“We’re beating Weta…how cool is that?”: NZ’s first virtual reality movie

A bright idea has led the way in virtual reality (VR) storytelling that is like Disneyland for developers and children alike.

Alejandro Davila failed his driver license because he was distracted by the traffic lights while studying for his test. Why do they glow? And wouldn’t it make a great story if fairies lived inside the lights.

His story was put on the back burner while at his job in TV art direction and production. Previously an art director for none other than Suzy Cato, Davila knew how to engage young audiences but he hadn’t found the right medium to tell his new story.

That all changed when he heard about VR and left his job to enroll in a Masters in Creative Tech at AUT. Davila teamed up with programmer and developer Taura J Greig to create The Green Fairy, New Zealand’s first VR movie. “We’re beating Weta…how cool is that?”

I gave the demo of The Green Fairy a whirl and agreed it was an immersive and imaginative experience kids will love. Having trialed VR at Auckland City Limits music festival earlier this year, where my friends and I were live on-stage with the festival’s artist, I can only imagine that if I was much younger I would thoroughly enjoy The Green Fairy.

A child demos The Green Fairy

Davila said there were a lot of naysayers in the beginning and I am almost one of them. The demo Head Mounted Display (HMD) was heavy and its cord stopped me swiveling quickly to find the fairies. However, Davila said that VR technologies are always advancing and there will be better, lighter and wireless goggles on the market by next year.

Samsung is releasing new HMD in the near future and JB Hi-Fi will be selling consumer headsets by the end of the year. McDonald’s has even released Happy Goggles so that happy meal munchers can have their own VR experiences, if they have access to their parent’s smartphone.

Virtual space consultant KZero projects Head Mounted Display (HMD) and software popularity

Davila said that when many new technologies come out “the geeks create sci-fi…or killing games”. Children were the gap in the market. At this year’s Techweek there was a queue of children waiting to experience part one of The Green Fairy movie. “It was like going to a theme park,” said Davila. The three-minute preview was so immersive it felt much longer for the viewers. Another unexpected result was the children talked back to the characters. “The fairy led the way of the technology,” said Davila.

An AR Green Fairy App with markers that are a fairy ring of mushrooms

Along the way, Davila and Greig have developed an AR app to promote the latest Ice Age: Collision Course film. From 7 July, mall goers can download the app and find planets to unlock their favourite characters in AR space. Davila and his team are establishing their own AR/VR studio called Conical to segway into at the end of their studies. 

“I found a way to use a story that engages the consumer at all times,” said Davila. Although there are several VR commodities on the market, such as Facebook’s new 360° video, none tell an immersive story. They have also been too quick to the mark and have not considered the science of motion, so viewers can feel sick when they rotate.

VR Producer Alejandro Davila with a motion capture actor

During development, Davila headed to LA and met with industry leaders in VR. A turning point was when he met VR journalist Nonny de la Peña and learnt how VR can truly tell a story. Although a lot of new VR stories try to create a game like narrative, this becomes cumbersome and involves too much movement from the viewer.

“Consumers are not buying things they are buying experiences now,” said Davila. The first part of The Green Fairy will launch with a VR Storytime event on July 23 at Auckland Libraries, along with AR apps to complete the transmedia Green Fairy brand experience. Davila when then finish his story and look to develop a ‘Fairy Market’ where viewers can purchase products in a VR gift shop as they enter and exit the film, “like gift shops at Disney Land”.