Our story is a locked-room murder mystery starring a cast of puppets. "You" are the detective, and after watching the murder happen once from your own perspective, you question each witness to hear (and see) how they remember the scene in order to solve the crime. But watch out! Each witness remembers things a little differently, and not every puppet is a reliable narrator. Choose from four exciting endings, or more if we meet our stretch goals. It's The Great Muppet Caper meets Rashomon meets Clue.
We plan to use 360 video and add simple interactive elements. After going to festivals and an exclusive run in the Playstation VR Store, we will release the experience on Google Cardboard and YouTube. The more money we raise the more complex interactive elements we can pursue.
Erin Finnegan is the director and creator of the VR Puppet Murder Mystery. She worked for over seven years in television production on shows such as Codename: Kids Next Door, Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In 2015, she completed her Master's in Interactive Telecommunications from NYU with an emphasis on game design and coding. Now she works as an Animation Technician at NYU’s Undergraduate Film and Television department, where she received her BFA in 2001. Currently, she is supporting a new VR class that uses Unreal Engine 4. Erin is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for her zero gravity wedding.
Clio Davis is the writer of the VR Puppet Murder Mystery. She is a game and interaction designer, and the co-founder of Janitor Interactive, a game and interactive media production company. She has worked in immersive theater as a writer, producer, actor, and director, with one piece, The Institute, funded by the Google Experiments in Storytelling grant. She has a BFA in Film and Television and a Master's in Interactive Telecommunications, both from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.
Michael Schupbach (Co-founder of Puppet Kitchen) is an alumnus of Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, and the owner of four Daytime Emmy Awards for his work on Sesame Street. He has constructed and/or performed puppets for Little Shop of Horrors on Broadway, Avenue Q, Disney Channel’s Johnny and the Sprites, and Bear in the Big Blue House.
Eric Wright (Co-founder of Puppet Kitchen) is a puppet designer, builder, and performer. He has built puppets for Synapse Production’s Animal Farm: The Musical (with Emily DeCola), Dan Hurlin’s Hiroshima Maiden, Leapfrog Production’s Amadeus, Theaterworks USA’s Seussical the Musical and The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks, and Theater Couture’s Carrie (also with Emily DeCola).
Vicci Ho worked for many years in the film industry, writing for publications such as Variety and working in programming for film festivals around the world, including Toronto, San Francisco, Seattle and Zurich. A lover of cinema, books and history, Vicci founded Janitor Interactive with Clio Davis, an interactive production company interested in discovering new avenues for powerful and inventive storytelling. Vicci is a recent graduate of New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.
Some Past Projects:
Hello World! Web-series Pilot - The Hello World! pilot was the result of Erin’s thesis project for her Master’s degree. Erin was interested in exploring how to teach basic coding to kids by making a Sesame Street-like web-series in which puppets help to explain concepts such as conditionals and loops.
Twitch Plays Shakespeare - Erin’s Twitch Plays Shakespeare was funded by Google’s Experiments in Storytelling grant. The project allowed a live audience to vote for what direction to give a pair of actors playing out various scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, to hilarious effect.
Wilt Thou Remember Me - Clio’s Master’s thesis was a combination of an escape game and an immersive theater piece, and was inspired by her ancestors’ letters written during the American Civil War. The game was about two hours long and required groups of two to three players to explore a fictional missing Civil War enthusiast's apartment in order to discover what happened to her. There were seven puzzles with both physical and digital clues, and players could reach one of seven different endings depending on their level of success.
The Institute - The Institute was an interactive theater project funded by Google’s Experiments in Storytelling grant. Both Clio and Erin were a part of the team that created the show, which was performed at The Brick Theater in Brooklyn as part of their Game Play Festival. In The Institute, participants had to work together to free the mind of a brainwashed special agent while a shadowy intelligence agency and a secretive research institute both vied for the knowledge trapped within it.
Risks and challenges
The main challenge we are anticipating is adding interactivity for the VR experience. How do we add a controller for our player/detective/viewer to select witnesses? Will we need to import our live action footage into a program like Unity or Unreal? How much programming will be involved?
We learned about some of the challenges while filming the Kickstarter video. Using an older 360 Fly resulted in footage where the spines of books and other small details were difficult to decipher. We will need to place clues around the set in a way that makes them clearly visible but not too obvious, and since this is such an essential part of the experience we’ll have to make sure we get it right. Luckily, we have a wonderful network of VR filmmakers to turn to for advice and guidance, so we are confident that we will be able to overcome any obstacles we meet.
There is also the challenge of writing for an audience we still have a lot to learn about. Who, outside of our friends and colleagues, goes to VR festivals? What does the Venn diagram of puppet fans and VR fans look like?
Speaking of which, we will be doing something that has never been done before, which is shooting a VR film with a cast of puppets! This means - depending on stretch goals and which rig we end up using - we will have to find special ways to hide the puppeteers or potentially incorporate them into the scene, like in Avenue Q or Warhorse.
Writing the correct tone will also be a huge and exciting challenge - it’s a murder mystery, but if kids are going to watch it we don’t want to give them nightmares. When the project was pitched at a VR festival, this was chief among the judges’ concerns. Is it more comedy or horror? On a scale of G to R, what will our rating be?
Of course, there’s also the challenge that all film shoots face, which is scheduling. We will have to build a schedule for rehearsals and filming that works with all our crew and puppeteers, then make sure we have plenty of time for post-production which will include not only editing but playtesting to ensure the experience is coherent, fun, engaging.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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