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TIFF.40 - The Review - Curated for you.


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MAR 13, 2016  –  ISSUE 17
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust
Guest curators
Ashley Pinnick + paisley Smith
VRG (Virtual Reality Girls)
@virtualrealitygirls (instagram) @VRGRLS (twitter)
Marcel Proust and his magical glasses
Virtual Reality is weird, fun, ridiculous, kinky, musical, scary, educational, historical, and impactful all at the same time. We are Ashley Pinnick and Paisley Smith, co-founders of VRG, and we would like to introduce you to our world of VR.
VR, as we define it, is “The simulated presence of being in a real or imaginary world with which you can interact either passively or actively.”

Paisley: My first time in VR (besides paragliding as an eight year old at Vancouver’s Playdium in 1997), was when I tried Nonny de la Peña’s piece “Hunger in Los Angeles” in her lab at USC. At first when I put on the headset, I was weirdly shy, wary of the (real) people watching me walk around (am I even doing this right?!), but I quickly became more conscious of the people standing next to me on the LA street in the experience. I observed them in a food bank line up on a very sunny day. I got a little more daring, walking up close to the people in the line up (can I touch these people?! No). Suddenly, a man lining up for food collapses into a diabetic coma. This man is on the ground and you cannot help him. You feel totally useless. Walking the fine line between observer and participant made me question my role. As a creator you begin to see the infinite possibilities for impact.

Ashley: My first time trying virtual reality came after a months-long craigslist battle with other would-be VR developers to snag an Oculus DK2. We downloaded some of the weirdest demos we could find from Oculus’ free virtual reality marketplace. My first demo was “Impossible Breakfast Simulator”, which is a deceptively simple game asking the player to simultaneously play a Flappy Bird emulator on an in-game cell phone while eating a bowl of breakfast cereal at the same time. I was terrible at it, but kept playing. It was the ability to turn traditional game mechanics on its head and tell stories in new ways that encouraged me to start making my own VR experiences. Beyond that, I began to see how storytelling through film, games and experimental media could merge into something new through virtual reality. It’s amazing to see how much of VR can be influenced by such familiar mediums, yet never feel squarely like any of those things at the same time.

This year is set to be huge for Virtual Reality – Oculus has hit the consumer market, the New York Times launched a VR app reaching hundreds of thousands, and everyone and their grandma is racing to get their tech on your face. It’s a beautiful time of growth and discovery in the medium we love. Right now, everything is still being figured out, and yet it feels like salad days. Not everything is perfect just yet. But at the very least it is certainly a great moment to be paying attention.
If you are feeling apprehensive about trying virtual reality, imagine this: being physically transported to other realities — using your hands to manipulate objects you could never otherwise touch, having the sense of being in the shoes of another person. What do those experiences feel like? For us, they feel like what virtual reality is becoming: a medium of exponentially growing creativity and expression. VR is an exploration of both the introspective nature of human existence... and playing a hot dog as a musical instrument. Anything is possible, that’s the confounding beauty of it. Creators in our field are diverse as ever with new developers starting down the path of making VR every day. We’d love to share with you our favorite badass, magical, and thought-provoking projects that make our heads spin.
The Real
Documentaries and Social Impact Experiences
Across the Line - Planned Parenthood

Across the Line is a VR journalism experience that gives the audience a very real, very chilling experience of what it is like to have to get to a Planned Parenthood clinic and be bombarded by anti-choice protestors as you try and make it to an appointment.

Who made it: CGI: Nonny de la Peña & Emblematic Group, 360: Brad Lichtenstein & Jeff Fitzsimmons from 371 Productions with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Where to find it: Vrideo App

Why We Love it:  All the audio from the experience is from REAL protests. It's easy to see how this type of experience, versus conventional journalism, has the potential to radically transform one's perspective.
Image from The Verge
Cardboard Crash

Cardboard Crash places the audience in a self-driving car, throws them into a decision-making role, and forces them to question their ethics. Are you ready to hand your driving decisions over to Artificial Intelligence? If forced to make a quick decision, would you choose to save your own life or the lives of others? It's a piece that calls into question your ethics, but in a consequence-free cardboard world.  

Who made it: Vincent McCurley and the National Film Board of Canada’s Immersive VR Lab. 

Where to find it: Search Cardboard Crash on the App Store and find a beta version of the experience. 
Image from The Verge
The Fun
Charming and Wacky Experiences
Playthings VR

Live out delightful fantasies in Playthings VR. “Playthings is a VR music playground set on an island filled with cheeseburger drums and other junk-food instruments that you can really play with your own two hands.” 

Who Made it: George Michael Brower

Where to find it: – It’s not released yet (though likely will be for HTC Vive), but subscribe for updates.

Why We Love it: It's weird, charming, colorful and kitschy. It's the kind of place we might like to spend a little R&R... and on our good days, it can also describe the both of us.
Playthings VR
Butts: The VR Experience

"An animated VR short about love, trust, and learning what it means to be truly free."  

Who Made it: Tyler Hurd

Where to Find it: - Also available for free on Oculus Share.

Why We Love it:  Firstly, the copywriting for every piece of this project is hilarious and subversive. Secondly, who can say no to virtual butts?!  
Butts: The VR Experience
The Artful
Beautiful, Whimsical Experiences
Way to Go

Way to Go is a walk in the woods like no other. Where are you going? Why? Who knows, but we are down for an adventure, especially when there are such beautiful soundscapes to explore!  It’s an "astonishing interactive experience, a restless panorama, a mixture of hand-made animation, 360˚ video capture, music and dreaming and code; but mostly it is a walk in the woods, c'mon.”  
Who made it: Vincent Morisset, Philippe Lambert, Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit & Caroline Robertand; produced by the National Film Board of Canada. 

