Filmmaker and dancer Lily Baldwin’s first VR film, Through You, is a visceral experience that takes the viewer through a love affair told through body language. As part of the Sundance Institute Jaunt VR Residency, Baldwin partnered with director Saschka Unseld on bringing the concept to life.
The experiences in the film are so vivid. Did you have a clear vision of how each experience would blend together?
Lily Baldwin: Thank you, vivid impact was a goal. We built the worlds with researched production elements specific to each decade as if it were a traditional film set. Our DP, Dagmar Weaver-Madsen, was keen on using saturated lighting, as we wanted to impact the viewer with as many emotive tools as possible that we felt read in VR. Every detail mattered, including the sound design we sculpted with Drazen from Q Department and with our composer, Mark degli Antoni, who’s crafted music takes the place of words. Authenticity of performance was paramount to us, which is why we were adamant about moving the camera by hand, covering the floor in black and wearing black head-to-toe suits. It was in post-production that we understood what worked, through much trial and error.
Saschka Unseld: We always had the vision of creating something bold, something of an emotional intensity as told through visuals in a way that nothing out there was doing. But to get there we had to embrace experimentation and tapping and trusting the experimentation of our amazing DP Dagmar, our sound designer Drazen and our composer Mark. It was a constantly iterative process of building with and on top of each other’s work — pushing it and each other to more and more bold places.
How did your background as a dancer influence the creative direction of the film?
Lily: My history training my body as a tool for expression boldly informed every choice I made in this process. I’m used to the “split-authorship” of performance, where I am moving in relation to fellow dancers and at the same time aware of my dialogue with a receptive audience. Onstage I’m fully surrounded, at the helm of listening, executing and communicating. I put the viewer (also the camera) in this same seat, and from this place of “feeling” vs. “telling story,” I developed narrative with Saschka. Spoken words can be complicated in 360 immersion, as they are on a stage. I always feel bodies say more than words. These lines of thinking drove Through You.
Both of you have directed a few 360 films before. Why do you find the medium so engaging for your projects?
Lily: This is my first 360 project and it is a perfect match for my creative inclinations.
Saschka: There is something to VR that touches us on a different level than other mediums. It’s not better or worse it’s just different. Plus no one knows how to best use it yet, so each project is a venture into the unknown. I like putting myself into that state of vulnerability.
What is next for you in the immersive space and where do you think the future of the medium will take you?
Lily: We are working on a new interactive dance project, TERRAIN, that puts the viewer inside the experience and invites them to co-create the narrative. It’s important to me that we open up the discourse of 360 immersive thinking/being into a less privatized space, promoting a more diverse conversation here. The power of bodies communicating without words has vast possibilities within this medium. I want to push the edges of what we think we can feel and use this immersion to wake people up.
Saschka: We think Through You was a great first step, but it’s nowhere close to where we know what VR can bring to dance and how it can elevate the audience into a state of ecstasy and experience. Our next work will be a room scale, fully interactive and also social dance VR experience that will be unlike anything the world has seen.
Through You is now available on the Jaunt VR app.