Sundance 2018: New Frontier Slate Heads To Space & Beyond With Black Eyed Peas, Rosario Dawson & 'Dinner Party' Along For The Ride

While Sundance has always been known for edgy films, that adjective becomes an understatement with the film festival’s 12th annual New Frontier program, a mindblowing crossroads between art and technology that continues to redefine the parameters of storytelling.

Last year’s projects, such as Melting Ice with former Vice President Al Gore took an environmental angle, but this year’s New Frontier largely blasts off into the the final frontier –space– with such projects as Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences, a live sci-fi master class with animation, music and artwork about the colonization of planets. If black holes are more your thing, there’s SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime co-created by Darren Aronofsky and Elastic Time, a mixed reality doc about space and time in which a real-time hologram of your body is an essential part of the cosmos. It’s narrated by Harvard-Smithsonian Center astronomer Tony Stark. In addition, there’s the Morgan Spurlock-co-collaborated project Space Explorers: A New Dawn, an immersive mobile VR that follows NASA astronauts on their missions.

More down-to-earth, is The Black Eyed Peas animated production Masters of  the Sun, which is set in a zombie-laden dystopian Los Angeles circa 1983, a place where only hip hop can save the day. Lead artists are the group’s will.i.am, apl de ap, and Taboo with Rakim, Queen Latifah, Jason Issacs, Stan Lee, KRS-One and Slick Rick providing voiceovers. Nothing says dystopian future better than interacting and unleashing  a naive, intelligent monster in Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made By Many. The retro inner city is also romanticized in BattleScar starring Rosario Dawson, an animated VR/mixed reality project set in 1978 NYC’s Bowery punk scene and the Lower East Side. Yung Jake, the CalArts grad who has taken the art world by storm with his hip hop visual hybrids, offers viewers a passenger seat in his Tesla as he raps about money, cars and drugs in On My Way. 

For the full list of 27 titles in Sundance’s 2018 New Frontier section which spans VR, AR, mixed reality and AI, scroll down.

Deadline co-Editor-in-Chief, Film Mike Fleming Jr., myself and Senior Editor Dominic Patten will lead our Sundance coverage with breaking news on the deals, the films, the panels, and the word on the streets of Park City and beyond. We will also have our Deadline Studio up and running again as we talk to filmmakers about their projects and the festival. The Sundance Film Festival will run from Jan. 18-28.

FILMS AND PERFORMANCE

*Austria (Lead Artist: Johann Lurf) — This film, compiling shots of clear night-time skies from throughout film history in chronological order, reveals that what humans may regard as an absolute image is actually quite unstable. This instability occurs not only of evolving technological parameters, but also as a result of period-specific trends in culture.

A Thousand Thoughts / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Sam Green, Joe Bini, Producers: Janet Cowperthwaite, Sam Green, Josh Penn) — A live cinema portrait of the legendary classical music group the Kronos Quartet. Green narrates the film and Kronos performs the soundtrack live. A meditation on music itself  –the act of listening closely to music, the experience of feeling music deeply, and the power of music to change the world. Cast: David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt, Sunny Yang.

Deep Astronomy and the Romantic Sciences / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Cory McAbee, Producers: Cory McAbee, Daryle Conners, Steve Holmgren, Richard Cole) — A live sci-fi event, presented in the form of two master‘s classes, featuring music, animation and artwork. Topics include the colonization of other planets, sentimentality reform, transdimensional drifting, the proper way to view the universe and the reason that humans
exist. Cast: Cory McAbee.

Organ Player / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Narcissister) — This hybrid performance/documentary film explores how ancestral data is stored in our bodies, impacting the lives we lead. On the personal level, the film investigates how the artist’s complex family history compelled them to create the masked, erotic performance character Narcissister. Cast: Narcissi, Sarah Lumpkin, Oscar Lumpkin, Bernard Lumpkin, Carmine Boccuzzi.

NEW TECHNOLOGIES

Experience Realistic Touch in Virtual Reality / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Andrew Mitrak, Greg Bilsland, Joe Michaels, Jake Rubin, Key Collaborator: Dr. Bob Crockett) — HaptX brings realistic touch to virtual reality for the first time. The innovative technology lets VR users feel the shape, movement, texture and temperature of digital objects. By providing advanced haptic feedback and natural interaction, HaptX enables unprecedented levels of realism in virtual experiences.

