Currently you may view these online at Kultivate Magazine [formerly Windlight Magazine]:
**Virtual Reality at Sundance**
“Sundance was started as a mechanism for discovery of new voices and new talent” -Robert Redford
Sundance Institute, founded by stage and screen star Robert Redford, has an annual program called the Sundance Film Festival. If you already know that you are in good company, with over forty-five thousand attendees, this Utah festival is the biggest film festival in the United States. The New Frontier at Sundance Institute is a less well known part of this festival. At the front of this group is Virtual Reality art and it was sizzling hot at this the ten year anniversary the New Frontier.
New Frontier was designed as a section of the Sundance Institute “to identify and foster independent artists working at the convergence of film, art, media, live performance, music and technology”. And as with all of the initiatives at Sundance, New Frontier curates those in this field using “fiction, non-fiction and hybrid projects to showcase transmedia storytelling, multi-media installations, performances and films”.
What did that mean for attendees such as myself? Most of the Virtual Reality exhibitions and performances were showcased at the Chase Emerald building on main street in Park City, Utah. There were three floors packed with ways to experience virtual reality as the participants of this initiative set up areas to allow attendees to use the technology. We had the opportunity to enter new worlds and see where film as well as other entertainment may move in the future. Sundance was host to over ten installations of virtual reality as well as thirteen documentary VR, eighteen narrative VR and four VR performances.
Virtual Reality or VR takes many forms, most refer to immersive and multimedia computer simulated reality. As we live in a VR, most in world have a good understanding of what is meant by VR as we experience physical presence in places that occur in real world and imaginary. The VR at Sundance experiments with the sight, hearing, and touch sensory experiences. Most of the installations had a waiting list of two to three hours, you got your name on a virtual wait list and received a text when it was your turn to appear and try the equipment.
Let me share my top three experiences/installations at New Frontier:
The Holo-Cinema 4D
I was fitted with a glasses frame that had little balls at each temple the size of marbles. These ‘marbles’ tracked my eye directional movement to allow the scene I walked into to move around me as if I were part of it. My scene? I was in a Star Wars scene with C3PO and BB-8. The room had a 2D scene in one corner. Two walls and the floor made up this playground. C3PO was his usual self fussing at me and walking around me. BB-8 rolled up and around me. The equipment on the ground was total 3D and I reached to touch it finding air. The description given by Sundance was “This new scenic design and experience theatre allows participants to step into iconic story moments while spatially perceiving the performing characters and exploring worlds. As they portal inside a fully immersive media environment, they experience 4-D viewing as if walking through film sets in the real world.”
In the Eyes of the Animal
Artists: Barnaby Steel, Robin McNicholas; Key Collaborators: Ersin Han Ersin, Natan Sinigaglia
This was total immersion in the environment of a fly, then a dragonfly, then a frog and lastly an owl. My entire head was inside the device and there is a vibrating back on the chair to provide even more simulation. I flew, I jumped and I flew again. Imagine being on the front of one of these creatures experiencing everything. The description given by Sundance was “A 360-degree virtual reality experience presented on sculptural headsets, this work is an artistic interpretation of the sensory perceptions of three British animal species. Immerse yourself into this world from the forest floor to the tops of trees, and tread carefully as you observe through the eyes of the animals”.
The Treachery of Sanctuary
Artist: Chris Milk; Key Collaborators: Brian Chasalow, Aaron Meyers, James George
Inside a large white tent erected by the sponsors, Chris Milk of VRSE and VR fame created the full scope of experience using a projection of my body. I experienced ‘birth’, ‘death’ and ‘dissolution’ before my eyes on the white tent. My favorite part was turning into a bird at the end and flying away. The description given by Sundance was “A large-scale interactive triptych, this story of birth, death, and transfiguration uses projections of the participants’ own bodies to unlock a new artistic language”.
The cost to experience each installation or event at New Frontier? None. It was all free to the public. I had the opportunity to experience many other areas. The Martian VR experience allowed me to be Matt Damon in the movie Martian. Using Oculus controls, I drove the rover across the Mars terrain. The crowd pushing in around me disappeared as I moved into this environment. I could choose from a few different experiences such as poking my space glove for propulsion or steering the rover in negative gravity.
Nonny de la Pena is known as a very influential artist in VR circles. She did a couple very dramatic interactive pieces. The first was crossing the line of protesters as a planned parenthood clinic which ended with a memorial to the nine injured and three killed at a violent incident at planned parenthood. The second one she did was more intense to me. Called “Kira” is it an immersive where two sisters try unsuccessfully to help a third sister stop the violence from her ex-boyfriend. This one ended with some information on the violence towards women by loved ones.
There was something for everyone in the New Frontier. For those who are familiar with the trilogy of Leviathan, the Leviathan project was right on the mark. The Artists: Alex McDowell, Bradley Newman created a reality based on Scott Westerfield’s best selling trilogy of the same name. I did not get to do this exhibit but I did watch the participants. They had a sensory head piece on and I have learned that they each created a flying jellyfish [huxley in the book]. There was another installation titled “Giant” where you could experience the feeling of being trapped in a basement during a Serbian war conflict using Oculus Rift and speakers.
What of Oculus Rift? These VR glasses are too pricey for the average consumer at $1400+. The manufacturer is going to release a “Rift” in March 2016 targeted to we consumers and hopefully more affordable. Samsung has entered the market with their Gear VR [was at Martian VR Experience] priced at $99.
What I expected at Sundance was a large amount of excellent Independent films. I saw fifteen films and there was only one I didn’t care for after viewing it. These are my top choice of the films I viewed at Sundance:
The Revised Fundamentals of Care
Birth of a Nation
Sundance overall was an experience greater and more enjoyable than I expected. I am definitely happy that I attended this year. I am not sure if I will go again in the future. The costs and the crowds have made it a very elite event and more than a stone’s throw from the usual Indie crowd one might expect. I will say that everyone I met, whether they be attendee like me, or in the film industry or working in Park City, was awesome. Artfully yours, Seersha Heart
Excepts in quotes taken from this site