Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment is most known for its bestselling The Walking Dead comic book series, which has expanded into two popular AMC television series, video games and merchandise. But Skybound creates content for all platforms, including virtual reality. The company was early into 360-degree storytelling with Gone, which was created for the Samsung Gear VR in 2015.
Now Skybound has turned creator Jon Braver’s live Los Angeles haunted horror series Delusion into a VR experience. The first 360-degree story is based on the 2014 haunted play Lies Within, written and directed by Braver and produced by Skybound and Witty Acronym. Set in 1947 North Carolina, the story follows a pair of rabid fans in search of a missing novelist Elena Fitzgerald, whose literary nightmares have come to life.
Rachel Skidmore, director of media development at Skybound, told AListDaily that translating Delusion from a live action play that occurred within a real house into episodic VR was aided by having Braver on board. She said the director understands how to use the full 360-degree sphere of space.
“We took the 2014 script and hired some of the cast from the play,” Skidmore said. “We invented some new characters and amped up the production design and added a lot of cool monsters, taking the experience to the next level.”
Skybound filmed Delusion in the same Los Angeles historic mansions in West Adams where the live plays were held. Braver rigged some of the same stunts and choreography for the VR experience.
The experience will offer viewers a third-person perspective as they explore the house and interact with different characters from Fitzgerald’s novels. VR allows the user to be immersed in the Southern Gothic setting, which Skidmore said has a looming feeling of the swampy humid setting for the macabre.
“It’s more interactive and immersive as you move through house guided by characters and different people might be pulled into closets or you may be asked to hide, and the whole time you’re following the story,” Skidmore said.
Delusion is comprised of four 10-minute chapters for season one of Lies Within.
“The length had more to do with how much of the story we put into each chapter to introduce characters or give the audience a sweet cliffhanger,” Skidmore explained.
Skidmore said 360-degree filming gave Skybound more room to freak people out with horror storytelling.
“I love playing with the orientation,” Skidmore explained. “You can put people in facing one direction and guide them through sound design that gets you going and builds the suspense and tension, and then force people (or not) to turn all the way around and face something scary.”
Just as it does with The Walking Dead TV show, Skybound employed practical effects over CGI to bring the story to life.
“The key to the zombies is those awesome make-up effects,” Skidmore said. “One of our creatures [in Delusion] we built this mechanical suit with light features, and we’ll amplify it with some CGI to enhance the experience.”
Skidmore said there are more stories to be told down the line, just as there are multiple plays that explore different stories within this universe created by the fictional Fitzgerald (and the real-life Braver).
Skybound also plans on turning the Delusion IP into a multiplatform brand. While it’s well-known within LA because of the plays, VR opens up a global audience.
“We can take it out and make it a more widely known property,” Skidmore said. “Whether it’s expanding it out as a VR experience that takes place in homes or other experiential storytelling within the brand, we have a lot of ideas.”
One potential direction could be to create a room-scale version of Delusion for VR arcades–something Skybound partner Starbreeze VR is doing with The Walking Dead.
“While this isn’t built for room-scale, we could give people an opportunity to view it in a VR arcade with a more robust soundscape experience,” Skidmore said. “You don’t have hands in this iteration, but for future seasons, we’d love to give people room-scale and have hands, and a more first-person experience.”
Skidmore also envisions a future live action iteration that combines mixed reality with immersive theater, which would harken back to Delusion’s roots and be set in an actual haunted house that people would walk through with actors.
“We could also adapt this for comics,” Skidmore added. “I think there’s room for some kind of mixed reality reading experiences.”