Awavena / U.S.A, Australia, Brazil (Lead Artist: Lynette Wallworth, Key Collaborators: Nicole Newnham, Tashka Yawanawa, Laura Soriano de Yawanawa) The Yawanawa, an indigenous Amazonian people, see immersive technologies as tools they can co-opt to share their connected worldview. Inviting artist Lynette Wallworth to their community, the Yawanawa share the visions of Hushahu, their first woman Shaman, and our technology renders visible the luminous world they have always known. Cast: Hushahu Yawanawa, Tata Yawanawa, Mutum Community.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made by Many / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Lance Weiler, Nick Fortugno, Rachel Ginsberg, Key Collaborators: Nick Childs, Hunter Owens, Brandon Powers) — By challenging dystopian perspectives around Artificial Intelligence, this immersive experience reimagines Shelley’s seminal work to
examine the cultural ramifications of pervasive, ubiquitous technology. Participants interact with an artificial intelligence, co-creating a shared narrative around the implications of unleashing this naive, intelligent “monster,” both mythical and imminent, into the world.

TendAR / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Samantha Gorman, Danny Cannizzaro) — A humorous and provocative installation that combines interactive storytelling, AR and emotion/face recognition technology to promote discussion about current topics in biometric data and artificial intelligence. Your guide: a fish-like creature who
amusingly analyzes the partners collaborating in the experience, their emotions and the world around them.

VIRTUAL/MIXED REALITY INSTALLATIONS

Zikr: A Sufi Revival / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Gabo Arora, John Fitzgerald, Matthew Niederhauser, Key Collaborators: Selim Bensedrine, Igal Nassima, Jennifer Tiexiera, Wilson Brown) — This interactive social VR experience uses song and dance to transport four participants into ecstatic Sufi rituals, while also exploring the motivations behind followers of this mystical Islamic tradition, still observed by millions around the world.

Elastic Time / Switzerland (Lead Artist: Mark Boulos, Key Collaborators: Robin Mange, Javier Bello Ruiz) — A mixed reality interactive documentary about space-time, narrated by astronomer Tony Stark (Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). A real-time hologram of your body is integrated into the observatory room; using the controllers, you bend space and time to your will, creating black holes, wormholes and time portals. Cast: Tony Stark.

Hero / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Navid Khonsari, Vassiliki Khonsari, Key Collaborators: Brooks Brown, Mark Harwood, Sinclair Fleming) — An immersive, large-scale installation that explores humanity in our modern era of civilian warfare. In this verite VR experience with multi-sensory engagement, participants embark upon their own primal journey. When everyday life is disrupted by profound crisis only human connection can inspire hope. Cast: Masoume Khonsari, Perla Daoud, Samer Sakka, Sam Sako, Said Faraj, Sue Shaheen.

VR_I / Switzerland (Lead Artists: Gilles Jobin, Caecilia Charbonnier, Sylvain Chagué, Key Collaborators: JeanPaul Lespagnard, Carla Scaletti, Camilo De Martino) — Blending art with technology, VR_I resulted from the encounter between Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin and the founders of Artanim, Caecilia Charbonnier and Sylvain Chagué. In this contemplative virtual dance piece, five spectators, immersed together and in real time, use avatars to investigate a performance among surprising effects of scale. Cast: Susana Panadés Diaz, Victoria Chiu, Diya Naidu, Gilles Jobin, Tidiani N’Diaye.

BattleScar / U.S.A., France (Lead Artists: Martin Allais, Nico Casavecchia, Key Collaborators: Arnaud Colinart, Raphael Penasa, Andrew Geller, René Pinell) — New York City, 1978: When Lupe, a Puerto Rican-American teen, meets fellow runaway Debbie, the Bowery’s punk scene and the Lower East Side are their playground. This coming-of-age narrative explores identity through animation and immersive environments as Lupe’s handwritten journals guide users through her year. Cast: Rosario Dawson.

DICKGIRL 3D(X) / United Kingdom (Lead Artist: Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Key Collaborator: James B Stringer) — DICKGIRL 3D(X) is the non-binary version of EVA v3.0, an avatar purchased online and appropriated by the artist. Through DICKGIRL 3D(X), the viewer becomes a post-human pleasure-seeker in an encounter with a submissive clay-like sculpture.

SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime/ U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Eliza McNitt, Key Collaborators: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel, Jess Engel, Arnaud Colinart) — Dive into the heart of a black hole and uncover the hidden songs of the cosmos. In this interactive VR experience, the breakthrough discovery of gravitational waves transforms how we see the Universe. Fall into the darkness, and you will find the light.

