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The Pearl Headpiece

Over the course of several months in my Time Studio: Story class, I worked with two other classmates (Evan Tang and Jonahtan Rabago) to create a 'crap-o-matic' video pitch for an interactive VR experience, with narrative structure and storytelling kept at the forefront of the process.

VR Experience Video Pitch

Final Video Pitch; Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects

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Project:

Design a concept for an interactive, story-based VR experience

Tools:

ProCreate, Mural, Figma, Unreal Engine 4, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Premiere Pro

Skills:

Storyboarding, concept synthesis, visual design, journey mapping, mockups, sketching, 3D modeling, video editing

Course:

Time Studio 1: Story; Amy Bickerton and Jake Rheinfrank

Duration:

9 weeks; February 2021 - April 2021

Childhood Story

The first section of this project asked us to think back to stories we heard as kids or folktales we remembered from our childhood, and to deconstruct their story arcs. Individually, we created storyboards and combined the different themes and elements of each teammate's to create a mashup narrative that would be reimagined as a VR video game.

Story Arc

When thinking about which childhood story to pick, one stood out to me the most. It was a Marathi story that my mom would tell me every night, and one I called "sparrow's pearl" (चिमणीचा मोती). This story was about a sparrow who found a beautiful pearl, only for it to be stolen by a crow. The journey she took to retrieve her pearl and the trial and error she faced stuck with me for years, and so I mapped out the events onto a story arc.

Story Arc of 'Sparrow's Pearl'; ProCreate; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Story Arc of 'Sparrow's Pearl'; ProCreate; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Storyboards

The next step was to communicate this story to my classmates through the form of a storyboard. I asked my mom to tell me the story like she did when I was little and recorded it, which I referenced when planning out the frames and delivery of the story. Below is the rough draft of the storyboard.

Rough Draft of 'Sparrow's Pearl' Storyboard; ProCreate; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Rough Draft of 'Sparrow's Pearl' Storyboard; ProCreate; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

In the final version below, I improved the fidelity of illustrations with ProCreate and added captions that were direct translations of the way my mom told the story in Marathi.

Final Draft of 'Sparrow's Pearl' Storyboard; ProCreate; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Final Draft of 'Sparrow's Pearl' Storyboard; ProCreate; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

 
 
Mashup Narrative

In the next portion of this project, my teammates and I shared our storyboards with each other, looking for similar themes and important objects to bring forth in the mashup. We broke down each other's stories into story arc events in Mural, and defined the characters, settings, and various other components.

Sparrow's Pearl

In my story, the important elements that arose were persistence, the image of the pearl, and the forest-palace setting.

Sparrow's Pearl Deconstruction

'Sparrow's Pearl' Deconstruction; Mural; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

The Legend of the Chinese Mooncake

In Evan's story, we found that the important components were the image of the moonlight, thieves, 10 suns, and idea of remembrance.

The Legend of the Chinese Mooncake Deconstruction

'The Legend of the Chinese Mooncake' Deconstruction; Mural; Produced by Evan Tang

La Llorona

In Jonahtan's story, the elements that stood out were the concept of an anti-hero, children, river, and overall dark narrative.

'La Llorona' Deconstruction; Mural; Produced by Jonahtan Rabago

'La Llorona' Deconstruction; Mural; Produced by Jonahtan Rabago

We tried to find the similarities within these three stories that could be mashed up to create an entirely different narrative. Through Mural, we brainstormed different ways to combine our stories individually, and then worked together on a final version. These were the similarities we found:

  1. Outsmarting thieves -> drinking potion vs setting off chain reaction
     

  2. Precious object -> elixir vs pearl
     

  3. Drastic actions taking place; intense situation
     

  4. Sacrifice of life
     

  5. Familial connections
     

  6. Remorse -> woman kills children vs crow steals pearl vs Chang'e had to drink elixir

Idea 1; Mural; Produced by Evan Tang

Idea 1; Mural; Produced by Evan Tang

Idea 3; Mural; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Idea 3; Mural; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Idea 5; Mural; Produced by Jonahtan Rabago
Idea 2; Mural; Produced by Evan Tang

Idea 2; Mural; Produced by Evan Tang

Idea 4; Mural; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Idea 4; Mural; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Final idea; Mural

Final idea; Mural

Idea 5; Mural; Produced by Jonahtan Rabago

Here is the final story idea:

There was once a poor, old woman who lived alone with her daughter in cabin in the woods. They were going through financial struggles, so the old woman decided to sell her daughter's pearl headpiece. When she took it to the pawnshop, however, the owner looked at the woman's raggedy clothing and was suspicious of how she could have come into possession of such an expensive item. He took a closer look after buying it from her and discovered the king's crest embossed onto it.

That night, there was knocking on the old woman's door. "Give us the king's baby you old witch!" a group of knights yelled as they broke through her door. They threw her down to the floor, knocking her out, and grabbed her daughter and left.

The old woman woke up a few hours later and it was dark. She immediately rushed into the forest and towards the castle to search for her stolen child. Somehow, she was able to sneak into the palace and locate her daughter, but on their way out they are chased by guards. The two run through the forest, closely followed by the guards, where they are eventually cornered into a lake. The knights give the old woman the option to either give up her daughter or be put to death. She grabs her child and jumps into the lake, where they both sink to the bottom.

Designing the VR Experience

Once we had a final storyline, we started thinking about how it could be turned into a virtual reality experience.

