VR at Sundance 2017: Rise of the series, mixed reality experiments and VR for good

Here's the big VR trends and news from Park City, Utah
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Sundance has been kind to virtual reality over the years and now it's reaping the benefits. Everyone from Oculus Story Studio to Jaunt and its Hollywood pals are using the Film Festival to premiere and announce exciting new VR films, projects and - increasingly - series.

Most years, VR at Sundance has been all about the installations and wacky experiments. And that's very much still around for 2017. But this year we saw the first real signs of an industry that's starting to grow up and get serious too. Here are the highlights.

VR films get longer

One definite trend this year is that the Sundance creator crowd has moved on from short demos and onto full-length works. So, Oculus Story Studio's Dear Angelica animation premiered after an unfinished clip/demo last year. It is now available on the Oculus store, the voice cast includes Geena Davis and, incredibly, was created entirely in VR using Oculus' new Quill tool.

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Then there's Felix & Paul, whose work you might know via those Cirque du Soleil VR videos. The studio came to Sundance with Miyubi, a 40 minute film shot about a family in the 1980s from the perspective of a Japanese toy robot. Now you might not always want to spend 40 minutes at a time in VR, which brings us onto the next theme.

VR at Sundance 2017: Rise of the series, mixed reality experiments and VR for good

The rise of the VR series

Some of the big VR news out of Sundance is that The Lawnmower Man - i.e. the original 1992 cult movie about VR - is getting its own VR series, described as a "reimagination". The news came as part of Jaunt's big announcement of its slate for 2017 which had plenty of Hollywood and otherwise established names involved in the projects.

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So there's also Luna, a 12 episode sci-fi series which sounds like it will be live action. It will be directed by Robert Schwentke, who did the Divergent movies, and created by the guys behind Assassin's Creed and Exodus: Gods and Kings. OK, OK all three of those were pretty terrible by all accounts but let's give them a fresh start with VR.

Jaunt is also producing three more VR series - a stoner comedy called Bad Trip which will be "hyper visual"; a political sci-fi series called The Enlightened Ones and finally the sci-fi (obvs) action adventure series Miss Gloria which sees a robotic hero looking for a missing girl. Looks like Jaunt's Santa Monica studios will be very busy in 2017.

The experiments aren't over

VR at Sundance 2017: Rise of the series, mixed reality experiments and VR for good

We'd be disappointed if we didn't still see weird and wacky VR experiments at Sundance. Again, these centred around interactions and accessories as well as the actual stories being told.

One accessory, the Synesthesia Suit (previously seen at SIGGRAPH) was demoed with Rez Infinite to more fully immerse the player in the pulsing soundtrack, which really makes the game. Then there's Chris Milk's unsurprisingly ambitious Life Of Us installation which is split into three rooms - visitors are able to gesture and even talk to each other as they watch the evolution of humans then watch others experiencing the same thing. Meta.

Also on show, Heroes, which uses both VR and AR via the Microsoft HoloLens and is set to David Bowie's Heroes. So 'acroyoga' dancers appear different sizes depending on which medium you are experiencing them through. Nuts? Not as nuts as the another mixed reality installation, Hyphen Labs' Neurospeculative AfroFeminism which is situated in a real life set of a hair salon.

VR at Sundance 2017: Rise of the series, mixed reality experiments and VR for good

VR can still be a tool for good

One of the earliest themes we saw in VR and 360-degree films is the rush of charities, non-profits and publications to draw attention to issues that need more eyeballs. This showed no signs of slowing down at Sundance 2017. The highest profile was probably Condition One's VR tie-in for Al Gore's upcoming climate change doc An Inconvenient Sequel which shows glaciers melting in Greenland.

But screenings also included RYOT's premiere of Bashir's Dream, a mash-up of live action footage and animation which tells the story of a 14 year-old called Qusai Bashir Masaama. He is a wheelchair-bound, Syrian refugee living in Jordan who dreams of playing basketball.

Elsewhere, Under the Canopy took viewers to the Amazon River basin in an attempt as part of a campaign to protect it from Conservation International.

If and when these VR projects make it to mainstream headsets, we'll update our best apps/games/experiences round-ups. Let us know what you're most intrigued by in the comments.


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Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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