Kaohsiung VR Film Lab 2019: An Interview with Director Kao Yi-chun 高逸軍
Interview by Chng Ying Tong
In The Abandoned Deity《落難神像》, the short VR animation film brings the audience back into the mood of 1980s Taiwan and the common practice of deity worship – through the eyes of a deity statue. This 15 minutes short film is director Kao Yi-chun’s first venture into the world of Virtual Reality (VR) and he hints at more to come after the film’s premiere at the 2019 Kaohsiung Film Festival.
We got the chance to speak with the director about his use of VR and what he thinks will be the future of this relatively new medium:
When did you start working on The Abandoned Deity?
Actually, I started working on this subject matter from as early as 2017. But at that time, I was writing a script for traditional media, with a more traditional form of animation in mind. I also wanted the audience to be involved in the role, but I just couldn’t find any way to make the audience feel from a first-person perspective. Later, after a commercial VR work ended in 2018, I thought about using this kind of expression method to express my original subject matter. It seemed to fit. After that, I got Kaohsiung Film and the financing of the National Culture and Arts Foundation to make this VR short film.
How long did it take for this VR animation film to be made?
The art design already existed when we got the funding. If we don’t include that, it took about a year.
Please give us an introduction of your short film.
I mainly wanted to show the atmosphere during the 1980s and our people’s approach towards folk belief and worship. The main reason for using VR as a medium was to allow people to think from another perspective, to feel from the perspective of the deity emblem. I used a family to let the audience feel the changes in the family dynamics from the perspective of a deity emblem and to highlight that our folk belief is a kind of worship to the deity emblem. In fact, in Southeast Asia, the treatment of the deity emblems is the same. This is also observed in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Such emblems still exist in present day.
Looking back at your experience in making this VR film, have you ever thought about any areas which you would want to improve on?
For VR, if the camera is moving, people who are usually not used to it will feel motion sickness. Because we used motion capture, there is no way to limit the actor and tell him to not move at a specific part, so what is captured of him will more or less move a little. We spent a lot of time trying to solve this problem later during post-production. If the actor moves just a little more, it will create vertigo. Some people pointed out that in the film, the process of bringing the idol up was dizzying.
VR若攝影機有在動， 通常比較不適應的人是會暈眩。因為我們是用motion capture，所以有些東西沒有辦法限制演員說哪裡不要動，因此他鏡頭多少會有移動。我們後期在解決這個問題的時候其實花滿多時間的。如果演員他的動作稍微多一點，可能會造成暈眩。有人說影片中把神像拿上去的過程會暈眩。
Were there any challenges during the process of shooting this VR?
I think whether it’s live action or animation, the challenge is the quality of the picture. In fact, we all say that 10K and 8K are the most basic. Because once we cross that, the pixel count is very low. We have to make sure that the picture quality is 10K or even stereo dimensions, so that picture quality pixel count is very large. Technique wise, I think it’s almost the same as the 2D or CG animation. In terms of picture quality, the pixel count also needs to be so high. So this time we used a game engine called “Unreal”, which is a little faster in processing, so the burden is not so heavy.
我覺得現在不管是實拍或者是動畫，挑戰都是畫質吧。我們其實都會說10K、8K是最基本的。因為跨過之後，其實那個像素是非常low的。一定要把畫質撐到10K或甚至是stereo的立體，所以那個畫質算圖量非常大。技術上我覺和原本的平面或者CG animation的技術上其實都差不多。在畫質上，算圖也需要算到這麼高。所以這次我們是用一種遊戲引擎 ”Unreal“，它的算圖稍微快一點所以負擔比較沒有那麼大。
There was a drowning scene in the film. Why is there such a scene?
Because water is symbolic in the film. When you face the death of a loved one, there will be this feeling of drowning. I wanted to express that VR has a special spatiality to it, and you can use that sense of space to design. Until the end, when the protagonist drives his car to the port of Kaohsiung, there is a sense of opening up when the water became the sea. The whole film is a more of a symbolic performance.
Since you completed this VR film, are you working on other VR / AR / MR pieces?
At the moment, we are working on an AR piece. Because the main element of this film is about how to build the totem. It starts from chiseling wood to painting wires and connecting wires. We really had actors to learn from actual masters. And the AR we are working on this time follows the production process of that master. We used green screens, and this 4D view technology that has been brought into Taiwan. We’ll use that technology to film on the spot and turn it into an AR. This AR is installed at the P3 warehouse and the audience is welcome to watch it.
我們目前有個就是做AR的。因為我們這影片主要的元素是粧佛。就是從鑿木頭到上漆線，牽線的圖騰，我們真的有找演員去跟師傅學習。而我們這次做的AR是把那個師傅的製作過程。我們使用了綠棚， 還有使用台灣現在有引進一個4D view的技術。用那個在現場拍然後變成AR。這個AR現在有設在P3倉庫，讓觀眾用看的。
What do you think of the role of VR in telling narratives?
I think VR is still slightly different from movies.
It will not replace traditional cinemas because the language is not the same, and the way of audience viewing is not the same. Many VR technologies, such as interaction, will give the audience a sense of realistic experience. I think it’s closer to games actually. In the future, the line will become more and more blurred. Anyway, VR is used to let the feeling of entering a virtual world grow stronger. Whatever narration depends on whether the creator wants to try it.
Are you currently working on the next VR work?
Currently, we are starting on one with a more science fiction theme. We’ll need to see later if we can develop the story and VR at the same time.
You started doing animation before going into VR. Did you feel that there were aspects that were more difficult or different?
In terms of animation, I think the technical aspects are almost the same. Whether it’s using software or the technicalities, there isn’t much difference. On the contrary, it’s the pre-production process that requires more thought.
The first would be to consider whether the topic or the theme you want to express is suitable for VR. I think that is more important. How do you go about with this is almost completely part of pre-production. The bigger difference is that when filming traditional films, we don’t have to consider much about the audience. Because there are many techniques [that can be employed]. There’s composition, there’s lens, there’s close-up, there’s editing. But for VR, there is actually less cutting up of scenes. So that’s why in the early stages of planning, you’ll need to think about how to guide the audience or what to say to catch the audience’s attention. This is different from traditional films or animations.
Here more about what the director has to say in the behind-the-scenes interview and watch the trailer of The Abandoned Deity: