Producer SK Telecom VR / AR discusses storytelling forms in social VR, asymmetric storytelling, and public-private partnerships
Minhyuk Che is a virtual reality creator based in Seoul, South Korea with nearly a decade of experience in virtual reality, from filmmaking to researching virtual reality social platforms. As a VR / AR producer at SK Telecom, a leading company in the metaverse market in South Korea, Che produces the IFLAND web-drama entirely on the ifland social platform and also runs a volumetric capture studio, working with clients ranging from BTS to cultural heritage. Administration of South Korea. Director of the VR Space X Girl cinematographic works (distributed by WITHIN) and NINE VR, Che is sensitive to the emotional and psychological weight of virtual reality as a space that enhances inner life. NINE VR introduces social experience into this vulnerable space as a way to defamiliarize yourself as another, exploring the interstices of memory and time. Che’s artistic vision is to blend powerful cinematic storytelling with a social experience of virtual reality and the metaverse in general, and to develop new ways of interacting with others.
This interview has been translated from Korean to English and edited for length and clarity.
Andrea Kim: How has your work in VR motion picture making influence your approach to storytelling in the Metaverse?
Minhyuk Che: There are three key points that underpin my understanding of VR storytelling. First of all, the user enters a space rendered in real time which changes according to his point of view, offering a feeling of presence. Second, audiences become participants with new identities and essentially become actors within this space. And third, the connection aspect is a fundamental part of virtual reality. While the metaverse is a buzzword now, social virtual reality wasn’t that well-known several years ago. Of course, we had virtual worlds like Second Life, but generally speaking such platforms are not common, except perhaps in Korea, with the massively popular social networking site, Cyworld, in the 2000s. In late 2016, I researched virtual reality social platforms such as Sansar, VRChat, High Fidelity, and AltspaceVR at the CJ Corporation VR / AR Lab to examine their possibilities. I found the multi-user aspect of virtual environments quite natural and perhaps fundamental to virtual reality. We collaborated with LindenLab early on to create a virtual K-pop fandom space where fans could connect with their favorite boy group idols on the VR Sansar social platform. From there, I became more interested in how storytelling forms in such environments.
AK: Your NINE VR movie combines a social virtual reality experience with VR movie making. How does he explore the social bond as a narrative technique?
MC: At one point, users enter the movie for the first time, and at another point, they start to relate and take action. I found this new form of connection between viewers fascinating, like the film On body and soul, in which two people exist in the same dream. Knowing that their dreams are connected, their relationship in real life opens up and changes as well, which I think really captures the essence of what social virtual reality can do as well. Over time, social virtual reality will become a powerful medium for managing social memory, like the way we remember cultural history or maybe even something more subconscious. Being able to evoke and experience this space together through tools like the metaverse can be a great source of inspiration. For NINE VR, however, I wanted to start with an experience for two participants rather than connecting the mass of people typical of social VR.
AK: Can you discuss further the themes you work with and how you use virtual presence to explore them?
MC: In NINE VR, the two users take on either the role of the Past Self or the Present Self, which are two unique stories that begin to intersect. Memory itself is nonlinear and unstructured, with variable elements. Recalling memory in virtual space seems like a natural fit compatible with the medium – combining disparate moments into a single space, juxtaposing them and showing that in some surreal form of expression. Although we are discovering these new mediums, I think our craving is actually growing. Rather than thinking, âI’d better create something new,â I feel like I have to hold on to something that I already have (but maybe forgot). This elusive feeling of finding what has been lost through the new is what drives my work.
AK: Do you have any specific tips in terms of interaction mechanics in multi-user VR storytelling that you can offer creators?
MC: The narrative world and the metaverse world are two different things. The stories have a sense of cohesion – usually a closed world with a protagonist and a plot. The metaverse is a completely different space that is open, without a single protagonist but rather users who move spontaneously and voluntarily as they please. Within a story, let’s say I have a fixed identity, a secondary role, an existence within it. Being recognized by another gives me a feeling of faith in my given identity and increases my feeling of immersion. My presence and the presence of the other give rise to a certain synergy which makes the story more real.
