Announcing River Studios LA

Announcing River Studios LA

By Jonah Loop, Executive Director, River Studios LA

In May 2015, River Studios was born out of Rothenberg Ventures to push the boundaries of the virtual reality ecosystem in a big way. Led by CEO Mike Rothenberg’s vision and passion for frontier technology, we’ve done some awesome work with great partners such as NBCU, Coldplay, Bjork, Will.I.am, the Sacramento Kings and the Denver Broncos.

We have an outstanding team of developers in Halifax, Canada, led by Devin Horsman, a brilliant team of storytellers and creators in San Francisco, including Ewan Johnson, and we’re proud to share today that we’re officially opening our Los Angeles studio at the iconic Culver Studios.

Joining myself in LA will be Andy Stack - Executive Director, Sam Macaroni - Head of Production for River Studios LA, Brinton Bryan - EP/Director, and Stash Slionski, Director. We have a vast history in film, digital media, technology, and of course...storytelling. This gives us an experienced team with previous works completed at companies like YouTube and Google, Maker, Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks Animation.

Our goal is to work on a mix of premium traditional media, live action, computer animated, interactive, and immersive experiences for all VR and AR platforms. We’re a passionate group and we’re excited to connect to the mothership in San Francisco.

Speaking of which, and in case you wondered, with San Francisco being the known headquarters for technology, Los Angeles is the obvious choice for entertainment. That’s why we’re here and we’re ready to create.

Sacramento Kings + River Studios = Awesome New Uniforms In 360

Sacramento Kings + River Studios = Awesome New Uniforms In 360

By Adam Osfield Snell | Director, River Studios

Working with the Sacramento Kings and Willie Cauley-Stein to unveil their new uniforms in virtual reality was an absolute pleasure. We were blown away with the new look and think the timing for the redesign is perfect with their new, high-tech stadium on the way.

Not only was the seven-foot center a fantastic pick to model the jerseys; his towering height, curiosity in tech, and interest in fashion made him an ideal fit for our virtual reality experience. Our creative plan was to highlight his personality, the hard work of the Kings organization, and create an experience for their faithful fans that points toward this NBA team's bright future.

As a Virtual Reality Studio, we are proud to partner with an organization that is forward-thinking and helping us push this new medium forward. We designed our shots with the goal of matching the clean and crisp new jerseys and to offer the fans a unique chance to experience what it is like to stand next to a NBA star in his element.

We're happy to share the story and our process in pictures too.

A Prom Night to Remember

On Friday May 20th, River Studios, Balboa Foundation, and DreamWorks volunteered to demo virtual reality at the 12th annual school prom of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Stanford.

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

This annual event is organized by hospital school teachers from the Palo Alto United School District to celebrate the end of the school year. The event not only invites high school students who can't attend their real proms, but also long term patients from kindergarten through 12th grade and their loving family members. Various arcades, origami stations and face-painting booths were set up for the younger kids and casino tables were set outside for the parents. 

There were over 300 attendees dressed up in glamorous tuxedos and formal attire. 

There were over 300 attendees dressed up in glamorous tuxedos and formal attire. 

In addition to the jungle-themed activity booths, GearVR's transported attendees to whole new worlds and made them forget they were in the hospital.

One girl came back to try the same experience exclaiming, "It feels so real!"  The children were mesmerized.

     "I'm on the Red Carpet!"                                                                  "I'm driving a race car -- Vroom Vroom!" 

     "I'm on the Red Carpet!"                                                                  "I'm driving a race car -- Vroom Vroom!" 

Our mission? To inspire empathy and wonder. Mission Status? Accomplished!

Still, how can virtual reality be used in hospitals beyond just one magical night?

A boy is lost in virtual reality. Our friend Conan Low (DreamWorks) in the background. 

A boy is lost in virtual reality. Our friend Conan Low (DreamWorks) in the background. 

