Thursday, January 18, 2018
  • Friday, Apr. 28, 2017
Coming Attractions: VRTL Summit Gives Glimpse Of Next Big Titles On The VR/AR Marquee
Key art for the VR experience "Alien: Covenant In Utero" produced by Ridley Scott and directed by David Karlak.
Alejandro G. Inarritu’s "Carne y Arena," Skydance Media’s Archangel, Steven Spielberg’s "Ready Player One" are among high-profile projects touched upon at daylong event
  • HOLLYWOOD, Calif.
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Look for two-time Oscar-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant, Birdman) to make a major splash at next month’s Cannes Film Festival with his first foray into virtual reality, a short film titled Carne y Arena (Meat and Sand), reported to be about migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Vicki Dobbs Beck, executive in charge at ILMxLAB, said her shop was finishing up part of the short, noting that it fully taps into the spatial dynamic, demonstrating how “powerful and impactful” VR can be. Beck’s comments came as a panelist at the inaugural VRTL Summit, a daylong event (4/26) held on the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood. 

Iñárritu’s VR film was one of several upcoming high-profile projects cited during the course of the Summit as likely carrying major implications for VR and AR, promoting awareness of the disciplines while showcasing their storytelling/entertainment potential.

In that same vein, looking even further down the road during another Summit session, Thomas Gewecke, chief digital officer/EVP, strategy and business development, Warner Bros. Entertainment, fielded an audience question about a non-VR project, the theatrical feature Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg. Based on Ernest Cline’s bestselling novel, the film takes us to a dismal dystopian future from which people escape by entering a virtual world. Ready Player One potentially looms large for VR and AR in terms of putting immersive experiences more firmly into mainstream culture and consciousness. 

Gewecke said he wasn’t at liberty to say much publicly about the movie which is a year away from release, only offering that it’s “an incredible story” which will be “a great vehicle for raising awareness of the whole category.” Reportedly HTC is partnering with Warner Bros. to distribute VR experiences related to the sci-fi movie.

More immediately on the horizon is the game Archangel which will be rolled out in July by Skydance Media, adding a third pillar, gaming and interactive, to the company’s established business in theatrical features and television. Summit speaker Jesse Sisgold, president and COO of Skydance Media, described Archangel as an original VR franchise that is “story driven, action packed and emotion invoking.” He noted that the post apocalyptic shooter game taps fully into the experiential benefits of VR. Sisgold hopes it can bring back the communal arcade experience, helping VR to go beyond its lone wolf participant profile, diversifying into gamers playing with friends and strangers from different places worldwide to form a community bond. Sisgold said that a big step to VR realizing its full potential is cracking the social component. Development of the Archangel game was done by a team of Skydance artisans who previously worked on the likes of Gears of War 4, XCOM, 2, Fallout 4 and Borderlands 2. 

Immersive advice
Ted Schilowitz, futurist, 20th Century Fox, served as moderator and a panelist on a VRTL Summit roundtable discussion titled “Virtual Hollywood: What Are The Major Hollywood Studios Doing to Embrace VR/AR?”

Schilowitz affirmed it’s imperative that those interested in the field become active participants, experiencing VR and AR regularly. “Find a way to do this on a daily basis,” he urged, noting that otherwise you will have “massive blind spots.” He affirmed that getting immersed in VR and AR will prove to be far more productive and insightful than anything people could hear at a summit or industry confab.

The same day of the Summit, Twentieth Century Fox, FoxNext VR Studio, RSA VR, MPC VR, music house Q Department, immersive sound technology company Mach1, and technology partners AMD RADEON and Dell released Alien: Covenant In Utero, a virtual reality experience available on the Oculus platform. The project is linked to the Ridley Scott-directed feature Alien: Covenant which hits theaters worldwide beginning May 10.
 
Produced by Scott and directed by David Karlak, Alien: Covenant In Utero is a 360-degree virtual reality journey into a living nightmare that offers a terrifyingly close and personal encounter as each viewer/participant walks in the shoes of alien Neomorph at the time of its birth. Fans are able to experience the world around them and relive the very first memories of the Neomorph in an immersive environment.

