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Google Embraces WebVR With VR Film ‘Tabel’

Back in January we covered Virtualeap’s international hackathon competition, which was designed to help bring much needed attention to the potential of WebVR. After all, WebVR seems to be the most practical and accessible way many of us might experience VR on a day to day basis.

Google, who was one of the partners of the hackathon is now pushing the idea of WebVR with the immersive film titled “Tabel: A Tasty Allegory for Global Inaction in the Face of Climate Control”.  The 7-minute VR film was released on Google’s Art, Copy and Code site, which is a Google initiative to explore new ways to use technology and the art of storytelling.

According to the official Tabel website“Tabel is a story that needs to be digested.  It is an experience made for immersive VR.  The VR format allows you to taste and absorb the cacophony characters and the storylines, while actively participating in the story itself.”

Tabel was filmed in a way that encourages you to look around the room and experience six different conversations, each with a unique view. As for how they filmed Tabel, the creators used a GoPro Odyssey camera with Jump technology, a camera collaboration between Google and GoPro. But what I thought was really interesting was how the film makers used nine individual audio channels to create a single 360 audio recording that gives you the ability to navigate the audio from six different storylines throughout the experience, a technique Google calls directional audio. The Tabel website states, “Directional audio was built specifically for this VR film and Tabel was created and written with this audio technique in mind.”  This technique allows the user to move their head around and focus in on a single conversation within the film.

Tabel is split into two acts.

In Act 1, you are seated at Tabel Restaurant, one of the most exclusive farm-to-table restaurants around, and you are waiting for the rest of your dinner party to join you at your reserved table. The interactive experience begins immediately when you are greeted by your waiter who delivers a message from the chef urging you to respect the house rules, but more importantly, asks you to look around and take notice of the various important people at the tables surrounding.

One by one, your waiter introduces you to each individual in the room with some background information on the characters present. At this point, your waiter moves on to tend to other tables, putting you into the directors chair.  You are now steering the storytelling by choosing which conversation(s) you want to be involved with, or you can follow the waiter as he zig-zags from table to table; all by physically moving your head, mobile device, desktop mouse or trackpad to look around the room. Focus in on any conversation in it’s entirety, or just listen in on bits and pieces of conversations. Which character or table do you relate with? Is it the DJ who is overly concerned about her social media page and less concerned about what she really thinks?  Or is it the power couple willing to give up their own happiness to stay focused on that “bright future”.  Explore the room however you’d like and listen in on their conversations and get to know the characters a little more.

Act 2 opens up with trouble brewing out of the kitchen, with each character taking little notice to what is happening in the restaurant but instead more concerned about their own self-indulgent desires. As trouble in the kitchen escalates, each character’s narcissistic personalities become highlighted causing some panic. Tabel is a VR film about our own inaction, whether it’s through denial, self-consciousness, or pride. How many of us are so self-absorbed with our own interests that we almost choose to ignore the the things around us until it is directly affecting us. In the case of Tabel Restaurant, who will save the restaurant as the chaos escalates? Do our characters even notice what is happening? Do they even care?

Tabel shows the potential of how WebVR can become a powerful tool for dynamic storytelling and how it can empower the user to become their own experience director. It also shows that you don’t need a high end VR headset to have a robust VR experience. According to Google, “As the roles of VR storyteller and the viewer evolve, we’re excited to see what parts everyone will play.”

Tabel is the result of a collaboration with Lucy Teitler, Alexis Cox, Marcel Baker and Billy Silva (who doubled as being the director of the film) and can be viewed on Google’s WebVR Chrome extension, or on any smartphone using a desktop or any smartphone using the Chrome browser in video mode or with a VR headset.

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