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Robert Stromberg Talks Evolution of Narrative In a16z Podcast

February 8, 2017

RSA Director, Robert Stromberg sat down with the a16z podcast partners to chat about the growth of virtual reality, the importance of narrative and his award-winning The Martian VR Experience. Not in the mood to listen to the whole thing? Read on for some choice highlights.

As one of the most immersive (literally) storytellers in Hollywood, Robert Stromberg brings a background of production design, visual effects and direction to the world of VR. But, everyone starts somewhere.

“My father was a low-budget filmmaker and I grew up watching my dad make monster films in our garage,” he shares. “So, I was immediately struck with the fascination of not just film, but world creation. It was like magic to me at the time.”

From there, Stromberg embarked on an 18-year career in matte artistry and visual effects. After a call from James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic) in early 2005, Stromberg created his Academy Award-winning world of Pandora in Avatar. “It was extremely exciting,” Stromberg recalls. “For the first time, we felt like we were pioneering-entering into something new. It [Avatar] was the first time we were making a movie in a 360-degree world with a virtual camera. The only difference was that the camera wasn’t attached to a headset.”

Stromberg then went on to design the world of Alice in Wonderland and direct Maleficent, before officially entering the VR landscape with his The Martian VR Experience. 

With VR still in its infancy, Stromberg believes the future lies in a narrative-focused experience. He explains, “VR is literally a brand-new medium. The important part is to find that first narrative storytelling event that is so emotional- with real actors that will make you feel something. I think once that happens, a floodgate of other storytellers will get involved.” 

In the past year, VR has emerged as a pivotal cinematic tool. With all of the developing technology surrounding it and the growing number of platforms in which to experience it- the future for VR is immensely bright. Stromberg notes, “I can see very clearly, a time in the future when we’ll be looking at a sort of Netflix-type library of VR content to choose from and pay for a subscription. But right now, we go through websites like Steam and Oculus to download.” While this may seem like a big limitation to studios and consumers alike, Stromberg predicts that it will soon change. He continues, “Once there’s more compelling content, when people want to buy the content, that’s when it will expand.”


Robert Stromberg’s unique perspective gives him the ability to change the way stories are experienced, placing him perfectly at the forefront of VR. In the podcast, he brings up the idea and development of “branching narratives,” a choose-your-own-path sort of narrative, and how groundbreaking its implementation could be in VR. He also touches on the rejuvenation of the concept of “intermission,” and how that could change the way users experience a story. And let’s drop that he is working on an 18-minute VR experience with Steven Spielberg. At the end of the podcast, Stromberg leaves us with a promise: “This year is really focused on proving that you can tell an emotional tale. And have it compelling enough to have people engage and want to see more.” For VR and Stromberg, this is only the beginning.

This is just a glimpse into the incredibly informative interview provided by a16z. For more, listen to the full interview above, and see more from a16z here.

And be sure to keep up with Stromberg’s latest work here.

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Part of the Ridley Scott Creative Group