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Dylan Southard

“Girl” director Lauren Ludwig in the news!

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Lauren Ludwig, the director of our upcoming 360° narrative short, Girl, got a nice shout-out in LA Weekly’s year-end roundup. The immersive dance theatre dinner-party piece she directed, And The Drum, created with her company Capital W, was listed as one of the best and most innovative live performances of the year. See the list here.

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Audience and cast enact a meal in And the Drum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre & VR & also “Westworld”

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Our creative director Dylan wrote this for the theatre site Better Lemons last week. As a former dramaturg (fancy, weird word for someone who helps develop new plays), he has a pretty unique view on the connections between theatre and VR. And he also watches a ton of television so of course the connection runs right through “Westworld”. Read it here.

VR Evangelism from the floor of a Russian Tech Conference

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At this moment of uncertainty, with tensions rising and accusations flying and an evil orange stooge puppet running for president, the people of Russia rather nobly invited VR Playhouse to come visit their country. They invited us to come talk about virtual reality at a tech conference but we like to think maybe also to broker a new kind of understanding between our country and theirs.

So we sent Dylan. He’s harmless and, if you squint, he could maybe look a little Russian. And Dylan, as he is want to do, spent a day chronicling his adventures:

9am: It’s morning in Moscow and I’m rolling out of the Marriott Novy Arbat with my fellow non-Russian invitees, on our way to the Open Innovations Forum. We’re an eclectic mix of “entrepreneurs” and “experts,” ferried to Russia to speak on the various stages and panels that the forum offers over the course of three days. It’s a forum aimed mainly at the country’s own growing number of tech investors. I can’t tell if it’s the jet lag but I sorta feel like chum.

10am: We arrive at the Skolkovo Technology Centre, one of several large and impressive-looking buildings dotting an otherwise barren landscape on the outskirts of Moscow. It is very grey and very cold out and all the buildings are equally grey and cold-looking and it all combines to create a vaguely dystopian vibe. The place is pretty cool though. It’s brand-new, like as in they had to rush to finish it in time for this forum, and it will eventually house hundreds of tech start-ups, each of which is subsidized by the government. There’s tons of office and lab space ringing a central area that resembles a really nice mall. I don’t know whether to be impressed or terrified.

10:30am: I’m looking for something distinctly Russian about this event; some bit of bleak poetry ripped from the pages of Tolstoy. The best I can find is a robot rolling around that kinda reminds me of the one from Rocky IV (and if you don’t believe that I was actively looking for Rocky IV parallels the entire time I was in Moscow, then you don’t know me very well). And also, they play this weird, calypso cover of “Gangster’s Paradise” like, 20 times over the course of the day that inspires a madness in me that is positively Dostoevskian.

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11am: Though it seems Russia still lags behind in pop music and pop culture-inspired robotics, in most aspects, cultural globalization is in full view here. It’s all pretty familiar once the day gets rolling. Everybody sits in beanbag chairs, there’s talks on triathlons as event marketing spaces, the emerging markets in sleep science, and seasteading. In fact, the seasteading talk deserves is own entry…

12:30pm: The guy giving the talk on seasteading comes from the Seasteading Institute, which counts Peter Thiel as one of its founders. This inspires a decidedly awkward moment in the morning shuttle when this info comes out and the guy has to do what is by now probably a pretty well-rehearsed tiptoe around the subject of Thiel’s good buddy Donald Trump. His talk is like an elaborate sales pitch that is as much about the religion of start-ups as it is about seasteading itself. He talks about start-up countries and nano-nations and declares that “start-ups change the world.” Nevertheless, the libertarian vibe of the seasteading movement is maybe a little foreign to this Russian audience.

2pm: I make friends! Shout out to Olga and Vlad, who talk about VR with the same wild-eyed enthusiasm as we do. Vlad is trying to get an immersive musical about the life of Rasputin made on Broadway and so he made a VR teaser for it which is seriously epic and would definitely get me thinking if I were a Broadway producer. Olga and I babble in a familiar way about the infinite applications for VR/AR until we get to cybersecurity at which point we both simultaneously agree that perhaps that isn’t a subject we should dwell on in the here and now.

3pm: Shout-out also to Sila Sveta, a company that delivers the day’s strongest pang of competitive jealousy. These guys look to be applying VR in really cool ways, particularly when it comes to live events. They, along with Olga and Vlad, offer pretty good evidence that Russia is in the VR game. They’re certainly selling it here. On my way to the airport going home, I see one of those building-length video billboards playing a commercial for a Galaxy Note 7 (em, guys, might want to check the news about that) and Gear VR combo, an ad that is repeated before every movie I watch on my Aeroflot Russian airline flight back.

