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

SCREEN ANARCHY, by 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. 

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.

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.