A 2015 Bond University film and television graduate has made his mark on Hollywood after producing a world-first virtual reality (VR) experience for the new blockbuster film, Suicide Squad.
Harrison Norris worked with fellow Bond alumna, Emily Tate, on the set of the new action film starring Margot Robbie and Will Smith, where Norris worked as VR director and action pre-visualisation artist, and Tate as stunt department production assistant.
After Suicide Squad premiered in the United States, an exclusive VR experience was released alongside it, the first of its kind, that puts viewers in the middle of one of the movie’s action scenes. The experience is due to be released in Australia soon.
Norris, who produced and directed the VR project, said it began as a ‘wild idea’ he pitched to the producers who quickly saw its potential and jumped on board.
“I was initially recruited for, and subsequently led, a secret VR department within the production of Suicide Squad, alongside the best producers ever,” he said.
“I pitched a shift of focus from shooting a ‘behind the scenes’ of the film in VR, to an in-narrative piece, taking a scene directly from the script and shooting it in VR.
“The crew loved the idea, but the problem was the VR cameras couldn’t shoot any closer than four feet, which made it difficult to emotionally engage with the scene and make the experience feel ‘real’.”
Norris had a solution. The 19-year-old, who graduated from Bond University in 2015 after becoming the youngest student to be accepted into the Film & TV program, developed a concept for a new VR camera that could be worn around an actor’s head, providing the world’s first, true live-action, first-person experience.
“My friend and fellow Bond graduate, Emily Tate, flew with me to LA to interview camera houses, post supervisors and engineers to build this new camera,” Norris said.
“In the following weeks I oversaw the project and guided the design as three talented specialists brought the ‘Mobius’ from a nutty plan to a functioning camera.
“The result is a VR experience that allows the viewer to literally see out of the actor’s eyes – if you’re playing Margot Robbie, you can see yourself swinging her bat and shooting as if it were you; and if you look left, there is Will Smith fighting right beside you.”
Norris said while it had been a year since his Mobius camera was created and VR technology had now caught up, it was revolutionary for its time and kick-started the creation of his own VR company, Proxi, that now routinely worked with major studios including Warner Brothers, Paramount and Dreamworks.
“We’re still breaking every rule we can, most recently proving it’s possible for filmmakers to edit and/or move the camera in VR without disorientating the audience – hence busting one of the best known myths about VR – and there’s more to come,” Norris said.
Tate, the 21-year-old daughter of Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, said since graduating from Bond last year (2015) she had landed a number of roles in the film industry, including her ‘life changing’ experience on Suicide Squad.
“What I learnt from my time on Suicide Squad was beyond what I could have imagined; every single day there was something new for me to see, learn and feel,” she said.
“My career is really taking off and I have recently returned from New Zealand where I was working on Scarlett Johansson’s film, Ghost In The Shell, as the stunt department assistant coordinator.
“My next job will start later this month (August) as production secretary on a film called Flammable Children starring Guy Pearce and Kylie Minogue.
“I’ll be working alongside Harrison again on this film, and I’m also working with his VR company Proxi, so it’s really exciting to see two ‘Bondies’ reaching their dreams.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without Bond and we are both really grateful for our time there.
“One of the biggest things that Bond taught me was about etiquette on set, which allowed me to fit in as a filmmaker, and not just a film student.
“My degree at Bond covered all the aspects of what it’s like to work in the film industry so when I went head-first into my career, I didn’t feel intimidated.”
Bond University Director of Film and Television, Associate Professor Dr Michael Sergi, said he was not surprised the two were recruited for the film.
“Both Harrison and Emily were hard-working, passionate and dedicated students,” he said.
“They used their time at Bond to learn as much as they could about the film and television industry, and eagerly grabbed every opportunity that came their way.”
Norris attended the Suicide Squad premiere in New York on August 1 and will return to the Gold Coast next week for a short break before his next gig.
“I’ll be directing a whole bundle of short-form VR projects with Proxi that I’m not allowed to talk about yet before I start my role as second unit director on Flammable Children,” said Norris.
“I’m also attached to direct a feature next year in LA so I’m staying busy.”
The Suicide Squad VR experience debuted at Comic-Con last week where thousands of people lined up for hours to trial it. It will be officially released in Australia today (August 4) through Samsung Gear VR and at multiple physical installations worldwide.