Spoons was just featured at the Frameless VR Symposium!
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects approximately 2.2 million adults in the United States. Spoons' mission is to educate users about the realities of mental illness - how overwhelming and sensory it can be. Through Spoons, users will go through a typical OCD episode: obsessive thoughts, growing panic, compulsions, anxiety, and disappointing relief. Using 360 Virtual Reality and Sound Design, Spoons is a 5-minute, immersive documentary that puts the viewer in the place of someone who suffers from OCD. The project was completed in May 2018 and presented on the HTC Vive, a 360 head-set. Video is best enjoyed in a VR headset.
Virtual Reality 360 Documentary
University of Rochester
February - May 2018
As this was a solo project, I did everything! My responsibilities included writing the script, casting, filming in 360, directing, editing, sound designing, creating all promotional materials, planning the premiere, and producing the entirety of Spoons.
Research and Script
In order to make sure my portrayal of OCD was as universal and correct as possible, I conducted one-on-one interviews with students with OCD at the University of Rochester about their symptoms. They discussed the categories of their obsessions and how their compulsions related to those obsessions. Additionally, those students (as well as other individuals with OCD at other schools) filled out a survey detailing their experiences with normal, daily activities and mental illnesses. Their answers talked about additional stress and bullying, as well as coping mechanisms.
Using the information I gathered from my interviews and survey, as well as what I know from my personal experiences with OCD, I wrote the script. The script shows a person with OCD battling their obsessions and compulsions while trying to get ready in the morning. The obsessive-compulsive patterns the documentary portrays are: insomnia, counting, checking, and magical thinking (which is a type of OCD founded in superstition). These were chosen due to how common they are and because they were feasible to portray with a 360 camera.
I filmed Spoons on the InstaPro 360 - a 360 8K camera with auto-stitching. Since the camera auto-stitched (automatically connecting all six shots taken from each of the camera's lenses into one), I did not need to worry about any parts of the action being cut-off, which allowed my actor, Shagun, to fully engage with as much space as she wanted and really get into character - creating a much better performance.
Since the user, when wearing the HTC Vive, is directly inserted in the scene, I decided to make them watch the action from the point of view of the OCD. I set the tripod up so that the camera looked down at Shagun and had her speak directly to the camera. I wrote lines for the OCD to speak (recorded later on an H2N microphone by a different actor, Andrew) so that users could understand the barrage of thoughts OCD sufferers experience. When Shagun looks at the camera in the film, it feels like a real conversation between the mental illness itself and the person with the mental illness. It also makes the user feel like the OCD’s lines were coming from them.
I had Shagun act out the compulsions and grow increasingly anxious as Andrew's voice as the OCD got louder, meaner, and more demanding. Since the camera is 360, everything had to be recorded as a continuous take.
All editing was done in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2018 because 360 editing is incredibly easy to use in that software and it natively connects to the HTC Vive. When I wanted to watch my footage in VR to make sure it was affective and looked good, all I had to do was turn the head-set on and hit play in the video editor.
Editing Spoons was unusual because, unlike other documentaries, tricks like fades were not effective and there could only be one camera so I could not cut to different angles. To compensate for the visual monotony of the scene, I used Adobe Illustrator CC 2018 to create words that popped up (see above) to accompany what the OCD was saying. This effect also allowed the user to interact with more of the 360 space. For example, when the OCD said, "Count Again!" the word again would appear in multiple places on the screen and did not go away until the character complied.
To ensure clear sound, I re-recorded all audio parts (both lines and sound effects like doors slamming) with an H2N microphone, muted the original footage, and added the new sound in during post-production.
Spoons was well received by the University of Rochester community! One user asked, “Is that really what it’s like?” and when I said yes, they responded with, “That’s so overwhelming!”, which is exactly what I hoped to achieve. Most users commented positively on the clarity of the sound, the visual editing, and the use of all 360 degrees of the space - stating that other VR projects they had seen were lacking these things.
The most meaningful feedback I received was from a friend with OCD who told me that, even though she had mostly different compulsions, she could relate to the video and felt it was accurate.
Here is a list of all the hardware I used to make this project happen:
InstaPro 360 (camera)
HTC Vive (VR Headset)