How would you describe the main mission and work of WITHIN?

WITHIN is a virtual reality and augmented reality entertainment and technology company aiming to bring people together with immersive experiences. We currently host a careful curation of VR works from a variety of artists and content creators, in addition to our own original content, currently available via the WITHIN app on iOS, Android, and all VR headsets.

WITHIN’s mission is to push virtual and augmented reality further, continuing to innovate storytelling techniques with a focus on social, multi-user experiences. Born from two creative minds—Chris Milk, an award-winning filmmaker, and Aaron Koblin, a data artist and former head of Google’s Data Arts Team—the team at WITHIN embraces a creator-first ideology. We provide creatives a playground to explore their ideas and support them by creating the technology necessary to make their ideas possible and bring them to a mass audience.

What are the key attributes you feel are needed when creating a truly memorable VR experience or story?

Virtual reality interacts with our senses in the same way that the real world does. There is, however, a unique opportunity to break the rules of reality within the VR headset. There’s a fine line—we must keep the rules similar enough that our brain accepts the experience as real, but bend them just enough so that we can create a fantastical experience only possible in VR. We want to give viewers access to stories, people, places, and experiences that could previously only exist in our imaginations. In order to create memorable experiences, we must craft the virtual world to reflect the most profound and special moments of our lives–while other mediums allow us to bear witness to another’s story, in VR we have the opportunity to let users live those stories firsthand.

We can’t solely rely on what legacy mediums like filmmaking have defined as storytelling, but we can be influenced by them and learn from them. Many devices that we use in filmmaking don’t work or don’t have the same effect in VR. Cutting can break your immersion, for example. On the other hand, having someone stare into the camera can create a personal connection between you and that character, whereas in filmmaking it breaks the fourth wall and takes you out of the story that’s being told. If there is one thing to keep in mind when creating a memorable VR experience, it’s to try to create something that exceeds the boundaries of the world we live in today, and gives people access to something that inspires awe.

When collaborating with partners on a piece, what are the main challenges and opportunities that arise?

The golden opportunity in this period of the industry’s growth is the need for an influx of creative energy from all disciplines to help crack what makes VR special. There is always a learning curve, as there is with any new medium or format, but we try not to let that get in the way of creative ideas. If something hasn’t been done yet, we’re currently in the stage where we learn how to build it ourselves, rather than dismiss it as impossible. It’s a rare moment in time where any idea, no matter how far-fetched, can lead the way to developing the future of the medium.

Your recent piece, HALLELUJAH, reimagined Leonard Cohen’s song as a fully immersive experience. Talk us through how it was created.

Our interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is centered around a unique five part a cappella arrangement. For this piece, we partnered with Lytro, creating the first-ever public display of their volumetric light-field technology. Viewers are placed inside a virtual world that feels and looks like our reality, and are able to physically move around within it. While most live-action VR systems keep the viewer fixed in a single point in space, Lytro’s technology breaks that boundary by giving the viewer freedom to move, allowing for a lifelike sense of presence that hasn’t been possible in virtual reality until now. We wanted to put viewers at the center of the a capella arrangement ,  so they can experience Cohen’s iconic song in a new way, both aurally and visually.

What’s next for WITHIN?

There’s a tremendous amount of momentum and interest in the VR/AR industry, and WITHIN is thrilled about all the emerging immersive technologies that are becoming more accessible. It’s our goal to marry the creative and the cutting edge to bring social immersive narratives to a wider audience, and we’re excited to see how AR and VR will be used as a tool for storytelling.