VR's Impact Being Felt From Sundance To The Smithsonian 
VRLA attendee puts a project through its paces
VRLA underscores emergence, growth of virtual and augmented reality
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Intel brought the Sundance Film Festival and the Smithsonian to Los Angeles with a presentation kicking off the wrap day of the recently concluded 5th annual VRLA confab/expo (5/4-5) at the Los Angeles Convention Center. 

Among those featured in the session was writer-director Eliza McNitt who gave the VRLA audience a taste of her Spheres VR experience which rolled out earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. A three-part episodic journey through space and time produced by Darren Aronofsky (Oscar-nominated director for Black Swan) and Ari Handel through Aronofsky’s company Protozoa, Spheres made history at Sundance when it became the first-ever VR experience to be sold in a seven-figure festival deal. It was episode two of Spheres, “Songs of Spacetime,” which premiered at Sundance, narrated by Jessica Chastain. The third episode, “Pale Blue Dot,” previewed at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and is narrated by Patti Smith. Episode one will premiere in late 2018.

Just several days after VRLA wrapped, it was announced that McNitt has joined the roster of Chromista--the commercial production company founded by Aronofsky and partners/producers Scott Franklin, Sandy Haddad and Ted Robbins--for spot and branded content representation in the U.S.

Intel technology served as a foundation for Spheres. However, Intel’s sphere of influence at Sundance wasn’t confined to Spheres as the company hosted an Intel Tech Lodge at a Park City, Utah venue during the fest. 

Presiding over the Intel session at VRLA was its general manager of VR and AR, Kumar Kaushik, who also announced that Intel had formed a collaborative partnership with the Smithsonian American Art Museum to create an experiential project which will help increase exposure for that institution’s art collection. Currently only five percent of art collections are on display at major museums, noted Kaushik. VR can help remedy that, bringing a greater percentage of worthwhile art to the public. Plans call for Intel and Smithsonian to have a VR experience up and running this summer in Washington, D.C.; down the road, the experience will be accessible on major platforms. Kaushik said that via this connection, students for example could learn by experiencing art and history rather than just by reading material and listening to lectures. 

The Smithsonian connection and Spheres were demoed at VRLA live on stage. While a technical glitch cut off the audio portion, attendees got a visual feel for both VR experiences.

Mezo, reality check
The VRLA expo featured the latest in location-based entertainment, motion simulators and VR arcades, to next-gen haptics, 360-degree cameras and varied product lunches across VR and AR. 

In collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the visual centerpiece of the show floor was Mezo, a 20-foot-tall futuristic temple equipped with synchronized LED panels, lasers and spatial music. The interactive art installation depicts an alternate future where ancient Mesoamerican societies have become technologically advanced, taking attendees on a visually and sonically propelled journey through destruction, creation and rebirth.

Meanwhile in his keynote remarks, VRLA co-founder Cosmo Scharf provided a reality check, using Steven Spielberg’s feature Ready Player One as a reference point. Scharf described the film as “a big deal for our industry,” raising awareness of VR. However, there’s a lesson to be learned, he noted, as the film shows a physical world falling apart as people are immersed in living life through their VR headsets. They are so obsessed that they are unaware of “the trash heap that their real planet has become.”

Scharf affirmed that VR and AR “can only exist as long as the planet is healthy enough to support us.” He cited ongoing wars, the assault on our environment, poverty, profit motives undermining health, and other issues that need to be addressed. And while VR inherently offers “an advanced sense of presence,” it’s important that we “reclaim awareness of the present outside the headset.” He expressed the hope that VR, with its sense of presence and ability to evoke empathy, can be part of healing society.

In that vein, John Snoddy, senior VP of research and development at Walt Disney Imagineering, talked about the convergence of VR and storytelling. He contended that the next generation of VR is not about more polygons or better headsets but rather the value of story. Snoddy affirmed that this story universe is not about the worlds but the people who live in them.


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