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How virtual reality stole the show at Sundance Film Festival

John Gaudiosi | Jan. 30, 2015
Despite the attendance of Hollywood celebs like Kevin Bacon, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, and Keanu Reeves, the hottest ticket at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was the virtual reality flight simulator Birdly.

Speaking of new filmmakers, Vice News was at Sundance to announce Vice News VR: Millions March, the first of many new VR explorations of news-making events. Directed by Spike Jonze and Chris Milk, the VR segment explores the December 2014 protest against police brutality in New York City. And to Frilot's point, anyone with a VR device will be able to download the app through VRSE.

"We know it's a no-brainer to do gaming in VR, but people are just beginning to realize that this is a wonderful place to do traditional linear narrative, except that it's special," said de la Peña. "You have to think a little differently because viewers can look in any direction at any time. When you create a story, learning how to design for that is a little bit different, but in general many of the same natural storytelling principles still apply."

Jaunt VR, which partnered with Google to hand out 8,000 free Cardboard VR devices at Sundance, has developed a complete toolset from camera to effects for filmmakers to create live-action content for a 360-degree virtual reality experience. Scott Broock, vice president of VR Content at Jaunt VR, said the early experiments with short film projects are showing a lot of creativity.

"Let's get some giant monsters and have them tear down a city and see if it works with Kaiju Fury!, and then with The Mission, we've dropped the camera from beneath a parachute and you land on the ground from the point of view of the camera, or we mount the camera on top of a WWII tank," said Broock. "Everyone's approaching VR from different points of view, but they're all moving towards the middle where they're picking up best practices along the way. What's going to be really exciting is this time next year when everyone gets together and discusses what they've learned from experimenting and filming in VR."

Shannon Gans, co-founder and CEO of New Deal Studios, which filmed Kaiju Fury! and The Mission, compared VR to IMAX. Initially, Hollywood would film 20-minute segments for the large-screen format, but now three-hour movies like The Hobbit and Interstellar are screening at IMAX theaters. She believes the short 5- to 20-minute VR films are perfect as people get used to the technology. As audience "perceptive muscles" strengthen, the content length will grow over the next few years.

A powerful method of telling stories

Sundance proved that powerful stories can be told in short format. Case in point is Perspective; Chapter I: The Party by filmmaker Rose Troche and VR pioneer Morris May, which tells the story of a date rape in two parts. The first is from the first-person perspective of a college boy and the second is from the point of view of an intoxicated college girl. The VR experience left many viewers queasy, not just from the dark subject matter but also from the woozy rocking of the camera.


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