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: 

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  • 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!