Immersive Fantasy

Creators from many artistic disciplines are using new blends of immersive media, fantasy, and storytelling to invite audiences to escape from reality. At the Tribeca Film Festival, V.R. heightens children's films. In London, Secret Cinema creates sets that invite moviegoers into the universe of the movie. And the play Pip's Island in New York piques children's interest in participatory media.

AIRED: March 25, 2020 | 0:23:30




Weiler: Yes, the technology hasn't existed before.

Yes, there has never been this level of participation

or this many people making stories,

but also, we're at a moment where this type of work

can do something different.

It doesn't have to necessarily be the way that media

or entertainment or experiences have been in the past.

We're in a moment where we can write the rules of what this is.

We can establish a new way to work,

and that happens very, very, very infrequently,

and the power of the technology

to provide these immersive experiences

but then to do it with some degree of purpose,

I think, is, like... I've never seen that before.

Maidens: It's very exciting to be here and watching what that is.

There's not many opportunities in our lives

to see a new art form arise

and to be right there on the cusp

and be able to participate in that.

Chelebourg: I mean, it's just a child dream,

this fantasy of daydreaming and fully immerse yourself

into the storytelling world, and I think this is the way

the brain operates when we are dreaming,

and we are trying to replicate it.

I think it tricks the brain that much

that we feel like we've lived...

For, like, 10 minutes, we've lived an alternate reality,

and we've lived an alternate life.

And that's so fascinating as a filmmaker

because it's tricky in traditional medium

to get this level of commitment from the viewer,

and now we've... Yeah, we can do that.



Chelebourg: You are inside "Jack: Part One,"

and you are actually on the stage

where all the magic happens,

and the real-life community can interact

with the viewer inside the headsets.

So "Jack" is a piece where immersive theater meets VR,

and the idea is that you can interact on the stage

with live community and motion-captured life

with the people wearing the headsets.

It's a VR adaptation of "Jack and the Beanstalk,"

which is the oldest fairytale, English fairytale we know of,

and I wanted to have a fresher and cleaner look on this story

because I think it's great, and the characters are amazing,

and it was an interesting story to tackle in this format

that's very new, and we are willing to push

for being able to walk inside a story

and actually experience through every senses.

You have touch. You can interact with the props.

You have hands. You have feet.

You have smells, and that's what we're trying

to experiment with right now.


My background is more into traditional filmmaking,

and I started VR very early in the process,

and I had the chance to experiment

with different formats, in 360 films, linear films,

and to me, it felt like a 360 film

is just an extension to traditional cinema,

and VR needs to be its own art form.

It needs to go even further

if it's to deliver what it's promised,

which is fully alternate reality

where we can interact with the story fully

and be immersed and interact in any way possible,

and for me, this is what VR is heading to.

The big challenge is to lend that much freedom to the viewer

without being into the video-game area,

so you want to feel like you have freedom,

but it's not game play,

and to me, it's a challenge because I'm used to framing,

and I'm used to entertaining in a very linear way,

and that's the challenge,

but that's also what's fascinating about it,

is how to get the story to go from A to B

and yet feel that you can do anything,

and that you could have done things differently,

actually, at the end of the story.

The point of VR has always been interactivity.

A lot of people are talking about interactivity,

and a lot of people are trying to find

a technologic angle on this,

and for me, there's no better interaction

than human interaction,

and for me, VR is interesting if you get a human back into it,

and you use the oldest trick in the book,

which is great story,

great characters, and human interaction,

and for me, that's where technology is interesting,

when you try and you manage to merge it

with what actually works.


I think VR is going to be the future of storytelling for sure.

It's not going to be the future of cinema

because it's not cinema anymore,

and what's really interesting for me

is to merge all these mediums.

For example, the team right now is made of people

from video gaming background,

from traditional theater background, from cinema,

and that's where it gets interesting,

where you have all these arts mixing together

and doing this new thing,

and I think this is what's fascinating about this

because it's really the birth of a new format.

Indeed, people are on their smartphone,

and the biggest challenge for, like, television

is to try to keep people onto the film,

and right now, they're putting on headsets,

and they're entering this space, so they cannot go away.

The commitment you get from this is amazing,

and it's also a challenge for a filmmaker

because then you can't have any mistake in your...

It can get very emotional,

so you need to be very respectful of the viewer.

You need to lend him a certain amount of freedom,

but you need to respect the fact

that he can do pretty much anything,

and it can be very emotional actually, yeah.


Maidens: We've all grown up with film and TV,

and we know what that box means and how that tells stories.

It's kind of intuitive because we've all seen it for so long,

film being 120 years old now,

but with VR, we're really in the first few years of it,

and we're trying to understand

what it means to tell a story and create in VR.

Part of that is how do you walk around and explore the space?

