In two years virtual reality (VR) has gone from being the awkward-nerd newcomer at the Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier exhibit to a curated collection of 30-plus productions, selected from almost 300 submissions - an exhibit now so popular it booked full within minutes of opening each day. Quite literally, there was a waiting line for the waiting line, with some attendees circulating to chat up the show's volunteers in the hope of snatching a no-show's turn at the goggles.
This film-buff feeding frenzy is exactly what the New Frontier set out to achieve in 2007 when the Sundance Institute established the program to showcase pioneering audience engagement experiments. "Ocular evolution really is a leap in the ability of storytellers to bring the viewer inside the gram of the story world," describes Shari Frilot, curator of New Frontier. "Now virtual reality is at a point where it's going to hit the market, and it's a mass medium. It's a breakthrough."
Frilot's point is underscored by the fact that the international pool of exhibiting artits is supported by major corporate names in VR - Samsung, Oculus VR (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Facebook), Vive, Fox, ILM and Jaunt (backed by Disney and CAA). Other New Frontier financial supporters include Fox Innovation Lab, Google, IM360, Nokia, The Time Warner Foundation and the New York Times. That's heavy-duty entrée for any alternative filmmaker.
With VR showcases at all the forward-thinking film festivals in the world, Sundance, Tribeca and TIFF, 360 videos and installations have become a regular festival fixture. Even the more conservative Cannes had a very impressive VR display this year, alongside VR masterclasses and panels athering some of the key players in this burgeoning and exciting industry.
But is VR going to transform cinema? Most of the VR experts I spoke with are pretty certain that the landscape of entertainment is definitely changing and that VR will be a big part of the industry’s story going forward. It all depends on technology becoming better and better and technology is advancing at a dizzying pace. Here, we investigate how this new tech might transform the face of cinema.
I saw a lot of other VR pieces in Cannes, each of them very different. Jetleg, written and directed by Pierre Friquet with cinematography by Andoh Shah and produced by Jeremy Sahel, is a sort of ballet drama about the long-distance relationship between two women who live in India andBrazil and the filmmakers' focus was to capture an atmosphere rather than tell a story.
A completely different experience was Defrost, a VR series told entirely from the first-person point of view. The story takes place in the year 2045, when liquid nitrogen is commonly used to freeze patients until a cure for their illness has been developed. Its creators showed the first episode at Sundance this year and by now they have developed eleven more, in an attempt to bring a new episode to each festival.
What's Defrost like? “It’s like my favourite TV episode, like House of Cards or Breaking Bad where there’s a really funky twist at the end and every character has an agenda,” the producer Tanna Frederick told me. And what is it like, trying to tell a story in VR? “Narrative VR is just like theatre, the camera is the audience, it’s like the rehearsal for a play, it was a beautiful theatrical meets technological experience,” Tanna concluded.
Like most major film festivals these days, Cannes has jumped into the exploration of VR programming as well. The market sidebar dubbed Next has been around for a while, but this year was expanded to a much more prominent location on a pier beside the Palais and was narrowed to focus almost exclusively on VR content. The good folks in charge did a wonderful job of lining up both excellent speakers and some very interesting content. On top of that, they exhibited the content in an innovative and exciting way.
Both the previously lauded Invasion! by Baobab Studios' Eric Darnell (director Madagascar movies) and the live-action Defrost directed by Randall Kleiser (director of such classics as Flight of the Navigator and The Blue Lagoon) followed-up their premieres at Tribeca and Sundance respectively with screenings at Cannes Next. Both Darnell and Kleiser also took part in the The Future of VR, A US Perspectivepanel which focused on how established film directors are forced to rethink the ways they make movies to tell stories in VR.
Kleiser and his partners Tanna Fredrick and Furious M's Mario Kenyon not only took part in the panel but were also on hand to debut the second episode of Defrost titled The Best Care. This episode sees the story take a big leap forward. Where the pilot just introduced us to the first-person world as a woman being awoken from a medically-induced coma in the year 2045 and coming to terms with seeing her grown up family, this new episode starts to hint at more nefarious things happening in the cryo-facility that put her to sleep. It also introduces the interesting narrative technique of a small amount of inner monologue. It will be interesting to see how this method works to advance the story as further episodes are released.
Nokia OZO Blog - Randal Kleiser and Tanna Frederick Present OZO-Filmed VR Series ‘DEFROST’ as Part of the Cannes VR Days
At Cannes Film Festival over the weekend, acclaimed director Randal Kleiser (“Grease”) and producer Tanna Frederick of Feral Dog Productions premiered “DEFROST,” (episode 2, season 1) a 12-episode narrative virtual series filmed with OZO. “DEFROST” was shown as a curated exposition of VR as part of Furious M’s session, “The Future of VR, a U.S. Perspective,” at the NEXT Pavilion of the Marché du Film.