Unlike player one and two in a game, a multi-user story can be asymmetric, with the environment or story forming the starting point for each identity. When the past self meets the present self, it’s actually its future self, that’s it, so it’s a pretty intense experience, to meet a life that you haven’t yet lived. So, in NINE VR seeing, feeling and meeting the other has a different meaning depending on which side you are on, past or present. Moreover, in NINE VR, neither user realizes that the other exists. Once you realize the other one exists, the user needs to recognize who they are playing and act on that narrative as they go along.
At Lyndsie Scoggin Welcome to respite, the protagonist has multiple personality disorder, and is cared for by his mother and father. The actors take care of the user, who plays the child. As we give the character presence, we can move and talk, but we need time to accept our new identities and get used to them. There is a gap or a distance towards it. But this work uses this process of not remembering yourself or your social identity as a storytelling technique to connect with a protagonist with multiple personality disorder. As a member of the audience, all of my behavior becomes a form of action in this virtual world.
In short, we have to get the public to act and take their identity into account. In the future, designing audience figures will become a more important part of the creative process. Is this identity a phantom or a protagonist? A secondary character? There is probably a specter. What relationship does this user have with the protagonist? Are they invisible or can they change the weather? If there are multiple audience members, a multi-user relationship should form. As the story progresses, how will the character and their role change as the story progresses? You have to open their imaginations to how they can act based on their identity.
AK: Running a production on the ifland platform with your colleagues is a different kind of role-playing game with given social identities. Can you describe your experience on the set of the web drama Metaverse?
MC: In the current ifland platform, users have multiple personas. We therefore selected existing users who already have a particular virtual identity. From there, we crafted the web drama together. We chose an actor for the main character and selected users for a range of different roles, such as friends and extras. The users then acted spontaneously, and we filmed it. Suddenly turning into avatars after working together in everyday life was really fun. We practiced from distant places like a play.
AK: Could you tell us a bit more about the casting and development process?
MC: We organized avatar auditions under the pretext of selecting extras for this web drama. A dozen avatars arrived that night, and they would act using their expressions, costume looks and voices. Those who were selected were included in the script and we started to write the dialogue together. One of the participants said that he dreamed of being an actor, but that he could not achieve it in real life.
AK: The South Korean Ministry of Science and ICT recently created the Metaverse Alliance to build a metaverse ecosystem in Korea. As one of the first companies to participate, how does SKTelecom plan to continue to develop the metaverse?
MC: South Korea has strong public-private partnerships, especially in telecommunications and the arts. At SK Telecom, our ifland platform is mainly focused on socialization, like Clubhouse using 3D avatars. We can host gatherings or activities related to education. More interestingly, we cultivate influencers, who are an important part of the metaverse. We are developing VR and multiplatform versions. The current metaverse hype embodies the increased reception towards digital representation, and the alliance is the product of Korea’s early adoption of new media. The emergence of Cyworld was possible in the infrastructure of a faster broadband internet environment than other countries. I think Cyworld has accustomed me and many others to creating multi-personas and existing online and more open to adapting and leading changes in digital culture. In this regard, the Metaverse has aroused the interest of all generations in Korea, not only the digital native Millennials and Gen Z generations, but also those in their 40s and 50s who have experienced Cyworld and IT development. from Korea.
In ifland, too, people are getting used to the idea of ââmulti-personas. It used to be just in games, but now people think of multi-people as more natural. Within the virtual environment, be it music, video, performance or film, all of these mediums dynamically converge on the metaverse. People can create their own content using YouTube, Roblox, or Minecraft platforms, earn fandoms, and become influencers. We see these digitally-oriented people who in many ways reside in the metaverse, leading the flow of information. Given the growth of digital assets and the virtual economy, including blockchain, the metaverse is the nexus between the real and virtual world.