We think it's going to the 6 degrees of freedom,

being able to walk around the game engine as we try

and learn the new language of VR.

It's the easiest way to explore and learn how to tell stories

and find the language of virtual reality storytelling.

Part of the goal of our studio

is to become native virtual-reality thinkers.


The piece is "Arden's Wake: Tide's Fall."

It's the second piece in the "Arden's Wake" series.

It involves a story about love, loss,

the bonds between a father and daughter,

and the coming-of-age story.


It's an animated piece in a real-time engine.

You can have 6 degrees of freedom,

fully walk around the space and explore.


Our mission is to define the next generation

of human storytelling, and we think that's the key.

It's the connection between people,

the human storytelling element.

You know, we've sat around campfires

before we had any form of art and things like that,

and we told each other stories, communicated how to live,

and, you know, here is what I have done,

and here is how I give you the information.

That's how we connect.

It's moved into theater and then into film,

and we just think this is the next step in that evolution,

and I think it's, like, the storytelling

and the connection that's really the key,

and I think the virtual and augmented reality

is just taking it to a level where it's...

You know, the interface is no longer a keyboard

or sitting in front of a screen,

but you can just have it there with you when you need it,

and not have it there when you don't want it,

and I think that's the evolution.

It's kind of changing the way we interface with it,

but the core of it is still just that connection

that we're having with everybody.

We're no longer working within the confines of the device,

but making the device work for us, with us,

and trying to understand what that means

is a huge part of this whole problem

that I think everybody in this space

is working through right now.

Hey, Dad.

Good day today?


The key part of that is that, from the beginning,

we intended it to be a 6-degrees-freedom,

virtual-reality experience.

6 degrees of freedom means that you can rotate,

you know, control and then move around,

so it's X, Y, Z, up, down,

and you can rotate all of the directions,

so 3 degrees might just be this.

Six degrees is, you know, doing some of this,

so you can walk around and explore in the piece,

you know, versus maybe some of the standalone headsets

right now, which you can only rotate,

so and those are starting to change

without tethers where we get the 6 degrees of freedom now,

and that's very exciting because it's starting to make

this very available and easy for people to jump into

without having the computers and everything.

I don't think anything is easy to do in VR and AR

because nobody understands what any of it is yet.

We're just right on the edge of knowing this.

With animation, I think there's some big jumps for people

that come from the traditional field into the virtual

and augmented reality field.

We like to think of it as more sculpture and in the round

because people can move around and explore,

whereas in traditional animation,

there's a lot of posing to frame and things like that.

Again, thinking about the screen

that we've had for 100 years-plus.

Now we have this new medium where little characters

or full-sized people can come to life and move around,

so you can't just frame a shot anymore.

You have to think, "What's the environment around this shot?

What's going on?"

If you're too exciting in the background,

people may not pay attention

to the points in the story that you want them here,

and I think that holds true for all of the media --

games, you know, documentaries, and animation,

which is where we are, and, you know,

trying to make sure that you keep

everything balanced, and that's, you know...

What's the language of virtual and augmented reality?

Just like we have the language of cinema now,

and we understand that.

It's like, what are these things that we're developing?

And that's part of our ongoing mission is to figure that out.



Weiler: I think you're seeing a rise of interest

in the space of immersion

because I think that there's a desire to connect.

I think there's always the desire for human connection,

and I think if you look at the last decade

and the rise of mobile devices, which are...

You know, they're very needy.

It's like, "Me, me, me, me, me, me, me."

It's like, "Look at me, me, me, me, me,"

but we're at this age, we're at this point

where through AI or things like the Internet

and things, you can start

to move into more kind of calm technology,

and the technology can guide you without having to say,

"Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me," right?

And so it challenges you to think differently

about how you harness it or you utilize that technology.

Man: The government has issued an immediate call

for all citizens.

The virus has been spreading...

Woman: Hundreds of thousands of Britons

attempt to flee the country.

Man: The government's refusal to support junior doctors...

Through the health service's inability

to control the spread of the virus...

[ Man speaking indistinctly ]

Woman: Currently, our primary concern is...

Man: The health service's inability to control

the spread of the virus...

[ Woman speaking indistinctly ]

[ Indistinct conversations ]

Woman: Our medical staff are working...

Man: Take a number and wait to process.

I got you. Are you okay?

Are you okay?

Everybody get up. Get up.

Follow me. Now, follow me.

Man: Don't wake up.

Weiler: Whether it's people who are doing immersion for escapism

or people that are doing immersion

for purpose-driven things or people

who are doing immersion for education or entertainment,

whatever that is, I think that you just see

we're kind of in this experience economy,

you know, where experiences are starting to be valued more.



