Behind the Scenes
Avaloki was created by a small indie team of eight, exploring the edges of what virtual reality can offer as a new storytelling medium. Unlike traditional filmmaking, the pipeline for VR narrative creation has yet to be established, and the medium itself calls for a different design lens as the user becomes an active character in the story. Here’s how we created Avaloki.
Priyam and Robin noticed there were few VR experiences that addressed the relationship between users as characters within their associated stories.
Writing a story to answer to questions: who am I as the user and what do I do? Memory Sharing became an imperative solution:
- Emotional intent: It mimics our most human moments of intimacy and empathy for each other, most willing to help each other when we learn each other’s pasts and stories.
- Narrative intent: Using flashbacks to explain who the characters are, how they got here, who you are.
Proof of Concept
A team of two, Priyam and Robin worked hard to prove the two focal questions. DISCOVERED: It was important to include a moment when the user chooses to become the Avaloki. It creates a moment where the user can finally let go of reality and say “Yes, I want to play and be someone else.” It’s a moment of accepting a new role and persona. The project was called “The Alchemist” at this time.
USC & Oculus Launch Pad Acceptance
Showed early prototype of “The Alchemist” to the USC Games’ Summer Bridge incubator program as well as Oculus Launch Pad Diversity program.
- Brought on Nico to create the music for the film. This was crucial for the tone and feeling of the story.
- Yaya helped design the characters and their initial cultural influences
- Kevin brought on to do the initial concept sketches and tests with Tilt Brush
- Estella brought on to be the primary Tilt Brush / VR painter
- Jake brought on for animations
- Priyam tackled development, engineering, tying all the pieces together
Oculus Launch Pad Submission
For the Oculus Launch Pad program, the team pushed to deliver a solid tech build by the end of August. The tech and interactive portion was the main focus, less about story, meaning, representation.
Awarded Oculus Launch Pad Grant
Won grant funding and active mentorship from Oculus. After this crucial moment, the team was given the resources to handcraft this project and further expand the project. Priyam felt the project could be better, that it may have lost an integral part of its soul.
Up until now, Priyam designed the story to be general, globalized for wider reach. Inspired by his fellow Oculus Launch Pad cohorts, chosen for their diversity and perspectives, Priyam wanted to challenge himself to include his own voice and personality into the film.
- Pulling from his own Hindu and Buddhist upbringing, Priyam realized the myth of Avalokiteshvara was perfect for this story, representing a compassionate, empathetic helper for the lost.
- “I saw a new layer of this experience that I hadn’t seen before.” Moving fwd: worked hard to be inspired and grow from that heritage. Wanted to reintroduce the nuances of the story.
- Story's name is changed to Avaloki.
Art Direction Revamp
Estella and Priyam redesign the flashback scenes from scratch, integrating meaningful Buddhist and Japanese symbology for each flashback scene. A cohesive visual language is created for the flashback scenes: color palette, visual progression. Everything was repainted from scratch, and new animation techniques had to be created to bring the paintings to life, integrated into the full VR experience. Jake refines the 3D animation scenes
CREATING THE SET
The dark, moonlit and tundra set of Avaloki is actually a tiny, real-world cave in the desert terrain of Red Rock, California. The director and producer shot, captured and rendered the cave using photogrammetry technology with the help of xRez Studio. After applying layers of post processing effects we achieved our final look.
CREATING THE 'MEMORIES'
Our Tilt Brush 'memory' sequences are the culmination of months of intensive research on traditional Japanese woodblock paintings blended with Hindu Buddhist symbology. Created by our Art Director and Tilt Brush illustrator, Estella Tse, and animated by our director, Priyam Parikh, the look captures the key visual elements of 2D Hokusai-inspired art into an immersive 3D scroll. The intricate patterns around the scroll and in the dome is inspired by symbols such as the Dharmachakra, Bodhi Tree and Lotus flower.