10 Things I Learned from My First Virtual Reality Production

By Eran Mahalu
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

You should do one thing that scares you every day. Looking back at my career in design, these words of wisdom have been my savior more than once. I still remember my first job interview in the industry, at least 50% of my portfolio was made up of posters I designed for imaginary clients. In that first interview, I claimed to be skilled with tools I had hardly ever used. I had to look fear in the face in order to get what I wanted.

I remembered the motto once again when my manager approached me one day and asked how I felt about shooting and editing a VR clip for the company. By then I was proficient in motion design and video editing – but I had never actually worn a VR headset, let alone held a 360 camera nor did I have the slightest idea about the demands of VR editing on Premiere. Obviously, as I did all those times before – I immediately replied “Sure, let’s do it!”, while droplets of cold sweat dripped down my spine.

In the 6 months that followed I learned a lot of valuable lessons that I believe are not only valid for graphic and motion designers and editors, but to any person in a creative field.

1 Trust the process

When I started working on the project, I immediately understood that 80% of it would be conquering the learning curve. I had so much new knowledge to master: hardware, software, storytelling and composition. At some point fear crept in and I thought maybe I had bit off more than I could chew. But when we laid out a plan and broke the project into many little tasks – things started to feel more feasible. I also had the opportunity to meet professionals from the VR world and they were generous enough to give advice and to introduce me to other professionals who gave me more helpful tips.

2 Focus on your best skill and delegate the rest to others

 In one of my all time favorite movies, Ghost Dog they quote a Samurai saying, “It is bad when one thing becomes two“. This quote still holds true today, and certainly applied to my first VR production.  It’s super hard to hold more than one position in a project while maintaining focus and quality of deliverables. Identify your strongest skill – be it storyboard design, offline or online editing, sound mixing or scriptwriting. You can only be the best in one area at a time. Make sure to use your time on your strongest skill and delegate other tasks to the rest of your team, whether they are in house or freelance. 

3 Distinguish between hardships and failures 

In the process of making the VR experience, I encountered many bumps in the road. Some were in the form of criticism from my managers and colleagues, others were technical difficulties and thematic challenges. We discovered, as we paved our way through this thick and virgin VR forest, that we would have to let go of some ideas, re-make others, and use outsourced professionals to meet deadlines. These bumps sometimes felt like a dead end, issues that would make or break the project. But in hindsight, these bumps were cues that stressed the exact areas that required more effort. We learned that there is (almost) always an alternative, to always have a plan b on hand, and most importantly –  that we are not only creating, but learning as we go.

4 Pat yourself on the back from time to time

One of the hardest things to do when you’re knee deep inside a project is to take a moment to stop and smell the roses. Use the opportunity to look back and acknowledge what your team (yourself included!) has accomplished. Take a deep breath and dive back into the muddy waters. You deserve it.

5 Communicate your status throughout the process

When a project is delayed or gets complicated, people might raise their eyebrows. People outside of the production don’t usually understand the complexities of the process. This is why communication is so important. I learned that setting follow-up meetings (usually on a weekly basis) is critical to a healthy relationship between you and your clients. Once your client is in the loop more frequently, they’ll have less objections and will feel like a part of the team, even if they are not necessarily hands-on. 

6 Don’t take criticism personally

The bottom line of every creative process is eventually dealing with criticism while maintaining a positive attitude. It’s important to remember that everybody likes to express their opinion. Wherever disputes arise, I learned that it is a good idea to present two solutions – one of which is your personal recommendation. Once you separate your emotions from the professional objective, you’ll reduce your frustration and ultimately do a better job.

7 The cards will be shuffled (and re-shuffled)

Designers always love to “stick to the plan” –  that is to grab the brief and turn it into the new testament. But in reality things rarely happen this way. Clients have second thoughts or regrets. They will sometimes communicate these after the project has gained momentum, and you simply have to roll with the punches. Remember that it is, after all, their project, and their input and feedback is extremely valuable. Sometimes these detours will cost you extra time. Go with your gut – if you find that the new plan is a complete departure from the original brief, that’s when you need to sit down with stakeholders to ensure expectations are aligned.

8 Take a break

We are often so submerged in the process that we become blind  to the big picture. Although  it seems counterintuitive – take a break. Go outside. Refresh your eyes and your mind. Ask friends and colleagues for their opinion. Sleep on things. You will get back on track with a fresh and more valuable perspective.

9 Gather as much input as you can

Following up on the previous lesson – it is always a good idea to gather feedback from as many people as possible, preferably from people who are outside of the industry. The target audience will always give you a point of view that is different from yours and crucial to making the product better and whole.

10 – Better done than perfect

Producing this VR clip took me about  6 months. I would happily use another 6 to take it to the next level. Give me another year and it will be nominated for  the VR Academy Awards. No, but seriously – the longer you spend on a project – the better it will be  Just remember that without a deadline you would probably end up with drawers  of hard drives full of unfinished symphonies. And these projects, flawed as they may be – are more useful when they see the light of day.

Good luck!

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