Basically every Hollywood entity of note is interested in narrative virtual reality, but they’re still figuring out exactly what that is. However, if a new VR comedy experience featuring “Thor: Ragnarok” star Jeff Goldblum is any indication, it might look as familiar as an ’80s sitcom.
Earlier this week, TheWrap strapped on an Oculus Rift headset for a demo of “Miyubi,” the first feature-length narrative VR comedy experience with a cast of veteran actors including Goldblum. The experience will be released Thursday on the Oculus Store.
“Miyubi” was produced by Oculus, created by co-directors Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael of Felix & Paul Studios and co-written with Owen Burke at comedy production company Funny or Die. It’s Funny or Die’s first foray into long-form VR.
Concerns over the possible claustrophobia and hygiene issues that might come from wearing a bulky set of goggles for the 40 or so minutes it takes to get through the experience faded away as the story went on, making users feel like they’re really in a suburban home in 1982 America — and not a modern office at Silicon Beach.
“Miyubi” is essentially a collection of scenes shot in motion picture-quality 360-degree video that puts the user inside the titular toy robot as it enters a family’s life in 1982 as a beloved gift and the center of attention, but fades into the background as most new things eventually do. Each scene is followed by a fade-to-black as Miyubi’s batteries die, and after a “load screen” as the robot is powered up again, the user is magically transported into a new setting. Three of the scenes have interactive Easter eggs — TheWrap won’t spoil where and what they are — and collecting all three unlocks a bonus scene where the robot goes face to face with its creator, Goldblum.
The robot’s head is on a swivel and can look around in all directions, but can’t move independently — or speak unless spoken to. Miyubi’s limitations as a character fit with the limitations of the technology, making the experience feel as natural as embodying a fictional toy robot can be.
“We wanted to create a first-person story that could respect the boundaries of your agency,” Ryan Horrigan, the chief content officer at Felix & Paul Studios, told TheWrap.
Like most Funny or Die creations, “Miyubi” isn’t for all ages, as there’s some adult language and simulated drug use. And while it provides a perspective only possible in VR — no other format puts the viewer inside an anthropomorphic robot with the ability to look around and down at his or her robot arms — “Miyubi” is very much a character and story driven work of narrative comedy. It could totally be a traditional sitcom — but it’s cooler in VR.
Horrigan said that producing something of this scale in virtual reality and make it work involves the proper ratio of passive, narrative video versus active, experiential content.
“It’s about striking the right balance,” he said.
And in a fully immersive experience, seemingly small details like the toys on shelves and wallpaper in the living room matter big time.
“They made the house look like exactly what it looked like in that era,” Chris Bruss, Funny or Die’s president of digital content, told TheWrap. “When you are Miyubi and you’re looking at the walls and the ceiling, you are 100 percent immersed.”
“Miyubi’s” actors also had to adapt to a different way of filming.
“Because you don’t have a bunch of cuts, it’s much more like theater,” Bruss said. “It’s kind of almost theater in the round — in inverse.”
Bruss also said that Miyubi’s actors had to be comfortable with the long takes and pacing required for 360-degree video — which can’t really be spliced together after the fact.
Richard Riehle — better known as Tom Smykowski from cult classic “Office Space” — seemed to be a natural VR actor, stealing the show as World War II veteran “Grandpa” who forms an unlikely but relatable bond with the robot after much of the family moves on to newer and shinier things, including himself.
And while “Miyubi” is by far the biggest VR effort from Funny or Die to date, Bruss said to stay tuned for more goggle-assisted laughs.
“This is a fun and exciting space for us,” Bruss said. “If the creative’s right and the talent’s right in front of the camera and behind the camera, we want to do more.”