Where to find it: At Runs in a web browser. No installation required. Chrome, Mac OS, Windows, Linux, Oculus Rift friendly. Fast computer recommended. 
Image from NFB
Dear Angelica

Who made it: Oculus Story Studio 

Where to find it: This project has not been publically released yet. In the meantime, watch this clip of Wesley live-drawing the experience!  

Why we love it: We saw a sneak peek of this project back in January. It’s the first project we have seen where the art was created INSIDE THE HEADSET! Okay so get this — talented artist/illustrator Wesley Allsbrook was able to paint her characters, world and story, which then unfold around the audience. They control the way they interact and view the world. To paint this world, she uses Oculus Medium and Touch controllers. It’s beautiful, charming, and an amazing exploration of the storytelling possibilities of VR.
Image from The Verge
Lucid Trips
“A Virtual Reality experience which takes places in planetary dream worlds. You explore artistically designed planets with a completely new concept, defining and navigating your avatar in a distinctive way, using hand motion controllers.” Think geocaching in VR.

Who Made it: VR Nerds

Where to Find it: Coming to the HTC Vive and Oculus

Why We Love it: This experience turns typical locomotion in VR on its head, but in a way that feels to me like a logical extension of what it felt like to be a kid, exploring and playing on all fours. On top of this, it's a wonderful UI solution for virtual reality. Elegant design goes a long way in this medium to give players a seamless way to learn new game mechanics and understand how to physically navigate the virtual world. The team of four producing this experience includes VR superwoman Sara Vogl, whose work has been wonderful to watch develop.
Image from UploadVR
The Social
Multiplayer and Community-Led Experiences
There are some fab social VR apps that you can access from a Samsung Gear VR. We highly recommend Oculus Social (for the whimsy of cute floating heads with mouths that move when you speak) and Altspace VR (for meetups and activities). These platforms remind us of our childhood spent in internet chat rooms, only more sophisticated. There’s something elusive and exciting about physically speaking to a digital avatar of someone half a world away. 
If you have the chance to try Oculus Toybox, you absolutely should. Though it hasn’t yet been released, the demo has found its way to a few virtual reality conferences, including Oculus Connect. Shrink to the size of a toy, shoot ray guns, and pick up virtual objects with your hands. Pure bliss, and totally social! Facebook also announced some exciting updates to their Gear VR social platform, which be available by the time you are reading this. Social VR is still in its infancy and we are excited to see how it grows and connects people in new, experiential ways.
Image from Huffington Post
With great ocular power comes great responsibility.  We believe that during this wonderful time, we have a responsibility to be ethical with what we put on people's faces and how it connects with their brains. We also believe that while we are still in the wonder years, we need to push for diverse artists and creators to help shape the medium. The field is a mix of tech start-ups from the Silicon Valley lyfe, the videogame industry and film world, with each of us interpreting VR through a different lens. We believe VR's potential to reach people in meaningful ways — through play, storytelling and everything in between — is a force to be reckoned with. By giving diverse creators access to these new technologies, the world of VR will become even stronger. 

So have fun, be weird, make good work, and enjoy unleashing your limitless imagination through the power of VR.
Ashley & Paisley 

PS. Look out for Ashley’s VR adventure game “Dead Bug Creek” and Paisley’s VR Documentary “Taro’s World” produced by the National Film Board of Canada. 
React to The Review

We believe a powerful film or work of art — or, uh, email newsletter — should generate a reaction. That's why we're thrilled when readers of this humble publication choose to reach out and tell us what they thought. If you've got something to say, please SEND US A LETTER

Below are some thoughts from readers on our last issue, curated by Chef Mike Ward.
Don't play with your food, America!

Re the food in film discussion, so fascinating! I'm sorry I can't offer any specific films, however I've noticed on several occasions that in European films, characters DO eat, actually put food in their mouths, chew & swallow. In American films & TV series, they hover above the food, when it's in a scene. It makes me crazy. Forks go to mouths & back down to the table. Ice cream in a cone gets ignored. All our food phobias become expressed in this way. We lose the story-line completely & all we see is that Julianna Margulies (for example) won't eat for her role. I get that if there are too many takes this might be difficult but it rarely rings true! Takes me right out of the moment.
— Norma D
Not to my taste

This is a seriously conflicted article by Mike Ward. I don’t think eating is an "unconscious instinct" at all, like fear, anger, envy, etc. The opposite would be true. We think (consciously) about food and eating all the time. Sometimes obsessively. Then he writes, "Yet in direct contrast to salaciously devouring another human, when we see actors devour a meal on the big screen it somehow strikes us as unusual." What the heck is that? Plus I disagree that eating on film comes across as "downright odd," which he follows with detailed descriptions of many great food-related film scenes. Not a great piece of writing. Food scenes in film have a long and beautiful tradition. I'm just now thinking about the great food eating scene in Tom Jones. I think I’ll go watch Big Night.
— John F
Dessert might get sexy

For me, the most wonderful food in film sequence is in Tom Jones, as Albert Finney and Joyce Redmond's characters treat their meal as foreplay.
— Phillip S
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