It’s a fairly safe bet to say that animation in a few decades will be a different experience than the current one of passively viewing content on a screen. But you don’t need to wait decades to get a taste of that future. The Storyscapes showcase at the Tribeca Film Festival is currently presenting 10 virtual reality and interactive installations that hint at this not-so-distant future.
At least half of the projects in the showcase use animation, and each of them achieves a uniquely different type of experience. For example, in Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, created by Arnaud Colinart, Amaury La Burthe, Peter Middleton, and James Spinney, is based on the audio-diaries of a person who lost their sight decades ago. Running on the Unreal engine, the VR experience allows the user to discover “a world beyond sight.”
In contrast to Notes on Blindness, there’s the completely dialogue-less experience, SENS, by Charles Ayats and Armand Lemarchand. Based on a graphic novel by Marc-Antoine Mathieu, the piece is among the first instances that an existing comic has been translated into VR. The enigmatic piece, which switches between first- and third-person, has a game-like component that requires the viewer to look in specific areas of the 360-degree space to progress forward. The project was backed by European broadcaster Arte.
Another notable entry is Francesca Panetta and Lindsay Poulton’s 6×9: An Immersive Experience of Solitary Confinement, which allows the viewer to experience what it’s like to be held in solitary confinement, an unquestionably barbaric form of punishment used in American prisons that affects up to 100,000 inmates annually. The solitary confinement cell was recreated digitally by commercial vfx house The Mill, and the nine-minute experience points the way toward using animation and VR to educate people in immersive ways that are not possible through any other media. 6×9 will be released by The Guardian as a free app on Google Cardboard in a few weeks.
Among the pieces I experienced, Oscar Raby’s The Turning Forest was perhaps the one that convinced me VR will radically transform entertainment-based animation. Turning Forest drops you into the middle of a mystical forest, and shortly thereafter, the viewer comes face to face with a friendly beast. There is not much complex interaction with the beast, yet the experience is absolutely exhilarating, especially during one scene where the viewer gets on the beast’s back.
No doubt, virtual reality is still in a primitive state. The devices used to experience VR can be clunky, and the limitations of real-time 3D rendering mean that none of the graphics come close to the type of visual effects found in feature films. But those restrictions will be overcome at time, and even at this early juncture, it’s clear that virtual reality is a transformative medium for entertainment. The Storyscapes showcase is a small but worthwhile preview of where interactive storytelling is headed.
Tickets for the Storyscapes are $40 and can be purchased from the Tribeca Film Festival website. Today is the last day to experience these projects, but starting tomorrow through Wednesday, the festival will present Virtual Arcade, a second showcase of VR projects with an emphasis on narrative experiences.