Reports

The state of VR: getting there

IFFR underlined its commitment to VR in 2020 with four projects in CineMart selection, a project in BoostNL, a designated conference and a VR programme at the Arminius. Professional attendees were also treated to an impromptu (and very upbeat) state of the medium address by Mélange’s Michel Reilhac.

"We saw an enormous leap in the number of the submissions and projects we received for IFFR Pro x VR days this year, and also in the quality of the narrative stories," commented IFFR Pro's VR manager Jolinde den Haas. "For CineMart, it felt both necessary and timely to give VR projects a bigger spotlight in the 'film' world that is IFFR."

"It looks like something absurd on a business level that you sometimes pay several hundred thousand euros for a short VR piece," Reilhac stressed, "but up until now I think the financing available for VR has very much been considered research and development."

"Most of the big players are seeing this as an investment in the future. There is also a dormant optimism in the VR community that we only need to be patient for another four years until VR becomes massively adopted by the audience… and this will happen. It’s no longer a question of if it will happen, it is a question of how quickly and when." 

"And when it does happen, the home consumption of content into the VR headset will become a very significant market, and those players who are investing today want to be ready for that moment."

 The four VR projects pitched at CineMart were strikingly different in tone and content but united by the passion and articulacy of their advocates.

 "VR gives the chance to a director to use interactions as a way of storytelling, as metaphors, as another way of communicating to the audience, as both mental and physical condition. We can teach or encourage the user to interact with his own feelings,” explained Matteo Lonardi of his VR project Doubt, in which the user travels in the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, and those of three contemporary artists.

 Director Nicolas Blies’ Shock the Money is ardent, political and radical in approach, both describing and seeking to eradicate "the privatisation of our mind by capitalism."

 "Every day we are exposed to 3000 ads," Blies said, "so you can imagine the impact on your brain and on your mind, and on the decisions, you take every day. We have to fight against that." His first-person installation "experience" is created for eight users and encourages participants "to regain their free will" within the VR’s surreal punk universe.

VR at IFFR 2020

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Colombian director Juanita Onzaga underlined how she wants to "trigger the deep meanings of what is real and visible/invisible" in her poetic Floating with Spirits VR which presents death and the hereafter as an experience running parallel with ongoing life.

Meanwhile, award-winning Brazilian director Ricardo Laganaro described the user experience of his Odd & Ity, about two feuding neighbours who are separated firstly by a fissure and then a wall that both are only too happy to make higher.

"Two users will embody the characters and then they will have to interact with the environment, to learn who they are, learn about the art of the planet, create an identity and then protect that, and then we want to use the interactions as metaphors so the users can embody the experience and feel that as a living and real physical memory… where the narrative matches with the interactions in a seamless way."

Spanish VR aficionado Rafael Pavon opened the IFFR Pro x VR Days Conference with a highly entertaining masterclass that described the VR experience from script to financing and a little beyond. Assume everything to be a hypothesis (until is nailed down), he said, and remember the inherent value of what you have (as you will never be backed up by viewing stats). Write it, but be prepared to rewrite it ad infinitum, and visualise it (because visuals are stronger than a script). Do not forget that VR is a space (not a storyboard) and make it inspiring (as you want people to stay in your world). Emphasise the strengths of your VR, and test, test, test. And be prepared to tweak, change or discard your format for one which improves the user experience.

Before his masterclass, he agreed with Michel Reilhac's assessment of VR as an entertainment on the up, adding that "we need to focus on continuing to create great content, making sure that the technology gets there, but we are seeing the positive reaction to the content and to the location-based entertainment. It is very hopeful. Cautiously, I say yes. I think we are getting there."