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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.