Well, VR can provide relief to the stress and frustrations people feel in confined spaces due to diseases or long term rehabilitation.  For example, Samsung took children on amusement rides at the Santa Maria Goretti Hospital last year, granting what was hospitalized children's number one wish to visit an amusement park. Design studio 5D Global Studio is working on animating the indoor environment using augmented reality and virtual reality.

I am looking forward to when hospitals will green-light VR to complement the school curriculum, so children can walk through ancient Rome or explore the depths of the pyramids in Egypt without having to leave their beds.

Everyone danced their heart out on the dance floor. 

Everyone danced their heart out on the dance floor. 

For many attendees this is the most anticipated event of the year and for some this might be their last prom. It was definitely a prom night I will always remember.

River + Odyssey + Jump Assembler = VR Awesomeness

River + Odyssey + Jump Assembler = VR Awesomeness

Along with select industry professionals, River Studios is proud to announce that we were accepted to the Odyssey Early Access Program. Participants were invited down to YouTube Studios in Los Angeles to pick up and learn how to use the Odyssey - GoPro's 16 camera stereoscopic VR camera array. We were just as excited for the opportunity to use and put the Jump Assembler to the test in our post-production workflow - Google's cloud-based, computer-vision stitching software that completes this 3D VR package.  

The studios represented were invited to share the VR production pain points they've encountered and offer feedback from a creator's perspective that will continue to reduce those pain points. The training was collaborative and hands on with the collective goal of creating more incredible immersive experiences hanging in the air. Even though there are plans to push more improvements through firmware updates, the camera already makes creating impressive 3D content much easier. One feature we were all excited about is the gen lock system that allow us to control all 16 cameras at once. Representatives from Google and GoPro charged us to go out in the field to put the technology to the test. We happily accept the challenge and are confident that the Odyssey is in good hands. 

- Adam Osfield Snell 

Let’s Keep It Wild

This year’s Green Film Festival inspires us to preserve our wilderness through 70 film screenings that expose pollution, climate change and overexploitation of resources as well as through a VR workshop that lets viewers get up close to wildlife.

In the workshop this past Saturday, Drew and I from River Studios demoed our in-house piece “Overfishing” and Condition One’s “In the Presence of Animals” to the eager-to-try and curious audience. 

"Overfishing" is an animated infographic that sheds light on the dire truth that all types of marine species are collapsing in the next 50 years. It calls people to support politicians to end overfishing. 

“In the Presence of Animals” shows beautiful stereoscopic live action shots of wildlife animals like the bison, grizzly and the majestic jaguar with minimum narration. It visualizes these animals vanishing into thin air because “they can’t push us out” as we humans can.  

After thirty minutes of exciting demos that we had to end apologetically, River Studio’s Creative Director Ewan Johnson and Condition One’s Lead 3D Stereoscopic Video Artist Jason Reinhardt sat down on a panel moderated by Tim Bradshaw from Financial Times to discuss what is means to shoot and tell a story in VR that create social impact.

View our panel in 360 image shot by Ricoh Theta. 

While coming from two starkly different backgrounds of animation (Toy Story, Madagascar) and documentary/TV (The Man in the Arena, UFC 78: Validation), Ewan and Jason both noted that they shifted to VR as they perceived virtual reality as a powerful medium of storytelling that can “suspend beliefs” and “transport people.” Here is an abridged transcript that captures some of the highlight Q&A’s from the panel: 

Tim: Can you give us a little background about the VR pieces showcased today? 

Ewan: We adapted Uli Henrik Steckenbach’s 2D animation to VR in a 6 day sprint leading up to the Global Citizens Festival. We wanted to use space to communicate ideas. This VR piece is computer generated in real time, meaning that the environment responds to you as you look around. As a studio, we believe that a narrative with some elements of interaction is magical. 

Jason: “In the Presence of Animals” is a product of 9 months of traveling and filming. Condition One strives to compel social conscience with VR. We believe that if we make people feel like they’re there, it will incite them to change. 

Tim: How do you want people to feel in virtual reality? 

Ewan: When you are creating virtual reality, you have to ask, “Do you want the viewer to feel like a first person or an onlooker or observer?” You definitely don’t want them to feel like a spider stuck on the wall. 

