VIR­TUAL FILMS

STRAP ON A HEAD­SET

The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - > BY KATE WIL­SON

Vir­tual-re­al­ity (VR) videos have changed the rules of film­mak­ing. No longer con­fined to a two-di­men­sional screen, VR users can strap on a head­set and let the ex­pe­ri­ence drop them in­side the ac­tion. Doc­u­men­taries place ob­servers into fas­ci­nat­ing lo­ca­tions like jun­gles or war­zones, hor­ror movies force view­ers to look fever­ishly around them, and an­i­mated shorts trans­port kids into colour­ful worlds. End­lessly in­ven­tive, the videos open up new realms of nar­ra­tive pos­si­bil­ity, cat­a­pult­ing view­ers deeper into the ac­tion.

That’s some­thing that Leon Ng, co­founder of the Van­cou­ver Vir­tual Re­al­ity Film Fes­ti­val (YVRFF), un­der­stands very well. For­mally schooled in film­mak­ing, Ng went on to co­found LNG Stu­dios, an agency that spe­cial­izes in an­i­ma­tion, 3-D ren­der­ing, and—fit­tingly—vir­tual re­al­ity. Al­ways in­ter­ested in the way that film and tech­nol­ogy in­ter­sect, Ng was en­thused by a pop-up VR film fes­ti­val he dis­cov­ered by chance in Am­s­ter­dam. In­spired to bring the con­cept back to the West Coast, he cre­ated the YVRFF with the goal of in­tro­duc­ing as many Van­cou­verites as pos­si­ble to the ground­break­ing tech­nol­ogy.

“It’s sur­pris­ing to me how many peo­ple are still say­ing that they haven’t tried VR yet,” he tells the Straight on the line from Hong Kong. “That num­ber is com­ing down, but there are still so many in­di­vid­u­als out there. The im­mer­sive na­ture of VR of­fers a new way to tell sto­ries, and those nar­ra­tives are be­ing told in a re­ally cre­ative way. I be­lieve that sto­ry­telling will be the gate­way for peo­ple to be­come more fa­mil­iar with vir­tual re­al­ity, and can change how we view the world.”

Now en­ter­ing its sec­ond year, the YVRFF will be set up much as it was for its in­au­gu­ral event—a two-day show­case that sold out weeks in ad­vance. At the cen­tre of the room will be synced view­ings of fea­ture movies, with a group of peo­ple all watch­ing the same ti­tle to­gether on Sam­sung head­sets. Around the out­side will be more in­ter­ac­tive demos, which let view­ers walk around in­side vir­tual worlds and touch what they see. Pro­vid­ing a full range of VR ex­pe­ri­ences, the event of­fers an ex­ten­sive peek into the ver­sa­tile tech­nol­ogy.

“This year, we’ve got some re­ally high-qual­ity films,” Ng says. “We had a lot of sub­mis­sions from more than 19 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, and they all show some very unique ways of telling sto­ries. One that we have, for ex­am­ple, is an ex­pe­ri­ence called Coco VR. It’s Pixar’s first vir­tual-re­al­ity fea­ture, which lets you pick quests and ac­tiv­i­ties that fol­low the Academy Award–win­ning movie. An­other is Blade Run­ner 2049: Mem­ory Lab, which lets you explore the uni­verse from that film. Then there’s Cho­rus, which is a pow­er­ful and im­mer­sive fan­tasy adventure.

“We wanted a wide range of movies, so not just ac­tion films, or doc­u­men­taries, for ex­am­ple,” he con­tin­ues. “One thing I do think about VR is that it’s a re­ally strong em­pa­thy ma­chine. Be­ing able to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing from some­one else’s point of view, and be lit­er­ally in­side their world, moves peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways. You be­come the di­rec­tor, and you have con­trol over what you see.”

In Ng’s view, Van­cou­ver was an ob­vi­ous choice to launch what he hopes will be­come a per­ma­nent fix­ture on the film-fes­ti­val cal­en­dar. Dubbed Hol­ly­wood North, the city is home to a huge num­ber of film stu­dios and shoots, and is also the sec­ond-largest VR hub in the world. With its dual ex­per­tise, he be­lieves the city is wellplaced to host the in­no­va­tive event.

“We’ve be­come a mini Sil­i­con Val­ley of the north, and Van­cou­ver is a huge cen­tre for movies,” he says. “It makes sense to com­bine the tech and the film in­dus­tries here—it’s a no-brainer for us. As well as that, the peo­ple here are spe­cial. I feel like Van­cou­verites are very open to try­ing new things, and more than other places in Canada— es­pe­cially on the cre­ative side.

“There aren’t too many film fes­ti­vals around the world for VR,” he con­tin­ues. “You see events around the world like Sun­dance that have a small VR por­tion to them, but there aren’t re­ally any ded­i­cated fes­ti­vals. We’re of­fer­ing peo­ple the chance to come and see these great films, and cre­ate an ex­pe­ri­ence around it.”

The Van­cou­ver Vir­tual Re­al­ity Film Fes­ti­val is at CBC Stu­dio 700 (700 Hamil­ton Street) from Fri­day to Sun­day (May 18 to 20).

Van­cou­ver has be­come the world’s sec­ond-largest vir­tual-re­al­ity hub.

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