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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.

"VR is an unstoppable train," said Troche. "It's so exciting to think about formatting a script for a 360-degree film with what's happening in front of you, what's happening around you, and not just doing it as a gimmick, in terms of creating entire worlds or limiting it to here or there. Having that ability to open up the world is amazing. And I don't see us going back. I see VR as a form unto itself."

Filmmakers are experimenting with making interactive films using VR. Vincent Morisset, creator of the Webby Award-winning film BLA BLA as well as Arcade Fire's acclaimed interactive music video Just a Reflektor, had Way To Go on display at New Frontier as both a big-screen video game/film hybrid that attendees could play through an Xbox controller as well as in VR form through Oculus Rift. The project blends hand-made animation with real-time lighting and shadows with filmed footage, allowing a 360-degree exploration of the world.

"I'm still trying to figure out VR myself as a director," Morisset said, "but there is definitely something really rewarding and powerful to be able suck a spectator into your world and have no distraction, especially in 2015. We're so bombarded with distractions today through second-screen experiences and mobile devices that it's nice to have a privileged connection with your spectator. In a weird way, there's something in your brain that makes you connect to the world and the environment in a really profound way."

1979 Revolution Game, by artist Vassiliki Khonsari and former Rockstar Games developer Navid Khonsari, was shown in tablet form at New Frontier. But the game, which puts players in the middle of the Iranian Revolution, is being developed for Oculus VR as well as Sony Morpheus. The episodic game will challenge players to make moral choices as they experience the uprising from the streets of Iran.

"What's interesting about VR is that it pushes our audio to a whole new level in terms of the emotion that's going to come through actors' performances," said Navid Khonsari. "That's going to engage the headset wearer to want to look in that direction. It's going to draw you into that story. You have the choice to look at everything, but that voice performance is going to draw you in. And that decision to actually connect with something will become emotional, and then you're just getting the best of both worlds."

Even the hot-ticket Birdly VR experience tells a story, according to Max Rheiner, one of the creators of that flight simulator. Man has always dreamed of flying, and Birdly enabled Sundance attendees to experience the next best thing. VR holds the promise to enable filmmakers, game developers, and other creative artists to connect with audiences eager to explore something new. What was on display at Sundance was just the beginning.

 

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