A pink-haired character sharply dressed in a similar colored shirt and sporting a black tie, stands in front of a chalkboard that displays a single word- “family.” Moving her hands and signing the word, she teaches a classroom how to speak to those without hearing.
The scene changes and a woman dressed elegantly in a “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” inspired outfit shows off in a circle surrounded by people dressed in “cyber-punk” clothing. One man stands watching with tattoos running down his arm and a blue, square box with a permanent smile for a head.
These are the stars of “We Met in Virtual Reality.”
Made entirely by Joe Hunting, 22, the documentary debuted at this year’s Sundance Festival. Created completely in the virtual reality world, it follows multiple real-life people who turned to technology during the government shutdown when COVID-19 first hit. Living as virtual characters in a virtual world using VR, the characters meet other people and Find love in a variety of settings, from clubs to the world of Jurassic Park.
Despite the virtual setting, the characters discuss real-world problems they face in their day-to-day lives, with topics ranging from mental health issues to losing people they know to COVID-19.
“I captured a few stories that I felt were very telling on the ways in which we can connect online and express ourselves and find community during a time where our physical lives were a lot more limited,” said Hunting in his presentation at the Sundance Film Festival.
To record the film and find subjects, Hunting ventured to VRChat. This site, first created in February 2017 by developers Graham Gaylor and Jesse Joudre, allows users to visit as well as create VR 3D worlds. In these online worlds, the characters are able to make human-like movements such as blinking and eye-tracking.
For equipment, Hunting relied mostly on VRCLens, a special camera created by a member of the VRChat community known as Hirabiki. Working much like a real-life camera, users of the VRCLens are able to change the focus, lenses and exposure. To make up for the fact that the camera is not physically there, users can look through a special monitor and use VR controllers to zoom in and out, change the f-stop and control all other technical details.
Looking towards the future, Hunting’s focus will remain on filmmaking in a VR setting. With help from the VRCLens, he looks to continue to explore VRChat to make films combining the real world with VR in a meaningful way.
Hunting also looks forward to studying how users can express themselves in virtual settings.
“Outside of personal matters, discovering how an avatar interacts with a user’s body and voice will continue to fascinate me,” said Hunting in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine. “There is
a lot of meaning to be found in just listening to the body language of those appearing in the film.”