Category Archives: Film

Gymnasia VR Review: Unique and Creepy Stop-Motion Puppetry

Gymnasia, the latest project from Felix & Paul Studios, recently debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It’s also available for viewing at home on Oculus VR headsets, for the price of $4.99.

Clocking in at around six minutes, this short film is strange but engaging, presented in a gothic style that is creepy but not scary. Fans of Tim Burton will definitely enjoy the experience, but it’s worth seeing by anyone interested in cinematic VR and/or animated films.

Although there is not much of a plot, this VR experience is very atmospheric and effective. Set in an abandoned school gymnasium, creepy music plays while children’s shadows appear on the walls around you. Soon a basketball starts bouncing on its own, followed by many more of them, as their sounds reverberate from the walls. Eventually, you are introduced to a pair of animated dolls dressed in gothic outfits, who engage in a bizarre musical performance.

Gymnasia

As with any stop-motion projects, it’s clear that a lot of time and creative energy was spent on this project. The attention to detail of the miniatures is remarkable, and VR enables a close-up view of the artistry at work. I only wish it was longer, with more of a story. Hopefully there will be more to come in the future.

Here is a behind the scenes look at the making of this project:

More information is available at the Oculus Store:

Step into the stillness of an abandoned school and enter GYMNASIA, a place where the ghostly ephemera of a lost childhood await you. Recall the particular sights and sounds of a child’s world through the echoes of ball games, school lessons and choir recitals. GYMNASIA reanimates the memories of those forgotten days.

This ground-breaking, cinematic VR experience is the first collaboration between the National Film Board of Canada, Felix & Paul Studios and Clyde Henry Productions. Blending 3D 360-degree video, stop-motion, miniatures and CGI, GYMNASIA pushes the art of puppet animation into uncharted territory. The first VR experience to induce the elusive anxiety that occurs when the lines between what’s real and unreal are blurred beyond belief, GYMNASIA is a dark dream–unsettling and weirdly wonderful. Duration: 6 minutes 29 seconds.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

Best of Sundance AR and VR Experiences

The 2019 Sundance Film Festival is over, but there were plenty of high quality virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. The Verge has published their list of the best AR and VR from the festival. Among their top selections:

BEST AUGMENTED REALITY: A JESTER’S TALE, created by: Asad J. Malik

BEST 360-DEGREE VIDEO: 4 FEET: BLIND DATEcreated by: María Belén Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Damián Turkieh, Ezequiel Lenardón

BEST VR ANIMATION: GLOOMY EYEScreated by: Jorge Tereso, Fernando Maldonado

BEST SOCIAL EXPERIENCE: MECHANICAL SOULScreated by: Gaëlle Mourre, L.P. Lee

BEST INTERACTIVE MECHANIC: THE DIALcreated by: Peter Flaherty, Jesse Garrison

BEST WRITING: DIRTSCRAPERcreated by: Peter Burr, Porpentine Charity Heartscape

BEST INSTALLATION: SWEET DREAMScreated by: Robin McNicholas, Ersin Han Ersin, Barnaby Steel, Nell Whitley

The complete article with full reviews can be found here.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

 

How to Train Your Dragon VR Skydiving Experience!

It is now possible to fly with dragons in virtual reality! At iFLY Indoor Skydiving locations, there is a new How to Train Your Dragon VR experience.

Using the latest VR advances along with their patented wind tunnel technology, iFLY provides several immersive skydiving experiences at over 50 locations worldwide. At iFLY you can “float atop a rush of air and be completely immersed in footage from an actual skydive or atop a dragon, while wearing our state-of-the-art VR helmet and headset.”

How to Train Your Dragon VR allows you to experience the movie in a whole new way:

This fully immersive, highly exhilarating experience takes flyers inside the mythical Viking world of Berk.

  • Spread your wings with two new virtual reality flights, choosing from either Hiccup or Astrid and soar like a dragon alongside Toothless.
  • Wearing a VR equipped helmet, flyers are guided by instructors through a breathtaking journey!

The new VR experience is currently available, launching in conjunction with DreamWorks’ latest animated feature How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

Check out a preview below:

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Experience Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in Virtual Reality

You can experience a modern performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet today in virtual reality. Currently available for free at the WGBH YouTube channel, the new 360-degree video performance is called Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit.

Best experienced in a VR headset (such as Oculus Go or Google Daydream View), this one-hour experience provides an intimate first-person perspective of the performance. The New York Times has provided an in-depth article about the performance, excerpted below:

The film plays out in a single location, at the center of a large, run-down hall with a stage to one side. It is a cavernous room outfitted with lamps, a collection of shabby and ornate furniture, a patchwork of rugs and an old car.

Actors moves around the room, encouraging viewers to explore the space. Sometimes a sound that seems to come from over your shoulder is a prompt to turn around.

The 360-video can also be viewed in a standard web browser:

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

Disney Working on a Secret VR Project

According to CNET, the Walt Disney company has greenlit a new “top secret” virtual reality project. Little is known about this new project, other than it will be produced by Jeff Gipson, the director of Cycles (the latest VR short film from Disney Animation Studios).

“What Cycles is proving is VR is something the studio wants to explore,” said Nicholas Russell, one of Cycles’ producers and the head of the Disney professional development program that created it in four months. “The fact that they greenlit another one this quickly is proof that they might not know exactly what tomorrow looks like for Disney and VR, but we’re going to keep exploring.”

