Find out what VR means for creating and experiencing content

“There are so many questions around what VR means for creating and experiencing content.” The upcoming Power to the Pixel: The Cross-Media Forum will delve into the nascent VR storytelling scene this year.

By Melanie Goodfellow

Power to the Pixel: The Cross-Media Forum (13-16 Oct) will put a timely spotlight on the burgeoning virtual reality (VR) scene.

“VR is a new story-telling platform. There’s no standard, there’s a lot of experimentation and it’s all moving really rapidly,” says Power to the Pixel Founder and CEO Liz Rosenthal.

“There are so many questions around what VR means for creating and experiencing content and what the models are going to be.”

There will be two sessions devoted to VR storytelling at The Conference on October 13.

Power to the Pixel has also put together a public exhibition, Virtual Stories, showcasing the best in 360° and VR content currently around at the moment. The show, created in partnerships with BFI London Film Festival, will run alongside the Forum at the nearby BFI IMAX from 10-18 October.

The focus on VR is at once forward-looking and timely. Although in its infancy, many media and technology pundits are predicting VR content will explode into the mainstream over the coming months.

The imminent arrival of Samsung’s keenly-priced £169 Gear VR headset this November, followed by the long-awaited launch of the Oculus Rift early next year, are being heralded as game changers for the nascent VR scene.

The creation of a raft of VR content related to popular properties like Minecraft and The Hunger Games is also expected to widen the audience.

At The Conference, Saschka Unseld, Creative Director at the Oculus Story Studio, and Dave Ranyard, Sony’s London Studio Director will join Samsung’s developer relations lead Alex Bowker on stage to discuss VR as a “new storytelling dimension”.

Unseld and his team at Oculus’s fledgling San Francisco-based Story Studio unveiled their debut production Lost at the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of this year and premiered animated short Henry, about a lovable hedgehog over the summer.

Ranyard’s London-based team are heavily involved in the development of Sony PlayStation’s VR-based Project Morpheus.

In a separate talk, United Nations Senior Advisor and Filmmaker Gabo Arora will talk about his collaboration with music video director and VR pioneer Chris Milk on the award-winning short documentary Clouds Over Sidra capturing the life of a 12-year-old Syrian girl growing up in a refugee camp in Jordan. – the virtual reality production house co-founded by Milk with film, theatre, commercials and music video producer Patrick Milling Smith in 2014 – kitted out Arora and co-director and producer Barry Pousman with an in-house camera and the pair headed off to the Za’atari camp in Jordan, which is home to 80,000 Syrian refugees.

“Chris was very cautious in the beginning, he was like ‘if you get good footage maybe we can work together’. I didn’t really know what we were doing but we just kept shooting. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. But when I watched the finished work for the first time I was deeply moved and then later on I was even more moved by people’s reaction to it,” he recalls.

Prior to Clouds Over Sidra, Arora worked on numerous social media campaigns, as well as short films like Keep the Oil in the Ground protesting Ecuador’s plan to drill for oil in the Amazon rainforest, to get humanitarian messages across to a larger public which generated 2 million views online.

But he holds that VR is one of the most powerful storytelling mediums he has ever used to get a humanitarian message across. Premiering Clouds Over Sidra at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January followed by screenings at the Sundance Film Festival was an eye-opener, he says.

“It was like I was in a fairytale where I had magical powers to make people cry by putting this thing on their head,” recounts Arora.

Virtual Stories

Clouds Over Sidra as well as a second work entitled Waves of Grace – about a Liberian Ebola survivor who uses her immunity to care for orphaned children — will be among the works on display at the Virtual Stories showcase.

The exhibition also features Milk’s directorial work Evolution of Verse taking the viewer on a journey through a series of photo-realistic CGI-rendered landscapes.

Rosenthal reveals she was inspired to pull the Virtual Stories exhibition together after seeing the work of Canadian VR pioneers Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël who collaborate under the collective Félix & Paul Studios banner.

“Félix and Paul are superstars in the VR world. They visited us last year and showed us a piece called Strangers and it just switched my brain and opened up some many questions about where it will lead,” says Rosenthal.

Virtual Stories will show two very different, recent works by the duo: Nomads: Herders, transporting the viewer to a Mongolian shepherds yurt, and Jurassic World: Apatosaurus, a spin-off of this summer’s cinema blockbuster bringing fans into close proximity with a dinosaur.

Other top VR pioneers featured in the exhibition include the UK’s Richard Nockles, founder of the London-based 360° and VR content specialist Surround Vision, who will be exhibiting The Monument: London, as well as The Roundhouse Circus, an extravagant VR collaboration with Circus performers at the Roundhouse in London.

“It’s such an exciting space at the moment. Facebook has bought Oculus. YouTube are going absolutely mental because they can see the potential for 360° and VR and then you’ve Apple and HTC getting involved  – everyone is going crazy, anticipating that this market is going to blow-up,” says Nockles, who is practically a veteran in the 360° and VR world having first dived into 360° in 2010.

“At the same time, people are asking whether it’s going to stick or whether it’s a fad genre that will implode and not go anywhere. All these creative minds and technologists are fighting to find a fit – trying to figure out the science behind it, how we can make money out of it and how people are going to consume it.”

Aside from showing his own works, Nockles will also premiere James Hedley’s Simon, a short film capturing the reality of a young man with Cerebral Palsy.

“It’s premieres at Virtual Stories. It follows Simon and takes you on journey of his life. It’s very intimate. He wants you to look at him, stare him. His whole life he has been surrounded by people who don’t look at him in the belief that it’s rude to stare,” says Nockles.

Other works in showcase include Nonny de la Peña’s Kiya, the tale of two sisters who attempt to rescue their third sister from a violent ex-boyfriend aimed at highlighting the fact that three women a day are killed by their partners in the US.

“Some of the works are still works-in-progress and the Virtual Studies showcase will be the first time they’ve shown anywhere. Among these is fabulous,” says Rosenthal.

The version shown at Virtual Stories will be the filmed component of a planned 360° installation linked to Damon Albarn and Moira Buffini’s new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland due to be staged at the National Theatre later this year.

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Montreal-based interactive company Turbulent will also preview the recently completed Unknown Photographer, an atmospheric piece inspired by the work of World War One photographer Fletcher Wade.

Organised in partnership with the 59th BFI London Film Festival, Virtual Stories runs at BFI IMAX from Saturday 10 October until Sunday 18 October.

It was made possible with the support of Samsung, The Third Floor, Virtually Mine and The Arts Council.

Tickets are still available for The Conference (13 October) and The Pixel Market Finance Forum (14 October) where you can hear more about virtual reality. See below for details. 

Eventbrite - Power to the Pixel: The Cross-Media Forum 2015