Designing the digital self

With VR experiences still in their infancy, navigating the disconnect between the real and virtual body still poses creative challenges. As part of our Body week on CR, we met with Framestore Creative Director Gavin Fox to discuss what it takes to cross the uncanny valley

For most people, virtual reality remains a novelty, and the experience of seeing your movements recreated via a digital body can be a strange one. Designing those bodies, and bridging the gap between real and virtual, poses unique challenges for creatives who are tasked with building a believable connection between people and their avatars. CR met with Framestore Creative Director Gavin Fox – who’s worked on several virtual reality experiences for theme parks – to discuss some of the tricks of the trade, and why putting people into a digital costume gives them the freedom to play.

Creative Review: How do you design an authentic body for someone in VR, and make that experience engaging?

Gavin Fox: We’ve made a fair amount of VR projects, especially where you have embodiments. One of the projects I’m finishing up at the moment isn’t just with the user, but it’s also the body of their friends in the experiences. Often the first way to think about this is scanning people’s faces and making them look as much as they can like your friends. We chose not to go down that route in various instances, because unless you get it looking absolutely perfect, it looks strange – especially as you know that person so well. An alternate way is to turn them into characters, so perhaps they’re wearing clothing like a crash helmet so you don’t see their face. The important thing is trying to simulate their size and their presence in the space. That can be a lot more automated, using the position of the headset and the hands and feet. We’ve done a lot of work with the thousands of different variations of what the right body size will be at different heights. Once you’ve got people’s height and scale, then the next thing that comes with VR is having their motion and gait, and the nuance of how they move. Everybody moves slightly differently and people recognise that instinctively. Getting those right is probably more important right now than trying to get the look of someone. That’s too far away, unless you want to spend a week recreating someone’s digital avatar.