People are looking at that in relation to really these,

like, these failed kind of American dreams,

you know, that are driven by consumption, right,

and driven by material possessions,

and so you're seeing people more and more kind of look and say,

"Well, maybe it's really about life experiences,

and it's about the number of stories

that I have over the course of my life

versus the number of things that I've collected."




[ Woman vocalizing ]






Ajami: We definitely feel that people are craving experiences.

They're craving connecting.

I mean, we're so inundated with our phones

and screens and computers.

A lot of immersive interactive experiences now

are focused on the Instagram moment,

on the cute picture, but for us, it's really about the story.

If you can hook people emotionally to a story

that they care about,

then the immersion goes far deeper,

and it's not just a cute photo.



"Pip's Island" is a live immersive interactive adventure

where kids are the heroes of a journey.

They zip up their explorer's vest,

and they help save the island.

They meet characters, actors, puppeteers,

and, really, they go through a story

where they are the stars of the show.

The inspiration for "Pip's Island"

really came from having my own kids.

I always felt that there just wasn't anything out there

where kids could go and roam freely,

something that wasn't your typical museum or a class,

so just really by being a frustrated parent,

I started thinking through with my other partners,

how can we create something where kids can really just be

free and feel empowered, and at the same time,

parents also can have that same inspiration and wonder?

You know, I want to create something that even moms

and dads, nannies, whoever would be like,

"Wow, this actually is inspiring the inner child within me,"

so that's why our sets, they're not made for kids.

They're not kid-ified.

They're not made with bright colors.

They're treated like works of art,

and we've actually had a lot of people say that they feel...

that each set feels like an art installation.

And we've also designed the sets so that with time,

we will change the adventure

so also just having that episodic, filmic,

TV approach to the live, immersive space.


Every group is called an expedition,

and they have to work with other kids,

and we love to mix up the age groups,

so you'll have a 5-year-old working with a 9-, 10-year-old.

The other thing they learn is their inner power.

We always say at "Pip's Island,"

it's about finding your inner spark.

And that way, we don't make it easy for kids.

There are obstacles.

They have to overcome their fears.

There's the bad guy.

There are the moles that work for the bad guys,

and we've had some kids that are scared at the beginning,

but most of them actually make it to the end,

and they feel so empowered.

They feel that they've really gone on this hero's journey.


We started playing with this immersive idea

even before immersive was even a thing.

We took this idea of,

what if we could create these rich story worlds

and actually physicalize them?

And it was a concept that was very, very new,

and a lot of people didn't even know what we were talking about,

so 6 years ago, we brought kids to the basement of a church,

and just, with cardboard boxes, ladders, and fabric,

really workshopped this concept of kids becoming part of a story

and moving through different spaces and environments.


We saw how unique, how valuable that was,

and it was really from that very first workshop

that we started building upon this immersive concept,

and also, as storytellers, we felt...

Let's take the model and turn it on its head.

Instead of going and creating animations and books,

which, you know, you have a ton of great content there,

let's go to where there's a vacuum in the family space.


Through that world-building and that idea,

we started coming up with...

The island has different creatures,

and kids can get superpowers through sparks,

so we really just started building upon this

free world for children.

One more thing that we've noticed

is that kids really become in the moment,

and we also feel that, hopefully, the parents do, too,

and I think that's another draw in the power,

which is for that 1 hour,

they're not thinking about their phones

or what they have to do.

They're really transported and in each beat,

each theatrical trigger of the lights,

so that, for us, is another thing.

That's sort of the power of being present

and now on that on journey.

They could touch the environment.

They can have tactile play.

We've been compared to actually being in a live video game.

For 1 hour, these kids are hooked.

They're on that journey.

They're not breaking away.

They're fully invested.

They're on the mission to save the island,

and it's amazing just to see how...

that investment with children in the storytelling world.



Weiler: When you have such a rise of, like, a demand

or a needy technology

like the mobile devices that we carry,

it creates the illusion of you being connected and accelerates

and kind of is... It does a weird thing to time.

You know, like, when you make films,

you'll have the ability

to collapse or expand time, right?

It's a very powerful cinematic tool, right?

I think with digital, it puts us into this weird kind of state

where it's always tumbling, always tumbling

and there's no... not necessarily completion.

It's always just, like, something new, something new,

something new, something new, and there's the illusion

that we're actually connecting in a meaningful and deep way.

I'm seeing more and more people

moving into analog, or nondigital,

spaces in order to connect with other human beings,

and that is... You know, that's been there

since the dawn of time, so it's in us.

It's wired in us. It's in our DNA.


At end of the day, I think if you can create something

that's magical, you know,

that ignites the imagination of the people

who come through it, that's a very powerful thing,

and that's what stories have been doing forever.

We're just at a point where we don't...

They can spill off screens and off pages

and into the real world and back,

and that's something that we've never been able to do.






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