Jason: Yes, you’ve got to address the issue of the viewer not being able to speak or move in virtual reality and make it natural for the viewer to be in VR. 

Tim: What is the difference between traditional camera and VR camera? 

Jason: Traditional camera guides you from point A to B to C and tells people what to feel, whereas VR camera makes your attention turn inwards as you have agency over where to look. 

Tim: What is the biggest challenge of shooting in VR? 

Jason: Not knowing what you have till you get home is a big problem when you have 6 Go Pro cameras that shoot videos in 360 degrees that don’t line up perfectly. 

Ewan: You can get around the issue of “photo-stitching” with monitoring systems, live stitching previews and learning to stitch properly. 

Tim: How do you direct people’s attention in VR? 

Jason: Interactivity and spatial audio cues. People are good at picking up where the sound is coming from. 

Ewan: As I spent the past twenty years framing shots in Pixar and DreamWorks, my friends asked me why I was throwing all that experience out by going into VR. In VR, you are shifting your mindset from setting the frame to seeing the entire world as your palette. You ask, “How do you use motion, sound, and light to guide people the right way?”   

In the "Overfishing piece," we take you from one spot to the next when we drop you down from the boat into the net underwater. Even if you are looking behind you and not at the net, your eyes end up in the net in front of you as you follow the fish into the net. 

Traditional production techniques also apply in VR when you go from fast cuts with strong focus points to cutting to a shot where viewers can take a breath and explores the immersive world. 

Jason: "In the Presence of Animals" is a former case where you have a clear focus on the animals in each shot and you cut fast. 

Tim: How do you ensure comfort or reduce motion sickness? 

Ewan: As a director, you need to constantly think about how people are going to perceive where the camera is. For example, in our "Riding Shotgun With Collete," we put the camera right where the passenger's head is so it feels like it's level-headed. 

Jason: Motion sickness is induced because of the difference between what your inner ear feels and what you see. You can strap electrodes behind your neck to simulate the acceleration your inner ear feels as you are watching things inside VR.

Tim: Are we asking people to put more things on their head? 

Jason: We think that a virtual reality content consumer is a specific type of a person who is more empathetic, likes discovery and will give that extra energy to put on a VR headset. On the other hand, a person with a 5 second attention span is not going to get much out of VR. 

Tim: How do you move people through physical space while they are in VR? 

Ewan: There is this thing called "Chaperone" in room-scale Vive that overlays the physical world into your VR experience when you are about to walk into something outside the 15 by 15 grid. 

You can also design your environment. For example, in our "White Room," you have a ledge and a mountain behind it 5 feet in front of you and a physical wall 5 feet behind you so you keep to the given space. 

There's also teleportation mechanism to make the environment seem bigger than it actually is. 

Then, you can use cuts that cause you to walk in slight circles but you feel you are walking straight in an infinite space. 

Tim: What will have the most social impact on virtual reality? 

Jason: I think VR will gain momentum from immersive games that gain a lot of traction. 

Ewan: Everyone has Facebook and YouTube, and they already boast 360 feature. Once you access 360 on these platforms, you want to get more immersed and will gradually upgrade experiencing VR from web to cardboard to GearVR to Rift. 

The Green Film Festival's "Keep It Wild" VR Workshop was a truly engaging, informative and inspiring session. Attendees saw how VR has the power to improve our connection to the real world. VR can be used as an effective communication tool to channel messages surrounding issues they care about to policy makers and vice versa. 

Please email ask@river.co to inquire the next screening of “Overfishing.” You can download “In the Presence of Animals” in the Condition One’s app inside the Oculus platform on the Samsung GearVR. We also recommend downloading Discovery VR’s mobile app from the app store and watching content under the “Racing Extinction” category to learn more about wildlife preservation. 

Special thanks to Drew Olanoff and Gemma Bradshaw for putting this event together; to Tipatat Chennavasin, Alex Sink and Aashna Mago, the original members of River Studios who worked together on "Overfishing"; and to Upload VR's Will Mason for writing a spectacular article about it when it was first shown to the public.  