Since Facebook purchased Oculus in 2014, virtual reality has been struggling to achieve mainstream adoption. Despite promising developments in location-based VR such as the VOID, and new standalone headsets such as Oculus Quest, there is much doubt about whether VR will ultimately be successful. It’s critical that major media companies like Disney continue to create content in VR, to ensure the future of this promising technology.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

The Limit VR Review

The Limit is a new virtual reality film, directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Michelle Rodriguez and Norman Reedus. A short film in stereoscopic 180-degree format, this is a high-octane action film, putting you in the role of a bionic-enhanced human on a fast-paced quest to find another cyborg. Told in a no-holds-barred series of quick cuts and action snippets, you barely have time to breathe as you move from bar-fight to car-chase to jumping-out-of-an-airplane.

Despite director Rodriguez’s established film credentials (From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City, and Spy Kids), in VR his technique leaves something to be desired. Although the high production values are evident, the overall experience was too fast and furious to be enjoyable. I have nothing against action films, but this production makes clear that extreme close-ups and quick cutaways are not conducive to a pleasant experience in VR.

Most of the story is told from a first person perspective, with you as the protagonist. However, at multiple points in the film we switch to an objective POV which can be disorienting and intrusive. It would have been much more effective and immersive if the original POV was retained throughout.

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At best, The Limit is an interesting VR experiment from a high-profile filmmaker. Unfortunately, the cinematography employed is not appropriate to the medium at hand. Let’s hope that other filmmakers can figure out how to utilize top name talent in an effective VR production.

The Limit is available on all major VR platforms including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows VR, PSVR, Gear VR, Oculus Go, and Google Daydream.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

 

Age of Sail Review: A Fantastic Voyage in Virtual Reality

The immersive animated VR film Age of Sail is now available for viewing at home. Google Spotlight Stories released the film on November 14th, on multiple platforms. It’s an astonishing and emotional adventure between a young girl and a seasoned captain, who meet unexpectedly at sea.

Set in the early 1900’s, Age of Sail is one of the best examples of how to use virtual reality to tell a story effectively. Although Google has released a number of Spotlight Stories over the past few years, this one is different. Approaching the artistic level of a Pixar short film, the film takes viewers (travellers is a better word) on a journey with captain William Avery. Avery is a grizzled sailboat captain who resents the fact that steamships are beginning to replace his beloved sailing vessels. He sets forth on a journey alone, but unexpectedly encounters a spirited young girl named Lara, who manages to rescue him from his sullen demeanor. Short but very moving and effective, the story is one of adventure, companionship, and determination.

Directed by Oscar-winning animator John Kahrs, the film stars Ian McShane as the captain and Cathy Ang as Lara Conrad. Age of Sail originally premiered at a number of film festivals earlier this year. A traditional “flat” version of the film was created after the VR version was produced, and is currently available on YouTube.

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The VR experience

Because it’s available in both traditional and VR versions, Age of Sail provides a perfect case study for comparing the differences in watching a standard film vs. an immersive VR production. It’s also possible to experience different levels of immersion and interaction, depending on the type of VR headset used.

I was able to experience the film in three different ways:

  1. The “flat” version on YouTube
  2. The limited VR version on Google Daydream (which provides three degrees of freedom)
  3. The full VR experience on Lenovo Explorer (a Windows Mixed Reality headset which offers six degrees of freedom).

The filmmakers made conscious decisions in how the various versions were presented, in order to take advantage of the medium at hand. In the traditional “flat” version, the film uses long, medium, and close-up camera shots to tell the story in a traditional way. The viewer is limited to only what the director wants you to see.

In the VR version, we become a more direct participant on the journey, although we cannot affect the story in any way. The perspective feels like we are a passenger on the boat; a passive observer, yet always close to the action.

3DoF vs. 6DoF

It’s important to note that the best way to experience Age of Sail is on a VR device that provides six degrees of freedom (6DoF). Although the viewing perspective is essentially the same as in 3DoF, a 6DoF headset allowed me to lean forward, stand up or sit down, and even walk up to the characters. I could look closely at their faces, or inspect the props they were holding (a photograph, for example).

In the limited 3DoF experience on Google Daydream, it was possible to look around in 360 degrees, but my position was locked to a fixed point in space. I could not lean forward or get closer to any part of the scene. The experience was still enjoyable, but limited because I naturally wanted to move around within the scene.

Is VR the future of film?

In a word, no. The traditional motion picture art form will live on for the foreseeable future. Virtual reality will not take anything away from the work of current filmmakers who continue to create “flat” films.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that the introduction of VR into the filmmaker’s lexicon will be disruptive in the way that CGI technology impacted stop-motion special effects. When Jurassic Park arrived in 1993, it effectively ended the need for stop-motion photography (made famous by artists like Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen and Phil Tippett). The stop-motion art form lives on in the works of Tim Burton, Henry Selick, and others, but CGI has largely replaced its use in live-action films.

However, virtual reality gives us a new perspective and a new approach to film-making. As a viewer, I naturally want to get closer to the action, and VR affords me that possibility. When the story is told effectively, and I am given a choice to look where I want in a scene, I become a participant rather than merely a viewer.

The challenge for VR filmmakers is to avoid giving viewers too many choices, or granting them too much autonomy in what they can do on their own. That being said, Age of Sail provides a perfect balance between freedom and restriction, allowing viewers to feel like they are really on board a sailing ship, in the midst of an unforgettable story.

Age of Sail is available for free on Steam, YouTube and via Google Spotlight Story’s iOS and Android apps.

 

Roy Kachur is a Media Technologist, IT Architect, and VR Evangelist. He has worked in the information technology field since the 1990’s, and in the media industry since 2014. He believes that VR will play a significant role in the future of media.

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