Dreamscape Lets You Walk Through The Screen

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Dreamscape Lets You Walk Through The Screen
December 15, 2018
Courtesy Dreamscape

 

You can play fetch with a frog-cat, fend off a ferocious beast with a flashlight and steal a lost pearl from a vengeful temple guardian. Listing off such “where else could you do these?” sorts of experiences feels like a trope when talking about virtual reality, but, seriously, where else could you do these outside of the boundless, ever-evolving worlds of Dreamscape Immersive?

 

Dreamscape, which opens its first storefront today, creates grand virtual reality encounters that allow visitors to literally step into the narrative. The Westfield Century City space debuts with three 12-minute productions running (Alien ZooLavan’s Magic Projector: The Lost Pearland The Blu: Deep Rescue), and plans to add a fourth by next spring.

Unlike VR arcades, Dreamscape aims to set itself apart with its cinematic ambitions: Cofounder Walter Parkes has produced sci-fi standards like Men in Black and Minority Reportand held top positions at Amblin and DreamWorks; Hans Zimmer’s production studio composed the music; and AMC has partnered with the company to host storefronts at movie theaters around the country. Dreamscape also brings a bit of theme park magic to its DNA, as CEO Bruce Vaughn previously served as Walt Disney Imagineering’s chief creative officer.

 

While its creative pedigree is impressive, ticket-buying Angelenos will be more interested in the end result to justify their $20 purchase: an immersive attraction (which accommodates up to six guests) that puts the agency of advancing the storytelling directly into visitors hands—and feet and over their eyes. As Vaughn puts it, the use of VR at Dreamscape is similar to scuba diving; the equipment is simply a means to transport you. Tech is downplayed in favor of that transportive theme, which comes front and center at its travel agency-themed storefront. You check in at a departures counter and receive a ticket with a three-letter code for your destination, and then you await your journey in a lounge dotted with display cases and detailed curiosities that tie into the three experiences.

Photograph: Courtesy Lionel Hahn
Photograph: Courtesy Lionel Hahn

 

Jurassic Park-like tour of a Pandora-esque planet opens on a plain with ponderous, horse-like creatures, and its resemblance to the dinosaur blockbuster—down to a dramatic “Welcome… to Alien Zoo” greeting—is no coincidence. “Stephen Spielberg is an investor in this,” says Parkes. “We used to talk about how smart he was that at that first time you saw dinosaurs [in Jurassic Park] all you heard was [Richard] Attenborough say, ‘Welcome… to Jurassic Park.’ And you’re just going, oh my lord, there are dinosaurs here. So we in fact originally had more things you did in the beginning of Alien Zoo, and it distracted people from the sheer wonder of buying into the reality.”

 

You rarely shuffle more than a few inches at a time on Alien Zoo’s virtual, hovering platform, yet the world feels vast, limitless and full of possibilities. You can pet a tame otherworldly equine, and we mean literally pet: Reach out to the virtual creature with your real-life hand and you’ll come into contact with the soft touch of its snout. When a playful frog-cat nudges a ball your way, you can astonishingly reach down to grip a ball and throw it back at it. And wielding a flashlight you pick up inside a luminescent cave feels good; pointing its conical glow onto darkened rock walls is like a virtual equivalent of popping bubble wrap.

Courtesy Dreamscape

 

While Alien Zoo leans toward a more laid-back experience, Lavan’s Magic Projector is a pulpy temple break-in that has you burning cobwebs with torches, illuminating runes, avoiding traps and careening through a mine shaft (all of which are best accomplished with a large group). It kicks off with a moment of sheer magic, when you throw a metal level to start up a projector and proceed to literally walk through the screen of a scratchy, sepia-toned film and, in Wizard of Oz fashion, into a full-color, wind-whipped vista overlooking jagged peaks and a stair-stepped temple.

Courtesy Dreamscape

 

“I’ve done a lot of theme park attractions,” says Vaughn. “Try as you may, you really aren’t fully immersed inside. There’s always something separating you from a lot of this stuff. And the same with film—you’re passively watching.”

 

Dreamscape’s visuals, audio and haptic feedback hit that full immersion mark—mostly. While you can grab onto a railing, your hand may pass right through a wall. Sometimes the real-world, hands-on moments are slightly out of alignment with their virtual counterparts. And suiting up is a multi-step process that makes the gear and space feel a bit more like technology than magic.

Photograph: Courtesy Lionel Hahn

 

Virtual reality experiences of all sorts have popped up across Los Angeles. While the buzz around home headsets and VR arcades has seemed to cool recently, Dreamscape positions itself as something else entirely—something that, yes, similar venture the VOID has already been slickly serving in L.A. for over a year. While we won’t ramble about the ways in which Dreamscape both falls short of and exceeds its competitor, it’s ultimately incredibly exciting that Angelenos have two such experiences pushing the possibilities of VR storytelling and immersion.

 

“Someone asked us, ‘Is this the peak of entertainment?’ No, but it’s a future of entertainment,” says Parkes. Ironically, it’s the sort of reality-blurring future that he first had a brush with in 1983 when he cowrote WarGames, a film that centers on a piece of programming that can’t differentiate between reality and simulation. “WarGames came out of a premise, out of a lot of looking around at what was going on—the beginning of the big explosion of gaming. And it certainly did posit that there would be these digital means in which characters can go places. That idea of a digital means of transporting yourself into an imaginary world, it’s not like we made it up, we were observing that that was starting to happen. In that way, [Dreamscape] is maybe farther down the same river that we were trying to paddle across.”

Photograph: Courtesy Lionel Hahn

 

Dreamscape is located on the second floor of the Westfield Century City (10250 Santa Monica Blvd), and is currently operating with adjusted holiday hours. Each experience, which runs every 40 minutes, costs $20.

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