VR is getting very, very good; SXSW 2018

Alex McLevy

Thursday 4:40pm

SXSW 2018

Tech is playing a larger role at SXSW with every passing year, and despite the deeply irritating fact that some tech-bro says the word “disrupt” approximately every .42 seconds somewhere in Austin this week, there’s one arena that’s seen a marked leap forward: Virtual reality tech. Cost is still the biggest impediment to any sort of mainstream embrace of the technology: Dropping a grand on a computer (without even factoring in the cost of required headset, controllers, sensors, etc.) is still out of most people’s reach. But holy hell, the things being done with VR at this point make it an inevitable next step in pop culture and entertainment. At least, I hope it is, which is the first time I’ve thought that. Here are some of the reasons why.

Best purely cinematic VR experience: Dinner Party

It seems like a lot of film directors are loath to embrace VR for the same reason that Roger Ebert famously dismissed video games as a form of art: They think it’s a gimmick that punishes artistry in the name of the medium’s requirements. (Or maybe they just have bad memories of Avatar, and suspect this is that times a billion.) But there are techniques to use VR for storytelling in thrillingly new ways, much of which has to do with the Wild West frontier of crafting imagery meant to be explored in 360 degrees and an ever-changing perspective. And on both of those fronts, Dinner Party was the clear winner.

Based on the actual story of the Hill UFO abduction, the 15-minute short uses recreations of hypnosis sessions involving a couple who believe they were abducted. It explores new ways of communicating narrative through camerawork, to marvelous results. It begins with the viewer dozens of feet above the domestic location and slowly dropping in, a move the film’s executive producer Erik Donley is justifiably proud of. As he explained after I saw it, many of the complaints about VR come thanks to the many people molding story to fit the technology, instead of the other way around. With fascinating cinematography (thanks to DP Sam Gezari) that keeps the single-take film constantly unearthing new frames of reference, it’s a marvel. (Full disclosure: As I watched the end credits, I realized a dear friend had a small role in it.)

Best “holy shit” moment of innovation: “Spheres: Songs Of Spacetime”

This second chapter of a three-part series executive produced by Darren Aronofsky is based on research that just won a Nobel Prize. Director Eliza McNitt was somewhat in mourning when I saw the film, Stephen Hawking having just died the day before (“I owe him my imagination,” she told me), and his influence is all over her short about the nature of gravitational waves—essentially ripples in space-time that occur when black holes collide. Narrated by Jessica Chastain, the film grants viewers the experience of falling into a black hole, and creates a very human metaphor for the ways these waves happen.

McNitt was repeatedly told the “holy shit” aspect of her project was too difficult to pull off, but she persevered, and thank goodness she did. I hate to spoil the surprise, but it’s worth hearing about since most people who watch the short via Oculus won’t get the pleasure. At a certain point, two black holes have collided, and suddenly Chastain suggests you speak aloud, as a way to evoke waves of your own in the space around you. Skeptically, I said, “Uh, okay”—and was immediately rewarded by the film translating my utterance into gravitational waves, creating a personal connection to the material. I proceeded to say “Holy shit” every couple of seconds for about a minute straight, watching my words miraculously translated into visual grammar around me. I don’t know how McNitt did it, but it was amazing.

Best screw-it-let’s-have-fun VR: Smash Party

There’s a reason this game is already popular with VR users. Smash Party is the epitome of simplicity: Grab a bat and start smashing things, accruing points as you do. That’s all there is to this arcade-style game. I found myself swinging awfully hard, and was breathing heavily by the end of it, which doubles as both an endorsement and warning. One of the developers told me his favorite review online by a player was one sentence: “We used to have an Ikea table.” This was just a small updated version tailored for SXSW, which meant the moon was wearing a cowboy hat, among other things.

