Sundance’s New Frontier part showcases a number of the most bold and attention-grabbing experiments at present being carried out with digital and augmented actuality, amongst different works based mostly on rising expertise. Over the previous a number of years, these have developed from easy proofs of idea to lengthy, complicated narratives and elaborate installations. In 2019, the present targeted on items that blended actual and digital artwork, offering a take a look at what residence audiences will see later this yr, but additionally a style (generally actually) of how festivals would possibly hold providing a novel expertise.

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The Red Tea Detox

Fb-owned VR large Oculus typically exhibits off new narrative tasks at Sundance, even after they’re not on the official slate. This yr, it revealed an immersive theater expertise referred to as The Below Presents, which featured human actors taking part in roles in a surrealist cabaret. The high-profile AR startup Magic Leap additionally made its Sundance debut this yr in New Frontier, the place three items used its Magic Leap One headset.

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Like yearly, Sundance had the occasional technical hiccup or unpolished challenge. However its roughly 30 exhibitions additionally showcased a few of Sundance’s greatest digital and augmented actuality to this point. Listed here are essentially the most compelling tasks I checked out at New Frontier — from a spotlight group about killer robots to an actual meal in a digital world.


Still from A Jester’s Tale

A Jester’s Story

Created by: Asad J. Malik

A Jester’s Story is one thing between a fairy story and a CAPTCHA take a look at, and it’s by far the weirdest of three Magic Leap-based installations. To expertise it, you stroll right into a bodily re-creation of a kid’s bed room, at which level, a disembodied entity calls for proof of your humanity to proceed. The take a look at? Utilizing voice and object recognition, assist act out an odd, disturbing story a couple of little one and his pet rats.

A Jester’s Story director Asad J. Malik beforehand debuted the mixed-reality political commentary Terminal 3 on the Tribeca Movie Pageant. Malik says his new piece is supposed to discover the unusual implications of a machine judging somebody’s humanity. It’s additionally merely surreal. I don’t wish to spoil an excessive amount of, however one of many rats is performed by postmodern YouTube star Poppy.

Whereas it’s Magic Leap-only for now, A Jester’s Story is at present being tailored to cell augmented actuality, so it ought to ultimately be accessible to anyone with a telephone.


Still from 4 Feet: Blind Date

four Ft: Blind Date

Created by: María Belén Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Damián Turkieh, Ezequiel Lenardón

Digital actuality movie isn’t the recent discipline it was just a few years in the past. Digicam producers like Jaunt and Lytro have floundered, and manufacturing studios like Inside have shifted focus. However New Frontier’s 360-degree video program was unusually robust this yr, that includes a mixture of brief VR tales and stylized documentaries, like Ashe ‘68, about tennis champion and civil rights activist Arthur Ashe, and Touring Whereas Black, concerning the well-known Inexperienced E book information for black motorists.

The perfect of those was four Ft: Blind Date, a slice-of-life movie a couple of disabled teenager named Juana who’s headed to a primary date with a boy she met on the web, who doesn’t know she makes use of a wheelchair. four Ft makes use of its 360-degree format to supply a way of realism sometimes embellished with vibrant illustrated highlights. It follows its protagonist’s expertise as she speaks to her household, strikes by town, and waits for a boy she thinks may not present up. The movie captures Juana’s distinctive struggles and the common awkwardness and uncertainty of first dates, resulting in an finally candy decision.


Still from Gloomy Eyes

Gloomy Eyes
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Created by: Jorge Tereso, Fernando Maldonado

The yr is an alternate 1983, the solar has disappeared beneath the bottom, and a Burton-esque spiritual revivalist is main a campaign towards zombies — till his younger daughter falls in love with one. That’s the premise of Gloomy Eyes, a three-part animated miniseries whose first episode premiered at Sundance.

Narrated by Colin Farrell, Gloomy Eyes takes place on a shifting string of diorama-like phases, a mode impressed by the VR animation powerhouse Penrose. It’s lovely with only a trace of creepiness, and its creators, who beforehand labored on the brief movie Shave It, say VR has given them an opportunity to discover slower-paced experiences. Future episodes are alleged to advance the story with out sacrificing its shut deal with a romantic relationship as a substitute of an epic wrestle.


