MINDFIELD  -  VR EXPERIENCE
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MINDFIELD - VR EXPERIENCE

by MindField on 2 Jun 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Mindfield is an immersive experience focuses on how John, an army veteran, has his life altered by his post-traumatic stress disorder. The audience will delve inside his memories, transported to the core of the emotional rift he experienced during a more chaotic time of war.

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Abstractly exploring and depicting the invisible impacts of altered mental health, Mindfield is an immersive experience focuses on how John, an army veteran, has his life altered by his post-traumatic stress disorder. The audience will delve inside his memories, transported to the core of the emotional rift he experienced during a more chaotic time of war. 

Will John be able to open up about his past to a loved one, freeing himself partially from the burden he bears? Or will he remain stuck in this loop of hopelessness? 

The person that can determine John's fate... is you!

Click HERE to download the VR Experience

The virtual reality experience Mindfield addresses post-traumatic stress disorder through the lens of the story's main character: John. 

It is an open-ended short film that is the result of many months of work by a team of third-year students studying visual effects at NAD University of digital arts, animation and design.  The project was completed entirely remotely and virtually, given the schooling circumstances of the covid pandemic.

The students involved had the particularity of studying in traditional 3D film and visual effects, having no prior experience of using a game engine to produce content, much less producing VR or 360° content. This project thus required a world of adaptation in terms of workflow, pipeline and software learning, and every team member's knowledge has increased immensely through the creation of this VR experience and film.

The film's objective is to sensitize the viewer towards how PTSD can influence the experience of daily life, making them a witness of imagery depicting the character's inner state of turmoil, as well as exposing them to a painful memory of trauma. The film searches to evoke empathy, but also to provoke a questioning towards traumatic experiences, their impacts and the healing process. 

Multiple versions of the script were written and revised by a subgroup of students themselves, with many ideas around a common theme being presented throughout summer and fall 2020. 

As a team we wanted to include the conflict of war with a story that could cover a wide spectrum of emotions. Many iterations were written, some focusing on brotherhood, others on family dynamics and grief, some had happy endings, others had tragic ones, but in the end we decided we wanted to incorporate a message about healing no matter the outcome, and visually we became interested in metaphorical ways of depicting mental health. A team member came up with the idea of approaching the story under the angle of post-traumatic stress disorder, and we finally knew what direction to head in. From that point on, work could finally begin! 

Technicalities of telling a story in VR

We found that, too often, short films unfolding in VR with the intent of telling a story have the following flaw as a common denominator: not implementing any suspension of time possible when the viewer isn't attentive to the story's progression. This became one of the main technical points we wanted to address as storytellers, as we wanted to ensure that spectators would not miss out on key plot points in the story, nor create a disconnect from the action in the story. This led to the testing, development and junction of storytelling techniques.

The events were conceived to require marked eye contact from the spectator to be triggered in order to ensure the understanding of a story unfolding in 360°. Sound, as well as light, were used as tools to command attention and guide the viewer's gaze in the right direction. The story thus cannot progress without the audience triggering these events, ensuring they do not miss out on key parts of the story. The suspension in time was made to seem natural and not jarring with animation loops integrated for those key moments. 

The hurdles faced were numerous, considering it was a first experience working and creating a project let alone film in Unreal Engine. Everyone had to adapt quickly and think out of the box to adapt what had been taught for regular film and ajusting it for a VR Unreal workflow. 

Notable obstacles were rig compatibilities, optimising to meet requirements in order to run the project in 90 FPS, lights and baking problems, and seamlessly connecting animations that were divided between multiple animators. It was an entire buffet of challenges. A sure thing was that all team members showcased their resourcefulness multiple times in the face of adversity during the project. 

Another lesson learned: do not update a software midway through production!

If a re-do were possible, what we'd change--other than maybe being more informed and knowledgeable about gaming engines and the adjustments they entailed-- is taking more time in preproduction, making sure the project was clear for every team member, and ensure that the style and visual design were coherent between all assets. 

Our initial scenario was also too ambitious for the work that could be done within six months. A lot of time and energy was spent shortening the story while doing our best to keep its essence. Had the script been shorter and more realistic from the get-go, the struggle with removing content, as well as putting aside work that had been put towards forwarding that content, would've been less painful and difficult. That said, it was an immense learning experience for everyone involved in the organization and decision-making within the project.

The film is in an incomplete state as of right now, due to the ambitious script pitfall surely many fall into, though it may be completed fully in the future. 

Thus because a part of the script is missing to clarify this point, we'd like to share a special insight that may be considered a spoiler, so tread carefully before reading ahead!

[Spoiler] 

The whale toy above represents a parallel between John’s son and the child he accidentally shoots during his war memory. His relationship with his son has been altered by his transposing of both their lives and the guilt he experiences towards the innocent boy he killed. The whale doesn't actually exist in his memory, it is a metaphorical bridge that ties that experience to John's on in his reality.

                                                             THE TEAM BEHIND MINDFIELD

Team behind Mindfield: Who are we?

We are a team of students that was put together and united by our fellow student and team leader Vincent Ladouceur, top left in photo above, a virtual reality enthousiast.

Despite the challenge it represented, we believed this story had a greater purpose and impact being told in an immersive fashion. Beyond the aesthetics and photorealistic quality that usual VFX artists tend to gravitate towards, we instead embarked on a quest of optimization and problem solving for the sake of the story, and that is something we are very proud of. 

We've come out of this experience better rounded artists than if we had chosen a more familiar path, and that in itself feels like a great accomplishment. The project has also opened our eyes  and acquainted us to the great potential lying in the convergence of traditional film and game engines.

The founder but also the foundation of the Mindfield team: Vincent Ladouceur, director of Mindfield

Avid lover of stories, Vincent is a student intending to devote his life and career to his passion: Virtual Reality. His goal is to explore the medium while uncovering its storytelling potential, as well as developing cinematographic storytelling language and testing the limits of storytelling techniques in the context of  immersive experiences in virtual reality.  The necessary adaptation of stories to virtual reality ignites his passion. 

He considers creating stories an adventure, one that allows him to make people experience adventures  themselves, as well as be exposed to the wide spectrum of emotions that true immersion can convey.

He is an aspiring director of stories told within the realm of virtual reality.


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