Wolves in the Walls (Chapter 1) / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Pete Billington, Jessica Shamash, Key Collaborators:Edward Saatchi, Saschka Unseld, Jennine Willett, Zach Morris) — All is not as it seems when 8-year-old Lucy’s imagination proves to be reality. Help her discover what’s hiding inside the walls of her house in this immersive fable, based on the work by Neil Gaiman, and choreographed by New York‘s critically acclaimed immersive
theater company, Third Rail. Cast: Elisa Davis, Elizabeth Carena, Cadence Goblirsch

Chorus / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Tyler Hurd, Key Collaborators: Chris Milk, Megan Ellison, Justice) — Crystals, lasers, monsters, heroines. Transform into fantastical female warriors in this social virtual reality experience. Six people can band together to battle evil in this epic journey of empowerment, all orchestrated to the song “Chorus” by Justice.

MOBILE VR LINEUP

Dinner Party / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Charlotte Stoudt, Laura Wexler, Angel Manuel Soto, Sam Gezari, Key Collaborators: Rachel Skidmore, Bryn Mooser, Erik Donley) — A short virtual reality thriller that dramatizes the incredible story of Betty and Barney Hill, who in the 1960’s reported the first nationally known UFO abduction case in America. Cast: Malcolm Barrett, Sarah Sokolovic.

Dispatch / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Edward Robles) — A small-town police dispatcher faces the greatest challenge of his career during an all-night crime spree. Cast: Martin Starr, Julianna Guill, Graham Shiels, Beth Grant, Samuel Stricklen, Kelly Jenrette.

Eyes in the Red Wind / South Korea (Lead Artists: Sngmoo Lee, Jongmin kim, Youngsam Jung, Key Collaborators: Jaehyun Park, Myuonggoo Ji, Youngsik Yu) — Friends and family members gather to throw a ‗soul scooping‘ ritual, to pacify the soul of a drowned man. When a possessed shaman reveals the murderous truth behind the death on the table, lust and secrets come to the fore. Cast: Sungmi Kim, Jaehyun Kim, Jeongmi Lee, Nara Kim.

Masters of the Sun / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: will.i.am, apl de ap, Taboo, Key Collaborators: Pasha Shapiro, Ernst Weber, Sara Ramaker, Eddie Axley) — In 1983, Los Angeles was spared from utter destruction driven by an ancient evil. The ghetto became ground zero for drug epidemic that transformed citizens into soul-sucking zombies through Z-Drops, until a ragtag crew used one weapon to take their city back: hip-hop. Cast: Rakim, Queen Latifah, Jason Isaacs, Stan Lee, KRS-One, Slick Rick.

Micro Giants / China (Lead Artist: Yifu Zhou, Key Collaborators: Teng Wang, Shuyi Qiao, Jia Zhang) — A computer-generated VR experience that gives an unprecedented and highly engaging perspective of insect life. When participantsenter into the micro world, tiny flowers and insects in normal life now become mighty trees and beasts. Cast: Pantawit Kiangsiri.

On My Way / U.S.A. (Lead Artist: Yung Jake, Key Collaborators: Mike Rosenstien, Ari Kuschnir, Andrew Schwartz) — In a Tesla, multiple Yung Jakes rap about money, cars, drugs and things of that nature, among interactive elements. Cast: Yung Jake.

Space Explorers: A New Dawn / Canada, U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Paul Raphaël, Felix Lajeunesse, Key Collaborators: Morgan Spurlock, Ryan Horrigan, Stéphane Rituit) Experience the journey of NASA astronauts as they navigate the trials and sacrifices of their training and missions. An immersive VR experience that shines a light on mankind’s most ambitious endeavor to understand our planet, our universe and our origins. Cast:Jeanette Epps, Jessica Meir, Victor Glover, Michael Gernhardt.

The Sun Ladies VR / U.S.A. (Lead Artists: Maria Bello, Celine Tricart, Christian Stephen, Key Collaborators: Wesley Allsbrook, Tim Gedemer, Mark Simpson) An in-depth look at the personal journey of Xate Singali: from her roots as a famous singer in Kurdistan, through ISIS sex slavery, and to her new life as a soldier on the front lines as she starts a female-only Iraqi fighting unit called the Sun Ladies. Cast: Maria Bello.

The Summation of Force / Australia (Lead Artists: Narelle Autio, Trent Parke, Matthew Bate, Key Collaborator: Anton Andreacchio) — In a moonlit suburban yard, two brothers battle one another in a mythic game of cricket. A study of the motion, physics and psychology of elite sport; a cosmic, dreamlike and darkly beautiful metaphor for life. Cast: Jem Autio Parke, Dash Autio Parke.