Still from Mechanical Souls

Mechanical Souls

Created by: Gaëlle Mourre, L.P. Lee

A handful of earlier New Frontier tasks have blurred the road between experimental artwork and live-action role-playing, and Mechanical Souls blends role-playing with VR video to robust impact. The expertise places a handful of individuals into the position of high quality assurance testers at Mechlife, your common amoral producer of eerily humanlike androids. After gathering at a desk, they’re requested to research some VR video of a disastrous incident involving a robotic bridesmaid at a ritzy wedding ceremony.

However the movies all appear barely totally different, and when contributors begin discussing what they’ve seen, it’s exhausting to pin down what truly occurred. The workshop turns into an open-ended discuss what may need motivated the substitute being, with occasional contributions from actors taking part in robotic attendants — who don’t appear fairly proper themselves. It’s an expertise that may translate effectively right into a full live-action role-playing sport, maybe becoming a member of one of many handful of larps that already allow you to play unhappy robots.


Still from The Dial

The Dial

Created by: Peter Flaherty, Jesse Garrison

The Dial is a fancy and apparently old-school tackle augmented actuality, laying out a bleak homicide thriller as a tabletop diorama. The expertise includes three folks staring by telephones at a dollhouse product of clean paper. The home is textured with photos from an overhead projector, and on a telephone’s display screen, the scene is overlaid with props and folks, creating two complementary layers on high of a bodily object.

The telephones aren’t only for viewing the story. One particular person is tasked with “navigating” the expertise. As they stroll circles round the home, their telephone detects the movement and modifications scenes, as if the navigator is a hand on a clock. It creates a way of company and accountability all through the story, which is basically about characters who really feel powerless to take motion after a lady’s mysterious loss of life.


Still from Dirtscraper

Dirtscraper

Created by: Peter Burr, Porpentine Charity Heartscape

Dirtscraper isn’t conventional headset-based VR; it’s an surroundings that’s projected onto a big open stage, which contributors can wander round sporting headphones so as to add a soundscape. However it’s one in every of Sundance’s most compelling digital worlds this yr. The piece envisions a post-apocalyptic future the place people stay in an enormous, multileveled underground complicated, their lives dictated by the unusual whims of insectoid synthetic intelligences.

The ensuing house is one thing between a mall, an inverted high-rise, and an infinitely descending jail. A lot of the Dirtscraper expertise consists of watching tiny figures stay out ant-like lives on the partitions round you. Periodically, a scene or panel will flash some darkly poetic descriptions of this mechanized world. (“The unhappy suns glow on the heart of every plaza, inviting folks to mingle of their everlasting daylight.”) Dirtscraper is a joint challenge from new media artist Peter Burr and sport designer Porpentine Charity Heartscape, and it feels rather a lot like one in every of Porpentine’s eerie, eloquent textual content video games come to life.


Still from Sweet Dreams

Candy Goals

Created by: Robin McNicholas, Ersin Han Ersin, Barnaby Metal, Nell Whitley

It’s a minor miracle that artwork studio Marshmallow Laser Feast — which introduced a trippy piece referred to as Within the Eyes of the Animal to Sundance in 2016 — might get one thing as elaborate as Candy Goals to work at a busy movie competition. The digital actuality set up depicts a world that’s unhealthily obsessive about new culinary experiences. And due to a small crew of stagehands and a collection of props, the VR scenes function precise meals and drinks.

In Candy Goals, you possibly can attain for a digital cup, grab its bodily counterpart, and begin sipping a tangy thriller drink. When a flower bursts within the digital world, you possibly can pluck an actual, exactly positioned “petal” out of mid-air — in your tongue, it feels one thing like Pop Rocks. Candy Goals treads a advantageous line between saccharine and barely menacing. It’s not heavy on plot, however there’s a storyline that Marshmallow Laser Feast hopes to increase into a bigger expertise with, presumably, just a few extra meal programs.

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