Best use of VR for a social message: “Greenland Melting”

A collaboration with PBS’ Frontline + Nova, this VR short used photogrammetry capture to create a trip to Greenland, combining thousands of photos for an immersive icy landscape. The main message of the film—that glaciers largely melt from below the water, not above it—is achieved via a clever maneuver: Instead of forcing viewers to be submerged, it drops you right above the water, and unless you’re completely devoid of curiosity, your instincts for exploration take over, and you get down on one knee in order to look below the surface. It’s the audience’s own choice to learn the cause of the ice melt on Earth, which psychologically ties you to the material. It’s a subtle cue to your brain that even though climate change is almost too big to contemplate, this is likely the greatest existential threat facing humanity.

Nerdiest use of VR storytelling: Meow Wolf—The Atrium

If you haven’t yet heard of Meow Wolf, you likely will soon: The geeky arts collective is rapidly expanding. What began as a group of discontented artists making elaborate installments in Santa Fe is now a multimillion-dollar company, with a strange bowling alley turned mystical house art installation (originally funded by George R.R. Martin, of all people) expanding into multiple cities and projects. All of this is recounted in the new documentary Meow Wolf: Origin Story, an engaging if messy and overlong film detailing the group’s history from basement parties to governmental sponsorships and hundreds of employees. At heart, the collective endeavors to make immersive and unusual public art installations, often a combination of sci-fi, steampunk, fantasy, and surrealism threaded through with narrative and bountiful imagination.

 

 

 

Meow Wolf: The Atrium

Photo: Alex McLevy

The group’s newest VR experience, The Atrium, sees participants transformed into an anthropomorphic gerbil. You’re pint-sized, but floating around on a steerable dirigible as you explore the bedroom of a precocious teenage girl. Oh, and there’s also a story involving a cult, dimensional rifts, and more, but a lot of the fun comes from how massive the VR platform is. Looking something like a space-age MMA fight ring, you’re plunked into a middle of an environment three times the size of your average VR maneuvering area, making it a much more immersive experience. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and a nice reminder why Meow Wolf actually earns all that praise.

VR MVP Award: Awake

Writer-director Martin Taylor hit upon something special when he put together the idea for Awake, a new eight-part partially interactive series that follows different characters as they explore the nature of dreams, life, and the occasionally blurry lines in between. Martin has been a lucid dreamer almost since birth; “I’ve always been keen to communicate those experiences to other people,” he tells me after I watch the first part of episode one. “I want to give people goosebumps.”

 

 

 

Image: StartVR

The project plunges participants into the middle of a strange story about a man who lost his wife to some mysterious force, and now sits broken, unable to put together the steps necessary to bring her back. We know it has something to do with dreaming—Martin admits that excerpts from his personal dream diaries play a role in the universe he’s created—and the living room into which you’re launched is chock-full of clues, every object imbued with meaning and hidden significance. In some ways, it reminded me of a 21st-century version of Myst, only transformed into more narrative than game. But the narrative rewards exploration: Simple controls allow you to traverse the room, getting a closer look at items, picking up a ringing phone, and more.

By the end of the series, Martin promises, you’ll not only understand all the little details uncovered along the way, but you’ll also realize what role you, the participant, play in the story. (In that sense, there’s a distinct whiff of the audacious fourth-wall breaking currently being performed by Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot.) He collaborated with numerous others to shape the script, including Red Dead Redemption writer Christian Cantamessa, giving it a depth and scope rarely found in games. But if it’s not a game, it’s not quite a pure TV series, either. It inhabits a space between the two. In other words, it’s doing something new and exciting, pushing the entire medium forward, and it deserves a closer look.

Noir Thriller VR Series ‘Memory Palace’ In Works From Telexist & Good Deed

 

by Patrick Hipes

February 22, 2018 3:54pm

    EXCLUSIVE: Telexist, the VR production studio behind the Sundance Film Festvial-premiering narrative film Dinner Party, and its parent company Good Deed Entertainment have zeroed in on their new reality. The companies are teaming on Memory Palace, a 10-episode VR noir thriller series that will be designed to be part cinematic VR and part interactive. Production is set to begin in April.