Your Spiritual Temple Sucks / Taiwan (Lead Artist: John Hsu) — Mr. Chang arrives to his ―Spiritual Temple, a place that represents one‘s destiny. To solve his marital crisis and financial problems, he summons his guardian – The Thunder God. They attempt to tidy his life, which turns out to be a big mistake…with hilarious consequences. Cast: Ctwo, Sun Ke-Fang, Han Chang, Andy Tsai, Wei Hao Tseng, Liu Kuan-Ting.

 

 

 

'Dinner Party' is a VR spin on the most famous alien abduction story

Devindra Hardawar/AOL

 

It was just a normal dinner party, with music on in the background and guests splintered off in lively conversation. But just as we were about to sit down to eat, our hostess made a startling confession. She and her husband recently went through a traumatic experience. Rather than just spell it out for us, she played an audio recording of a hypnosis session, which turned out to be their retelling of an alien abduction. Okay, it wasn't a typical supper shindig.

Even if you're a UFO skeptic, there's a good chance you've heard the story of Betty and Barney Hill. In 1961, the interracial couple was involved in one of the first widely reported alien abduction incidents. Dinner Party, which premieres at the Engadget Experience today in LA, tells their story through virtual reality. It does more than just let you relive an alien abduction: Creator Lauren Wexler is also aiming to explore the racial dynamics around the event.

After all, the couple each retold the "abduction" in unique ways. And when viewed through a modern lens, their story sounds more like a traumatic traffic stop -- the sort of thing that a black man might experience rather than a white woman.

While Dinner Party is only partially completed at this point, it's clear that Wexler and her team are aiming to create something more immersive than just sitting on a couch and slapping on a VR headset. It's set up like you're actually having a group meal with the Hills. I entered a room with an enormous dining table, which featured fancy plate settings and the usual ornaments you'd roll out for impressing your friends. As you'd expect, every seat also featured a Gear VR headset and headphones.

The experience kicks off with Betty recounting the beauty of the stars, which are rendered right in front of you. Eventually, I realized I also had a bird's eye view of the Hill's living room when I looked down. In one smooth, continuous take, the camera slowly panned down and through the space, which is rendered in 360-degree video. I ended up spinning in my seat several times to observe everything happening around me. A plate dropped, and everyone turned their attention to Betty, who went on to pull out the hidden tape.

As she hit play, the camera swooped through a nearby window, and we transitioned to the couple driving peacefully through upstate New York. The trees and road weren't fully rendered yet, but that didn't matter much since I was mainly focused on the couple. Barney complained about having to make a long drive back home to New Hampshire from Montreal, while Betty nestled in his shoulder. Suddenly, a bright light appeared behind them, and the panic-stricken pair could only hold each other as they braced themselves for the unknown.

That's just the first half of Dinner Party, though. Wexler says the second half will explore the couple's different experiences during the abduction. She's hoping to have the entire experience ready by early next year, just in time to submit to film festivals.

Wexler aims to make this the first of an ongoing VR series called The Incident, which will tackle famous supernatural tales through a new lens. Think of it as a virtual reality spin on The Twilight Zone. While she hasn't decided on the next topic yet, she's intrigued by the story of Doris Bither, the subject of The Entity haunting. Given VR's ability to transport us to entirely new worlds, it seems like a fitting tool to explore the supernatural.

Dinner Party, a co-production between TelexistRYOT and Skybound, was made possible through funding from the Engadget Alternate Realities grant program, established in May 2017. It debuted, along with four other prize-winning immersive-media projects, at the Engadget Experience on November 14th, 2017.

Gothic Tropic celebrates her new album with dizzying new live video for ‘Don’t Give Me Up’

Last Friday (May 26), Cecilia Della Peruti released her debut Gothic Tropic album, ‘Fast or Feast’. It’s a first work bursting at the seams with bright ideas and giant hooks for days. All being well, it should cement Peruti as an actual star. 

One of the main takeaways from ‘Fast or Feast’ is its studio sheen. Everything sounds like it’s been constructed right there in the room, perfected live and fine-tuned to the nth degree. Standout track ‘If It Had a Body’ is an instrumental juggernaut, sounding as if it’s built from the depths of Kevin Parker’s imagination. At no point does the record sound cobbled together on a laptop with nothing but a pirated copy of Garageband. 