Filmed using Nokia’s professional-grade VR camera, OZO, “DEFROST” takes place in the year 2045, when liquid nitrogen is now commonly used to freeze patients until remedies for their illnesses are developed. Starring Carl Weathers, Bruce Davison and Tanna Frederick, the series was filmed in360, allowing audience members to witness the story directly from the perspective of the main character who wakes up from a frozen state after 30 years.
As a series of 12 episodes, “DEFROST” is an exciting use case for OZO, demonstrating how virtual reality can be used effectively in longer-form narrative to put audiences at the heart of the story. “DEFROST” capitalizes on the immersive, intimate and empathetic experiences that can be created with OZO, and provides a picture of the kind of entertainment that VR can deliver.
Attendees take part in virtual experiences as part of Furious M’s session at the NEXT Pavilion of the Marché du Film at Cannes.Panelists discuss the future of VR at the NEXT Pavilion of the Marché du Film at Cannes.
Kleiser, director and producer of such hits as “Grease,” “The Blue Lagoon,” and “Flight of the Navigator,” had this to say about his VR experience with OZO:
“Nokia has been very supportive of our VR series ‘DEFROST.’ With the OZO camera, we were able to see in the headset what we were shooting live. Instant playback was another big plus after our previous experience of pulling cards and downloading to see what we were doing. We hope to continue our association with the Nokia team.”
Cannes attendees were able to watch “DEFROST” via 30 VR head-mounted displays distributed to the audience, allowing them to witness the screening fully immersed in the shared VR experience.
“DEFROST” was produced by Tanna Frederick, Feral Dog Productions, in association with Furious M, a California-based startup VR studio specializing in VR content and exhibition.
Virtual reality looks set to be the next big thing in film-making. The programming and panels at the Marché’s annual NEXT event offered a glimpse of things to come.
Virtual reality (VR) invaded the Marché du Film in its third instalment of NEXT. Focused on the future of cinema, the section has featured a jam-packed schedule of VR programming in an outdoor patio space located at the entrance of the International Village, as well as select locations around the Croisette.
“I am very pleased with the footfall at this year’s event,” Reilhac told Screen International. “It’s too soon to give specific numbers, but I can say the VR cinema is full each day, and tickets are selling out for the game experiences. It shows the film industry is open to the idea of alternative storytelling. VR is not here to take the place of film; it is another interactive medium that allows film-makers to tell different kinds of stories.”
Other film-makers spoke out about the challenges of stitching and 360-degree filming, concluding that the rapid progression of the field meant exploration was key. “Don’t be afraid — try anything,” said Tanna Frederick, co-director with Randal Kleiser (Grease) on VR series Defrost.
Over the past few months, VR camera systems have advanced rapidly to keep pace with the emerging medium. For Catatonic, Shelmerdine positioned a cluster of eight GoPro cameras at the "head" of his terrified "patient" to capture all four quadrants of the 3-D space. More recently, Shelmerdine has used his own Dark Corner rig, featuring four Sony a7SII cameras, to shoot projects like the gritty drug-smuggler short Mule. Recently introduced stereoscopic VR camera systems also include the Jaunt NEO, Radiant Images’ Headcase, and the Nokia OZO. Veteran director Randal Kleiser (Grease, The Blue Lagoon) switched to the OZO after making the pilot for his 12-episode Defrost series on a GoPro rig.
The World VR Forum is proud to welcome Randal Kleiser presenting in European Premiere, Defrost, in synchronised screening.
With a half billion at the box office, Randal Kleiser remains a successful and enduring directing talent of feature films and television movies. His first feature Grease remains the top grossing feature directorial debut of all time as well as the top grossing musical of all time. Other features include The Blue Lagoon, White Fang, Flight of the Navigator, It’s My Party, North Shore, Lovewrecked and the critically acclaimed comedy Getting it Right.
DEFROST takes place in the year 2045, when liquid nitrogen is now commonly used to freeze patients until remedies for their illnesses are developed. The film follows the experience of Joan Garrison as she wakes up from her frozen state after thirty years. She reunites with her family, but the reunion is bittersweet, as the passage of time has caused her loved ones to become strangers. The short was filmed in 360°, allowing audience members to witness the story directly from Joan’s perspective. The result is an intimate and immersive experience unlike any other film.
KnightBlog: Knight gathers journalists, technologists and filmmakers at SXSW to explore trends and opportunities in virtual reality
Randal Kleiser lead a group viewing an episode of Kleiser's VR project called "Defrost" at SXSW in Austin. Credit Jesse J. Loesch.
