Kaleidoscope Showcase Vol. 2 came to LA and brought with them a smorgasbord of some of the most eclectic VR art and interactive expression pieces from the best and brightest in the burgeoning VR landscape. I got a chance to try several of the offerings at the recent event and did my best to at least observe most of what I missed.
DIR. TENDER CLAWS
USA | 2 Hours| Interactive Experience
One of the first demos I tried and a real treat visually. What I got to experience was only a few minutes of the full 2 hour experience, but the concept of being forced to do menial labor in a bunch of different VR universes feels like the sort of crazy chaotic nonsense that games like Job Simulator have shown VR does so well. The visuals are incredibly clean and pleasant to look at and the ability to throw things and create mayhem was great when it worked. Unfortunately, I did experience significant lag between my moving the controller and that being reflected in the game (input lag). This isn’t their fault per se, and not something you’ll likely experience if you’re just booting it up for a quick hour-long session, but VR still requires a lot of power to be able to run anything decent looking well and as a result, even the best phones are going to start to overheat and degrade in performance after a certain amount of use. Again, not a huge issue at home unless you expect to be able to have hours long sessions (though if that’s the case you probably shouldn’t get mobile VR), but it can be problematic for events like this.
DIR. QUBA MICHALSKI
USA•POLAND | 3 Mins | 360 VR Animation
Not too sure what to say about this one. You just had to be there, man. That’s going to be a recurring issue with these abstract art things, I think. There was a bunch of scenes of animals and cars and people and everything glowed in rhythm with the music. It’s perfectly fine to watch something like this on a screen in the right mood, but in VR it’s quite magical. Notably, this project is not publically available and as of now can only be experienced as part of this event.
DIR. DARREN EMERSON
UK | 14 Mins | Live-Action Documentary
Didn’t watch this one all the way through given its length and the setting, but this 360-degree documentary about the state of immigrants detained indefinitely in the UK seemed interesting enough from what I saw. I would have to sit down with it longer to judge it on the merits of its storytelling, but ultimately for this sort of thing, even in VR, content is what matters. You can get away with just pretty visuals if that is the scope of your project, but VR can’t make a bad story any better. A lot of hype exists among VR enthusiasts that VR storytelling will allow us to connect with people in new ways and I think it has, but I have yet to really get that impression from a 360-degree video. If you have a suitable mobiel VR device, the full version of Indefinite can be found on the New York Times app linked above.
DIR. TYLER HURD
USA | 4 Mins | Real-Time Animation
Didn’t get a chance to try this one out, but from what I could tell it looked like psychedelic candy glitter nirvana all set to Chocolate by Giraffage, a song which made me vomit Fruity Pebbles* despite not having them for years. It seemed to be quite popular on this late April evening, I guess people were in a kawaii mood. Chocolate has not been released yet, but has been slated for a H1 2017 release, so it should be coming to a VR platform near you soon. *Not sponsored by Fruity Pebbles. Yet.
CREATED BY JONNIE ROSS, GIL BARON, & MINDSHOW TEAM
Another one that was just hilarious to see people play, and perhaps the most promising in terms of horror applications, though Mindshow in its current form is family-friendly, at least until you start adding the human touch. The basic idea is you’re shooting a movie and you’re also all the characters (real control freak). You act out each part in turn, being able to interact with the other characters and manipulate the environment in ways that were limited in the demo, but could certainly be expanded endlessly. Once you have all your parts acted out you can save and presumably export or share your films in some format. The applications for any storytelling media I think are obvious, a few iterations of this program down the line and filmmakers with a few friends and a few VR systems now have access to a potential plethora of fully-equipped characters ready for motion capture. This isn’t just motion capture, though. Motion capture as we’ve come to understand it is a very expensive and laborious process involving expensive, specialty equipment; a large, empty space; and a team of professionals tweaking it to make anything useful out of it. This just tracks your hands and your head and then makes a ton of surprisingly accurate guesses about where the rest of your body is through a process I know just enough about to know that it must have been very, very difficult.
There are some hurdles remaining: adding support for some of the more robust tracking options out there might be time-intensive and serve a small market, but it would allow for much more accurate motion capture at a fraction of the cost of a professional setup. Also, from everything I’ve seen thus far, this seems to be a purely single-player experience at the moment, which limits its potential both in terms of characters you can create (assuming you can’t get all your actors over and play pass the Vive) and the potential for live performance. Can you just imagine it? Delusion 2020, no need for a ludicrous mansion rental or having to find parking in LA on a weekend evening, experience all the thrill of live theater from the comfort of your own home. Of course, some jerk will probably end up leaving their mic on while eating a sandwich and ruin it for everyone. Mindshow is still in alpha, but you can sign up for a possible invite on their website.
I should also mention a couple of other experiences I tried not mentioned on their official selections page. Eden (Drugs) is a VR accompaniment to Drugs by Irish electronic artist Eden and it delivers. It’s a beautiful vortex of particles and effects that pulsate in rhythm and turn a decent electronic track into something you would just listen yourself into a puddle of drool over. There was another 360-degree video there chronicling the plight of political dissidents in Myanmar and that one had some great shots of the temples where you could really feel the stone closing in on you as you moved through the courtyard, that really felt like it took advantage fo the power of VR. I still question how popular the whole 360-degree documentary/travelogue video trend is going to be in the long-term, but it seems like a lot of people are investing heavily in it. Personally, I don’t know if 360-vdieo really has the wow factor to sell people on VR. I think other technologies like photogrammetry and just the general march toward photorealism in realtime rendering that can give us a fully 3D world to explore rather than just a single view will win out in the end, but until that sort of thing becomes for feasible on a consumer budget, 360-degree video may be many people’s first venture into VR filmmaking, as VHS was for the masses just acquiring the ability to shoot movies without the cost of film.
Overall it was a good show, Mindshow really stole the show in terms of the potential for making VR a truly transformative medium, but there was great talent throughout doing pioneering work on what truly separates VR from any other media and how best to leverage that power to create experiences impossible anywhere else. Kaleidoscope Showcase Vol. 2 is currently touring the world, the schedule can be found here, but unless we have an audience in Australia, Ukraine, or France that I’m not aware of (let me know in the comments), you’ll probably have to wait until Vol. 3 rolls around next year to see this unique spectacle. A number of these experiences offered at Vol. 2 are currently available or will be soon to the general public, so it isn’t vital you make it out to one of these events to try them out, but they do offer a wide variety of different devices for people to try that haven’t yet invested in VR. Socal is a hub for VR enthusiasts, and events like this are keeping the community alive.