BeefeaterXO and Dabiz Muñoz
For Southern California, the night was uncharacteristically cold and rainy. After years of near apocalyptic drought, the heavens overflowed with compassion, flooding the parched landscape with a deluge of thirst-quenching hydration.
I was on my way to Venice, one of LA’s newly established hubs of technological innovation, for drinks with Future Lighthouse Founder and CEO, Nicolás Alcalá. He offered to show me some new content he’s been working on.
As a VR enthusiast, there was no way I would pass on this opportunity.
Future Lighthouse, which I’ve written about before, tells stories through virtual reality. They exist on the bleeding edge of VR content creation, essentially defining the medium with every new piece of content they produce.
Future Lighthouse tells stories through virtual reality
What’s currently happening in the VR space is equivalent to what it must have felt like to see the train arrive at the station in the Lumière brothers short film, “L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat” in 1896. The film was apparently met with panic and disbelief for those in attendance.
We are living at the genesis of an entirely new storytelling paradigm, the magnitude of which is still unknown, but has the potential to change everything.
With Oculus being the first VR studio to win an Emmy for their short film, “Henry,” in addition to Google’s own VR effort, “Pearl,” being the first of its kind to be nominated for an Oscar, psychonaut explorers like Future Lighthouse are positioned to win if indeed this currently exclusive art form goes mainstream.
“Henry” by Oculus Story Studio
In an effort akin to Christopher Columbus setting sail across the Atlantic for the first time, these creative pioneers are hedging their bets on the future of immersive storytelling. In Nicolás’ own words, companies like his “will define how stories are told for the next three or four decades to come.”
I arrived at Nicolás’ craftsmanship bungalow, eager to experience his latest creative endeavors. “Welcome to Future Lighthouse, Los Angeles,” he said, which was really just a modest dining room table, on top of which sat a PC and an Oculus Rift.
Future Lighthouse LA is just that — a now lone beacon of light, located half a world away from their headquarters in Madrid, Spain. Nicolás, and his business partner Alexis Mozarovski, have only been in LA a few months. They’re looking to expand their business here, an obvious choice given the city’s reputation as entertainment capital of the world.
Before putting on the headset, Nicolás’ gave me some context for what I was about to experience.
Future Lighthouse has partnered with Pernod Ricard (a French company that produces distilled beverages) and Spanish advertising agency La Despensa, to create the most ambitious VR experience by any brand to date. You can check it out here.
More than 50 actors and 60 artists, technicians, engineers, and storytellers contributed to this project. The experience was shot during 5 days, and took over 4,000 hours of post production.
Taken from an article published by Virtual Reality Reporter, “During 10 weeks, the branded campaign takes viewers on a virtual reality journey inside the fantastical interpretations of DiverXO’s Dabiz Muñoz’s travels through Bangkok, Venice, Bombay (Mumbai), and London, combining the culinary excellence and eccentricities of the youngest chef to ever receive 3 Michelin stars with the versatility of Beefeater, the number one spirit brand in Spain.”
I had no idea what to expect. While placing the Oculus on my head, I was reminded of that uneasy yet exciting feeling you get right before placing a tab of LSD on your tongue, that “here goes nothing” rush I imagine you get before jumping out of an airplane at 12,000 feet.
And that’s very much what I experienced.
I was suddenly immersed in a bizarre and perverted Universe. Orc-like monsters, goblins, nymphs, and devilish beasts were dancing about in every direction. It felt like stepping in to the second and third scenes of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch. The experience however was anything but Earthly.
“The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch
Both terrifying and captivating, the confluence of visual and emotional stimuli was unlike anything I’ve experienced without the aid of psychoactive chemicals. I was lost in a world of psychotropic phantasmagoria, a schizophrenic narrative of non sequitur visual bombardment.
In one memorable scene, a beautiful mermaid swam up and over my head. In another, I was in a boxing ring, about to fight an angry Cyclops, who if provoked, could clearly kick my ass.
It was fucking amazing.
This dude was serious
After completing the roughly 6-minute experience, transitioning back to “reality” took a few moments. I looked at Nicolás and said, “Man, do I have some questions for you!!”
In retrospect, I couldn’t help but ask myself — Is the world ready for this?
I’m not sure.
As an artist and creative psychonaut, my mind is open to embracing these kinds of reality-altering experiences. However, if I’m to step outside my echo chamber, I can see how some people might fear a world in which the line between what’s “real” and what’s “virtual” becomes increasingly indistinguishable.
In a recent event at Pivotal Labs in Santa Monica, I met Kat V Harris, VR Evangelist at Microsoft. She talked about the concept of “presence,” which is the phenomenon that occurs when people feel like they are “actually there” when having a VR experience.
Take for example this video of a man falling over while playing a VR game. Though aware he was in a safe room and not actually climbing a mountain, to him, the experience was so real that I would bet, even if for a split second, he thought he was going to die.
In my experience with VR, I can certainly relate.
For example, when the mermaid swam up and over my head, I ducked to get out of the way, and when I turned to face the Cyclops in the boxing ring, I jumped back in surprise. My brain had adjusted to this new world and accepted it as reality.
Awesome for me, but for everyone? This remains to be seen.
We are living in a truly remarkable time. The future is no longer science fiction, but science reality. Visionaries like Nicolás Alcalá and Future Lighthouse are creating new worlds and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with VR and storytelling.
I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.