Are virtual reality headsets only for gamers? Signal Space Lab believes that’s simply not the case and is betting instead that this technology has huge potential in the film industry. The company’s Afterlife project, which won two awards at the Raindance Film Festival in September, is their first step with this ambitious gamble.
An immersive and interactive drama, Afterlife is the story of a mother and father mourning the death of their son. It is through the child’s ghost that the viewer not only lives the story, but also has the power change it.
Afterlife is like one those novels in which the hero is on steroids. How did Signal Space Lab reinvent the genre?
“The company wanted to push the limits of cinema through the lens of virtual reality,” says Ana Cardenas, Director of Marketing.
“The story was designed to interact with a variety of plotline possibilities, creating a unique user experience. They can activate different elements that will lead them onto a new narrative path.”
How many possibilities is it possible to generate?
A.C. “There are 29 decisions to be made in the three chapters, which equates to around 5,000 possibilities. This makes for a very interesting experience. For example, at Raindance, while users seemed to take similar paths, each experience was in fact personalized according to what the user paid attention to.””For the structure, the director Luisa Valencia and the screenwriter borrowed from the world of video games by mapping the story out and then synchronizing the different possible paths.”
In what ways is Afterlife innovative compared to other experiences in the genre, for example Félix & Paul’s Miyubi from 2017?
A.C. “We focus on history and therefore the ways in which to build in those interactions. The key element in Afterlife is that we chose not to highlight the decision options. We didn’t want to distract the user from the experience. When we put the headset on, we choose a path based on the objects or characters that we pay unique attention to. So, when the story takes on a new direction it just feels fluid! We hardly notice the changes. This element is also part of the innovation because we removed any distractive elements like an interface that says “click here”. This allows the user to take advantage of the story possibilities in a totally natural way.”
Are the interactions limited by subconscious looks from the user?
A.C. “In Afterlife, the user also makes conscious choices in certain situations when he or she activates an interactive element. For example, by embodying the dead child, the user tries to communicate with the parents by interacting with the objects around them. During these moments, a pointer appears – strictly speaking it’s not really an interface – that allows objects to become animated and for new branches of the story to unlock.”
It’s hard not to think of Black Mirror’s interactive episode “Bendersnatch” on Netflix. What do you think?
A.C. “I found it interesting but was also a little disappointed. Some of the narrative opportunities seemed forced and then we were brought back to a specific story intersection for another approach. But, for sure it’s inspiring to see Netflix trying out experiments like that in the genre.”
“In Afterlife, you’re not pushed into any one narrative frame. It’s when we finish the story, we can observe whether we had followed more the point of view of the mother or that of the father. So, we can start the story again and again, each time with different results. In Bendersnatch you see all the scenarios play out in just one experiment.”
How do you plan to grow your audience?
A.C. “We see storytelling as its own niche within virtual reality. Of course, the market is currently oriented towards gamers. In our newest project, we plan to build on elements of Afterlife and grow our audience by targeting namely gamers.”
“We hope one day to be able to collaborate with a major broadcaster or a film studio. My craziest dream would be to work on a superhero movie.”
Afterlife will be part of the Immersive Experience Showcase at HUB Montréal on November 18th. The film is available on the Steam, Vive, PlayStation, Apple and Oculus platforms.
The interview was edited for brevity.