Virtual Reality Has A Future in Music Videos
As virtual reality tech finally becomes attainable in recent times, new questions are being born: What kind of stories do we want to tell with these devices? What experiences can we create with them? What can we do in the virtual spaces created in our living rooms?
Perhaps not since the birth of film have so many exciting creative questions been asked at once. For now, at least, there are no wrong answers, only possibilities.
Organizers of this year’s TriBeCa Film Festival holding in New York City between April 18 and April 24 are charging headlong to the VR frontier, showcasing thirteen different VR experiences at a special entertainment showcase called the Virtual Arcade. Festival-goers exit an elevator to find themselves in a blue-lit world with curtained-off booths, where they can join other guests and viewers to immerse themselves in virtual activities that range from swimming with whales to saving the world from an alien invasion- by becoming a bunny.
One experience that might spearhead an entirely new genre, however, is the virtual reality music video. In “Old Friend,” creator Tyler Hurd, who started out as a video game animator, drops you into the center of a psychedelic dance circle. The spectacle is set to Future Islands’ song of the same name. As the tune’s high-pitched synth hook kicks in on your headphones, you find yourself in the presence of an extremely happy drum major who twirls his baton, lip syncs, dances like a madman, and makes it all but impossible for you not to do the same.
All around you are colorful elastic characters, swaying in a frenzy, with the kind of liberated abandon that’s only possible on a virtual dance floor in a virtual universe hidden behind an actual, real-world curtain. Beyond your dance circle, big human like mountains shake and shimmy, and every cloud smiles the instant you look towards it. Even your own arms (which move via the HTC Vive’s controllers) are long and wavy and seem to have been re-designed in the virtual world for the sole purpose of indiscriminate virtual dancing! Look down, and your feet have joined the action, wiggling in uncontrollable joy. In other words, not only are you listening to the music; you are the music.
By the time the video ends, almost everybody who exits those curtains looks like they had just got back from a free trip to space—where one giant rave was thrown in their honor.
“I modeled all the dance moves after my friends,” says Hurd. “I was like, ‘Just come over and we’ll all get wasted and make some videos!’” Once he had his material, Hurd played back the videos one frame at a time and made his virtual dance troupe pull off the same moves. “Old Friend” took Hurd, who did all the animations and coding himself, nine months to complete. But he says it was a labor of love, because once he got a glimpse of what could be done with VR, the one-time 2D-only animator was hooked.
“I’ll never forget the first time I got to meet one of the characters I created in VR for the first time,” Hurd said. “He felt present—like he was right there and I could almost touch him. You look into his eyes you actually get this emotional connection. I was like, whoa. That’s it. My mind was just totally blown.”
Spending just three minutes and ten seconds engaged in an all-out virtual crunkfest on an imaginary planet where only dancing matters is enough to see how Hurd’s creation could be the future of music videos—or of the way we experience music itself.