Hue is a Heartbreakingly Beautiful VR Experience About Sadness and Color

by Joe Durbin • February 16th, 2017

Hue is very sad. I know this without a single line of dialogue, narration or exposition. The moment this tall, gangly young man appeared before me inside an Oculus Rift VR headset I could feel melancholy pouring out from every pixel of his black and white frame. Yes, Hue is certainly very sad, but with your help he might manage to feel just a little bit better.

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Everything about Hue as a project exudes character and purpose. There’s an almost Tim Burton feel to the look of Hue himself, his environments and his friends. The art style embraces black and white imagery, a technique that is underemployed by VR studios today, to incredible effect. When you step into Hue’s world you are also transported into his emotional state by the incredible visuals.

The art was chue_poster_sundance2017arefully chosen by Hue’s creators: Marry the Moon — a VR studio looking to make a splash. We got to meet some of the studio’s staff and try the experience for ourselves at a Unity press event in San Francisco. The event brought together many of the VR experiences that were selected to appear at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Hue is experienced on an Oculus Rift using its Touch controllers. Using your hands, you can grab Hue by the hand and lead him around his study to various points of interest as the story progresses via a piece of wonderful narration performed by David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck). Your goal is never explicitly stated, but in the presence of such a glum human being your motivations become naturally clear: let’s see if we can cheer this guy up.

Eventually, your efforts pay off and, with a little help from Hue’s own shadow and a couple of fuzzy friends, you are able to introduce a bit of happiness, represented by a very subtle yellow that leaks into the black and grey, back into his life.

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It may be tempting to reduce Hue to a simple commentary on the realities of clinical depression but the project’s creator, director Nicole McDonald, made it clear during our demo that Hue is not a depressed person. He’s just a regular man in the midst of a very sad point in his life.

This difference between sadness and depression may seem arbitrary to some, but it makes the entire experience infinitely more accessible. Depression is an incredibly serious issue, but it is not one that affects everyone. All of us, however, have had a sad day. Tackling the mundane simplicity of sadness in such a creative, artistic and poetic way makes Hue’s story accessible to every person, and that makes the entire experience all the more impactful.

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In addition to the striking visuals and deftly crafted narrative, Hue also features an incredible use of color. Being inside a VR headset and watching a black and white image start to fill with color is such an emotionally powerful moment. McDonald explained that color is perhaps the most important story tool for Hue. As his story progresses, more and more colors will be added until what was once a very morose world is converted into something bright and full of life.

The demo we saw was built specifically for Sundance and represents just a small part of Hue’s journey. Marry the Moon is currently seeking funding to complete the tale.

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