Everything You Missed at Our SXSW Ranch

Everything You Missed at Our SXSW Ranch

SXSW was a lot of fun. Rothenberg Ventures and River Studios converted a 1930’s bungalow in Austin into a swanky tech hub filled with awesome virtual reality demos and frontier technology. 

Check out an interactive 360 tour of the venue that Matterport 3D scanned in under just one hour before we opened it up to the public for three days! 

Now let me walk you through:

Reaction Housing — Exo House

Reaction Housing — Exo House

By the welcoming entrance made of a round rustic stone stood a futuristic EXO house, an emergency shelter for disaster reliefs or festivals like Burning Man. I’ve been day dreaming about living in one ever since. 

Rival Theory — Elise

Rival Theory — Elise

An artificial intelligence studio Rival Theory demoed their sentient AI-driven character Elise in VR inside the air-conditioned Exo house. A portfolio company demoing their product in another portfolio company’s product. Rad, isn’t it?

Directly across from the Exo house, there were panels going on throughout the day. More than 2,000 people showed up during the three days and lent their ears to how frontier tech companies get backed and how people tell stories using immersive new media.

Creative Director Ewan Johnson on “Creators at the Frontier: The New Storytelling” panel alongside Yelena Rachitsky (Creative Producer, Oculus Story Studio; left) and Molly Swenson (COO, Ryot; right).

Creative Director Ewan Johnson on “Creators at the Frontier: The New Storytelling” panel alongside Yelena Rachitsky (Creative Producer, Oculus Story Studio; left) and Molly Swenson (COO, Ryot; right).

A lot of people showed up!

A lot of people showed up!

In a spacious warehouse with green window panels, inVR and 8i set up Vive VR stations. It was great to see familiar faces from VR startups backed by Rothenberg Ventures. 

inVR allows you convert a 3D art into a VR experience and share it with friends.

8i lets you to walk around volumetric capture of realistic humans in VR.

8i lets you to walk around volumetric capture of realistic humans in VR.

We had another Vive station under a white tent. During the day, we did River Studios football demo where you had to throw balls through the hoops in the hands of target players that pop up one by one. At night we showed Tilt Brush where you could paint with light and fire in a 3D space. 

         People tested their athletic skills by day (left) and unleashed their creativity at night (right) 

         People tested their athletic skills by day (left) and unleashed their creativity at night (right) 

Next to the food and beverage, there was a Machine-Learning-designed 3D printed car called Hacked, created by many organizations like Autodesk and G-Tech. Parked nearby was a brand spanking new GRC River Racing promo car. I got to ride around downtown with our endearing star Collete Davis and her pit dog Pete and pass out VR viewers to SXSW attendees. 

                                                       Hackrod                                                                                                              River Racing promo car

                                                       Hackrod                                                                                                              River Racing promo car

Inside the Anthropologie-style house, people checked out Merge VR’s marshmallow foam mobile VR viewers. We also had a screening room for Oculus Story Studios’ adorable short film “Henry” on the Oculus Rift CV1. I thought it was really awesome that anyone who walked into the ranch could get a full tour of the available VR headsets (minus Sony) in the market. (We're still waiting for you, PSVR!)

I shifted in and out of the house to show River Studios VR content on Samsung GearVR. Some had never tried VR before and their minds would start to rush. One local guy who manages a travel website said that this would be perfect for his website. It was also exciting to meet VR creators from around the world who showed their own VR content and shared their experiences building VR. 

Ranch visitors got immersed in River Studios 360 content on Samsung GearVR. 

Ranch visitors got immersed in River Studios 360 content on Samsung GearVR. 

One of my favorite things in the ranch was a blue satellite and an image of the earth it took from space provided by Planet Labs. Space was a huge theme at SXSW. Google debuted a documentary series about the Lunar Xprize and NASA took people to the Moon on a rover inside VR. 