In a new video for ‘Don’t Give Me Up’, Gothic Tropic brings the record’s live magic to life. It’s recorded in Los Angeles studio Nest Recorders. Not only that – it’s filmed in 360-degree virtual reality by TelexistVR, the likes of which Mark Zuckerberg would approve of. Stand side by side with Peruti, ogle at her super tall bassist, or get lots in Nest’s fancy decor. You’ve loads of options, just make sure you watch it. 

Watch video here


Read more at here

Capturing Everest shows full-length VR documentaries are getting closer

Today marks the launch of Capturing Everest, a four-part virtual reality documentary that premieres today through Time Inc.’s Life VR appCapturing Everest is technically a miniseries, with four episodes of eight or nine minutes. But given that they’re being released together and follow a single story, it comes off as something more substantial than the bite-sized work that we’re used to in the VR world — even if by another medium’s standards, it would still be pretty short.

Capturing Everest follows three mountaineers — Lisa Thompson, Jeff Glasbrenner and Brent Bishop — in their journey to the mountain’s summit. (Glasbrenner, who was the first American amputee to climb Everest, was profiled in a Sports Illustrated cover story as well.) A partnership with Endemol Shine Beyond USA, it was shot over the course of two months last year, using a series of complex camera setups that allowed for 360-degree filming in one of the world’s most treacherous landscapes. It’s the latest of several pieces Time Inc. has published since launching its unified VR platform last fall.

The documentary isn’t as gorgeous as the unrelated climbing experience Everest VR; according to the creators, it’s intentionally rough and gritty. But as a Fast Company profile notes, it’s remarkable how much material people more used to climbing than filmmaking managed to capture, particularly in a dangerous environment like Everest. (Apparently, footage of the descent was actually lost when a sherpa had to drop it to keep from falling.) And in the wake of pieces like the 25-minute Follow My Lead, it’s part of a gradual move toward longer-form features — allowing for more complex, ambitious stories.

Skybound Entertainment and Delusion Producing VR Horror Series

Immersive theater has become extremely popular in the last few years, particularly in New York and Los Angeles. Rather than plunking an audience down in front of a stage, immersive theater invites guests to become the protagonists, often requiring them to walk, crawl and maneuver through sprawling sets and interact verbally and sometimes physically with actors. Some shows even require audience members complete tasks or solve puzzles before advancing to the next part of the story, similar to escape rooms. Virtual reality offers a similar immersion. While each medium offers something the other does not, both seek to fully envelop an audience member in a narrative. That’s why it should delight you to know Skybound, the company behind The Walking Deadand Outcast, has announced its plans to develop Jon Braver’s interactive play Delusion for VR.

If you haven’t seen Delusion, it popped up in L.A. during 2011’s Halloween season. Los Angeles has a slew of haunts every year, and Delusion is by no means the only immersive show (it’s also reluctant to call itself a haunt, though the stories they tell are often the gothic horror variety). It is, however, one of the most popular, with tickets that routinely sell out right after they’re released. Even after only its inaugural year, it managed to attract Neil Patrick Harris as a producer for its 2012 show.

Skybound’s VR adaptation will surround Delusion’s 2014 Lies Within show. Written by Braver and Peter Cameron, Lies Within places you in the year 1947 and in the home of Elena Fitzgerald, a dark fantasy author who has vanished, along with her daughter. You are one of her biggest, most dedicated fans, and you have broken into Elena’s estate to suss out clues as to where she’s gone. However, inside her home, her creations had become reality.

Skybound and Braver have worked together to create new characters to inject into this fresh adaptation. As such, instead of it being a first-person experience where you are only you, you’ll be able to experience the story via multiple perspectives as those characters explore their surroundings.

“You’ll basically be able to follow a couple different PoVs whenever you watch, so you won’t have a strict autonomy, but [it’s not as if] you won’t be given any choices,” Rachel Skidmore, Skybound’s director of media development, told VRScout.

The experience won’t be like a game, necessarily, but, as in the play itself, there may be objects one must locate to move forward or other tasks that raise the stakes beyond a simple viewing. It will also mimic various pieces of the live show, where guests must hide, crouch or otherwise escape monsters inside Elena’s estate.

One might recall the game Steady Rain, which is ostensibly about a father who is searching for his son, who has been kidnapped by a serial killer. However, you’re not just that dad. You’re also an investigative reporter and a private detective, and each of those perspectives are crucial to getting the entire story. One might also recall GONE, a VR series that Skybound created with Wevr and Samsung for Milk VR. GONE also tells the story of a missing child and her mother, but because it is in VR, the viewer has several choices as far as what to look at while the story unfolds. There’s a re-watch value there, as paying attention to different focal points reveals different pieces of the whole narrative.