4:45pm: I have my panel. I am one of two non-Russian speakers on a panel on seven. I can understand everything through a headset feeding me a simultaneous translation, but not many of the Russians have such a headset. Meaning, unless they speak English, they have no idea what I’m saying. So, I can’t really say how effective I was. I can say that the conversation focused on the economics of VR and every proud capitalist’s favorite VR question du jour: how in the name of Yakov Smirnoff are we going to make money off it?

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7pm: The day is done and I ride the shuttle back through impenetrable traffic in the Moscow night. The woman sitting next to me is imploring her friend to come with her to Hong Kong, and the barren landscape outside is now pitch black. Every so often we roll by a big towering bloc of a mall with the football field-sized video screen lighting it all up, playing ads for virtual reality machines. They look pretty cool. Terrifyingly impressive. Impressively terrifying.

Bringing Virtual Reality to Cuba

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Fstatic1-squarespace-2ilmmaker Fifer Garbesi wrote a wonderful blog post on her efforts to bring VR to the artists and thinkers of Cuba; efforts that our very own co-founder, Ian Forester, had the opportunity to help with. They were recently in Havana shooting 360 footage for an upcoming documentary and hosting the island’s first VR Festival. It was, by all accounts, pretty amazing, opening the door for some great creations and collaborations to come!

Read all about it here

Our Technology Upgrade

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Christmas came early for the good little boys and girls of VR Playhouse! We got the fancy toys!!!

First up, the GoPjump-cameraro Odyssey: 16 synchronized HERO4 Black cameras, all controlled from one remote, for high-resolution capture. And it is, of course, compatible with…

The Google Jump Assembler: This bad boy stitches in a matter of hours to create perfect stereoscopic 360-degree video. This means no more audio sync worries. No more color matching worries. No more mismatched settings. No more days spent cleaning all that stuff up. It potentially saves our clients thousands of dollars in post-production costs and saves us thousands of dollars in Red Bull and aspirin costs.

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Finally, Sennheiser’s virtual reality microphone, which allows for simultaneous high quality capture of ambisonic audio via four-channel, XLR output and plugs into any existing four-channel recorder. Audio tracks can be brought into audio software seamlessly. So sweet!

I should note: we were not compensated by any of these companies to geek out this hard. We do it for fun.

Our Latest 360° Extravaganza Is Here!

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It was with great delight that we teamed with Jaunt VR, the Latin Grammy-nominated all-female mariachi band Flor de Toloache, Leyenda Dance Company and the beatboxer Musical Mammal to create “Fuerza Imprevista,” a cinematic VR experience celebrating Mexican heritage.

This was shot at the jaw-dropping Vibiana’s in downtown L.A. using the Jaunt One camera. Thanks to everyone who contributed their talents and technology!

You can download the full virtual reality experience here

What It’s Like to Work in Virtual Reality

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maxresdefaultLet’s be real. Virtual reality is having a moment. Headsets are shipping, people are talking and VR is popping up all over pop culture in weird, interesting ways. It feels sweepingly omnipresent all of a sudden, like there was this plan in place to make VR a part of all of our lives and now that plan is in motion. And so people ask me what it’s like to work in the virtual reality industry. This is a hard question to answer in an interesting way. It’s difficult? It’s exciting? It’s crazysexycool? Yes. But also:

Working in virtual reality is like being a first year resident on a primetime medical drama

Not that I ever watched “Grey’s Anatomy” because for sure I never did but somehow I know that the pilot episode covered the first 48 hours in the residency of Meredith Grey and friends, just like the pilot episode of “Scrubs” covered J.D. and co.’s first day. There’s a reason for this. It’s the ultimate example of being thrust into the fire. You’ve just spent the last few years huddled quietly over cadavers in university operating theatres and now suddenly there’s gunshot wounds and pregnant ladies and stroke victims coming at you! That’s virtual reality right, spring 2016. We’ve all spent the last few years huddled over our computers and now a bus has overturned on the interstate and they’re all about to stream right through the front door.

Working in virtual reality is like being in a college jazz band

If you’re playing in a college jazz band, then clearly you really like jazz and playing music in general. You’re probably naturally talented and have devoted enough of your life to it that you’re going to be pretty good. It’s likely that some of you will even go on to be professional musicians, enough at least that the band is a very serious endeavor. But at the same time, you’re also kinda there to experiment, which means it’s kinda great and a little bit encouraged that you never really know which note you’re going to play next until you actually play it.

Working in virtual reality is like that part in the heist movie where one guy has to shut off the bank’s alarm system right before the rest of the crew breaks through the door and it looks like he’s not going to make it but then, right before they hit the door, he cuts the right wire and the alarm goes down!