    The series will center on Owen Knowles, a gifted young lawyer with the knack for seeing peoples’ lies. Disbarred after the mysterious death of his fiancée, he turns to legal depositions as a means to find the truth and seek revenge, and as a human polygraph, he is reminded daily that there is no truth…everyone lies, and everyone has a secret.

    “We’re constantly finding new ways to tell stories in this fast-evolving medium,” Telexist co-founder Erik Donley said. “The opportunity to take this fascinating narrative and add interactivity is an exciting challenge that we’ve been working on for several years now. We are developing this project to be at the forefront of where interactive storytelling is going.”

    Telexist, founded in 2015 by Donley and Sam Gezari, counts clients including NASA, SkyBound Entertainment and RYOT.

    “GDE is eyeing the future platforms available for content distribution and ways that storytelling can be experienced,” Good Deed CEO and founder Scott Donley said. “Following our successes this year, we’re excited to explore the VR medium with Telexist on Memory Palace and look forward to heading into production and bringing this story to life.”

    Good Deed is behind this year’s Oscar-nominated animated film Loving Vincent.

    Sundance 2018 Dispatch: Best VR Lineup Ever Explodes at New Frontier

    Ryland Aldrich

    Unofficially the kickoff to "Year Four" of VR storytelling content, this year's New Frontier program was undoubtedly the best ever collection of narrative VR experiences. We are finally leaving behind the tech demo stage! Many of these pieces will be remembered in years to come as signposts of quality early VR creation. Check out this link for a quick refresher on our past VR coverage and enjoy this rundown of nearly every VR piece at Sundance 2018. 

    The Dinner Party
    We discussed Angel Manuel Soto's (made with Skybound Entertainment, RYOT, and Telexist) narrative short when an early demo played in L.A. a few months back. To say it has come a long way is an understatement. This is a finely crafted story of alien abduction that really leans into subjective experiences that were captured on tape in the 1960s and does so with awesome and stylized techniques. It's scary at times without being a "horror" and is really a mark as to how high quality 360 video can be realized. 

    Chorus
    Anyone who remembers last year's super fun cats+champagne music video experience Chocolate will be happy to jump back into any VR experience by Gentle Manhands founder Tyler Hurd. This time the music is by Justice and the experience is a big step forward. You assume the body of one of six women warriors of various species and fly off to save the universe with the help of your buddies. This multi-user experience draws on Within's success of Life of Us (Chris Milk served as producer and Aaron Koblin EP) with the multi-users being propelled forward. Hurd's sense of humor and beautiful character design really shines making this one of the coolest and most fun VR experiences to date.

    Dispatch
    Edward Robles 4-part narrative is a beautifully animated story about a 911 dispatcher working to solve a crime (not dissimilar to the World Cinematic Competition film The Guilty). The VR piece uses innovative vector art along with lighting effects and some limited video. It also uses audio cues in a way that evokes the wonderful Notes on Blindness. This is one of the most visually stunning VR pieces to date and the fact that notable actors such as Martin Starr were cast greatly add to the quality. Robles, who was the writer behind Dark Corner's Mule, worked with Oculus and Here Be Dragons on the project and the top notch craftsmanship really shows. This is quite simply a "Must Do" experience. 

    The Sun Ladies
    Another strong piece with an unintentional link to a film in the festival is actress Maria Bello's mixed animated-live action docu piece about Yazzidi women who are fighting back against their ISIS captors with a unit in the Iraqi Army called the Sun Ladies. (The link is to the documentary On Her Shoulders about a Yazidi woman who has become the figurehead for her people after escaping sex slavery). Made with Celine Tricart and Christian Stephen, the piece is immaculately made with both the animated and stitched video portions nearly flawless. It's both powerful and informative. 

    Wolves in the Wall
    Chapter 1 of Pete Billington and Jessica Yaffa Shamash's interactive animated narrative introduces you to 8-year-old Lucy. In innovative fashion, Lucy actually draws you, her imaginary friend, and then tasks you with helping her discover the secret wolves living in her house. Based on a Neil Gaiman story, this first chapter is just a taste of what's to come: an immaculately drawn and extremely interactive story with fascinating hints at evolution of AI. At least two more chapters are on the way from the newly formed Fable Studios, founded by Billington and fellow Oculus Story Studio alum Edward Saatchi. 

