Stepping Into the World of Virtual Reality: Lone Wolf 360

By Jennifer Castaneda, Contributor

Virtual reality isn’t only something you read about in sci-fi books. It is something you can experience on your own. Eric Williams, an Ohio University professor, will begin production for a 360-degree virtual reality film that will be made with the help of faculty and students.  Get ready for summer of 2016; Williams will begin production for his second 360-degree virtual reality film, Lone Wolf 360.

Virtual reality seemed like it could potentially take years to appear, and even longer before people began to use this kind of technology to produce films. 360-degree films allow the viewer to feel as if they are part of each scene. The audience can see everything that the characters in each scene are seeing from their perspective. This is how “360 film” got its name. Viewers experience 360 degrees, all around, both visually and binaurally.

This kind of technology will blow your mind. The cameras used for 360-film making resemble turning on six go-pros at the same time to capture the entirety of the scene. In order to capture the 360-audio, earlike microphones are used.

The Game Research and Immersive Design Lab at Ohio University began to explore virtual reality story telling last summer. From there, the media school purchased virtual reality equipment and began to film.

The GRID lab has a group called Immersive Media Initiative. IMI is made up of about a dozen professors from around the university. Scientists, medical professionals, and four professors in the college of communication all make up the team that will eventually try to incorporate virtual reality into classrooms.

The GRID lab and IMI applied for a grant offered by the university.  According to Williams, if the funding becomes available for 360-degree films, the possibilities are endless. There are a total of six projects that are scheduled for the next three years.

So who exactly is the guy behind the scenes of Lone Wolf 360? Eric Williams is an associate professor in the media school at Ohio University where he has expertise in screenwriting and producing, to name a few. Williams owned his own production company for more than 20 years and, even as a professor, he continues to work on writing, producing, and directing. Some of his work (and the work of his students) can be viewed on vimeo.

Williams’ first 360-degree film is titled Re: Disappearing. Williams’ story follows a teenage girl who is struggling with the divorce of her parents while she is on a treetop zip line. She is being guided by a boy who is helping her cope, however he continuously disappears and reappears throughout the film, forcing the audience to raise the question of whether or not he exists.

The film was cut to run about half the time it was originally supposed to. There were going to be parallel story lines, but because of difficulties the crew encountered, seven minutes were cut from the film and the crew instead focused on the relationship between the teenage girl and boy.

As with any kind of production there were bound to be difficulties. Williams wasn’t sure what kind of problems he and his team would experience. Especially with this kind of emerging technology, the team faced many complications. Williams described it as being in a completely different world.

“In 360 there are no “behind the scenes.” You’re in the middle of the woods, so you turn on all the cameras and then RUN! Like everybody has to run and hide behind the trees,” he said.

Williams claimed that it took three weeks for the crew to even see the footage. “You can’t see whether or not your actors did the right facial movements. You don’t have an audio person, you have lavalier microphones instead. You really have to trust your actors. You can’t double-check it.”

Williams’ new 360-production, Lone Wolf will begin in the summer of 2016. Students and faculty alike will have the opportunity to get their hands on this exciting, futuristic technology and get acquainted with 360-film making. Williams wrote the first draft and there are a dozen students in an independent study who are helping rewrite and edit the final product of the script.

Lone Wolf 360 follows a domestic terrorist in a small town who is trying to fight a corporation that is polluting the forests and the streams. While the terrorist is attempting to attack the corporation, the sheriff and forest ranger try and figure out who this man really is. Amidst of it all, the forest ranger begins to wonder who she is going to help: the terrorist or the sheriff.

“The reaction we’d like the audience to get is that they feel like they’re in the community. That they are going through the same decision the park ranger is going through,” remarked Williams. The idea is for the audience to understand that the terrorist is doing bad things for a good reason and question how they feel about how that fits into in our society.

The film will be part of two courses that will last over the summer semester. The first class will be in the morning and will focus on the history and theory of virtual reality. The afternoon class will be production based. This course will be open to everyone, but there will be very limited space; Only 16 students will be chosen. As of January, Williams is still unsure how participants will be selected.

Williams says that he is also still unsure of how the film will be distributed once it is completed. A possible option may be releasing it online for an inexpensive cost of 50 cents to $1.00 pay-per-view. Viewers will be able to use their cellphones and Google Cardboard, a cheaper version Oculus Rift, to view the film.

Eric Williams commented that virtual reality may even be of use in fields outside of entertainment. “This includes everything. Like going to a hospital and capturing live emergency rooms to train medical professionals on how to behave in the setting.”

There have already been major changes brought to the medical world by virtual reality technology, especially in the Virtual Reality Medical Center. For example, there is currently a controversial treatment using virtual reality to help veterans cope with PTSD. Virtual reality could also be used to help people with various phobias.

“My brain is exploding!” exclaimed Williams when describing how exciting is to work with this kind of technology. Because it is  so different from everything currently being used in the industry, Williams said that it made him feel like a pioneer in the world of media. He compared the relationship between virtual reality film making and traditional film making to the shift from radio to television. Media curators are forced to, yet again,  question how they are going to tell stories to an audience.

“When you watch a film, everything is coming at you. You are being told. The director has already made the decision about whom you’re going to listen to and where the close-ups are. In this technology, there are no close-ups. Instead of the director telling you how to think, we are going to let the audience be the director. That’s kind of like our tag line. Lone Wolf 360: you’re the director.”

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