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Film transports audience with a leap of imagination

By LI YINGXUE | (China Daily ) | 2019-07-10

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A scene from the short VR film. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A new world awaits in the ever-changing world of film. Participants can be transported on voyages of discovery or land on a distant planet. Modern technology's greatest achievement is, perhaps, to whisk a person into a realm of the imagination.

For this particular adventure-a short film that has scooped awards in the real world-all that is required are virtual reality glasses. Once you put them on, an empty bottle shows up in front of you and asks you to say hello. When your voice is loud and commanding enough, it will be collected into the bottle and fly away.

Then you meet Ello, who lives on a planet on his own and hopes to find a friend in the universe. When Ello falls asleep, a spaceship lands on his planet, and only if you make a loud noise can you wake him up, or he will miss the chance of companionship and continue to live alone for the rest of his life. Will you, can you, help him?

This trip into fantasy is actually a 16-minute VR film named Ello Echo and it was shown at the second Sandbox Immersive Festival in Qingdao from June 24 to 27.

According to director Su Haodan, Ello Echo is a sweet story about loneliness and friendship.

"My generation always feels lonely and wants to make friends with others because we are often the only child at home and grew up with no siblings," says Su, 30.

In the film, Ello lives by himself in a lonely corner of the universe, where he takes care of his planet and maintains its only billboard, hoping it will draw the attention of others. One day, an unexpected disaster ruins everything and plunges Ello into deep despair.

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The production team is working on the VR film, Ello Echo. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"This is the first time that I designed a story with different endings, and I hope the audience can have different experiences," says Su, who thinks that when people seek friendship or love, proactively pursuing it, rather than passively waiting, might lead to a surprising conclusion.

Su used to be an animation screenwriter, who wrote the story for the animation film White Snake and joined Pinta Studios in 2017 to explore more storytelling possibilities. Ello Echo is the third VR film by the company.

Founded in June 2016, it gathered scriptwriters, artists and engineers to produce VR or augmented reality films. The name of the studio comes from one of the fastest of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus when he discovered the New World in 1492. The observer on the ship is credited as the one who first saw what we now know as the Americas.

In 2017, the studio's first VR animated film, The Dream of Collector, was completed and won the VR competition at the 74th Venice International Film Festival.

Their second VR work, Shennong: Taste of Illusion, was completed and nominated for best VR animation at the Raindance Independent Film Festival, held in London in 2018.

Ello Echo was made in 2018, the first VR/AR animation film of the studio. Lei Zhengmeng, the film's producer, also the studio's co-founder and CEO, says that, unlike the previous two products, this film's production process encountered many technical problems.

"We hope that people can watch Ello Echo on different platforms including on their phone, so that more people can enjoy our story," says Lei.

According to Lei, more interactions were added to the film which makes the audience feel more immersed in the story.

"In the original version, Ello is woken up by pushing the button on the hand shank, but when we watched the film by ourselves, we realized that we wanted to shout to wake him up, so we changed this into an audio interaction," says Lei.

"The previous two animations were made to look more realistic, while this film is a more freehand style," Lei adds.

In April, Ello Echo showed at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Su says the film attracted many children as well as adults and she observed the audience reaction when they were watching with VR glasses.

"I was so touched that the audience really got into the story and felt bad for Ello when he was alone," says Su.