In the first installment of a sponsored SHOOT series on VR & AR, we explore the immersive experience landscape through the projects and innovations created and inspired by The Mill. 

This feature titled “Creating Immersive Experiences” was published on August 19, 2016 across SHOOT’s digital and print platforms including SHOOT Magazine, SHOOTonline, The SHOOT>e.dition and The SHOOT Dailies.  Boo Wong, The Mill’s global director of emerging technology, was interviewed for the article, shedding light on not only the creation of content but also the innovation spurred on by R&D to help better realize that content.

An excerpt from the SHOOT feature about the Mill....
The Mill’s emerging tech team works across VR, AR, real time, interactive and experiential formats to deliver powerful new ways of connecting with audiences. “Whether it’s within a fully enclosed VR space or AR where you are integrated into the real world--either way The Mill looks at it as ‘world building,’” related Wong. “We strive to tell great stories, create compelling content, to build new worlds. ”

Part and parcel of that is to enable viewers to experience those worlds on their own terms. “This is no longer a dictatorship,” said Wong. “If a viewer doesn’t want to stay on a closeup, he or she doesn’t have to. They can explore the world as they see fit. They have the control. We are the architects of the space but they are the ones who can experience it their own way. We might kind of try to nudge them in the right direction but ultimately it’s still their adventure. It’s still up to them.”

Facilitating this interactivity is where The Mill has positioned itself in the immersive/interactive landscape. “We are not in the business of making video games. But we very much do tap into real-time interactive game engines to further the VR and AR experience,” said Wong. “We are--and very much like to be operating--at the intersection of cinema and games. This is how the viewer becomes more of a user. There are viewers who just watch--even in VR, many are still just watching. But you open up the interactive world for many of them by making your content more gameified.”

Yet more integral to success is the selection of stories and experiences that lend themselves to VR and/or AR. “In the early days of VR we would get scripts that weren’t really appropriate for a 360 or a virtual experience,” recalled Wong. “We work with our clients to make sure we are creating content that makes sense for the space.”

That process has yielded assorted experiences of high caliber, helping to break new ground in the immersive marketplace, a prime example being a piece of branded content for newspaper The Guardian--a documentary titled 6x9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement. Placing the viewer inside a solitary confinement cell with little more than a bed and a toilet, 6x9 mimics a prisoner’s experience of being locked away for 23 hours a day, delving into such psychological effects as blurred vision, hallucinations and a sense of floating that may occur after long-term sensory deprivation. Deploying game engine technology, The Mill London worked from first-person accounts and documentaries as references for both cell design and spatial audio capture. The cell was designed in Maya and further developed in Unity. Environmental binaural audio was also used which ensured the audio was anchored to the environment, enhancing the sense of space and creating the effect of the sound continually moving with the viewer. 6x9 was a joint venture throughout the production process with Carl Addy, The Mill’s creative director, working in close collaboration with co-directors Francesca Panetta and Lindsay Poulton from The Guardian to steer the creative direction of the piece.

6x9 served with its immersive experience to raise awareness of and spark discussion about solitary confinement, shedding light on the issue and whether related policies should be reconsidered or revised. The critically acclaimed 6x9 was showcased at both the Sundance Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Fest this year. To see 6x9, click HERE.

The Mill also made its mark at this year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas, with its groundbreaking live-action cinema grade production tool, Mill Stitch, topping the VR/AR category at the SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards. This accolade underscores The Mill’s multi-faceted involvement in the immersive arena, not only creating projects but developing and inventing product that advances the storytelling/experiential discipline. “We are constantly experimenting, discovering, making prototypes not only for VR and AR but also our visual effects endeavors,” noted Wong. Much of this is done via Mill LAB, the space where creative technologists experiment, identify the correct applications for emerging technology, seek and realize ways to better connect with audiences. This initiative is creatively spearheaded by executive creative director Rama Allen and Wong. 

Regarding Mill Stitch, awhile back it was difficult for a director to follow what was being captured during the course of VR production. The video village turned out what at best looked like a security camera feed. Mill Stitch enables directors to be on set and see the shots to determine what she or he has and if anything further, including a revised approach, is required. “Placing this in the toolkit allows directors to see what they’re shooting--stitching everything together real time on set so the director can view it in 360,” said Wong.

Among other immersive experiences turned out by The Mill are Jack Daniel’s Storytelling: VR Experience (click HERE to view) and The New York Times project The Modern Games marking the start of this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio (click HERE to view).

Click HERE to read the digital online version of the article.

Click HERE to view article PDF version of the August 19, 2016 issue of SHOOT Magazine, scroll to page 18 for the article.

Click HERE to view/download PDF version of just the article.

Click here for information on the next SHOOT VR & AR Sponsored Feature. Sponsorship includes participation in the feature article plus digital/print advertising and promotion. The next feature will be published on 10/21and appear in the October/November issue of SHOOT  Magazine and on, The SHOOT>e.dition and SHOOT Dailies on 10/21.

About The Mill
The Mill is a community of diverse individuals with all manner of talents and backgrounds. What these people share in common is a passion for the work. Embodying the seamless collaboration of technology, creativity and vision, The Mill made its first mark as a visual effects house, moving into design, production and creation of original content. For The Mill, segueing into VR and AR came organically, explained Wong who leads the emerging tech ensemble of talent across The Mill’s studios in London, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. “Coming off of 20-plus years of heavy sophisticated visual effects work, we found ourselves in a great position to delve into immersive experience,” said Wong. “It’s a natural evolution of The Mill’s core technical and creative abilities to move from linear content into the immersive and interactive space.” For more information on The Mill Click HERE

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