Mood Boards

We each created mood boards to provide a sense of direction for the visuals. Our boards ended up fairly similar in terms of color scheme and lighting, which made it easy to move forward with an idea.

Mood Board; Figma; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Mood Board; Figma; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Mood Board; Produced by Jonahtan Rabago
Mood Board; Produced by Evan Tang

Mood Board; Produced by Evan Tang

Mood Board; Produced by Jonahtan Rabago

Journey Map

Our initial journey map was done in Mural and we mapped out the story's plot to the 5 E's (Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, Extend). We looked for places to add interactivity and brainstormed features of the game.

Journey Map (2/28/21); Mural

Journey Map (2/28/21); Mural

3 VR INTERACTIVE ELEMENTS:

VIDEO GAME/VISUAL STORY

 

  • choose your own ending experience

  • arrows and markings guiding users through experience

  • key featured items in the story are interactable with (green highlight or something around objects to suggest it is special and interactable)

    • palace objects to lead to kidnapped person

    • door before kingdom knights enter the house

    • Old woman's [magical] staff.

    • pearl headpiece

ENTICE - advertisements

ENTER - bg about exposition (i.e. daughter and woman)

ENGAGE - choices and fulfilling story

EXIT - final decision for jumping off waterfall

EXTEND - multiple story options for different endings

This next iteration of the journey map included more detailed interactive elements and ideas for experience artifacts.

Journey Map (3/4/21); Mural

Journey Map (3/4/21); Mural

We also created a graph to display the level of interaction and user involvement over the course of the entire experience.

Journey Map Graph (3/7/21); Mural

Journey Map Graph (3/7/21); Mural

In the next version of this graph, we tried to improve the readability, and added icons at the bottom as visual summarizations of each section.

Journey Map Graph (3/14/21); Mural

Journey Map Graph (3/14/21); Mural

Finally, we moved it all into Adobe Illustrator. Below is our final journey map.

Journey Map Graph (4/22/21); Adobe Illustrator; Produced by Jonahtan Rabago

Journey Map Graph (4/22/21); Adobe Illustrator; Produced by Jonahtan Rabago

3 VR INTERACTIVE ELEMENTS:

Additional Ideas:

  • staff used to find

    • (slamming it into the ground creates rumbling)

    • Chekhov's gun (introduce the staff in exposition dump with the house)

  • castle towering over the forest, visible to all

Feedback responses:

  • Haptic feedback through controllers

 
Video Pitch

After finalizing the player's experience in this game, we worked on creating a video 'crap-o-matic' pitch to explain the concept and entice users.

Experience Artifacts

Part of the pitch would be an experience artifact from one of the phases within the game. The artifacts I created were within the 'Exit' phase, and mainly focused on the scenes within the forest. Below are some digital drawings I made of how I imagined the game to look based on our moodboards.

Exit Artifact Sketches; ProCreate; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Exit Artifact Sketches; ProCreate; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

To take it a bit further, I recreated some of the environments using Unreal Engine 4. Here's a video of a level I designed depicting the forest and castle in this story.

Exit Artifact; Unreal Engine 4; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

One of the game's features I really wanted to recreate was the vine puzzle, but because we had limited time, I couldn't do it in Unreal. I used After Effects to fake the magical staff and the powers it gives the user. Here's what that looked like:

Exit Artifact; Unreal Engine 4 and After Effects; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Outline

For the video pitch, we started by writing up an outline of what we wanted it to include.

Video Pitch Outline page 1; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar, Evan Tang, and Jonahtan Rabago
Video Pitch Outline page 2; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar, Evan Tang, and Jonahtan Rabago

Video Pitch Outline page 2; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar, Evan Tang, and Jonahtan Rabago

Video Pitch Outline page 1; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar, Evan Tang, and Jonahtan Rabago

Script

We then created a script for the video. It took several revisions, but once we had a final version, Evan recorded all of the audio clips and added the time-stamps for each scene.

Video Pitch Script; Google Doc

Video Pitch Rough Draft

The first draft of our crap-o-matic was heavily reliant on paper-prototyping. Below is the first version Evan put together:

Video Pitch Rough Draft ; Produced by Evan Tang

Video Pitch Visuals

After seeing the first draft, we decided that the rest of the game visuals should be recreated in Unreal Engine to maintain a homogenous fidelity. In addition to the dark forest and castle exterior, I created the pawnshop, the cabin the old woman and her daughter lived in, and the castle hallway interior. Here are clips of those environments:

Cabin Scene; Unreal Engine 4; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Pawn Shop Scene; Unreal Engine 4; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

Castle Hallway Scene; Unreal Engine 4; Produced by Amruta Bhavsar

 
Final Video Pitch

Below is the final draft of our video pitch, including all the Unreal Engine scenes:

Final Video Pitch; Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects

 
Reflection

This project taught me about the importance stories hold in people's minds and how powerful they can be. An experience that utilizes a narrative structure has a much better chance of creating an impact with its audience. The first part of this project showed how powerful stories were to us as children and how they still stay with us years later, and the same can be true of a well-designed experience. Applying the narrative arc and the 5 E's to a design project was difficult and initially felt unnecessary, but going through that process resulted in a piece of work that was much more robust than if we had simply used the target audience's primary needs as the sole north star. If we were to redo this project, it probably would have been useful to do some initial user research and testing. As a whole though, I am satisfied with this project.