    Inside The Massive VR Intersection At Sundance Film Festival

    Lauren deLisa Coleman

    We're about mid-way into the power-packed Sundance Film Festival currently taking place in Park City, Utah, and certainly, one of the biggest buzzwords on the ground is Virtual Reality (VR).  The creativity and discussion and behind the intersection of this tech plaform and film is even bigger this year than last Festival.

    Sundance Institute curated a collection of cutting-edge independent experimental media works by creators who have leveraged VR, AR, mixed reality (MR) and/or AI.  Naturally, competition is stiff when it comes to be included at Sundance, no matter what the medium. In fact, the Festival received over 13,000 submissions from both offerings in both the traditional and new tech categories.  A mere 24 of those were selected as documentary and narrative virtual reality works that would be included in Sundance 2018.

    Robert Redford, President and Founder of Sundance Institute, stated in a press release, “Technology-enabled storytelling continues to develop into a thriving industry. It’s essential to protect the creative spaces where creators can develop work and reach audiences independent of commercial pressures. The work that we showcase at New Frontier sets the agenda for the year in creative cross-media storytelling.”

    Indeed, the works were experienced at either New Frontier Exhibition, held at  Kimball Art Center or at The Ray. Filmgoers and techies are able to view not only innovative  VR and MR works at this location but also immersive dance, as well.  As a companion offering, The New Frontier extends to a site called The Ray where works ranging from VR, MR, and AR to AI and new media technologies are also currently on display.   Of particular note is an area called The Box which is a 40-seat mobile VR cinema showcasing a number of various film projects and was created by an experiential entertainment company called Two Bit Circus for Sunance. A number of break-through projects are being shown at the sites.

    For example, Awavena, a film about an indigenous Amazonian people called the Yawanawa. The project tells the story of  Hushahu, their first woman Shaman. The technology renders visible the luminous world this tribe has always known.  Rosie Lourde, Investment Manager Online Production, Screen Australia which provides grants for digital series and immersive and which partially funded Awavena, was on hand for the film's debut at Sundance.  She also noted that the film has been invited to European premiere and the World Economic Forum at Davos in order to help key decision makers to experience the journey of Hushahu becoming the Yawanawa's first female shaman. The team hopes to influence global policy around indigenous land rights and broader issues of gender parity. Such is the power of new technology.

    In addition, Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made by Many 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.

    Dinner Party is  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, and was created and written by Charlotte Stoudt whose writing and producing credits include Homeland  and House of Cards.  "This process is very challenging but exhilarating, " Stoudt told me. "Because VR can be so intimate and yet so alienating at the same time, we knew that it was the perfect platform for such a story. It's simply ideal since the medium lends itself so well to something that continues to bewilder and perplex us."  Dinner Party, which is produced by Skybound Entertainment, RYOT, and Telexist, is actually a pilot for a proposed upcoming series called The Incident.

    Many members of the teams from the above, rubbed shoulders with those from the traditional theatrical filmmaking work during the packed opening party for the Festival which was held at Sundance TV HQ, further signaling the rise of the tech-infused filmmaker.

    Once the celebration was over,  a whopping 63 panels kicked off the official programming, and much of the focus of such panels provided an even deeper dive into the current state and future of VR and film. For example,  Mozilla and Sundance Film Festival presented, VR the People: The importance of open access to tools for creators and publishers. The panel focused on how artists and creators can explore ways in which technology can be used to push the limits of storytelling.

    With the proliferation of virtual reality in almost every entertainment vertical, the field is exploding for storytellers, game designers, narrative filmmakers, visual artists and beyond, and growing into a multibillion-dollar industry, and Artificial Intelligence is a major factor within this explosive opportunity.

    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.