VRLA After Party with Stephen Reedy
Behind the scenes of this year’s VRLA Expo After Party scavenger hunt extravaganza.
By Raeesah Reese
Despite VR’s reputation as a highly technical art form, Trainrobber director and collaborator Stephen Reedy explains that it is the medium’s capacity for emotionally charged storytelling and communication that he loves the most.
We sat down with him to discuss the process of creating connection through VR and his vision behind this year’s VRLA Expo After Party scavenger hunt extravaganza.
Nick Lange, Creative Director at Trainrobber (pictured left) and Stephen Reedy, Director at Trainrobber (pictured right).
Can you tell us more about your directing style?
I call it Balls and Heart. It’s that yummy “yin and yang” mixture – energetic and mainstream meets nutritional or psychological. In a perfect world, I have those two opposites – smart and dumb. I like to think of it as a dog pill inside a piece of cheese; the dog won’t eat something unless it’s yummy.
For any project, I believe it’s always about the audience. How is the audience going to get the yummiest meal? And also, what’s appropriate? Are they looking for junk food or are they looking for a fancy dinner or something in between? Then, I like to determine what the correct tools are to make it educational and stimulating. Any form of media is informational, but that’s the boring part. How do you present the information emotionally?
In a perfect world I’d want my audience to walk away with some sort of emotional charge and, when possible, an experience that helps the human race in some way without being preachy or boring.
What are some differences in your creative process when it comes to planning an event versus other VR projects you’ve worked on in the past?
There’s very little difference between the two. Both entail the user or the player having free will. In traditional media, you completely take away their free will. But in event planning and VR, you give them (the audience) the keys, and hope you built the right experience – where they see the right things in the right way.
Inside the downtown VRLA event hosted by Trainrobber and friends.
You craft how they get the first impression of the space. They had the free will to enter the environment we created, but we were the little puppet masters of what they saw and felt. And that’s what VR is – a mix of holding the audience’s hand and giving them complete independence. It’s like being a good parent. The pondering is endless. We had to come up with the manipulative tools to draw their eyes to a certain direction and take it away from what we didn’t want them to see. You don’t want to be too obvious, though. That’s just unsexy. It was very tricky for us to wrap the experience in this tortilla of fun. Endless amounts of testing – it was insane, but that’s why it was worth it.
What was your goal behind creating the scavenger hunt experience at the VRLA Explo After Party?
Trainrobber crafts human experiences with a motive. We knew going into the event that we were going to be set up next to giants like Google and HTC who have millions of dollars to invest in technology. Our motto was: “Different beats better, but also better beats better.” We thought, “How can we show great content and technology in a special way that’s immersive, imaginative, and human?”
Guests were challenged to solve complex riddles to win a $2,000 prize.
We used technology to make people become friends; to become teammates. We actually had a couple of wallflower types come up to us and say: “I hate parties, I get bored and hate interacting with people, but you made it fun. You gave me a purpose.” As a result of this event, friends were made and business relationships were forged. Strangers were running around and teaming up. So the main motivation behind the event was to create purpose, and the side effect of that purpose was fun and collaboration.
What aspect of VR technology do you find most exciting?
The whole point of traditional media is that you have experts shaping the audience’s psychology. Just think how lucky we’ll be when VR hits a home run. We’ve yet to see that. No one on earth has done it yet. It’s going to feel more real than anything on earth. Even more real than reality in some ways.
A VRLA guest eagerly explores one of Trainrobber’s immersive VR experiences.
Eye contact is one of the tools that I’ve seen emerge in VR lately. One of the first VR videos I saw was one where the person locked eyes with me. I jumped. It was a human being looking at me and it was the most intimate, awkward experience ever. It was so powerful.
We can translate that power into VR. VR is really an ignorance solver in some ways. Unless you’ve stood in the shoes of someone who’s oppressed or hurt, you can only intellectually say, “Man that must suck.” But to really immerse yourself as close to reality in someone else’s experience can really contribute to building perspective and eliminating ignorance in the world.
A screen shot from inside the Trainrobber VR experience.
What does the future hold for Trainrobber and VR?
We’re going to be working on great storytelling experiences that incorporate a lot of interactivity. Everything from traditional marketing to things that don’t have names yet – we’re looking forward to working with the community of VR creators and marketers.
There are always these milestones in history – like the discovery of electricity, the internet, the iPhone. VR interactivity is one that will transform a huge slice of society. Once VR is at the level where everyone knows what it is, big changes will happen. And it might not even be in marketing or storytelling. What if you have the world’s best surgeon in Tokyo operating on a patient in Canada through VR? It’s gonna be nuts. We’re wielding something very mighty.