Schilowitz’s fellow VRTL session panelists included Peter Levin, president of interactive ventures & games, Lionsgate; Josh Austin, VP of worldwide licensing & interactive, Paramount Pictures; David Liu, creative director of VR, Viacom NEXT; and the aforementioned Beck of ILMxLAB. Relative to projects, Austin noted that Paramount has turned out a Ghost in the Shell VR short experience and is in the process of getting started on an immersive experience for the next Mission: Impossible feature film. And Levin cited Lionsgate’s recent John Wick first-person shooter VR game.

Asked what he envisions in 2030 for VR and AR, Liu shared that everyone will have an immersive capable in-hand device by then, and that experiences will be varied and multi-faceted. He conjectured that one such experience would be simply providing space to people--like friends and strangers in a 40 x 40 room--where they could go into whatever direction their imaginations take them. 

Schilowitz said there are assorted projects already in the marketplace that can fuel imagination, providing a wide range of fare from escapist guilty pleasures to higher level storytelling. On the former score, he cited as worthwhile viewing Drunkn Bar Fight, a VR game where you get drunk and fight various drunken opponents at a bar. On the more lofty ambitious side, Schilowitz said a must-watch VR experience is Wilson’s Heart, an immersive first-person psychological thriller/adventure/mystery set in a 1940s’ hospital where a haunting transformation has taken place. In this experience you become Robert Wilson, a patient who awakens to the discovery that his heart has been replaced with some sort of device. You and fellow patients must make their way through the hospital, overcoming adversity and adversaries to find out who has Wilson’s heart and why it was stolen.

In another VRTL session, “Cinematic VR: New Avenues For Storytelling,” panelist Ikrima Elhassan, co-founder, Kite and Lightning, recommended a couple of inspiring experiential pieces he recently saw at the Tribeca Film Festival. Elhassan cited two similarly themed pieces--Treehugger: Wawona created by Marshmallow Laser Feast, and Tree created by Milica Zec and Winslow Porter. Shown in Tribeca’s Storyscapes program, Treehugger: Wawona is an interactive installation that combines today’s cultural hunger for beautiful immersive experiences with art, science, data, environmentalism and technology. Centered on a vast sculpture of a giant redwood tree, the viewer dons a VR headset, places his or her head into the tree’s knot and is transported into its secret inner world. The longer someone hugs the tree, the deeper they drift into treetime: a hidden dimension that lies just beyond the limit of our senses.

And showcased at Tribeca’s Virtual Arcade was Tree in which participants can see and feel what it’s like to become a tree within a haptically enhanced VR experience. With your arms as the branches and your body as the trunk, you experience the growth from a seedling to its fullest form, taking on a tree’s role in the majestic rain forest and witnessing its fate firsthand.

Elhassan said the tree-related experiences made him “a believer” in the promise and possibilities of meditative VR.

Concurring with Elhassan was a Tribeca jury which just selected Treehugger: Wawona as recipient of the festival’s Storyscapes Award. The jury comment on why they recognized Treehugger: Wawona with the award read: “The project we chose exemplifies the highest standards of artistry and inventiveness. It explores the potential for new visual forms and investigates unique modes of storytelling that allow us to tap into aspects the world and our lived experience that are intuitively known but seldom articulated. Through its use of poetic abstraction, embodiment, and the viewer’s own imagination and interpretation, we are able to unlock new ways of understanding and experiencing the world around us. We’ve selected this piece because we hope it will inspire others to start creating in ways that take risks and use the limitations of technology to revamp story and experience.”

Financial forecast
As for having something quantitative to meditate over, Ned Sherman, counsel and director, Manatt Digital, in his introductory Summit remarks cited numbers from a Digi-Capital forecast which pegged the VR/AR market to amount to some $108.6 billion by the year 2021. AR will account for $83 billion while VR is projected to generate $25 billion. The primary revenue driver, said Sherman, will be mobile AR.

The VRTL Summit was founded by Sherman of Manatt and venture capitalist Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners, in partnership with Digital Media Wire.

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