Exploring the future of VR at IFFR Pro’s VR Days 2019
by Vassilis Economou
- The conference organised by IFFR Pro and VR Days Europe looked to the future of a medium that is constantly evolving but which still needs to find its way in terms of storytelling and financing
The collaboration between IFFR Pro and VR Days Europe has been renewed for the third year running, resulting in the IFFR Pro x VR Days 2019 conference, which was held on 29 January and was aimed at investigating what the future will bring, as Marit Van Den Elshout, head of IFFR Pro, mentioned in her opening speech. Likewise, Benjamin de Wit, director of VR Days Europe, underlined that when developing a new medium such as virtual reality, there is so much to do and to explore. The day was dedicated to a series of discussions and a Spotlight session focusing on the four VR projects that are participating in this year’s CineMart.
Managing director of the Film Fund Luxembourg Guy Daleiden was the first guest to speak at the conference. He introduced the basic schemes that the fund offers in a challenging, increasingly digitised environment, such as that found in the world of VR. While overcoming the struggles of financing and raising awareness was singled out as a particular problem, the toughest people to convince are the producers, as they are not keen on investing in new technologies. Thanks to a wide-ranging collaboration with successful initiatives, mostly from Canada, Luxembourg is now in a leading position in terms of VR production. As Daleiden underlined, the biggest challenge remains the narrative, as the future of VR will depend on the storytelling side, but he remains faithful to the new technology, firmly asserting, “In VR we trust.”
The versatility of the medium was also under discussion during the subsequent case study. Director Mirka Duijn (Studio Kimmo) and producer Corine Meijers, of Submarine Channel, presented the VR aspect of their web-based documentary The Industry. This interactive doc maps out the illicit drug industry in the Netherlands from a financial and geographical perspective. Through podcast narration and a hands-on VR “installation” experience, viewers are immersed in a first-person narrative that enables them to witness all of the hidden aspects of an industry that is simultaneously in plain sight and hidden in Dutch society. The topic is explored via the main drugs (marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy), and Doujin offered an in-depth analysis of the combination of media she used in order to create an immersive and realistic experience for viewers. On the practical side, the most impressive fact was that while the project cost roughly €180,000, only €8,000 of that amount was raised through public funding.
The financial aspects of the industry were also the key elements under consideration in the final panel, “When Being the Best Is Not Enough - How to Expand in the Current VR Market,” where two leading creative European VR companies were presented. Barney Steel, founder and director of London-based Marshmallow Laser Feast, outlined the profile of his company, which specialises in immersive installations where science and nature are presented in a revolutionary way. Taking his latest installation, We Live in an Ocean of Air, as an example, Steel outlined the various elements of sensory experiences, which currently, owing to technical limitations, are still primarily limited to enclosed spaces. However, he fully expects the future of sensory immersion to be wireless, so the experience will be less restrictive in the years to come.
Antoine Cardon, chief innovation officer and co-founder of independent Parisian digital and VR studio DVGroup, presented the firm’s successful experience The Horrifically Real Virtuality, a comedy set in the 1950s, where real actors and an audience are engrossed in an Ed Wood-style comedy-horror experience. This large-scale experience also hints at a new format of hybrid storytelling, which, according to Cardon, could build a new narrative ecosystem for the coming years.
Regarding the budgets of these large-scale experiences, the participants shared their own particular experiences. Steel mentioned that for his 360-degree VR experience In the Eyes of the Animal, where the viewer enjoys a sensory interpretation of life as seen by different animals, the production cost was over £80,000 and he had to employ a dream team dedicated to building everything from the ground up. He believes that these educational experiences are just the tip of the iceberg, as in the future, they could act as revolutionary complementary tools in experimental science teaching.
Meanwhile, Cardon explained that The Horrifically Real Virtuality had a production cost of €250,000, and the deployment cost over €1 million. Since it’s a French production, there was a co-producer on board along with a broadcaster, and it was funded by the CNC, as it is still hard to gain trust and to win over “classic” film investors that are not familiar with the VR market. The important thing, though, is not to produce experiences for the closed festival circuit, but rather to expand; this is why the next experience from DVGroup will be the biggest ever, with a €20 million budget. Cardon took the opportunity to reveal, for the first time, that it would be a project made in collaboration with Sony, for the Men in Black franchise.
The IFFR Pro x VR Days 2019 concluded with a pitching session for the four VR projects that are competing for the VR CineMart Award. The projects are as follows:
Albrecht's Gift - Rein Zobel
Producer: Maru VR (Estonia)
Bolivia profunda - José Celestino Campusano
Producer: Cinebruto (Argentina)
Cosmos Within Us - Tupac Martir
Producer: Satore Studio/Tech (UK)
Wallada - Nathalie Mathe
Producer: NativeVR (USA)
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