Experience Studio Ghibli in VR

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Experience Studio Ghibli in VR
---E--PHIA-Phia Master Assets Folder-Thumbnails-ghiblivr.JPG
TVRS Episode 7's Thumbnail
Date April 13, 2020
Duration 11:00
Previous episode Creating Worlds in VR
Next episode Is Your Online Avatar the Real You?
Link YouTube

Creating Experience Studio Ghibli in VR is the seventh episode of The Virtual Reality Show. It explores worlds based on Studio Ghibli in VRChat.


Video description

Welcome to Episode 7 of TVRS, where I talk about why the relationship between VR and Studio Ghibli is so important. I give a tour of both Nick “Redofpaw” Pittom’s Ghibli VR demos (now taken down) as well as visiting the Ghibli world inside of VRChat- all while sharing how Ghibli can remind us to slow down and enjoy those quiet moments of beauty in peace. This video is in a slightly different format than I typically do on this show, so please let me know what you think of this style of video :)


PHIA: Hello and welcome back to, The Virtual Reality Show, where we talk about any and all things related to virtual reality inside...virtual reality! (laughs) I’m your host PHIA. Today I wanted to talk about Studio Ghibli, specifically within the context of VR. For me, and so many others, the Ghibli movies have provided a place of fascination and wonder over the course of our lives - beautifully told stories in these fascinating worlds crafted with a detailed love that you can’t help but be swept away to.

I notice that the feelings that I have when imagining what it would be like to be inside places like Howl’s Moving Castle provide me with the same sense of mysterious excitement as when I put on my headset as a portal to another world. I’m certainly not the only one to make this connection either. In fact, a few years ago developer, Nick “Redofpaw” Pittom created a Studio Ghibli VR demo.

When you first launch the demo, you’re immediately placed inside the world of Howl’s Moving Castle. There’s the iconic lake surrounded by a colorful flower meadow and blue sky shining overhead. And of course, Howl’s castle itself, moving in the distance. I had to take a deep breath and a few minutes to really take this all in, being here for the first time. By experiencing this place in VR, I was in this dream that I have so enviously longed for since I was a little kid. I became Sophie.

The next area I visited was the boiler room from Spirited Away. Underneath my feet were soot sprites dashing around carrying coals. I could walk over to Komaji, the boiler man as if he was actually there to yell at me to get to work. And I walked up next to Chihiro. Everything here is hand painted, making you feel like you’re inside the movie itself. I could practically feel the heat of the furnace, and the soot sprites themselves looked completely alive running beneath my feet. But this scene was completely overshadowed by the next area, a recreated scene from one of my favorite childhood movies, Totoro.

You start off by the bus stop where Mei and Satsuki wait for their father in the rain to bring him an umbrella. But instead of them, you, the player, are the one who gets to meet Totoro at that bus stop. This was a really crazy experience for me, and brought up so many questions in my head concerning the weight of virtual reality. For me, I’ve gained a lot of life and meaning from watching scenes of Studio Ghibli movies. To then actually be inside of and experience those special worlds and moments, I can’t help but wonder. What does this mean about storytelling if you can literally experience the story as a part of it yourself? Totoro is real, in a way, inside of virtual reality because well...I saw him.

Unfortunately, the Ghibli demo was removed in 2016, receiving a cease and desist order from Studio Ghibli themselves. Redofpaw could no longer advertise his demos he had worked so full-heartedly on. I reached out to Nick myself to ask him some questions about this project he had given virtual life to.

Obviously me and Redofpaw have something pretty major in common. An intense love for Ghibli worlds and a just as intense love for VR. So, I asked him, "Why Ghibli?" He responded saying that he was looking to create something visually unique in VR and creating something with a painted-like feeling would be extremely interesting to experience. He needed something fantastic artistically that also had enough fans to drive interest towards the project.

He spent weeks handpainting the scenes and more weeks creating the animated characters. He also had help from an animation professional, Keith Sizemore, to help animate the Totoro scene to completion at a reasonable rate. He had the final project up for two years before it was ordered to be taken down. Redofpaw told me that his next plans were to create a similar VR experience for Cowboy Bebop, but felt it was sensible not to sink too far into someone else’s IP again.