The same is true in live immersive theater. For instance, I went to Delusion’s most recent show only last week. This show, His Crimson King, is a vampire tale, full of the all the tropes any bloodsucker aficionado loves. We entered a dilapidated mansion and had to navigate the often deadly rivalry between the two distinct bloodlines that dwelled within. MILD SPOILER AHEAD: At one point, I was sent on a weapons finding mission only to be locked into a coffin and dragged, still inside said coffin, into another room where an indecisive vampire couldn’t decide if he wanted to feed on me or not. What’s key here is that I had no way of knowing what was happening to my friends while I was being primed for supper by my vampire kidnapper. I mean, sure, I could have asked them, but I will never have that actual experience unless I buy another ticket and go toDelusion again. I’ll never have every one-on-one interaction unless I go several times. But I could if I could replay the scene as someone else, multiple times. The tangibility of being thrashed around by a vampire wouldn’t be there, but it would offer me a complete narrative without requiring me to buy another ticket and physically go through it again.

“That’s the idea,” Skidmore said. “We’d like to provide those different PoVs for that very reason, the FOMO that you might have from not doing the same thing as your group. It’ll give you a chance to experience the story in different ways.”

Of course in VR, I might not necessarily have a group. While VR would be a more solitary way to experience the show, Skidmore doesn’t think it’s necessarily isolating, and that people will still want to discuss their own experiences with others.

“I hope that this gets people talking. You can’t repeat someone else’s experience,” she said. “In the same way that there have been conversations about GONE…I think there will be conversations about [Delusion].”

Right now, Delusion is Skybound’s focus for this type of adaptation, and Skidmore says they chose Braver because he’s “a great creator” and they’re excited by his vision. That may extend to Delusion-themed comic books or other media, too. So, at this point, it’s not clear if Skybound will take on more immersive theater adaptations, but Skidmore said Skybound would love to create additional VR experiences in the future. We’d love to see a VR version of The Tension Experience or Creep, and perhaps the most exciting thing—if VR were to become a common companion to immersive theater—would be the ability to experience these narratives without physically traveling to the cities where they’re mounted.

Sports Illustrated partnering to produce first complete Mt. Everest climb in Virtual Reality

Sports Illustrated will partner with Endemol Shine Beyond USA to produce the first documentary series of a complete climb of Mt. Everest to be presented in virtual reality.

The production, titled “Capturing Everest,” will debut in early 2017, on Time Inc.’s new LIFE VR platform, and will also be released on SI.com in 360-degree video. The production is presented by Sports Illustrated

The video was shot over the span of two months, using cameras on zip lines and on the body harnesses of climbers, who include six-time Everest summiteer Garret Madison and three-time Everest summiteer Brent Bishop. For the first time, viewers will be able to experience the climb in first-person using virtual reality. 

"Attacking the world’s highest summit seemed like the perfect place to go with our new VR initiative, and by partnering with Endemol Shine and adding in the world-class storytellers from Sports Illustrated, I think we have something truly special and unique to offer our audience," said Mia Tramz, managing editor of LIFE VR. "We can’t wait to bring viewers along for this once-in-a-lifetime journey. This is exactly the type of experience LIFE VR was created for."

Adds Time Inc. Sports Illustrated Group editorial director Chris Stone: "Capturing an ascent in VR makes the unattainable seem attainable while at the same time reinforcing the mythology of Everest. This production is both extraordinarily real and unreal all at once. We are thrilled to bring the viewer along for the odyssey."

 

Virtually Mike and Nora Debuting on Hulu for Daydream View Launch

This week sees the launch of Google’s next virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD), Daydream View, on Thursday. There’s going to be plenty of videogames and apps to get owners started, one of which will be Hulu. As part of the Hulu content line-up will be HuffPost RYOT’s scripted comedy Virtually Mike and Nora, debuting on Google’s headset.

Virtually Mike and Nora first came to light in September when HuffPost RYOT announced the show alongside 10-part news programme The Big Picture: News in Virtual Reality.

Shot using Nokia’s professional 360-camera, OZO, the comedy show will have five episodes for the inaugural season. Starring Nora Kirkpatrick (The Office, Edward Sharpe) and Mike O’Brien (SNL, Portlandia), the pair also co-created, co-wrote and co-directed the sketch series.

Virtually Mike and Nora experiments with what’s possible in VR using a narrative. Viewers will find themselves as a character in sketches and an omnipresent voyeur in others. Through the entire series the audience will be a necessary part of the humour.

