elements that we as a team would really like to explore.

Our decision to combine these two ideas resulted in an interesting first draft for a VR project focussing on a WW1 veteran suffering with PTSD as he goes on a tube journey in the London Underground. We wanted to immerse the viewer into a scene where they could look around the Tube Station and then board the tube. Once on the tube we wanted to really establish the type of situation this man was in by having the conversations around him all hint towards the events which would trigger WW2. The train itself is something we’re very keen to create as we want it to be a visually stunning focal point at the beginning of this experience. Once the viewer has been brought onto the train and settled into the scene we want to start the triggers which will lead to the WW1 veterans flashbacks.

During these flashbacks we want to introduce the trench as a direct overlay to the carriage interior. We want soldiers to be shown sitting where there were passengers before and we want the edges of the carriage to match the edges of the trench. Once immersed in the flashback to the trench we want to show the misery of the characters there through pathetic fallacy of the weather and the deject and derelict state of the objects in the trench.

The continuation and the back and forth between the tube and the trench flashbacks will have to be ver precise as we don’t want the transitions to be jarring for the viewer. I think the team and I will have to do further research into the best way to create flash backs in VR in order to reduce any uncomfortably jarring situations for our audience.

I’m going to be using several different sources for my research into this project, starting with getting extensive background knowledge about PTSD after WW1 or as it was called then “Shell Shock“. We’re also going to be looking into the history of tactics used in WW1 and what the usual life of a soldier at the time was expected to be like. We are also planning on arranging interviews with an expert on the subject to gain some first hand know from them.

Ideation For First Project

Entering the second week of my first term I formed a team with 3 others in order to create our first Graduate Year piece of work. So far the ideation process has gone very well and we’ve come up with about 50 viable and completable ideas that we might enter in several animation competitions around the world.

After we developed some of our ideas a little more thoroughly I started creating mood boards for a few of them to see where we we could take the stories and also how we might develop the characters and style in any ideas we would use.

Salem Witch Outcast .jpgFor our idea set during the Salem Witch Trials we thought it would be interesting to create a full game with an explorable environment. We wanted to create a small isolated village surrounded by a forest with several small glades and clearings in which we could set the action of the game. I came across several images of worlds built with in books and that gave me the idea of possibly building our environment inside of something else such as a bible or a hollowed out tree. For the story itself I wanted to create a sense of isolation for our protagonist by beginning the game with the player having to escape from the village without being caught by the other villagers as they try to stone the character. After escaping the village there would be a brief time lapse with in which time the character would have built a small hut in the forest and be fending for herself. The player would start by playing through a few mundane tasks such as collecting fire wood and water, but as they play it becomes apparent that something sinister is stalking the character accused of being a witch. Dark figures and deformed creature begin to appear in the forest around the house she built, the wood she gathered is stolen and animal skulls start appearing on her windowsills and on her front porch.

To end the game the character would eventually have to venture into the forest and face whatever creatures lurk with in there. When the character faces them it is revealed that her tormentors are the villagers from before, tormenting her by  wearing animal skulls and masks.

Sci FI Fairy Tales.jpgWe also created an idea set in a futuristic cyber punk landscape. The story was to be based around that of Little Red Riding Hood and just be an animated story with no interactive features. The landscape was to be made up of cyborg parts and other robotic features. I created Red as a somewhat androgynous cyborg character wearing a mask and a long cloak. Red was to move through the dark back alleys of the landscape while the wolf (also wearing a mask) stalked them and corroded the technology around their character. The wolf was to have a negative impact on the environment, lights would turn off around them and metal would corrode.

At the end of the animation Red would turn on the wolf and attack smashing their robotic body apart and build some of the wolfs pieces back into the environment. This ending may be too dark so I’d like to look into developing it and changing it.

Train to Wonderland.jpgTrain To Wonderland, was one of my favourite ideas and revolved around the concept that a mundane train journey could become something wondrous when seen through another perspective. The story would begin with an older gentleman boarding a train, the environment and the man would be in black and white or sepia tones as he makes his way to a seat and settles himself with a newspaper for the journey ahead. As the train is about to depart a young boy and his mother quickly hop onto the train smiling at each other quickly settling on a seat near the man but not beside him nor directly opposite him. Once they have settled the mother pulls several toys out of her bag and hands them to the young boy. The train has now pulled out of the station and through the window behind the older man we see the back and white landscape of fields and a few trees. Continuing to read his newspaper, the older man doesn’t look out at the landscape as it sweeps by behind him. The young boy starts playing with airplanes making engine sounds with his mouth and moving the planes through the air in front of him. As he does this a pair of planes appear in the window behind the older man and fly in loop the loops across the the sky behind him before eventually flying out of the scene. Similar scenes take place as the boy plays with all of his toys and the more he plays the more  notice the older man takes of the images playing out behind him in the window. As he watches the child’s imagination come to life colour seeps into the train and the man until the entire scene is bright and vibrant.

Trench Runner.jpg

One of the final ideas we developed was to create a runner game in which a soldier has to run through WW1 trenches and escape from various enemies an possibly some supernatural threats such as zombies. We liked the idea of the runner game being interspersed with explorable rooms in which gory scenes would be laid out that would eventually explain to the player the story of why the soldier is alone in an abandoned trench being chased by unknown forces.