Sundance 2017 Recap: Celebrating great films and recognizing rising VR films

#Sundancefilmfestival2017 is over but it will go down in history as one of the most incredible ones. G’Audio team loved Park city view at night, amazing programs and connections, even the waiting in long lines under the tent. On top of all was of course various VR projects that fascinated so much crowd. Let’s recap some of the discussions and projects on VR from audio perspective.

VR on the mountain: thought-leaders and influencers in straight.
From 11am till 6pm on 22nd, upload lounge was busy with VR folks. There were HTC Vive and other demos downstairs and passionate conversations on ground floor to discuss the future of VR, how to make new workflows work, storytelling rules for 360 video, etc. In general, creative studios don’t have in-house 3D sound specialists, so they were asking specific sound studios that have done some VR projects. However, as there’re no dominant solutions or standards to go by, many were still evaluating many different options. Obviously repackaging 2D contents isn’t VR, both in terms of graphics and audio. One prominent director even mentioned that he had to exaggerate sounds because VR headset users usually don’t experience the scene as he intended. It seems that people settle to agree that it has to be short form content with VR, both for content production cycle and for user’s consumption experience.
Alex Meader who co-directed My Brother’s Keeper, produced for PBS Digital Studios by Story Tech®, Immersive and Perception Squared and in collaboration with the Technicolor Experience Center, specifically stated that sound is the last layer of emotional relationship.

Experiments, experiments, experiments. People with tenacity win.
Honest talks that most audience can empathize with took place during several panel discussions. Everyone’s still figuring out who to work with, what tool to use, how to get stories told in most effective ways. Only the hardcore feedback could find a better way. It seemed technological limits often frustrate the creative producers that when they barely finish testing and figuring out which platforms to distribute their projects, all of sudden technical tools that they were using in beta say they are adding/removing some features so some functions don’t work out as planned. Big concerns over monetization and distribution were hot issues even if Deloitte predicted VR market may swell to $150 billion by 2020.
Katy Newton, a VR/AR experience designer, made a good analogy with magicians saying that magic works when it breaks people’s expectation. Applying the same principle, VR should prime the gaze and amplify the wonder. It’s the tool to change permanent reality. We’ve reached out to Katy about incorporating 3D sound into her research subject, so let’s see what has to be found about that.

Profound interactive and participatory VR projects that make you wait for more than hours.
When I saw Dear Angelica [hyperlink] by Oculus Story Studio, I felt grieved, as the story between daughter and mom was very provoking and emotional. Unlike traditional animations, illustrated animations are easy to curate certain emotions and feelings from the VR headset users. Virtually Mike & Nora’s comedy series effectively utilized first person point of view and made the users interact with other characters even if their motions don’t get registered in the scene. Through You, on the other hand, was based on third person point of view that let people observe the dancing moves from various angles and distance. Life of Us, built with Unity by Chris Milk, was a good example of social interaction in VR. Two different people go into separate rooms, but once you wear HTC Vive, you can talk and run, fly together as if you’re doing this adventure right next to each other. The best part was when my partner took off monkey on my shoulder.

Some say being in the headset is a disaster. However, as Yelena Rachitsky from Oculus mentioned that last year people were asking if you can tell a story in VR, but this year it’s all about finding better ways to do it, interests and investments are growing for VR. When entire VR landscape forms, there must be sound piece that creates more personal and realistic level of experience.

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