What is the best way for journalists to immerse audiences in virtual reality? How do they preserve a narrative thread into the scenes they are creating? Can the use of virtual reality provide misleading experiences?
These were just a few of the questions explored during a convening of more than 50 journalists, technologists and filmmakers for a virtual reality and journalism meetup at SXSW Interactive on Sunday sponsored by Knight Foundation and StoryNEXT.
As immersive storytelling develops, Knight is gathering research and best practices from the field, while bringing leaders together to share their experiences and explore trends.
The latest findings show that journalism could be a key factor in the evolving medium’s success, according to a report from Knight and USA TODAY NETWORK, titled “Viewing the Future? Virtual Reality in Journalism” that was released during Sunday’s event.
Companies have invested billions of dollars in the upcoming release of headsets and other ways that will make virtual reality experiences more widely accessible to consumers. News organizations in the vanguard of the trend realize that the development of high-quality journalism may be essential in determining the medium’s value to everyday users and its ultimate success.
Tanna Frederick (Producer/Actress) and Randal Kleiser (Director/Writer) talks about the world and virtual reality and their new vr film Defrost.
The live-action, virtual reality short Defrost takes viewers on an adventure that explores the question of what it would be like to wake up and reunite with loved ones after being frozen for nearly 30 years. Lead Artist Randal Kleiser and Key Collaborator Tanna Frederick, also the project’s producers, worked with associate producer Manuel Perezcarro and a talented team of actors, artists, and VR professionals to tell this futuristic story from an intimate and immersive perspective.
The team has used Creative Cloud for years. They particularly like being able to use Premiere Pro CC on different platforms and its easy integration with other Adobe applications for titling and graphics work. “For Defrost, specifically the codec versatility of Premiere Pro CC is unparalleled,” says Perezcarro. “We’re working in uncharted territory with new VR cameras and the ability for Premiere Pro CC to handle any new file type without missing a beat speeds up our entire post workflow.”
How would it be to wake up from a 30-year cryogenic freeze, unable to talk? How would you react to your family, who have become nearly unrecognizable?
Viewers will get a glimpse of that feeling when they see "Defrost" at Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier VR Experiences.
In this science-fiction virtual reality narrative experience, the viewer, using individual VR goggles, experiences the world through the eyes of Joan Garrison, played by Kelly DeSarla.
Tanna Frederick is the producer of "Defrost" and she spoke to The Park Record about this ground-breaking project.
"This isn't just a project with a 'wow' factor to it," Frederick said "Sure it was virtual reality and is an eye-candy experience, but it isn't all about a seat to a Lakers game or a behind-the-scene of a rock concert, which are all great. It is a narrative experience that takes the viewer into another life."
Frederick joined forces with film director, Randal Kleiser, who has experimented with technology since he first used digital morphing in the 1986 film "Flight of the Navigator."
"Randal came to me with the pilot he had written in 1968, while he was at USC, and it still held up," Frederick said "We had wanted to work together forever and I told him that I'd produce it."
The creative team also included John Pattyson, executive producer of Immersive Media (IM 360), the company that provided the filming equipment for "Defrost" and handled the post production.
"We used 360 technology and we would strap the camera onto a wheelchair and Randal would go through with the blocking," Frederick said.
"We knew that we needed to get the viewers to pay attention to the activities in the film."
"The 360 allowed one take with Randal pushing the wheelchair all over the place, while we all acted around it," she said. "It was like reverse theatre in the round. Instead of having the audience around you, you were acting around a camera that was set on a wheelchair and adorned with a dummy's head. It was pretty fun.
The catch is the first-person perspective, which has already made an impact on Frederick and Kleiser's close friends and family members who have seen the pilot in the 12-episode series.
"They empathized with Joan, who can't talk and is literally meeting her family, who is completely unrecognizable to her," Frederick said. "Randal wrote the rest of the episodes and they all had a hook at the end that made the viewers want to binge."
Not only is Frederick the producer, she also portrays Garrison's daughter, Beverly Perez.
"When I talk to Joan, it's set up in a way that I appear to be talking right at the viewers," she said. "I'll say, 'Hey Mommy, I want to tell you I love you,' or 'Can I still call you Mommy because it's been so long since I've lost you,' and we've had some great responses to that, because it brings out the viewers' emotions."
When Frederick and Kleiser showed the episode to Kelsey's mother, the reaction was immediate.
"She is 84 or something like that and has all of her faculties, but watched it while in her hospital bed," Frederick said. "As she watched, she began speaking back to my character. When I said, 'Can I call you mother,' she said, 'Oh, yes. I would like that very much.'
"I love that this experience gives the elderly or those who are sedentary a way to feel they are actually taking part of an event," she said. "It's been exciting and thrilling to watch, because it's all about the power of telling the story."
