Sound whether music, soundscape or voiceover narration, is critical to making virtual reality realistic. We are more forgiving of visual elements, be it animation, CGI, even imperfect video. But sound orients us to place and space and directs and manipulates emotional input. Sound becomes the anchor to the real. Looking at expanding applications of virtual reality, one thing is emerging in terms of voiceover. Realism is the key.
Break it Down – VR Sound
Like in film, a soundscape in virtual reality has multiple layers. There’s the ambient sound, the rain, wind, reflective surfaces, crickets, even. Sometimes a music score used to build tension and provide relief, give emotional cues to the one engaging with the VR. Orientation is also very important. Where is the noise coming from? Behind you? To the left on the ground? Speech, whether in the form of a scene the user participates in or a guide or narrator works best when it is compelling, convincing and enhances the realism the piece is trying to portray.
Voiceover in VR
Narration and voiceover in virtual reality is the antithesis of announcer-speak. Because the sound is at furthest a surround sound system in a room, and more often coming through headphones tucked less than an inch away from an eardrum, the voice has to respect that proximity. The two positions we encounter most in narration are the immediate scene laid out before the player/user. A film type of vocal reference is most used for these dramatizations. The other voiceover position is the guide, friend, comrade at arms or occasionally, the intimate foe. The proximity and intimacy makes the voiceover very powerful. A light touch and a soft approach is an incredibly effective counterpoint to the rest of the stimulus being fed to the user. And with everything on the leading edge, conversational narration and a storytelling voiceover delivery is key
Voiceover Supported VR Applications
As costs decrease and technology becomes more accessible, VR is being envisioned in a myriad of applications. Here is a sampling of areas where VR is being produced. All of which feature voiceover.
Directories & guides to stores – marine, grocery, catalogues
Games – entertainment
Tour guides – Museums, cities
Education – recreating historical civilizations, science microscopic-astronomic explorations
Real Estate – sales, proposals, development
Surgery – simulation
Physical therapy – simulations
Flight & aerospace simulators
Military – safely replicate dangerous training situations
Car – engineers test safety applications in VR setting & sales letting customers test drive vehicles
Sports – training to streaming
Mental health – primary method for treating PTSD and phobias
Awareness – National Autistic Society made film on what it feels like to be autistic
Geography – Google Expeditions for kids or Marriot’s Travel Brilliantly i.e. to Hawaii
Language skills – Imperial College in China for Mandarin
VR is still new, but expanding rapidly. Even though gaming is still a huge arm of its production, it’s fascinating to watch its early evolution unfold. What VR productions have you been part of? What style voiceover did you use? Do you see another area it’s being used that I haven’t mentioned here?
Kim Handysides is a female voiceover artist who has played character or narrators in over 3 dozen virtual reality productions in the last year.