Sundance Recap: VR is still buzzing through my mind

I just got back from my yearly stint to Sundance and what a year this year was. What made this year different is that this year everyone could feel a change within in the Festival - Film has to now share the spotlight with its little sisters and brothers, VR, Interactive and AR showcased at the New Frontier! The future is here, welcome to the Metaverse!

As much as Sundance is still all about the wonderful films the filmmakers bring each and every year, the innovative projects at the New Frontier might not quite challenged films in numbers yet, but they challenge them in headlines and on everyone’s lips. Sundance was abuzz with talk about the more than 30 VR experiences at the New Frontier and others at sponsor venues.

Below are my Top 3 picks:

One of my all time favorite VR experience was The Martian VR Experience 20th Century Fox’s first exploration into VR. Created by Fox Innovation Lab with the Production Company VRC and Director Robert Stromberg.

This experience impressed me foremost with its fantastic visuals and integration of interactivity.  It is a beautiful marriage of gaming and film, which shows us how VR can be successfully used for any movie’s PR campaign or extra feature offerings.

It obviously help that I had the chance to partake in the experience in a D-Box rumble chair. I wonder how or if the experience would be negatively influenced if the physical aspect of the chair would be taken away.  But I think no matter if you have access to the chair or not, the fact that you can become the films lead character and maneuver and complete assignments like he does in the film, allows you an unprecedented access into the story and the character, which accomplishes exactly what VR is supposed to; it allows you to become a part of the story.  

Real Virtuality Experience created by Sylvain Chague and Cecelia Charbonnier.

My other favorite was the experience Real Virtuality. It is created by the Swiss duo Sylvain Chague and Cecelia Charbonnier from Artanim. It could have easily been my favorite, because it also merged interactivity and story excellently, but it fell shy when it came to the visuals. I spoke to the creators afterward and they explained that they had created this experience in a mere 3 weeks, which is such an accomplishment that one can be forgiving when it comes to the graphics. And I do not want to take away from how wonderful and ground breaking the experience is since it is the first to allow for multi-user interaction within the VR experience. 

At Sundance Chague and Charbonnier chose to allow for two user to enter into a matrix like world, where the two users go together on a journey through three separate environments. It was astounding how far it felt one traveled within the imagined space and how the interaction with real objects within the space added to full immersion.

In the future we will be able to experience something like this on a much bigger scale; Artanim has the ability to permit up to 20 users to partake at one time. That is astounding since it takes VR to a whole new level, because it takes it out of the solitary experience. And I am sure you can agree that the solitary aspect of VR is its foremost set-back. But thankfully to Artanim this has to no longer be the case.

The Leviathan Project was my another favorite. It is  based on the novel by Scott Westerfeld and was created by the masterful Art Director Alex McDowell and his company 5D Global Studio in collaboration with USC School of Cinematic Arts and Intel.

Much like Real Virtuality and The Martina this piece allowed the user to become entirely immersed in the virtual world, because it again allowed for interaction with real objects and required fulfillment of certain tasks within the space. However, I feel it actually stood out from the others since the team ensured that all objects within the virtual space were physically tangible, while all other interactive experience would only allow interaction with some. I also enjoyed that in this experience, the other character within the story actually addressed the user. 

Within Leviathan the user becomes one of the scientist, who creates the Huxley, jelly-like creatures, which are created for multiple uses on the whale ship The Leviathan, and as said scientist the user has to then complete the creation of one of the Huxley.

My favorite part of the experience came after the creation of the Huxley, because one was allowed to become the Huxley and then fly around the ship. To lift up and soar again down to the ground made me feel like I was 9 years old again, when I could break any natural boundary within my imagination. 

Last but not least, I was very impressed that Leviathan also added an Augmented Reality component to the project. It was my first official interaction with AR. And while AR has still along way to go, I still applaud the Leviathan team for adding this component and exposing more people to it. This will only accelerate how fast AR will become just as prevalent as VR has already become.

But VR and AR was not all that was offered at New Frontiers, there were many wonderful Interactive Art and Story Pieces. One that I enjoyed a lot was Chris Milk’s and Vrse’s The Treachery of Sanctuary.

It was simple, beautiful and meaningful. I applaud its unusual, minimal application of interactivity. There were none of the obvious choices, like the picking a character or a door, but it simply let the user standing in front of three different screens and use one’s body to interact with the screen where sensor translated one’s movement, turning one’s arms into wings or certain parts into birds. The three screens of the triptych beautifully represent and immersed one into the virtue of birth, death and transfiguration.

Yet another success for Chris Milk.

But I am just scraping the surface, there where so many wonderful new experiences to be had at this years New Frontier! Thankfully many of the projects are available for download from your app store or on the respective webpages. 

Check out this Verge article for a more complete list: