Immersive Director Jak Wilmont Goes Beyond the Stars with Please State Your Name

Do you remember what you were doing when you just got out of high school? Probably not making an immersive short film. Jak Wilmont, Director and Co-Founder of Disrupt VR in Atlanta spent his formative years obsessing over video games and 360 experiences and decided to make one of his own. We caught up with him to talk about Please State Your Name, the film about a little robot trying to find his head.

A still shot from Please State Your Name of it’s titular robot.

The film almost gives us a kind of Wall-E vibe. Where were did you get your inspiration for the story as well as the animation style?

Ever since I was a curious 6-year-old, Pixar movies on glorious VHS were on a constant loop in my basement. Pop the tape, rewind, repeat… with a side of Capri-Sun and goldfish. So naturally when I started planning the dive into VR, I wanted to channel that whimsical nostalgia that is prevalent in Pixar type films.

As for the storyline, I actually came across a Reddit comment that outlined the story of a robot that could only say the words “Please State Your Name”. I was captured by the topic and messaged the author, Leon De La Garza, asking him if I could adapt the idea into a short film. He was totally down. You can read the full story of Henrino and Fredino the robots here.

A screenshot of the Reddit thread that inspired Pease State Your Name.

We heard you made the film right out of high school, which is incredible. What made you want to start your own VR animation company?

Yep! I did make the film right out of high school! I was in a predicament that seemed like such a big choice for most high schoolers during their senior year — picking a career path that could ultimately shape your young adult life.

Thankfully during lunch one day, I came across a video from Oculus Story Studio where founder Saschka Unseld explained virtual reality animated films. It was one of those “it just clicked” moments where I thought, “Oh. This is it. This is what I’ve been looking for.”

After that I dove head first into Unreal Engine tutorials and have been experimenting with this thing we call VR storytelling ever since.

Your upcoming film La Camila is coming out soon. What can we expect from future Studio Disrupt projects?

The goal for future projects, including La Camila, is to find that sweet spot of involving the viewer in the story without making it feel like a task-oriented video game. I truly think in the next 20 years, families will jump into headsets and experience 90-minute films that have branching storylines and multiple endings. For this to be a reality, we have to ensure that the experiences we create aren’t too complicated and have just enough interaction to make you feel grounded. A mixture of video game and film that allows an 8-year-old to or an 80-year-old to be fully immersed in the world we create.

Jak working on his 360 animated masterpiece at DisruptVR.

Would we recognize anyone as the voice of our title robot friend?

I would be lying if I didn’t say all the voices are just me talking into my mic at 2AM with post-production-robot effects added.

How does creating animated experiences in 360 differ from 2D animation?

I’ve sort of had to change the way I imagine stories to adapt to 360 filmmaking. I don’t come from a traditional film-industry background, which has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that when I’m writing a story, I’m not necessarily thinking about it in traditional filmmaking terms — storyboards, scenes, screenplays, etc. Instead, I try to think of it as an actual place that the viewer is traveling to where a story is unfolding.

Another huge difference is pacing.

The missing head of the Please State Your Name robot.

I’ve noticed things can move a lot quicker on a 2D screen, but when you try to keep that same pacing in VR it tends to feel rushed or underwhelming. Think about it like this: You’re driving down the road playing some poppin’ tunes, then suddenly the driver in front of you puts on the breaks causing you to slam in the back of their car. The moment before impact, time almost seems to slow down. Whether that’s a survival trait passed down from our cave dwelling ancestors, or just a “glitch in the matrix”. There’s a distinct 1–2 seconds where the amount you’re thinking doesn’t match up to the time passed. Trying to recreate that “slowed time perception” for a VR film is different than in a traditional film.

All in all, I’m still trying to figure out how to tell stories in this medium and having a great time doing it. That’s what is so great about our industry, it’s a blank slate!

Watch Please State Your Name on Jaunt now.