Behind The Scenes With SOKRISPYMEDIA: Getting Meticulous With VR
The popular YouTube channel’s founders, Sam Wickert and Eric Leigh, know that when it comes to creating experiences in virtual reality, success equals extreme attention to detail.
Sam Wickert is obsessive when it comes to his craft. The 23-year-old co-founder of SOKRISPYMEDIA will not put anything online unless he feels it’s near perfect. That, he says, has been the secret of his YouTube channel’s immense success.
It is also key to SOKRISPYMEDIA’S more recent forays into the world of VR. Last month Within debuted four of the channel’s most elaborate VR endeavors to date: a group of experiences collectively titled SOKRISPY DREAMS, which was made in collaboration with MWM Interactive (MWMi), a division of MWM.
Taken as a whole, the 360-degree experiences, “Channel Surfer,” “Internet Surfer,” “Do Not Touch,” “Video Game Vehicle” and “Tiny Tank,” display a witty, fun-loving, game-driven sensibility marked by a technical edge that indicates the extremes Wickert and Leigh are willing to go to when it comes to getting their videos just right.
“I took a lot of cross-eyed experiences for the team, making sure everything fits in the right depth,” Wickert says during a recent interview.
He’s referring to his penchant for repeatedly donning his VR headset to make sure that the extensive composite work he was doing had all the visuals in each film in the best possible place in order to make the items pop in stereoscopic 3D.
VR, says Wickert, is still in its infancy, so the tools get better every month. He wishes he had the same tools for his first video that he had for his final video. But the technical innovations keep coming fast and furious, so makers have to be flexible in how they approach each new project.
They also have to be quick learners when it comes to adapting to new technology. Wickert has the benefit of having a strong background in visual effects, so he has a leg up when it comes to a media landscape that often feels as if it’s moving at warp speed.
A prime example of Wickert’s aptitude at picking up new knowledge can be seen in “Do Not Touch,” a joyful romp through a museum that features actors leaping into the canvases of famous works of art.
To create simulacrums of the art, without committing copyright infringement, Wickert turned to a program that a group of engineers in Germany had coded. Using a command-line plugin, the group had succeeded in creating models out of famous paintings using artificial intelligence and then applying those models to already shot footage in order to essentially transfer the style of art to the finished product.
“We Utilized these filters to be able to reference artworks in popular styles,” Wickert explains. “It creates such a cool look. You can hand the computer any reference painting and it will do its best to replicate it.”
Wickert acts as the visual effects supervisor for all of SOKRISPYMEDIA’S projects because it is important to him that his team is responsible for the visual effects that viewers see onscreen or in their headsets. This involves a lot of 3D-rendered objects and a lot of camera tracking.
The nature of the latter has notoriously caused nausea for viewers — a problem that VR has had to contend with since the beginning. It was also a problem that Wickert was bound and determined to completely eliminate in SOKRISPY’S films.
He brought his formidable creative problem-solving skills to bear on the matter when his team made “Tiny Tank.” The experience brings a war-themed video game to life, taking viewers on a trip through an explosive combat scene as viewed from the first-person operator of a small tank.
The constant motion of the tank was an issue when it came to nausea so Wickert opted to shoot the experience at 60 frames per second, twice the frame rate of a traditional VR video. This gave the experience a more fluid feel and put it in line with what a user might feel when playing a video game.
“We wanted you to embody this tank and move throughout the battlefield with the actor without having motion sickness,” Wickert says. “What are the frame rates that don’t make you feel sick? We did tons of testing in the field with our cameras.”
“Video Game Vehicle,” which finds a couple of actors cruising through a variety of familiar video games, proved another challenge this way. The experience, Wickert said, is a “huge experiment” in how to achieve the speeding motion of the car without the attendant car sickness. In traditional film, you get the speeding effect by adding background elements going much faster than the car. That option doesn’t exist in VR, Wickert explains.
“We had a fun time building out those worlds and rendering everything in them,” he says.
SOKRISPYMEDIA’S devotion to technical perfection, paired with its high-caliber creative vision, proved a perfect fit for MWMi, says MWMi associate producer, Brandon Padveen, who brought Wickert and Leigh’s work to the attention of his company.
“Where is the cutting edge? And how do we pair with creators who have these giant dreams?” Padveen says, explaining that SOKRIPSYMEDIA provided the answers to those questions.
“Our immersive department is growing,” he adds. “VR is a tough industry but with SOKRISPY we’ve planted a flag in the ground.”
Image Credit: Within, SoKrispyMedia