People gathered by the fire at night  

People gathered by the fire at night  

There was surely a lot to see outside of our ranch. During our downtime from 6:00 to 10:00 PM, I followed people I met at the ranch to different music venues and met more people spontaneously. At the end of the day, people wanted to come back to the ranch to let their friends try VR demos, hang around the fire and dance the night away to live music.  

Introducing The New River Studios App For iOS And Android

Introducing The New River Studios App For iOS And Android

by Christian Talmage, Design Director

I’m excited to share our new River Studios app, now available on the iOS App Store and Google Play store.

This project has been particularly meaningful to me since it’s a chance to share a number of our latest 360 experiences with the world, now available in the same place, for the first time ever. This new peek into what we’ve been up to will be a great way to stay up to date on all of our future releases as well.2016 is shaping up to be an incredible year for virtual reality, and especially for River Studios. I wish I could tell you about all of the awesome projects we currently have under development (spoiler: a lot of new interactive experiences), but for now I’m going to have to keep quiet.

I will say that we plan to update the River Studios app frequently with new releases so please don’t forget to check back. Ultimately we hope this will evolve into a hub for our community and a great way for fans to connect with us directly.

In the meantime, if you have any feedback we’d love to hear it! Please don’t hesitate to write a review or send us a quick email with your thoughts: studio@river.co

Sundance Recap #2: Wevr Does It Right

The Leviathan Project wasn't the only VR piece making splashes at Sundance with a giant whale. Wevr brought a majestic blue whale face-to-face with the audience on a sunken ship in virtual reality. If anyone isn't convinced with VR, I will tell them to try theBlu: Encounter and any doubt will instantly vanish! 

Wevr featured four pieces at Sundance. I'd already tried one and was able to check out two new ones at their cozy VIP underground venue. Bottom line: Wevr is literally and figuratively making waves in the VR world through its innovative storytelling in animation, live action and a combination of both.

theBlue: Encounter 

theBlue: Encounter 

  • Length: 2 min
  • Creator: Jake Rowell, Ben Vance, Eyal Erez, Andy Jones, Neville Spiteri
  • Technology: in-house tools to script the sequence and integrate new art assets into existing AI pipeline, light engineering to accommodate 3D audio, Vive

Wevr is perhaps best known for this incredibly immersive underwater experience. It's a room-scale VR, which means you can walk around in a space up to 15 x 15 feet as you are tracked by two laser-emitting Lighthouse base stations mounted in the upper corners of the room. I love theBlu: Encounter because it's easy to demo, has great graphics and makes you get VR immediately with a sense of presence -- you forget that you are in virtual reality -- and scale -- the giant whale eye makes you feel very small.  

Hard World for Small Things

Hard World for Small Things

  • Length: 6 min
  • Creator: Janicza Bravo 
  • Technology: Gear VR 

Choosing a talented indie filmmaker Janicza Bravo to direct Hard World for Small Things was a part of Wevr's commitment to fund diverse voices and equip them with a powerful medium to highlight sociopolitical issues such as unarmed police violence in America.

The protagonist starts off in a car in South Central LA and stops in front of the local convenience store to mingle with friends and family, including a grandma sitting at the back seat. Spoiler alert: in the final 15 seconds in the convenience store, he is shot after bumping into a cop and making him fall, by his police partner who walks into the store and wrongly assumes the small accident for something much worse. 

Here is a condensed version of my colleagues' post-mortem conversation after viewing Hard World for Small Things: 

Me: Bravo's directing is organic and puts the viewer in the scene with ease. Multiple dialogues are going on around the car and you can choose which one to lean your ears.

Christian: Yeah, I thought she really executed mounting the camera at the back of the car well. Just as you notice that you are not engaged in the conversation, the guy walks the grandma to the car and now you are not the only one not talking at the back of the car. You feel a part of the scene. 

Savannah: I also liked the usage of the car and how you start at the back of the car and drive the store with the characters. You form a connection with them. I felt that this was very important.   

