I finally had a chance to sample the VR and MR experiences offered by New York's prescient Tribeca Film Festival, which added the immersive Arcade last year, and has guided it skillfully into the one of the world's greatest showcases of VR art, installations and storytelling. Like their film festival, some featured experiences will have a long and prosperous life, some may end up in museums, and some will be once-in-lifetime experiences, site specific experiments without a business model. If you're in New York and at all interested in the transformative potential of Virtual Reality, Tribeca has assembled a extremely well curated sampling of the state consumer VR experiences coming to HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung VR.
Follow the money. This is where Hollywood and Silicon Valley are investing right now. They know a VR content studio is more likely to hit than a tech start up, and there are billion dollar "unicorns" (Valley-speak for a start up that achieves a billion dollar valuation) like Pixar and Lucasfilm. The coming wave of high end content is going to drive VR sales, just in time for the arrival of low cost high resolution headsets from companies like Acer and Lenovo. As Yoda says (and I paraphrase): "Game changers they are". Get ready for a tidal wave in 2018. VR and AR are may be as dramatic and transformative as the personal computer.
It is virtually impossible to see everything the Tribeca Arcade has to offer in one visit. I was there four hours and saw 10 of the 29 offerings. The Arcade is so popular once press hour ended I had to bully my way to the front of the line to get to popular experiences, many of which were booked for the day by 1:00 pm. Thanks to the producers, directors and press people who were so generous with their time (and for slipping me into some lines). Without going into too much depth, here is what I saw:
Moe Black from Waffle Crew dances in the Litefeet style made famous through unsanctioned performances on NYC trains.
Blackout is a Mixed Reality (MR) New York subway ride, created a by Brooklyn based start up, Scatter. Blackout uses a volumetric method of photographing someone from different angles simultaneously to create a 3D photo-realistic avatar (albeit heavily pixillated) of a human being, in this case sitting on a train. You enter a room which has floor to ceiling poles in it, like you might see in a real subway car.
User on the set of Mixed Reality experience "Blackout" at the Tribeca Film Festival Arcade through April 30th.
Wearing a Vive headset and using its room scale roaming feature you can move around the car. When you reach out for a pole you see in the digital world, you touch a real pole. It's a very cool, convincing illusion. There are six people on the train. They cannot see or hear you, as if you were a ghost. As you near one of them, you hear their thoughts in their own words, a steam of consciousness internal dialog recorded in thirty minute interviews with the participants. The train doors open, and you get off on what appears to be a real platform. It is one of the most compelling MR - or VR - experiences I've ever had.
Mixed Reality experience "Tree" as you grow from a seed to a mighty Kapok tree in the rainforest.
There were two ecologically themed projects related to nature, specifically trees. Most interesting was Tree. I'm told this is the first chapter in a multi-part series. This project also features the kind of Mixed Reality we will never have in the home. Wearing a haptic vest and an Oculus Rift, you grow from a seed to become a mighty Kapok tree in the rainforest, until man destroys your home. Produced on a shoestring budget by passionate artists, producers, and programmers, with support from The Nature Conservancy, Nvidia and Vive, this experience features a haptic vest, wind, fire, and smells, helpfully provided by a team member who stage manages the real world elements to enhance the immersion of the experience. I loved the earth smell that accompanied me from seedling to sapling. The other tree project, Treehugger: Wowona, also features MR elements. Wearing a haptic vest and donning two gloves attached to the new Vive sensors, you look into a foam tree (which responds to your touch) and follow water and nutrients from its roots to the top branches.
Amazing 3D animation from Penrose Studios.
Arden's Wake from SF-based Penrose Studios (also the first chapter in a longer experience) is a masterful, short animated film from that takes us inside a Waterworld-like post apocalyptic world, where a teenage girl lives in a Nemo-like lighthouse built atop a decaying underwater skyscraper. When her inventor father is lost while diving, she takes his underwater vehicle into the ruins to find him. The 3D animation is simply amazing, we follow the tiny characters and their narrative as if we are giants looking into a dollhouse. This is the kind of entertainment that will make people want to buy a VR system. Founded by former Oculus Film & Media head Eugene Chung, Penrose was represented by at Tribeca last year by Alumette. In a post last week I asked a "Is VR Studio Baobab The Next Pixar?". In this post I'll ask: or is Penrose? Maybe Baobab should take some of that 31MM in venture money and buy them. Just a thought.
Apex is a realtime animated music video for virtual reality created by Arjan Van Meerten, a 3D designer and electronic musician.
Dystopian futures, and the post-apocalypse, are popular science fiction themes, so naturally there was another more abstract apocalyptic experience, Apex. This freakish, hellish vision is from Dutch artist Arjan van Meerten.
The Last Goodbye is one of the most emotional experiences in the Storyscapes competition. We follow eighty five year old Holocaust Survivor Pinchas Gutter as he travels one last time to the Majdanek Concentration Camp where his family was murdered by the Nazis. The experience moves seamlessly from 360 video to a limited room scale VR which features a pioneering technique called photogrammetric capture, which composites thousands of still photographs to create a 3D environment. The experience was co-created by Gabo Arora and Ari Palitzby and produced by the Shoah Foundation, Here Be Dragons, MPC VR and OTOY. Gutter's recollections are deeply moving, and his resiliency nothing less than heroic. However, with all due props to the amazing people who made The Last Goodbye, I suspect a documentary telling of this dramatic story might have been just as effective.
My problem with a lot of VR, especially 360 video, is that nothing really goes on behind you, while reducing the director's ability to manipulate time, space and perspective to tell a story. Remember, Remember, from Kevin Cornish, and Moth and Flame Productions, is a live action 360 video which takes place during an alien invasion. It's one of the most inventive and cinematic experiences I had at the Arcade, but again I wonder if it might have been just as good as a film. Of course there's really no market for short films, while there will soon be a market for these kinds of VR experiences.
"Alteration" from Okio Studio in Paris.
Clocking in at 17 minutes, Alteration, from Okio Studios in Paris (although everything is in English), tells the live action story of a man whose brain is taken over by Artificial Intelligence, killing him. The experience features Hollywood talent like Bill Saarsgard, which exaggerated my feeling that it could just as easily been a movie. Producer Antoine Cayrol told me "While it's true we only see in 180 degrees, VR allows you to live the story".
Giant babies in hovercars battle each other in an arena in this multiplayer VR experience, "Bebelyon", by LA based Kite and Lightning.
Finally, no Arcade would be complete without a game. Bebylon Battle Royale was brought to the Festival by tiny LA start up, Kite and Lightning. You are in an arena driving a hovercar trading punches (and bombs) with an opponent. It takes place in a world where the fountain of youth was found, turning the entire civilization into greedy, violent babies. The company plans to turn Bebylon Battle Royale into a massive multiplayer environment, where additional players can sit in the stands and interact with the gladiators, throwing rotten tomatoes, etc.
Even sampling one third of the Tribeca Arcade's offering, one is struck by the rapid pace of the medium's development. Indeed, Tribeca should think about spinning off it's interactive hub into its own Festival. As such, it could be in a larger venue that offers more stations, which would mean more through put, and more people getting a taste of the promise of this amazing medium.