Jerome Foundation Awards Us a Grant to Shoot a 2D Experimental Film in VR!

Fly Angel Soul is a short experimental narrative film shot within virtual reality which explores the potential for virtual production techniques to expand two dimensional cinematic language. FAS tells the story of Sebastian, a young gay physician, estranged from his rural Catholic Missouri family, who, having moved to Mali to heal the sick, is diagnosed with AIDS. Inspired by a quote from Meister Eckhart that we might “rejoice in the everlasting truth in which the highest angel and the soul and the fly are equal,” FAS will be created using Unity’s Cinemachine software with three networked cameras adopting the p.o.v of the eponymous characters. What each camera “hears and sees and how each moves depends in part upon the actions of the other cameras in real time. These positions are not characters, per se. They function as aspects of Sebastian’s interior milieu. Although all three p.o.v. will be equally represented in the final film, using a split screen, FAS unapologetically privileges the ineffable workings of the human heart as the driving and unprogrammable logic of the film. The human camera is the only one operated by an actual living being. The angel and fly exist as state machine, pre-programmed virtual entities.

Looking to “embodied” films like Max Ophul’s Le Plaisir for inspiration

We are not advocating an impossible return to a pre-technical state of “nature”, rather, we are asking what suffering means in our technologically embedded existence.If as Jean-Luc Godard famously stated, “The tracking shots are a matter of morality,” the use of virtual cameras in agile film production brings up pressing ethical questions which have yet to be confronted. In FAS, a “simple” and universal story of human suffering–a diagnosis of terminal illness–AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic, invites viewers to contemplate how suffering is mediated using digital technologies. Our intent is to construct the film in a way that reasserts an embodied, participatory perspective, one that acknowledges the primacy of a “human” perspective while, at the same time, offering the audience alternative, perhaps transcendent computer-mediated ways of seeing, hearing and moving through the same story.

In FAS, all three cameras function as the “players,” both in the video game sense and in a theatrical sense. The cameras’ real-time “performance” is the material for the 2D film. Thus, in FAS, “liveness” resides in the “embodied” cameras as much as in the actors whose performance is pre-recorded with volumetric video. Thus, the film, itself, is a poetic documentation of both human and computer machinations. Montage, as such, will not come through a post-production editing process, but occurs and becomes manifest as a result of the procedural logic of the game engine + the incommensurable logic of the human operator/performer. In keeping with Eckhart’s intent, the final film will display all the p.o.v’s on one screen, a tripartite ever changing montage of images and sounds, not created in post, but recorded “live” in real time.

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