Sundance 2016 — VR is Serious Business

Watching “Invasion” by Baobab Studios

Last year at Sundance, the general sentiment around virtual reality was that it was “cool new technology” we can use to tell stories. When it came to creating compelling content nobody really knew what they were doing or how to even do it. What was showcased were independent artists and small studios’ first attempts at building for the medium. Some 360 videos were slapped on peoples faces (mostly on Google Cardboard and Oculus DK2 headsets) and a couple of animated experiences were shown. Birdly blew my mind, but aside from flying through the sky like a soaring eagle (the coolest fuckin’ thing ever) the majority of the experiences weren’t all that great.

A New Medium of Exploration

The cutest photo I got at the Festival.

This year, virtual reality started to look like serious business. Consumer version GearVRs were scattered about New Frontier showcasing a breadth of live action and experimental experiences. You were hard pressed to find Developer Kits being used as almost all of the developers present had the near consumer Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive setup. Over 30 experiences were showcased across 3 locations in Park City, including big titles like 21st Century Fox’s “The Martian” and big names like Reggie Watts with his “Waves” piece. It was clear this time that VR is not just a cool new technology, rather a brand new artistic medium that requires new rules and an entirely new language to discuss.

It made me happy to see Sundance taking it upon themselves to establish VR as a more artistic medium, not just cool new tech. A full schedule of panel discussions to discuss storytelling in VR filled the week, and almost everywhere I went I could overhear someone talking about VR. They made a strong push to allow people outside of the festival the chance to experience the same content people at the festival had a chance to see through the Sundance VR app. They’re now beginning to make strides towards democratizing virtual experiences, seeing what does and doesn’t resonate with people around the world.

We’re still just getting started.

If we were to compare VR today with the history of the cell phone, then we are still carrying these bad boys around.

It’s still, obviously, very early days. Pixels are still all too present in every experience. But the early days are also the most exciting days. The explorers searching for beauty in this new medium, the community of developers, musicians, painters, writers, technicians, and those who defy definition are defining a new language and a new era of entertainment. If you’ve read this far it’s important to take a step back, breath deeply, and realize just how exciting of a time this is for VR. Go out there and push the limits — take big risks, and pursue that far-out vision. There’s no time like the present.

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