There is another Ghibli experience I’d like to talk about, and that one is readily available to VR and desktop users alike. Yes, there is a Ghibli inspired world inside of VRchat created by Mr. Yamato that takes scenes from loads of movies and squashes them into one magically gigantic experience to escape to at any moment you wish. I love this world. I visit it almost every time I go into VRChat, and I certainly show it to everyone I can, because I think this is the epitome of every Ghibli fan’s dream, and probably the most vivid experience of Ghibli you can get of it outside of going to the Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo. Stepping out into Sophie’s flower meadow, you can see Laputa in the distance, as the beautiful music by Joe Hisaishi begins to play. While this world is missing the hand painted authenticity of Redofpaw’s demo’s, it invokes the most overwhelming feelings of emotions you could possible imagine by combining so many stories into one place that you can explore to your heart’s content.

For me, it’s hard to be upset when I’m in this world. I visit it often, and it’s my escape from the sometimes harsh reality of life. I’ve had some really intense days where I mustered up just enough energy late at night to load up VRChat and head inside this world. I have this giant Snorlax plushie that I’ll squeeze and pretend is Totoro while I cuddle up next to him in game. There’s something about his snores that makes me comforted and at home. I’ve spent a lot of time getting lost in thought here - reflecting on the complexities and feelings of my life that are sometimes missed in the busy day to day rush.

And if you think about it, that’s one of the reasons Ghibli movies are so touching in the first place. There’s these silent scenes of quietness where we watch the characters themselves take time to reflect. We don’t hear their thoughts, and we don’t need to. All we need is silence to understand these moments. There’s something to be said about taking time to explore the crevices of our minds, rather than constantly being tied up in the shock of the present that never seems to reach fulfillment by scrolling screens and refreshing web pages.

Our minds are meant to be explored. Your imagination is bursting with untapped creativity and thoughts, and most of the time, all it takes to release them is simply a small isolated moment of appreciation. If you’ve ever been touched by a Ghibli film, I doubt it was solely because of what the film existed as, but rather how it made you begin to perceive the world around you. Even if just for a couple hours.

I love to stare off the balcony of Howl’s castle and get whisked away into the wind of my ceiling fan. In this world, I feel the same feelings like when you fall in love for the first time. But all that excitement and emotion and stirring of the heart, is directed towards the world around you in appreciation for life. It’s a rare, and priceless expression.

And when night falls in this world, something special happens. A building appears beneath the full moon and inside it. The tunneled doorway of Spirited Away appears. Something happens when you step through this tunnel into the white light. It’s almost like you no longer are choosing to walk forward. Something is willing your body to keep straight ahead. The forest gives way to the bathhouse full of kami or spirits. Everything feels so alive as it pulls you in.

I asked Redofpaw what made the connection between Ghibli and VR so important to him. And he said his reason is that VR allows you to experience a world that you can't in any other way. That watching the movies may be the most authentic way to experience these worlds, but it’s just so awesome to see what they could look like in person. I agree. There seems to be a lack of magic in day to day life. Repetitive job days, petty drama, or right now especially, loneliness and disease. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The inspiration in our world comes from storytelling. It comes from the meaningful reflective moments where we take time to fall in love with the complex tangle between love and tragedy, and VR is a tool of which we can use to experience and remember that.

I hope you’ll take the time after watching this video to reflect on yourself for a little bit. Maybe go outside and be quiet. Listen to the birds or feel the drops of rain on your face. Or put on a headset and rest in a flower patch next to a sleeping Totoro. Enjoy the beauty of life for a little extra moment today, and see what happens.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of The Virtual Reality Show. If you did, go ahead and give this video a big thumbs up and subscribe to the channel for more meaningful VR related content. If you'd like to talk more about these topics then go ahead and join my Discord, link in the description. I’m working on saving up for base stations to finally move ahead with full body tracking, so please consider donating or subscribing to my Patreon as every little bit really helps me in continuing forward with my dreams for this show. I’ve been your host, PHIA. And I’ll see you on next week’s episode. Bye!~