While Virtually Mike and Nora will premiere on Hulu for Daydream View, the app is also available for Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift, with the series due to arrive on the latter headsets in the near future.

In addition to Hulu’s library of VR content, Hulu subscribers can stream the company’s entire library of 2D content, including current season content, past seasons of hit shows, movies and Hulu Originals, in immersive 3D environments.

INCREDIBLE 2016 NBA FINALS DOC COULD BE THE FUTURE OF VR VIDEO

Stop what you’re doing and find a Gear VR

by Samit Sarkar@SamitSarkar  Sep 14, 2016, 8:00am EDT

Late in "Follow My Lead: The Story of the 2016 NBA Finals," there’s a shot of Tyronn Lue, head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, urging his players to shut down the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 and secure Cleveland’s first sports title in 52 years. "One more stop!" Lue yells from the sideline.

Watching through a virtual reality headset, I felt like I was right there at courtside with him.

"Follow My Lead," available today for free in the Oculus Store for the Samsung Gear VR and as a 360-degree Facebook video, offers an incredible glimpse of the possibilities of 360-degree video — not just for sporting events, but for all applications. In addition to bringing basketball fans closer to the action of the unforgettable 2016 NBA Finals, both in the games and off the court, the mini-documentary could serve as an example to VR filmmakers of how to best use this nascent medium to its full potential.

I watched "Follow My Lead" in its entirety during a visit to the NBA Store in midtown Manhattan yesterday, sitting in a chair that could rotate 360 degrees. That was key to the viewing experience, since half the fun of watching something like this is being able to look around you in all directions. It really adds to that sense of presence when you can look up and see the Quicken Loans Arena’s gigantic scoreboard above you, or scan the crowd to see fans pumping their fists in the air.

Here, presence is more than a mere novelty; it’s the heart and soul of "Follow My Lead." Plenty of sports documentaries promise never-before-seen clips, and the footage provided by the 360-degree cameras used to film this documentary is spectacular in and of itself, both for the games themselves and for other situations. But more importantly, "Follow My Lead" is a never-before-seen way to experience one of the most unbelievable, memorable NBA Finals in basketball history.

The sheer variety of the camera angles in the film goes a long way toward bringing you into the action. Here’s an incomplete list from my notes: above the backboard, in the tunnel to the court, in a pregame huddle, on the practice floor, at center court in an empty arena, below the arm of the hoop, in the television broadcast control room, inside a Cleveland barbershop, at a postgame press conference and at multiple locations among the crowd.

The in-game footage speaks for itself in showing off the action. But the behind-the-scenes clips provide the glue that holds together "Follow My Lead" and helps tell the Cavaliers’ incredible comeback story. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving take control of the team’s destiny on the court, and you can also see James embracing his leadership role, telling his teammates during pregame huddles to rely on him for guidance. Even establishing shots are better in 360-degree video — going from a bright day on the San Francisco Bay to a spot by a dingy bridge in Cleveland says more than Michael B. Jordan’s narration ever could.

"Follow My Lead" is shot and edited in a way that minimizes the chances of breaking immersion; I only noticed a few instances — usually when the camera was situated in a thicket of screaming fans — in which it felt like I was occupying the same space as another person or object. Although some would consider it a nauseating no-no to move the camera in VR video, the film employs a few gentle tracking shots that made me feel as if I were being ferried through a simulator ride at a theme park.

Audio is just as important as video for VR, and "Follow My Lead" doesn’t disappoint in that respect. The documentary was shot with microphones that provide positional sound, which further contributes to immersion even in the most mundane applications. When I turned my head at a postgame press conference to catch a glimpse of the assembled reporters, the Warriors’ Steph Curry was speaking from behind me. And in a shot near some Cavaliers cheerleaders, I could hear their pom-poms rustle even though the crowd was raucous.

All that said, I kept coming back to Lue, the Cavs head coach, in the waning moments of Game 7. By now, it’s a cliche to say that VR and 360-degree video make you feel like you’re there. But that’s simply what I experienced in "Follow My Lead." And although I’ve never sat courtside at an NBA game, I now have an idea of what it’s like to be on the floor, close enough to hear coaches lead their players to a historic championship.

Standing on the court during the Warriors’ introductions at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, during the 2016 NBA Finals. 

BEHIND THE SCENES

The NBA told the producers of "Follow My Lead" that "it should feel like a 30 for 30 [film]," said Ari Kuschnir, referring to ESPN Films’ vaunted documentary series during an interview with Polygon yesterday.

