ISET Trendsetters: VR Moviemakers Jessica Brillhart and Gabo Arora’s Five Tips for Working in a Brave New Medium

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As VR breaks new territory, matures as a medium, and the market for VR storytelling grows, it edges ever closer from specialty item to consumer product. Moviemakers are paying attention.

But how do moviemakers move from traditional forms of moviemaking to working in VR? What do you take with you, and what do you leave behind? The reality of virtual reality is that no one has definitive answers. VR experts Jessica Brillhart, principal moviemaker for virtual reality at Google, and Gabo Arora, VR moviemaker of ZIKR, The Last Goodbye, In Clouds Over Sidra, and The Day the World Changed (which just had its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2018) offer some principles to guide your VR journey.

Brillhart created a nine-minute, VR experience called Beethoven’s Fifth, in partnership with Google and NASA, that leads users on an immersive journey through interstellar space and a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The 306-degree, interactive work combines shots of the orchestra with abstract art and takes inspiration from the Voyager’s “Golden Record” in which Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was one of the recordings sent into space forty years ago. It premiered at SXSW in March 2018.

Arora directed ZIKR: A Sufi Revival, which premiered in the New Frontier section of Sundance 2018, and holds the distinction of being the first ever VR documentary acquired at the festival. The 17-minute work takes participants on a VR journey into the nature of faith and the mystical Islamic tradition of Sufism, using song and dance to shed light on Islamic practices of inclusion, acceptance, art, joy and understanding. Dogwoof, a documentary distributor, sales agent, and producer acquired it in the milestone deal. Arora’s prior VR work include The Last Goodbye, a room-scale experience where a Holocaust survivor recalls his experiences, and Clouds Over Sidra, produced with the UN which follows a 12-year-old Syrian refugee.

Brillhart and Arora spoke last fall at the launch of a new VR program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The graduate-level program, Immersive Storytelling and Emerging Technologies (ISET), began this January as a concentration within Master of Arts in Film and Media program, of which Arora serves as the Assistant Director. He also leads the ISET concentration. Steal their five tips below as you venture on your own VR journey.

ISET Conference. Photograph by Victor Fink, courtesy of ISET at Johns Hopkins University

 

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