Together engineers, designers, content creators, and users drive the development of technology’s applications. Many of Virtual Reality’s (VR) early adopters and developers use the technology for gaming systems, but a new direction has emerged. VR has the power to unlock human capacity’s to share experiences remotely, revisit fond memories, and expand users’ perspectives.
Facet is a boutique virtual reality production company based in Austin and NYC. When they’re not developing immersive content for clients, the Facet team explores the balance between narrative and viewer autonomy in the VR experience. Nick Ramsay and Ivan Gabriel Ramirez, the cofounders of Facet, share their vision for VR’s future role in human life. By focusing on connecting VR to music and culture, Nick and Ivan bring a unique view to light on 360 video content. http://facetvr.com/
What current VR applications are you most excited about? What do you imagine will be popular once VR is more accessible?
To be honest, as live action video creators (not programmers or video game developers) we aren’t really excited about any VR apps. We find that the average user doesn’t have the time or bandwidth to download individual apps just to take in a VR video. This is something prohibitive about making the more advanced VR experiences accessible to the masses. What we’re excited about is the continued improvement of VR / 360° video functionalities being added to the platforms where people already spend time-- Youtube and Facebook. It’s still far from perfect. It’s still at the point where, when you send someone a Youtube link to a 360° video you have to ask them “did it work?” because if people don’t have the most updated browser or Youtube app installed on their phone it might not play in 360.
That being said, there are some interesting apps out there and some good efforts being made. Samsung’s Gear 360 app is one platform. Google’s platform is another. Within has a pretty good app. But overall, we aren’t too jazzed about the apps. What excites us is the integration of VR / AR functionality in existing apps. But ask us that question again in a few months and we might have a totally different answer. The landscape is changing so fast!
By nature, Virtual reality isolates users from the physical world around them. How do you think VR can bring people together?
That’s an interesting question. We have a friend, Jake Kahana, who is doing a project to create VR experiences for the elderly, and he collaborated with some programmers at MIT to try to address this problem. They basically created this software that makes it possible to sync multiple VR headsets so that everyone is having the same viewing experience, in real time.
We’re interested to see how technologies like that evolve. It will be easier to do something like have a screening or film festival of VR films, where the whole audience engages at the same time and has a shared experience they can talk about afterwards. The fundamental issue is that you are checking out of the “real-world” by putting this thing on your head, so at the end of the day it really is more of an individual experience than a group activity.
How can it bring people together? If you believe the Samsung ads, it can be this cool toy that the whole family is passing around and kind of talking about and bonding over, being in awe of the same thing.
On a more abstract level, it brings people together through its power to create empathy and share experiences in a way that’s more “real” than regular video or photography. For example, I was able to share the experience of attending a Black Lives Matter demonstration in NYC with my friends over seas (Here’s the video we shot at the demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCXrun-wbTk).
And it’s a more democratic way of capturing an experience. By that I mean, if you recorded 360° video at your wedding, you would be able to look back on that footage in the future and not just see the moments that the person editing your video decided to frame, but instead be able to look around the room and see everyone’s reaction as the bride and groom walked down the aisle. “What was the expression on grandma’s face? How about the best man?” There are a million stories in every moment, and VR captures all of them, without discrimination. It might be a bit of a stretch, but I feel like that’s another way that VR can potentially bring people closer.
One example of this would be the behind-the-scenes video we shot at the lookbook shoot for Sinserli Jericho’s jewelry line (bit.ly/sinserlijericho). The space was filled with people in all directions and there was a real communal atmosphere and group energy at the shoot, which VR captures in a way that traditional video couldn’t.
Your company takes a very experimental and explorative approach to your VR/360 work. What drives your selection process for clients and private projects?
As cliché as it sounds, the vibe has to be right, on a human-to-human level. We’re just a small group of creators exploring this new medium for the purpose of learning more about it and hopefully contributing to pushing the medium forward and bringing it to a wider audience.
We are very interested in the music and culture space, because Ivan and I both come from that background. I used to write for music magazines and Ivan’s last production company focused mostly on music videos.
Also, the music video is a really free space that allows for experimentation and doesn't rely too heavily on narrative, which makes it a good fit for VR. We just made a music video with The Tribe Akashic (bit.ly/tribeakashic) and are in pre-production on a couple other music video projects right now that we’re excited about.
We’re also interested in using the medium to help create awareness and empathy around underrepresented perspectives and communities, and help document the shifting social sands in this scary moment for the country where a lot of the most vulnerable people are under attack. We’re definitely going to be out shooting at more of the protests, and seeking more opportunities to use VR as a voice against oppression.
We do work with paying clients, but we have no delusions that this is going to make us rich and the projects that get us most excited are just collaborations with friends and other artists. So, that's really freeing, because it lets us just focus our energy on projects that we think will be fun and present us with interesting new challenges.