We visited one of the hottest Comic-Con exhibits — the Sleepy Hollow Oculus Rift Experience — and literally lost our minds. In this episode of The Sync Up, we found ourselves standing in the middle of the graveyard with none other than the show's leading man, Ichabod Crane, who delivered a grave warning. Inside the Sleepy Hollow barn, there were Oculus Rift headsets set up for fans to enter the world of Fox's hit horror series, as well as a green screen photo booth, where fans could get their portraits taken and leave the experience with a photo of their own virtually decapitated head. The makers of the Oculus Rift experience actually filmed on the Sleepy Hollow set with a 360-degree camera, then transposed Tom Mison, the actor who plays Ichabod Crane, afterward. Tom even put on the headset himself at Comic-Con! Suspenseful music, played via noise-canceling headphones, is what made the experience truly terrifying.
The Oculus Rift VR (as in, virtual reality) is a 3D headset that transports viewers to another world. As you move your head, the screen content moves with you. Facebook recently acquired the digital teleportation company (run, by the way, by a 21-year-old) for $2 billion. It has certainly becoming more prominent as the future of media.
Hollywood is turning to Oculus to bring fans into the universes it's created in its movies and shows. We tried the Game of Thrones "Ascend the Wall" experience at South by Southwest, and at Comic-Con alone, there were other Oculus Rift exhibits developed for X-Men: Days of Future Past, where viewers got the chance to sit in Professor X's Cerebro, and Pacific Rim, which lets fans pilot their own jaeger robots. We can't wait to see what else Oculus Rift has in store — read on for our full interview with the developers, Secret Location president James Milward and Luke Van Osch, who led the team that created the Sleepy Hollow experience! And now, a photo of Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie because . . . why not?
POPSUGAR: What was the story-creation process like for the experience?
James Milward: "Secret Location worked closely with FOX, KO Paper Products (the producers), and the Sleepy Hollow writers' room to create a story that worked both with the technology and rules of virtual reality, as well as the show's narrative. The overarching idea was that we wanted to immerse the audience in the key drama from the show, while also creating a nice surprise and emotional reaction to the story."
PS: Can you tell us more about how you shot a 3D experience on the Sleepy Hollow set?
JM: "The interactive team at Secret Location traveled down to Wilmington, NC, where the show is filmed. We set up a green screen and we shot Tom Mison with a custom-built Stereoscopic 3D camera, which would allow Tom to get very close to the camera position in order to maximize the depth of the 3D action. Tom delivered his lines, shooting it all in one take. This is critical because you can't cut and edit in virtual reality. Tom came into the scene from the right of camera and left the same direction, which allowed us to 'composite' him into the 3D environment and block his entry with the 3D mausoleum, which he then appears to enter the 3D scene from once all put together in post production."
PS: What was it like working with Tom Mison?
JM: "Tom was truly a collaborator and couldn't have been more excited to participate. He was a natural and really embraced the potential of 3D shooting, making it supereasy to work with the footage in postproduction. Overall, Tom was one of the nicest and most generous people we've ever worked with." PS: What techniques did you employ to make the experience feel so real? JM: "There were a number of techniques including:
- Setting the scene at night, creating a spooky environment, while also enabling the scene to be limited in its visibility to the horizon. This enabled us to focus attention on the short and medium foreground.
- We modeled all the buildings, ground, and environment as photo realistic, so that they would match the video that we were shooting, making both feel seamless together.
- We added a number of environmental elements like moving fog, falling leaves, and additional animation elements like a bird flying, as well as bats in the final sequence.
- The 3D sound design was critical and really gives the feeling that the user is in the environment. As the user turns their head 360º each ear of the headphones' sound moves with the user, so that they feel like they are hearing each direction of the environment as it would feel in real life.
PS: How did you want viewers to feel during the experience?
JM: "We wanted to create a real sense of apprehension and immersion, feeling like they were standing right in front of Ichabod and in the environment. As the story progresses, the scene and sound together with the script and performance feels more and more intense. As the final sequence begins, we really wanted that 'jump' effect where the user gets a quick surprise and then the finale happens quickly. As the scene finishes, we wanted to get that feeling of relief, and also delight, so that when they take off the Rift and proceed to see their photograph, composted into the custom poster, the user would get a real kick out of it and share it to their social network."
PS: Why are so many studios jumping on Oculus Rift as a fan experience?
JM: "At this point, virtual reality is literally breaking ground in turning true 'immersion' into narrative. It's quite simply an experience that is incredibly memorable, emotional, and fun. Studios are jumping in because it gives fans a true sense of being a part of a story world, interacting with characters first hand and that's a feeling that everyone, from writers, directors, producers, and studios have been chasing since the birth of the cinematic medium."
PS: Anything planned for Dev Kit 2?
JM: "We have been developing for the Dev Kit 2 simultaneously along with the DK1. At the time of Comic-Con, the fidelity of the experience was better delivered on the DK1, because of availability of the hardware and speed of getting people through the experience. The Dev Kit 2 version will be ready within a couple of weeks and the idea is to release both versions publicly for download. Ideally, if and when this experience is created again at an event, we will be running the DK2 version from here on out." [Editor's Note: The second generation of Oculus Rift wasn't quite ready yet. Even though the screen resolution and motion blur has improved dramatically, there are still quirks with the software. Leaves falling through Ichabod's body, for example. But we still can't wait to get our hands on DK2, the next generation of virtual reality.]