Me: I wondered what could go wrong when he walked grandma from church to the car. How did you feel about the ending? I didn't know how to react. 

Savannah: It was shocking. I caught myself shouting, "No!" 

In short, we were all deeply impressed. Being inside VR, we quickly formed a connection to the characters in just five minutes through intimate storytelling and felt a reverberating loss to the community. 

Waves 

Waves 

  • Length: 11 min
  • Creator: Ben Dickinson, Anthony Batt, Lius Blackaller, Reggie Watts, Natalie Emmanuel
  • Technology: Gear VR 

Waves has been cited as a favorite among many of our friends inside Wevr. It's a humorous and psychedelic musical ride into Reggie Watt’s imagination. Wevr pushes the envelopes of storytelling by tastefully combining comedy and musical in virtual reality and experimenting with its heavy usage of CG and green screens interweaved with live action. 

For example, Watts invites you to enter a time portal he creates with a spray can in the middle of a street. You are now in a virtual grid setting where Emmanuel -- the beautiful Missandei from Game of Thrones -- uses a remote controller to transform the background to a forest and then puts on a helmet akin to a virtual reality device on you, or the camera in real life, to transport you into the genius mind of Watts. There, he is dressed like Jesus floating in space and shoots laser beams out of his mouth to create a band composed of... none other than his own clones! Without giving too much away, it was a clever storytelling to transport the viewer into "a reality within reality within reality" a la director Dickinson. 

Gone

Gone

What was not featured at Sundance but noteworthy is a new VR thriller series made just for virtual reality by Wevr and Skybound Entertainment available on Samsung Milk VR. Gone tells a compelling story of a desperate mother's search for her daughter, who mysteriously disappears in a playground in broad daylight. Presented with different gaze points in the scene that one can jump to and from, viewers can search for clues while watching the narrative unfold. Gone embodies Wevr's relentless spirit of experimentation in cinematic storytelling. 

Wevr's OnWevr grant program

Wevr's OnWevr grant program

Aside from producing content, Wevr is also building the content ecosystem from the ground up through its active support of independent filmmakers and developers from within and outside of the VR world. Their OnWEVR grant program provides the necessary financial capital, production tools and technology to create VR content.

Transport

Transport

More recently, Wevr has introduced Transport: a curated content network that is platform agnostic so users can experience the content on any headset. Our general manager Sivan Iram has written a fascinating article about the need for such premium channel to allow virtual reality entertainment to flourish. The private beta of Transport is live on Vive and coming to Samsung Gear VR next month. 

Sports Illustrated partners with Wevr to bring swim suit issues in virtual reality 

Sports Illustrated partners with Wevr to bring swim suit issues in virtual reality 

Last but not least, Wevr has built a VR player and app for Sports Illustrated where 5 clips are free and 5 clips can be unlocked for $1.99. You can watch models like Nina Adgal, Irina Shayk and Hannah Davis pose on the beach. It's bold and business savvy. Hope it paves way for more subscription based magazines to follow suit!

Special thanks to Tony Parisi, who is VP of Web & Open Technologies at Wevr, a close friend of River Studios and a beloved mentor to the River Program. We look forward to working with Wevr in the future. 

Join River Studios, Bella Thorne, and InStyle For A Golden Globes Party In VR!

Join River Studios, Bella Thorne, and InStyle For A Golden Globes Party In VR!

For River Studios, it’s really important to work with people who are forward thinking when it comes to presenting media and have already answered the question "Why should this be in VR?" Often, our answer involves taking people to a place that they’ve never been, and may never get to see and experience first-hand. The Golden Globes piece with InStyle nails the answer to the “why VR?” question. It was also a lot of fun to make.

What we were able to accomplish with InStyle was in essence, becoming Bella Thorne’s +1 for the Golden Globes and InStyle’s after-party. When you watch, you’ll see celebrities like Creed’s Sylvestor Stallone and tech luminaries like Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk. On TV, this experience would have come off as “exclusive”…whereas in virtual reality, it’s an “inclusive” experience.” InStyle really understood the difference.

