Poet's Room is an animated virtual reality (VR) film about the life and work of Korean poet Yun Dong-ju. Last year, the film was selected as a nominee in the Immersive Competition category at the Venice International Film Festival alongside 30 other films that also used extended reality (XR) technology.
Poet's Room presents Yun Dong-ju's life and nine of his poems through a unique storytelling method that blurs the line between dreams and reality. The team at EVR Studio used XR technology to encourage interaction between the film’s subject and its audience, enabling more direct communication than traditional films. This approach inspires viewers to empathize with the poet as they’re immersed in his unique sensitivities, thoughts on life, and hopes for the liberation of his homeland.
How did Poet's Room deliver such intimate moments to audiences at one of the world’s largest film festivals? And, how did Unity make it all possible? We sat down with Director Ku Bomsok and Media Arts Production Manager Kang Won-chul of EVR Studio to learn more.
EVR Studio had numerous challenges to overcome in order to tell Yun Dong-ju’s story in an immersive format. In particular, Ku noted that because Poet's Room fuses animation and VR, he had to carefully consider which parts of the film should be more cartoonish and which should be more realistic. This was a departure from his previous, non-immersive film work.
Another big challenge was finding ways to avoid “digital motion sickness,” which can occur when our brains think we’re moving but our bodies are static. Kang often suffers from motion sickness, so his input was helpful in getting the film to a place where audiences could watch it without feeling dizzy or ill. Ultimately, the team had to keep camera movements to a minimum and employ more stationary framing techniques than are normally used in traditional filmmaking.
Still, Ku's concerns about digital motion sickness remained until the premiere in Venice, where he saw one audience member remove their VR device repeatedly. Ku was worried that the person was suffering from motion sickness; in fact, the viewer had just been moved to tears by the film. After the screening, audience reactions were overwhelmingly positive, and the team knew they had achieved their goal of creating a powerful and emotionally stirring immersive experience.
“The only answer was Unity.” – Kang Wong-chul, Media Arts Production Manager at EVR Studio
Before working on this project, Kang was already familiar with other real-time creation tools. The problem was that Poet's Room would be made available not only for VR devices, but for PC and mobile, as well. This made Unity – with its extensive multiplatform capabilities – the studio’s first choice, and Kang was able to adapt to it quickly.
During the pre-visualization stage, when the director sketches out rough visual ideas to minimize trial and error during production, Unity worked like a charm. The platform's timeline function was also heavily used by the team to reflect assets and animation data from another tool. At first, Kang had trouble controlling the timeline for seamless stitching and loading of scenes, but he soon got the hang of it thanks to Unity's user-friendly interface.
Another big advantage to using Unity was its various objects, which enabled vast usage depending on component applications. And, when the team ran into challenges, they were able to draw on Unity’s resources and solutions from the global developer community to keep production on track.
Poet's Room was released in Korea after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Ku believes audiences likely found the VR format unusual at first, but came to enjoy it after putting any initial concerns aside. To him, listening to the film’s narration – voiced by the actors and drawing heavily on Yun Dong-ju's poems – is one of the most charming aspects of the experience.
“New Road,” a Dong-ju poem, includes the following stanza:
My road is always a brand new one
Today… and tomorrow…
This quote reflects the poet’s determination to avoid repetitive thinking and continue seeking enlightenment. The EVR Studio team hopes many more people will watch Poet's Room and immerse themselves in the life and work of Yun Dong-ju, one of Korea’s most celebrated literary talents.