A VR Project That’s All About Getting Out of the Dumps

Nicole McDonald

When I was 9, I took a computer coding class. We all worked on monochromatic monitors – the instructor explained that computers would someday show us more colors. He was describing monitors with a more robust color profile, but I naively thought he meant that computers would allow us to see more colors than are in our current rainbow.

I’ve been captivated by technology as a creative tool ever since. When I take on a new project in games or interactive storytelling, I typically ask if the project will allow us to see more “colors.” In essence, does it bring us into worlds we would never have seen without the innovations of today? It was from this childhood memory that HUE was born.

HUE is a haptic VR tale about a man (named Hue) who has lost his ability to see color – a metaphor for how he has become dulled to all of the wonderment of life. In this story, you’re Hue’s friend, responsible for guiding and reminding Hue how to care again and how to rediscover life’s full spectrum. My team consists of long-time collaborators KC Austin (lead developer), Rob Auten (co-writer), and Tay Strathairn (Composer) as well as new and exciting alliances with Will Watkins and Framestore Ventures.

HUE addresses my hopes for the future of interactive filmmaking. How do we tell stories that truly connect with our audience? How do we add a heartbeat to our characters and emotional breadth to environments? How do we push visuals and reveal a new world, rather than replicate what already exists? What universal principles in storytelling should come to the forefront and how do we use interactivity in a meaningful way?

HUE had the honor of being selected for this year’s New Frontier Story Lab and Rob and I were fortunate to attend. Everything about the experience helped us to nurture Hue into being – from Joan Tewkesbury’s incredible story workshop, to the invigorating one-on-ones with the talented mentors, to the brilliant ideas of other Fellows. We (and HUE) came away fortified and forever changed. The time at the Lab allowed us dig into the narrative and develop Hue’s character.

Who is Hue? And how did he get so blue? What makes the viewer want to help him? And how do we weave those answers into a non-linguistic, touch-based interactive story?

As a result of our experience at the Lab, we began to bring ourselves into the narrative – commiserating, sympathizing, and adding a deeply human, emotional connection to his story. Hue’s had a tough go, a series of events that have caused him to “dim.” We’ve all been there…or at least know someone who has.

We realize that narrative and art direction are key to making this connection, providing a window into both how Hue sees the world and what he feels inside. We began to integrate our learnings from the Lab into our environmental elements, sound design, and composition, immediately refining some of the concept art and moving into 3D.

To add to the emotion and mood, we’ve developed a watercolor look for our 3D world. It feels like a flat, dull 2D-world at first, but when Hue and the environment moves you can see that there is life behind his bleak outlook.

2D concept art (left) & 3D model (right)

We then began to add a heartbeat, working closely with Benedikt Negro, star of the Cirque Du Soliel’s ‘O,’ to develop Hue’s personality and body language. We distilled paragraphs of script into nuanced movements and then shot motion capture, watching as Hue came to life. It was breathtaking!

Stills from the Motion Capture Shoot with Benedikt Negro

Now we’re working on how Hue responds to your presence and touch, making him feel like a living, breathing being. As we interact with Hue, his personality evolves. He opens his eyes to the wonderment in life and starts to accept the problems in his past. As a viewer, it is our hope that Hue’s experiences become your own and that by helping Hue, maybe your eyes open a little wider too.

At the moment, we’re about a month and half away from the first installment of Hue’s adventures and we can’t wait for you to meet him!

For more information and updates about HUE, visit MarrytheMoon.com/Hue or contact Nicole at hello@nicolemcdonald.com.

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Alexis Chikaeze as Kai in 'Miss Juneteenth,' coming to digital platforms June 19

Channing Godfrey Peoples on a Bittersweet ‘Miss Juneteenth’ Release and the Urgency of Portraying Black Humanity on Screen

After premiering at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Channing Godfrey Peoples’s debut feature is hitting digital platforms this Juneteenth—the day for which the film is named and which is very close to the director’s heart. “I feel like I’ve been living Miss Juneteenth my whole life,” she says.
The June 19 holiday—which commemorates the day slavery was finally abolished in Texas (more than two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was issued)—is celebrated in her hometown of Fort Worth with a deep sense of reverence and community, with barbecues, a parade, and a scholarship pageant for young Black women.

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