That’s about as good as an analogy for the current VR post-production process as any. There’s this incredibly complicated series of events that all have to happen in a very specific order at a very specific time and it all seems super shaky, technologically-speaking, and inevitably there’s this moment when the whole thing looks like it’s about to go to shit. Sometimes it does and the coppers nab you. Sometimes it doesn’t and you get away with the score of a lifetime. And by the way, if we’re riding with this analogy, than VR Playhouse is the crew in Oceans 11! Slick, sexy, never get caught.

Working in virtual reality is like being on the Steve Nash-era Phoenix Suns

Those of us diehard basketball fans know that the Phoenix Suns of the mid-’00s, when Nash was their point guard and Mike D’Antoni was their coach, were a historically fun team. Their slogan was “Seven Seconds or Less” to describe how quickly they moved the ball upcourt and their fluid, improvisational style thrilled fans and revolutionized the game. They set the stage for a new kind of play, one that the current Golden State Warriors, among others, are turning into the future of basketball.

Working in virtual reality is like that part in “Hook” when The Lost Boys sit down to eat dinner and at first Peter doesn’t get it but then he realizes that he can just imagine whatever food he wants to eat.

You’re doing it, Peter! You’re doing it!

Our Music Video with Honda and Moses Sumney has dropped!

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A few months back, we got to work on a 360-degree music video collaboration with Honda, the production company m ss ng p eces and singer/songwriter Moses Sumney. And now, that video, “Music From Every Angle,” has hit the interwebs!

We’re really proud and excited for this one. Technically, we got to take on some new challenges and perfect some new solutions. And we got to work with a tremendous musician and some amazing partners to create something truly unique for Honda.

So give it a look! Watch Moses seemingly multiply into a whole army of soul singers, moving throughout the space, banging on Honda Civics like they were drumsets and using all 360 degrees to give us a truly memorable experience!

 

VR Playhouse is going to SXSW!

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Here’s a piece of news that we’re very excited to share:

“The Surrogate,” a narrative, virtual reality experience VR Playhouse co-produced
with Peter Flaherty and Logan Brown, is a finalist in the VR/AR category at SXSW’s Interactive Innovation Awards.

Melding 360-video with a computer-generated explorable environment, The Surrogate immerses viewers in the consciousness of a female protagonist whose point of view they control as they explore the photorealistic passageways snaking behind the walls of a modern house. The viewer can see into the rooms of the house through a series of portals in which live action, hemispherical videos offer an immersive vantage point. The viewer is able to choose how they experience the narrative by moving through the passageways autonomously, deciding how they follow the action, and which rooms they look into at any
given time.

As the story begins, we learn that our protagonist suffers from an anxiety disorder caused by a proliferation of information and visual stimuli present in the story’s near-future setting. After struggling with the disorder and experimenting with various treatments, she ultimately decides to hire a “surrogate” to assume her physical presence, allowing her to retreat into the safe confines of the constructed passageways.

Reflecting some of our own most prevalent cultural fears and afflictions in the digital age, The Surrogate tells an important story in new and exciting ways and we’re thrilled to be sharing it with SXSW community!

VR Playhouse is at Sundance – Days 6 & 7: New Frontiers

By | Festivals Conferences MeetUps, Technology | 2 Comments

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Our last two days at Sundance were probably my favorite, and not just because we were all kinda exhausted and spent more time than usual lounging around in sweatpants in front of our condo’s fireplace, which is, let’s face it, why anyone is drawn to a wintery vacation environ like the one Park City offers in the first place. Also though, I went through my two favorite VR/AR experiences of the festival on Wednesday. The first was from ILMxLAB and used 3D projections and motion tracking to create an immersive Star Wars Holo Cinema scene for its audience to enter into. The second was called Real Virtuality. You play this with a friend, each of you wearing a whole litany of sensors to track your actual movement as you work together to complete tasks and advance through a virtual world composed of familiar, genre settings like a deserted spaceship or an underground tunnel crawling with spiders.

They were both immensely fun and awe-inspiring for their own reasons but one trait they shared and one that was reflective of a lot of the VR/AR we saw at Sundance was that neither was trying to recreate reality for us. They weren’t interested in fooling us into thinking they’re anything other than what they were. The Holo Cinema projected its images on to physical walls, which means we never forgot where we were physically, though we did feel that physical space transformed. Real Virtuality had the same pleasant, mediated sense of dissonance, existing inside an animated world but with an emphasis on actual, physical action that consistently reminded you of your actual physical presence, where you stood, and how your physical body related to your virtual one. It was a good reminder that as virtual reality evolves, the realities it presents are going to look and feel less and less like our own.

And then on Thursday, we went skiing. #nogogglesneeded