Over the years there have been a lot of pieces of entertainment content, whether it be the mesmerizing tunes of Daft Punk, the dystopian world of Blade Runner, or the retro-futuristic landscapes of countless video games, that all seem to grow out of this idea of an eye-catching future that is still faced with horrible problems. Cyberpunk, too, is a whole subgenre devoted to the idea of high technology in an oppressive society.
Escape Code is a 360-degree short film directed and animated by Josh Hassin and the San Diego, CA based studio, Look Mister that seems inspired by many of these ideas. The entire short film, embedded below, was created in Unity and is driven by a synthwave soundtrack scored by Emmy award winning composer RAD LAZER (aka Rafter Roberts).
Leading up to the short film’s debut, UploadVR interviewed Hassin about the project, its inspirations, and his views on the current immersive technology industry as a whole.
UploadVR: You listed the themes and inspirations, but what do you think the message is of Escape Code, more specifically?
Josh Hassin: The film is really more of a teaser than a full narrative. I don’t want to give too much away, but essentially Jonas (our hero) is a computer hacker, and accesses a government database that acknowledges the existence of aliens. The aliens reach out to Jonas as an ally. They communicate through a sort of metaphysical ESP, which takes over his body and allows him to see the “truth.” Heavy stuff. But yeah I’m interested in Aliens and conspiracy theories, and I’m a child of the ’80s so that’s all in there.
UploadVR: What can you tell us about the shades-wearing main character we see throughout the short film?
Josh Hassin: Jonas is our reluctant hero. He’s a hacker and unwittingly accesses a government database. He essentially uncovers a plot to hide the existence of alien lifeforms from the general public. He’s a badass, but would probably rather be playing video games than hiding from the cops.
UploadVR: Why did you choose to make this entirely in Unity?
Josh Hassin: I come from a background making video games for Sony and others. I have always loved working with game engines and the godlike power they give creators. Traditionally, game engines were a rather esoteric tool that mostly required you to be a coder to use. Unity changed that. It’s extremely user friendly and has a great community of users who aren’t afraid to share their tools. Over the last few years my studio, Look Mister, had fallen into doing a lot more pre-rendered animation, and that takes a lot of time and money (graphics cards, render farms, etc.) So I was really excited about being able to do something in real-time. Unity has really leveled the playing field and has allowed small teams and individuals such as myself to create really engaging content, be that for games, apps, or films..
UploadVR: Were there any considerations to create an interactive version, or was it decided to be a 360-degree video from the start?
Josh Hassin: We are definitely interested in pursuing an interactive version. Again this is another strength that Unity brought to the project. Much of what you see on screen is a simulation. All the riots, are AI driven, the motorcycle scenes, are completely controllable in Unity. So yeah the next logical extension is to give people control of this universe.
UploadVR: What else have you and your team worked on, both in and outside of VR?
Josh Hassin: As I mentioned before I come from a background of making games, and then fell into marketing video games. I also have a deep love for music (as I think do most people who sit at a computer most of their day) but that has lead me to some interesting music video projects. I try to keep my projects diverse so that I don’t get bored, but two highlights have been the puppet based project i did with some folks from Sesame Street/Crank Yankers and the music video I did for Michael Andrews, where I had 100s of high school students draw 1000s of frames of animation.
I’m really interested in exploring new forms of expression, and now VR/AR/MR are just new ways of doing that. We are working on a new AR app called Lookit that we really think is going to change the way people create and interact with AR and their environments, its all very exciting.
UploadVR: What are some of the best 360-degree video projects you’ve seen so far?
Josh Hassin: Well for 360 video I would say, that the guys at Within (Chris Milk and Co) have been very inspiring . I think Pearl by Google/Patrick Osborne ,was really the first animated 360 video that gave me chills. I also think the work the Jaunt folks are putting out is top notch.
Outside of 360 video I’d have to say that using the Tilt Brush on the HTC Vive has been a mind blowing experience and that viewing Google Earth in VR , was really a game changer. 2017 is going to be an exciting year!
For more on Escape Code, you can follow the film’s official Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram social media accounts. You can see the full film embedded at the top of this story and over on the official YouTube here.