Have a look!

Getting to shoot at the InStyle Golden Globe after party was a perfect opportunity because that is truly something most of us don’t get to experience.

How'd we do it? Well, our lead producer Malvika Agarwal had these notes to share:

VR equipment is still in it early stages and as a studio we experiment with creating our own camera rigs all of the time. With the Golden Globes, it was important to be discrete and mobile so that we were not in anyone’s way and didn’t spoil their party experience.
We decided to use 2 rigs of 4 GoPro cameras each. One on a small stand that could be placed on the tables, and the other on a mic stand with a round base, which provided stability to the camera rig. We carried a lot of external batteries that kept the GoPro powered at all times. We used custom lenses on our GoPros - designed to fit into small places and are able to have people closer to the camera.
We also used Sony a7Rii with nodal point rig - with a large sensor, which is much better for low light situations. Situations like this are perfect for testing and proving out something we’ve been trying in the studio.
Challenges? Sure.

The problem with shooting VR with traditional cameras is that you can't shoot it all in 1 take. You need to point the camera in 4 different directions and know what the other 4 directions were doing so when you join them together you can create 1 cohesive video. For this piece we tried to play around with still images in a 360 sphere, to compensate for the low light situation

All in all - a great shoot, with some challenges that our team creatively tackled.

 

Sundance Recap: The Leviathan Project

The Leviathan Project

I attended Sundance this year with the specific interests of AR and VR in mind and there certainly was a lot to check out. I viewed over 35 pieces of content and experiences at the event and I thought I'd share my learnings a little bit at a time. The Leviathan Project is about creating a unique jellyfish in a giant airship attached to a 1,000ft flying whale. Sounds awesome, huh?

  • Length: 15 min (AR & VR) 
  • Creator: 5D Global Studio, Unity, USC World Building Media Lab, Intel
  • Technology: Intel RealSense, Unity Engine, motion tracked objects, Rift

Loosely based on Scott Westerfield's best selling trilogy that reimagines WWI with bioengineered creatures of war, The Leviathan Project pushes the boundaries of storytelling in three ways: 

First, it started by building a world instead of crafting a linear script and let the narratives evolve from that world. Second, this approach to storytelling paved way for cross-platform narratives spanning across multiple media including augmented reality and virtual reality. Third, by synthesizing the virtual and the physical world, as objects in the physical world are motion-tracked and then represented and manipulated in VR, it brought the audience into the story and let them become active participants in the outcome.

The Leviathan Project opened my eyes to the future of storytelling. When merging two media like film and virtual reality, I'd always thought of VR as an extension of a film in the form of a teaser, highlight reel or interactive complementary experience. After trying The Leviathan Project, I could see how stories could evolve from VR and live on multiple platforms like books, films or games. 

The participatory virtual environment also showed me a glimpse into the future of interactive storytelling. How cool would it be to enter the world of Harry Potter and play quidditch with Harry or learn magic with Hermione? 

Since I've done a lot of virtual reality demos with River Studios, I'm always taking notes on how others present their work. I was fascinated by the AR-to-VR setup of The Leviathan Project. Here are my observations: 

unnamed.jpg
  • AR: you stand in a three-sided room peppered with concept artworks, designs and AR markers of the various imaginary creatures, the scientists and the ship on the walls. The titular flying whale emerges from the projection screen on the wall facing you. You can follow the whale with an Intel's RealSense camera-equipped tablet that can register the marker around the screen and make the whale fly out of the two-dimensional screen into your space. After a couple minutes of flying, the whale releases little Huxley, a flying hybrid of a jellyfish, octopus and electric eel that you can tickle with the tablet 
  • VR: you are given two haptic gloves with motion sensors and a Rift headset. Inside VR, you become a 19th Century scientist and join a Unity-driven female scientist in a lab aboard the gondola attached to the flying whale. She gives you instructions to create your own fabricated Huxley by moving two green vials from the first table to the designated place holders on the second table and then turning one of the four levers on the third table. 

Here are more links about the project you can check out!