Milk Does VR: Armando Kirwin on the Revolutionary New Medium
Milk(vr)‘s Armando Kirwin wants to help define the entire VR genre at its inception—no small feat for a production company that officially launched mere days ago (on Instagram and Facebook, just four, to be exact). Already, though, they’re making waves, and carving out an influential post for themselves in the VR community as co-producers of the annual New York Times Great Performers project. With not one, but nine, total VR films, all shot in a Los Angeles bar, an epic gathering of world-class actors joined forces (Emma Stone, Casey Affleck, and Sasha Lane among them) for serious Film Noir vibes. And as if that weren’t enough, you can go behind the scenes of Great Performers as well as download the NYT VR app here for an on-the-go VR experience.
We sat down with Armando for a closer look at what Milk brings to the VR table, how they’re cultivating new talent, and why creative excellence is at the true heart of every Milk(vr) project.
Tell us about the planning and execution of this project from start to finish. What kind of challenges did you encounter with VR?
All of VR is a challenge! Unlike traditional media, you have to plan every single aspect of a VR production in order for it to be successful; the flexibility to improvise just doesn’t exist. The set had to be built from the ground up for both 3D and 360 degree filmmaking, we had to carefully place each piece of furniture and prop to create optimum depth perception…the cinematography and lighting interact in a specific way to heighten the sense of immersion, and we used special VR sound techniques to mimic the human ear. But at the end of the day, it’s important to keep in mind that we did all of that in order to create the best possible world for the performances to be in. We don’t want the technology and the challenges associated with it to even enter the mind of the audience. We’re very pleased with the result and we hope the audience will feel like they are experiencing something truly beautiful and cinematic. In fact, we believe that this is the most cinematic VR that has been created yet.
And on the flip side—what kind of opportunities are present with VR projects like this that aren’t necessarily available with traditional filming?
The key difference between VR and traditional media is that VR can actually make you feel physically present inside a story. We decided to use that sense of presence to the fullest and place the audience directly into the scene with a world-caliber actor. You’re not simply observing the action, the actors are quite literally staring you in the eye and speaking directly to you. They yell at you, they blame you, they are devastated by your actions… and as an audience member you feel it right in your chest. We believe that these deeply personal immersive experiences are going to be very popular in the future and we’re excited to help define the genre at its inception.
What was it like working with such high caliber actors? Was it different for them working on a VR set?
We were fortunate enough to work with some of the best actors in the world, so of course they were able to adapt quite quickly to the nuances of working in VR. The key difference for them is that, in this series of films, the camera is actually like another actor. Normally the camera is something they have to ignore while performing, but now they have to engage directly with it. Also, because the camera sees in all directions, the entire crew has to be hidden somewhere else. We used wireless technology to control everything remotely from a small room off to the side of the set.
Looking more at Milk(vr) as a whole, can you talk about the mission behind it, and what you guys want to accomplish by focusing on virtual reality?
Milk has been in the epicenter of the creative community for over two decades, not just in fashion, but in commercial production, music, publishing, events…we even have a successful makeup line now. There isn’t a single other VR company with the cultural relevance and creative pedigree that we inherit from being a part of the Milk community. Meanwhile, many other VR companies are obsessed with technology. We want to demystify the idea that VR can only be achieved by technical wizards—after all, VR technology will eventually be available to anyone—and really double down on the idea that creative excellence is what matters most.
We’re also really excited to bring in new talent into the conversation. There was a trend in the last few years to work with creatives from traditional media, but we’re discovering that there will be a new generation of talent that understands this media intuitively. For example, you don’t see feature film directors dominating YouTube web video, or vice versa. It doesn’t make sense that the same old commercial directors who do TV and going to be the biggest creative voices in VR. It’s super exciting to be able to discover and cultivate new talent.
What’s next for Milk(vr)? Can you share with us any projects that are in the pipeline for 2017?
We’re premiering our next film in December and we have two more projects slated for release in January. We’re very fortunate to be working with some of the biggest brands and creatives in the world from day one, but you’ll just have to wait and see what we make.
Image via Alexandre Jaras for The New York Times
Stay tuned to Milk for more from the forefront of virtual reality.