By Marc Rivas
Virtual reality technology is on the rise, and increasingly becoming more and more accessible to people everywhere. Never before have content creators been able to be so intimate with their viewers, showing the most immersive depictions of their vision.
Before VR, visual media lived within a flat screen, with guided attention. A director spent time and effort setting up one shot to capture the detail and message of each scene.
Virtual reality gives control back to the viewer, letting them naturally perceive the environment around them. But for VR storytelling, there still needs to be a balance of environment and focus.
How can we grasp the attention of our users and guide them through the story while at the same time keeping them immersed in our world?
The answer is audio.
Our ability to localize sound around us is a major factor in how we function as humans. Aside from what we see in front of us, we are constantly taking in audible information around us and identifying sound sources. In media, audio localization can be used as a tool to direct a viewer to a specific space on screen, and has never been more important than it is in virtual reality. But just having quality sound is not enough to fully immerse a viewer.
Head tracking technology allows us to view any area of the given environment, but the audio must match that perception as well. For example, if the user is looking in one direction and there is an important action happening behind them, the user must perceive the sound of that action as being behind them, turning their head to view the focus of the scene. With software, we can now assign audio to specific sources in our virtual world, and keep them in place while the viewer freely explores the environment, creating the perception of distance and placement of the sound sources.
A huge challenge with capturing audio for virtual reality is the fact that nothing outside of the story can be in the shot. No production crew, and certainly no visible microphones. Capturing location audio for virtual reality is very different from a traditional location recording. We must now heavily rely on small wireless microphones that we can hide easily on the actors and throughout the set. And anything we cannot successfully capture with hidden microphones must be created and implemented in post-production.
Our goal as content creators for virtual reality is the achievement of presence. When the brain forgets about the real surrounding environment and truly believes in the virtual world, is when true presence is achieved. This standard of quality is necessary to represent how we naturally perceive the world around us.
Marc Rivas is the Audio Lead for B. Co. He specializes in Sound Design, Music Composition, Location Sound Recording and Audio Post Mixing.