3 Ways to Guide Viewer Attention in Virtual Reality



I’ll admit this was a worry for me when I first dabbled in VR film-making. For the past however many years, we’ve been trained that where a camera is placed, is where the viewer will look. How could it be any different?

However, as I continued with production of Please State Your Name I found the idea of having your viewer look anywhere was freeing. For the first time you can have a little cockroach crawl behind a piece of garbage while your main characters talk, maybe someone will notice? Maybe they won’t.
VR fundamentally opens up the door to experience a film differently with each viewing.

That being said, here’s some of the best ways I’ve found to guide your viewer to points of interest in your film.

The most obvious and effective.
With VR and 360 video, spacial audio is one of the most important factors. After all, “The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie.” – Lord George Lucas

VR is no exception.


Say you have a scene with two characters in a room. You can assume for the most part your viewer is going to be looking at these two subjects as they’re conversing. Now say you want to introduce a third character. You may choose to add the sound of a car engine approaching from the outside, or the sound of footsteps and a door opening behind the viewer. Naturally the viewer will turn around to see where this new sound is coming from.

Obviously not everyone will turn around, but for the most part we’re accustomed to looking in the direction of new sounds. This is a simple yet effective way to guide your scene as your original vision.


This concept can relate to the fundamentals of drawing.
A (good) artist will keep in mind where the observer’s eyes will dart when viewing his or her painting. Through the use of slopes, angles, and lights a painter can draw your eyes to the subject of their painting.
The same can be applied for VR Films.

light pic

Picture this, you’re standing in the middle of a street at night. (What you’re doing there I have no idea, you psycho.)
The houses all have dim lights glowing from behind curtains. All the streetlights are out. Except one. About 100 feet in-front of you.  Obviously you’re going to keep an eye on that single streetlight because you’re worried an axe murderer is going to walk into the light and murder you. Right?

Through that scene we’ve light the surrounding area (houses), but have also directed the viewer to the most important part of the scene (the streetlight).


The holy grail of VR.
If you do a quick google search on VR Motion Sickness you’ll see countless warnings not to include camera movement in VR games and 360 video.

For the most part I believe this is true, however I’ve found that if the viewer has something to focus on, or if the camera is moving at a slow pace, motion sickness can be avoided.

movement pic

Let’s setup one more scene:
You fade into a wide open room people with people all around. As you fade in the camera is already moving forward towards a man standing in the crowd. Two things are happening here:
1. We’re establishing a grounded environment, (the people) that the viewer can look at and register “Oh, I’m moving past these people”
2. We’re establishing the point of interest, (the man) that the viewer will naturally want to look towards since we’re moving in that direction.

Hopefully, if you haven’t moved the camera too fast your viewer won’t get dizzy. Or turned off from your film entirely.


I’m by no means saying these are written in stone rules. Just things I’ve found that work for me. VR Filmmaking is new and no-one’s a professional at it yet. (Anyone who says they are is lying)

But that’s the beauty, it’s a wild west out there.

Currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia. Jak is a full-time Creative Director at HeyJoeCoffee and part-time founder at StudioDisrupt.