Monkeys Fighting Robots

Michael Conelly is a Hollywood visual effects creator turned director of Caliban Below, a VR experience that’s searching for a new paradigm that’ll exist somewhere between video game and movie.

Monkeys Fighting Robots talked with Michael about Caliban Below, storytelling, and what’s inspired him as a VFX professional and storyteller.

Emerging VR

Virtual Reality is in the public consciousness now as a viable form of entertainment. It’s been a long road, especially if you remember the VR of the 90s. Yeesh. But today projects like Caliban Below present slick, immersive worlds. However, there’s still no understanding in the biz about how long, interactive or not interactive VR stories need to be. “We’re really trying to figure out a recipe for this to work going forward into the future. I want people to feel like they’re part passenger and part pilot.”

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VR is in a stage much like film in the early 20th century. People know what’s possible but “It’s the design language of a new medium. Movies emerged out of pure technology and eventually turned into what we know today. It borrowed ideas from theatre but then slowly learned other things they could do with the camera.”

Fellow Star Trek fans will enjoy Michael’s next statement “Sometimes we joke and say what we’re trying to do is go full holodeck.” Then, like the heady Caliban Below, we wonder, “What if we’re already in the holodeck?”

Ultimately, Michael wants one thing “My hope is that Caliban Below is an early example of the VR medium standing on its own two feet as a distinct narrative experience of the not-to-distant future.” The push is well underway, and Michael is helping to give it a lot of steam.

About Caliban Below

Caliban Below puts players in the body of Caliban, a scion of a broken lineage. As Caliban, players will explore a ruined estate while searching for clues to piece together the past. “There’s not a happy ending to be had … but I hope people will feel they embodied this character in this story.” Caliban Below is about the immersion “There’s definitely moments of surprise that’s part of the character’s story, but there are also surprises for the audience.”

As in film, it seems horror is leading the way in turning new technology into a storytelling device “I wanted Caliban to feel like Alien but in Renaissance Italy. I wanted it to feel Lovecraftian, dark but also a study of how families break.”

The Recipe for VR

What is VR? That’s not entirely understood. Michael sees it like this “I’m eager to try and find a path from releasing a ‘game’ to releasing a new story that’s told through VR.”

To tell a good story, in any medium “You need some kind of connection between the audience and the characters.” In the VR world, where there’s more interaction “You want people to have control but also tell your story as the creator. You want people to feel like they own it; it’s their story.” B

Creators, though, want to tell their own story too. VR is on the verge of finding the space between “It’s a neat problem to try to solve. You want this bond between creator, writer, director, and audience.”

Wrapping Up

Michael is a massive fan of movies, and no statement explains this better than “World’s best double-feature: The Road Warrior and Blade Runner.”

As VFX creator behind films like Hunger Games, Life of Pi, and The Matrix Trilogy, who inspired Michael growing up? “You have to go back to the original ILM team. That era that eventually worked its way to stuff like Young Sherlock Holmes.”

VR is in the early stages of a medium that’s going to take over the world. For now, Michael says it’s “… flying a kite and looking for lightning. We’re trying to get the world to pay more attention to this emerging way of telling stories.”

Thanks to Michael Conelly and Impact 24PR for making this interview possible.

Are you excited for Caliban Below and more VR projects?
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Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.