How Secret Location took on The Great C

The eOne-owned studio continues to push the boundaries of virtual reality with its 30-minute "cinematic VR narrative" based on the short story by Philip K. Dick.

the great c - screenshot 2Secret Location has been proving itself as a leader in virtual reality experiences for years now.

From its 2014 Sleepy Hollow narrative VR installation to the first-of-its-kind 15-part short-form VR series, HalcyonSecret Location is continually pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with the medium. Now, the eOne-owned studio has taken on its most ambitious project to date, a 30-minute cinematic VR narrative, The Great C, which premieres this week in competition at the Venice Film Festival.

Based on the Philip K. Dick short story of the same name, the project follows a young woman who is selected for a pilgrimage to appease the all-powerful supercomputer that rules humanity. Unlike the majority of VR experiences, The Great C doesn’t involve the viewer in the narrative.

“A lot VR experiences, and ones we’ve done in the past, have characters that will run up to you and address you as a character, which definitely invites a whole bunch of questions of the viewer. ‘What is my role in the world? Am I doing the right thing?’,” says director Steve Miller.

In The Great C the viewer takes an almost “God-like perspective” he says, which allows them to really be present and immersed in a scene without being an active participant.

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Producer Luke Van Osch adds that one of the project’s main goals was to tell an authored experience. The popular convention in VR is to give viewers agency within the story, but Secret Location wanted to recreate a filmic experience.

“People always said, ‘People have to [be involved] in VR because of the nature of the medium. People have to feel like they’re themselves.’ That was something that we never really believed,” he says. “We believed you could tell a story where you don’t have to have that cheesy breaking-the-fourth-wall thing.”

And by doing so, Van Osch says Secret Location was able to tell a fast-paced VR narrative. The majority of VR experiences happen at a leisurely pace that encourage users to explore the experience. But Secret Location wanted to break that convention, too, presenting a story that moves quickly.

“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be an appetite for this in VR. So what we really tried to do is, over these 30 minutes, make a story that moves, not just in the plot, but in the presentation of it. How we cut, how we frame, how we move the story along is, I think, on the higher-end of what VR narratives have done so far.”

Miller adds that the team did try to “push the envelope” with its filming techniques, playing with scale to create that sense of place that is usually established in film with traditional camera shots, like wide-angle or telephoto lens shots – techniques that aren’t as easily achieved in VR.

The filmmakers say they hope to reach more than just gamers and sci-fi fans with the experience, and grow the VR audience to those unfamiliar with the medium. They’ve even filmed the experience in two modes, one for vets, which features those more cinematic, sweeping camera movements, and another for newbies, which is more grounded, says Miller.

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Following its Venice premiere, The Great C will be released exclusively in location-based entertainment centres (like arcades) across North America in September. The experience will then be available for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR later in the year.

The Great C was produced by Secret Location with the support of the Canada Media Fund.