Virtual reality is certainly the flavour of the month, year and by the looks of things, next year too. But with such a focus on the technology, is there a danger good storytelling can get lost?
Much like the rest of the interactive documentary field, virtual reality is just another piece of technology and the medium must suit the message.
This was the sentiment behind The Verge’s IDFA write up – whilst praising Oscar Raby’s Assent, dubbing it ‘virtual reality storytelling at its finest‘ – it also served the reminder that VR projects can be ‘a gimmick, a parlor trick that usurps the story being told.’
This was mirrored with a word of caution from the jury when announcing the results of the IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Documentary:
“A central question we returned to was: How much to value technological innovation and novelty over storytelling? In some cases, we felt that the form or technique detracted from the content and emotional impact. On the other hand we saw projects that used innovative audience engagement and participatory activities.” ( You can read the full report here.)
The winner of this years competition, Serial, is a project that eschews new technology in favour of a simple podcast, which the jury commented ‘makes an old-fashioned medium feel new again‘.
With the commercial release of OR next year, Samsung’s portable kit released yesterday and Google Cardboard still gaining attention – it’s important to remember, this is just the beginning for the platform and the landscape will be changing rapidly over the next year.
Oscar and Fisheye ran a workshop at IDFA, as part of the DocLab academy, introducing the process of making something in VR to fellow creators and it’s interesting to hear people’s opinions on the medium:
For now, Sundance are keeping the VR wheels turning with their 2014 festival announcements last week. The New Frontier installations placed a definitive focus on VR storytelling, with the following documentary/factual projects selected:
Artist: Oscar Raby
This immersive documentary uses virtual reality technology to put the user in the footsteps of Director Oscar Raby’s father, who in 1973 was a 22-year-old army officer stationed in the north of Chile, on the day when the Caravan of Death came to his regiment.
Artist: Nonny de la Peña
More than one million children have fled Syria and news reports indicate children are being specifically targeted in the violence. By combining pioneering virtual reality technologies with audio and video captured during a real event, audiences feel transported to the powerful scene, becoming witnesses as the intense tragedy unfolds.
Artist: Danfung Dennis
Zero Point, a 3-D and 360-degree documentary for the Oculus Rift headset, creates an entirely new digital dimension. From combat training simulations to research labs at Stanford to indie game developers and hackers, this immersive experience highlights the future of virtual reality.
Almost lost among the full list, perhaps overshadowed by the VR. the much-awaited 1979 Revolution Game has also been included:
1979 Revolution Game
Artists: Navid Khonsari, Vassiliki Khonsari
1979 Revolution Game presents an innovative approach to non-fiction storytelling. Designed to engage players with an immersive “on the ground” experience of the Iranian Revolution, the game integrates an emotionally impactful narrative with interactive moral choices and intuitive touchscreen gameplay while remaining true to history.
Alongside this factual content, a number of VR experiences, fictitious narratives and exploratory journeys will also be showcased, check out the full list below:
Artist: Max Rheiner
Flying is one of the oldest dreams of humankind. Birdly is an experiment to capture this dream, to simulate the experience of being a bird from a first-person perspective. This embodiment is conducted through a full-body virtual reality setup.
Artist: François Quévillon
This interactive installation uses the audience’s body motions and positions to explore 3-D reconstructions of urban and natural spaces that are transformed according to live environmental data, including meteorological and astronomical phenomena.
Evolution of Verse
Artist: Chris Milk
Chris Milk, working with visual effects powerhouse Digital Domain and virtual reality production company VRSE.works, has created this photo-realistic CGI-rendered 3-D virtual reality film that takes the viewer on a journey from beginning to new beginning.
Artist: Ian Hunter
A dark energy experiment leads to a devastating attack by monstrous Kaiju, and you are standing at ground zero — all in 360-degree, stereoscopic 3-D cinematic virtual reality. You will “be there” as the beasts lay waste to a crumbling city and humanity makes its last stand. Cast: Susie Abromeit, Bill Lippincott, Daniel Martin, Brian Dodge, Vincent Chiantelli.
Paradise is certainly not paradisiacal if you look at it through our eyes. But neither is it totally devoid of humor, melancholy and absurdity. Perhaps it is first and foremost life as it is, and then a touch exaggerated in the digital overdrive.
Perspective; Chapter I: The Party
Artists: Rose Troche, Morris May
A young college woman attends a party with the intention of shedding her “shy girl” persona. At the same party, a young man is after a similar reinvention. They meet, drink, and misinterpreted signals turn into things that cannot be undone. Virtual reality simulators let viewers experience both characters. Cast: Tabitha Morella, Caleb Thomas, Zachary Zagoria, Anna Grace Barlow.
The VR works of Felix & Paul
Artists: Félix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphaël
Felix & Paul’s groundbreaking live-action virtual reality experiences range from independent documentary to fictional work with major Hollywood studios and stars. These experiences let viewers sit in the room with musicians making music, roam the Mongolian plains with yak herders, and experience an encounter with the afterlife.
Way to Go
Artist: Vincent Morisset
It is a walk in the woods. It is an astonishing online and virtual reality interactive experience, a restless panorama, a mixture of hand-made animation, 360-degree video capture, music, dreaming, and code; but mostly it is a walk in the woods, c’mon!
Artists: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Possibilia is a multi-layered narrative experience from acclaimed directing duo the Daniels. The story of two quarreling lovers splits exponentially into more and more possible worlds as their relationship unravels. Cast: Alex Karpovsky, Zoe Jarman.