Venice VR, 2nd edition: let’s get physical!

It’s hard to leave Venice when you visit this beautiful city in Italy. It’s even harder to leave it when you spent days in an island near the Lido where the virtual reality community had such an amazing time. Venice VR (link) is part of the Venice International Film Festival which celebrated this year its 75th birthday. And for the second year in a row, Liz Rosenthal and Michel Reilhac built quite a nice event where VR creators were at home on Lazzaretto Vecchio island.

VENICE VR – AWARDS

Best VR StoryL’ILE DES MORTS, by Benjamin Nuel

Best VR Experience – BUDDY VR, by Chuck Chae

Best VRSPHERES, by Eliza McNitt

Venice VR - Lazzaretto Vecchio Island

VIRTUAL WORLDS, TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF!

That may seems to be awkward, but you’re better without shoes to try digital stories. This year in VENICE VR 40 virtual experiences were displayed, and many of them were real installations which gave the audience a physical challenge.

From the come back of Ed Wood trying to teach you cinema in an odd (old?) way with THE HORRIFICALLY REAL VIRTUALITY (DVgroup, France), to UMAMI (Tiny Planets, France) where you had to cook a japanese meal in under heavily pressure, or the strange walk-at-night first part THE ROAMING by Mathieu Pradat (La Prairie Productions, France), you were involved in the journey you chose. Most of the time without shoes: remember CARNE Y ARENA?

Some of them, however, let you keep your shoes to dance. The choregrapher Gilles Jobin presented VR_I (Switzerland), one of the most interesting piece on the island, where exploring a strange planet you could connect and dance. More focused on sensations than storytelling, it shows that dance can use virtual reality to bring closer art and audience in a collaborative way. Dance was a nice way to work around virtuality, with the music video clip HALF LIFE (Robert & Robert Studios, Sweden) or the short story BALLAVITA (Amilux Film, Germany & Austria) influenced by it.

Immersive theater was not a huge talk on the island, but all these installations are looking towards it. Building experiences with a strong virtual story included in a physical set is something we will look forward in the next events for the interactive industry. How to sell that is another story, but ECLIPSE (Backlight, France) is a location-based escape game which is already open in Paris.

VIRTUAL THEATER(S)

The set-up on the island was more sophisticated than last year, with a large room of 50-seats and many more rooms for installations and stand-up experiences. Looking to open the VR world to the public, VENICE VR started with few days for the industry and press, but was open after that to anyone.

And it was something, to discover a place entirely dedicated to VR, and so many possibilities. With a selection of 40 experiences, the world of VR was invited. Creators came into the island to meet and share ideas, to try new projects. Distributors and festivals were also there to work on their next line-up. More than anything, it feels like Venice VR was the place were the creative VR industry finally emerged as an art movement.

And something is finally agreed: creating in VR is not going on a new path, but on multiple. The creative community has finally reached a first check-point where we can see VR as a form of art amongst others (especially at the oldest film festival in the world), but with many possibilities. We talked about location-based installations, physical vehicles for interactive stories. But animation is strong is VR, with an outstanding performance from north american studios with AGE OF SAIL (Google Spotlight Stories, USA), the come back of ARDEN’S WAKE (Penrose Studios, USA), CROW: THE LEGEND (Baobab Studios, USA) or BATTLESCAR (Atlas V, France & USA). And they are not alone: SHENNONG: TASTE OF ILLUSION (Pinta Studios, China) or THE LAST ONE STANDING VR (iQIYI, China), and BUDDY VR (Redrover, South Korea) came from Asia.

Outside the fun, VR can be used as a social and humanitarian tool. Many projects are developing virtual storytellings based on actual facts. Documentary was an essential part of this year VENICE VR, with AWAWENA (Coco Films, USA & Brazil) in Amazonia, the powerful EVEN IN THE RAIN (Novo Film, USA & Central African Republic) to help a Muslim minority, BORDERLINE (AM FILMS, Israel & Great Britain) or HOME AFTER WAR (NowHere Media, Irak & USA) bringing us closer to people living in countries at war.

Finally, pure storytelling were also welcome with ISLE OF THE DEAD (Produits Frais, France), an exploration of the art of the painter Arnold Böcklin, or SPHERES (Protozoa Pictures, Atlas V, France & USA) a 3-part story of the cosmos narrated by Jessica Chastain, Patti Smith and Millie Bobby Brown. And it was successful. Which proves that story matters: no matter technology you’re using, or headsets, you want great stories. The 40 experiences on Lazzaretto Vecchio island told us that VR has something to tell.

We can’t wait to come back for the 2019’s edition to hear new stories.

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