Kuschnir is an executive producer and founder of Missing Pieces (stylized as m ss ng p eces, with the i’s removed), the production company that worked with Oculus VR and the NBA to make "Follow My Lead." The project came together very quickly — Eugene Wei, head of video at Oculus, told Polygon that he called the NBA a few weeks before the Finals to spitball ideas, and Kuschnir said that Missing Pieces got the green light perhaps one week before the series began in June.

"VR SPECIFICALLY IS STRATEGICALLY IMPORTANT FOR THE NBA"

It was a logical step for the NBA, which began looking into virtual reality long ago. As a test, the NBA first partnered with NextVR to record a game between the Warriors and the Denver Nuggets back in the 2013-14 season, and in the subsequent year, the league filmed parts of its annual All-Star Weekend in VR. These efforts led to opening night of the 2015-16 season, when NextVR livestreamed a game between the Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans in virtual reality. (These tests only offered a 180-degree field of view; "Follow My Lead" is a full 360-degree video.)

Sports leagues have begun experimenting with technology like this in recent years. The NHL has a partnership with GoPro to provide fans with on-ice footage from cameras mounted around the rink and on players’ helmets, and the league provided 360-degree video from its All-Star Game and Winter Classic this year. NextVR and Major League Baseball delivered VR highlights from the 2016 Home Run Derby. But the NBA is undeniably leading the charge.

"It's been established pretty clearly by Adam [Silver, the NBA commissioner] that not only innovation generally, but VR specifically, is strategically important for the NBA," said Jeff Marsilio, vice president of global media distribution for the NBA, in an interview with Polygon.

Tipoff at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, during one of the games of the 2016 NBA Finals.

In that respect, the parties involved in making "Follow My Lead" also wanted the film to push the boundaries of the medium forward. Wei noted that "VR video is a relatively new art form" in which "people are still stumbling through and figuring out what works and what doesn't work."

Even the length of the film is notable — at 25 minutes, it’s "the longest live-action VR video anyone’s seen," according to Wei. The vast majority of videos in this format are a few minutes long, since filmmakers aren’t yet sure that people are willing to sit in VR to watch a single piece of content for a long period of time. Kuschnir told us that until he saw the positive reception to "Follow My Lead" at the NBA Store, he had been worried that a half hour was too long. (In fact, the film is broken up into two parts, just in case.

"VR VIDEO IS A RELATIVELY NEW ART FORM"

In order to create a film that would work as a sports documentary and an innovative 360-degree video, Kuschnir brought together filmmakers from both worlds. "Follow My Lead" is co-directed by Gabe Spitzer, who has directed and produced documentaries for ESPN, HBO and Fox Sports, and Ray Tintori, a pioneer in VR video.

The directors had to figure out how to overcome three major limitations of the medium: You can’t move the camera (much), because it can be nauseating; you can’t zoom, because viewers must be able to look anywhere; and you can’t use cuts too frequently, because it can be disorienting.

They worked within those constraints, according to Kuschnir, and even bent the rules a bit in an effort to innovate. VR filmmakers tend to be conservative in changing camera angles, usually leaving about 10 seconds between cuts. In "Follow My Lead," the directors often made cuts after eight or even six seconds. I was able to follow the action in just about every instance; it was only once or twice that I had to take a second to figure out where I was.

Oculus Store artwork for "Follow My Lead: The Story of the 2016 NBA Finals." 

All of this required an "unprecedented level of access," according to Marsilio, and the project only worked because the NBA was willing to provide it. Kuschnir explained that the working relationship between the league and the filmmakers became more comfortable over time, and indeed, I noticed that the film featured camera angles from games later in the series that didn’t exist in the first few contests. (The Game 7 shot of Tyronn Lue that I raved about comes from a camera mounted on the scorer’s table along the sideline — you can actually see it behind Lue, to his left, in this photo.)

It all comes together in "Follow My Lead" to give you a new perspective on the highest-stakes basketball in the world, regardless of whether you watched this year’s NBA Finals when it happened. And if this is where the spectator experience for professional sports is headed, I’m fully on board.

Asked about Oculus VR’s interest in nongaming applications, Wei pointed out that John Carmack, the company’s chief technology officer — who, of course, was a renowned game developer for decades before he joined Oculus in 2013 — said at Oculus Connect 2 last year that VR adoption will be driven by content such as photos and videos.

 

"For broadening the audience to VR, video is a huge gateway experience," said Wei. "It’s going to be incredibly important.