Adding to the power of the script are the actors, including Bruce Davidson, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Hamlin and Chris Atkins.
"People feel a familiarity with the cast, because they grew up with these actors in one way or another," Frederick said. "They see these familiar faces and go on this journey."
Although Frederick was worried at first at the way the VR goggles isolated the viewer, she also realized how unifying the experience could be with a group of people.
"This is a great tool to have because you can get a mass population to take a second and immerse themselves in a situation where they all feel this emotion together as they gain more information about this character in each episode," she said. "I feel so fortunate to have produced it and we're excited to make it into Sundance. That is the ultimate gold star and I'm a fifth grader."
4. Defrost (Mobile VR)
In this virtual reality film, you are taken on a sci-fi adventure into the future. The experience begins with you sitting in wheelchair, being pushed down a hospital hallway by a nurse. A doctor walks slowly alongside, calmly explaining that you have been frozen for the past 30 years and are still regaining your ability to speak. You’re frustrated by not knowing where you are and not being able to communicate. You finally enter a room, where you are greeted by your family — who’ve almost become strangers. Your husband, daughter, and son gather around you saying how much they loved and missed you. It is an overwhelming experience and moved some participants to tears. (This one is also available on the Sundance VR app)
The recent 2016 Sundance festival saw the first serious, non-gaming application of VR. Hollywood is constantly looking for new, fresh voices to continue creating unique and individual stories, but VR provides not only the possibility of new stories, but quite literally, new perspectives. Rather than engaging the emotions of consumers, VR could not only engage viewers’ mentally, but also physically; with 9 VR projects at Sundance 2016 being some of the first to do so. The projects at the festival ranged from a full-fledged Mars mission from The Martian, where users essentially play through key scenes in the film, to serialized VR storytelling in Defrost, a first person POV VR drama from director Randal Kleiser, which tells the story of a woman who recently awoke from a coma. Granted most current virtual reality films and entertainment require accessory items to help heighten the experience, like a specially designed D-Box chair for The Martian experience, or a special interactive studio for Alex McDowell’s The Leviathan Project adaptation, which incorporates the visual experience, and prompts users to actually touch various objects in the studio, which are then incorporated into the story.
In this New Frontier VR Bar, Nokia also showed some of the OZO content produced in the past two months. Their VR content included four segments ranging from a rock concert to someone pulling you towards them via a string that was really a “wow” experience. OZO is a named after a character’s “point of view” with personality, and their content definitely was lively. Guido also told us about “Defrost” that is a project filmed with OZO that was shown at Sundance 2016.
The innovative approach is not surprising since Sundance was the first film festival to feature VR in 2012. And while the technology is likely not the future of all film, it's definitely blazing a path that 3D was unable to secure. Services like Netflix have mainstreamed watching movies alone, so the solitary experience of VR is not a barrier to its acceptance. And the immersive experience can be emotionally transformative, especially in films that make the viewer the protagonist, likeDefrost, or that place them in a situation that evokes empathy, like Waves of Grace. Check out the slideshow for the movies you should put on your VR queue.
The episodic narrative series "Defrost," directed by Randal Kleiser ("Grease," "Blue Lagoon"), which put the viewer into a story from the perspective of a woman who’s been cryogenically frozen for 30 years and has just woken up and is re-meeting her family, who have all aged three decades while she was frozen, is one of the best uses of a sense of presence and empathy in VR I’ve seen to date in this emerging storytelling format.
Defrost is a live-action Gear VR series particularly notable for its pedigree. It’s directed by Randal Kleiser of Grease and The Blue Lagoon, and its cast includesRocky’s Carl Weathers and character actor Bruce Davison. It’s also got a great core idea: you inhabit a woman awoken from a cryogenic slumber in a sci-fi world with a sinister underbelly. But that idea feels far bigger than what Defrost has time to explore. The pilot lasts just long enough to establish the premise, and a couple of installments later your grandson is matter-of-factly explaining that he is an evil robot. That’s a lot to parse in an 12-part series that will probably be shorter than a single episode of Game of Thrones.
Of my 21 VR experiences, the one that came the closest to a full-on VR narrative was Randal Kleiser's Defrost (with Tanna Frederick). Kleiser, famous as the director of the film Grease, brought a filmic sensibility to his piece that began with the casting of talented and recognizable actors (Carl Weathers and Bruce Davison to start). It's a simple first person narrative about a woman who awakens from cryogenic sleep to find her grown children surrounding her. Not much happens, but this is (quite obviously) just the first part of a multi-part series and points to potential for a real story. Defrost is a non-interactive (i.e. pre-rendered) 360 video piece that runs on the Gear VR. This simplest of setups may be one of the secrets to its narrative success.