"We removed the chronological structure to keep the emotion intact." - Michael O'Connor (GLIMPSE)
With a preview introduced at Venice VR in 2019, GLIMPSE was a long awaited project for us! This immersive animated drama centred around a couple (voiced by Taron Egerton and Lucy Boynton) premiered this year, back at Venice VR Expanded. A great occasion to discuss the film with its co-director Michael O'Connor.
Merging ideas and skills: how GLIMPSE came up
Michael O'Connor - I was producing films in Ireland and in my mid 20s, I decided to jump into video games. I went back to university to do a masters in game design before working in design and production at Nintendo in Germany and SEGA in London. Then virtual reality came along, which got my attention. With my partner Benjamin Cleary at Mr Kite (and co-director of GLIMPSE) we were looking for a way to develop fresh narrative focused works. It was perfect for us, between the interactive and cinematic ideas we had. It felt like a natural place for us to start merging our skill sets and so we began to craft a VR story: GLIMPSE was born.
M. O’C. - Ben is an Oscar winning filmmaker (for the short film STUTTERER in 2016). We met each other in school, a long time ago. He's naturally an incredibly gifted storyteller, both writer and director - controlling emotions, stories and the arcs of the characters. In terms of creating GLIMPSE, it’s a complete joint venture and collaborative process. We merge all of our ideas to imagine this story, from script to design. It’s a totally fictional piece but we lifted from elements of our own experience to drive the story. When you're writing fiction, it’s often the case. Even if it's a totally different character from you, there are some elements of truth from within yourself, right?
Setting up the GLIMPSE story
M. O’C. - There was an idea from the start to shake up the story, to tell it reverse chronologically - to start at the end. But as we were developing it more and more, we became guided by the emotions that we wanted audiences to feel in each scene and what they said about each character. We took off the chronological structure, and once we did that, it liberated us to better control the flow. There was some hard work during editing to put it all together. Quite late in the process, we figured out that a scene that we had in the middle should actually be our opening scene. And it worked!
M. O’C. - We wanted to focus on the artist studio as being a canvas for our character’s memory. Working with the creative studio in France, Albyon, and our executive producer Raphael Penasa, was very important to set this up. The character Herbie, an illustrator, has been holed up inside of this studio for weeks after a bad breakup. So the whole room becomes him exploring his own mind through his art as he starts to recall these memories, both good and bad. Using the room as the canvas unlocked the way we would display the story, and it helped us pick our shots. We spent a huge amount of time developing every detail of the room, every piece of art in there.
How to find the right tone for an immersive love story
M. O’C. - Balance was always super important for us. In order for the audience to maintain attachment to the characters, we had to focus on intentions - not making either character seem like too much of an a**hole because they're breaking up. The audience has to follow both of them on this adventure. If we bounce too far in one way and favour one side of the relationship, we could lose the emotion and the romance of it. In GLIMPSE and all good love stories, the audience needs to care. Our composer Julianna Barwick really helped balance these tones with her incredible original score.
M. O’C. - There were different challenges and hurdles. Making narrative VR is a tricky thing to do from a production perspective - to raise money, to get the backing, to get actors, to get teams. That is really, really challenging in the current ecosystem that we work in. We got there in the end. We were lucky to have an amazing and patient producer on board in Lee Harris. He is the engine behind Glimpse. One real challenge, as we discussed, is how we structure the piece. As a non-chronological piece we had all of these different moments from these different memories, from these different times. In VR, you don't really get to edit at the end. You need to know where you go, certainly more than film and even animation. It's quite difficult to iterate on your edit, because once you change the light of one scene in a timeline, you've also got to change the audio and/or the VFX. Maybe programming has to move around as well. There are so many moving and intersecting parts when creating VR.
Casting for VR: Taron Egerton and Lucy Boynton
M. O’C. - We got Taron and Lucy quite early in the process - obviously previewing at Venice VR in 2019. It was a delightfully easy process to be honest: we contacted their agents with the script, they read it, loved it and signed up. They hadn’t done something like this before although Taron has done a lot of voiceover work for traditional animation. We recorded with them for 2 days, around 16 hours of audio. We had a tight script but we also did a lot of improvisation, where they really connected to the characters. This additional material would also prove useful during production. They're absolutely top quality actors, lovely people, super down-to-earth and as professional as you could hope for.
The day after GLIMPSE
M. O’C. - We were delighted that Venice VR selected GLIMPSE for this year’s Expanded festival. It's been quite a journey since the preview 2 years ago! The first introduction allowed us to raise more financing in that period - and we used that to increase our profile and to generate more interest in the piece, to build the team and a co-production with France and Ireland. We're going to take it forward - with a little bit more work to finish the piece, and hopefully more festivals before public release.
M. O’C. - We have two pieces in early stage development and we're pushing them forward over the next period. We are developing more narrative focused work for sure, some maybe with more advanced game mechanics.