The judges at the Second Annual Virtual Reality Pitchfest had a difficult job. Luckily, Loren Hammonds, Curator at Tribeca; Charles Melcher, CEO of the Future of Storytelling; and Adora Udoji, Interactive Storyteller and Investor, are some of the brightest minds in the VR space today. They were tasked with the challenge of choosing the best VR pitch among a group of excellent projects at the event which KitSplit co-hosted with two of our partner organizations, Storycode and IFP’s Made in NY Media.

What struck me about the projects at the pitchfest—was the wide variety of formats that the creators were working in.  Judging VR today, is like considering a lineup of film, photography, and theater projects together, as if they were all the same medium.  It’s pretty weird- weird in an interesting and exciting way.

We’re still at the dawn of what we’re calling “virtual reality” or immersive content. The VR technologies and creative approaches are so much in flux, that we haven’t quite ironed out what exactly virtual reality really is. This openness allows space for play and experimentation- and essentially- weirdness.  This was evident in the pitchfest’s winners. And I mean that in only the most complimentary way.

The types of VR media represented by the projects at the VR Pitchfest were super interesting and include:

360 Video: A Place of My Own by Perry Britz, Sam Baumel

A Place of My Own is a classic example of a 360 documentary.  The film is about the homelessness epidemic,  It taps into the VR as an “empathy machine” concept.  Shot on a 360 camera rig (like the gopro rigs we rent out on KitSplit) the format encircles the viewer in a video world.  In the film, the viewer is immersed in the realities of being homeless and the callous lack of empathy that the homeless must deal with every day.

Volumetric Video: Paper Doll Origami by Skye Von, Stina Hamlin

Paper Doll Origami is a 2 person experience, shot in volumetric video that asks the question “have you ever felt helpless like a doll.” A complicated multi-platform experience that includes building dolls, making origami, and discussing racial issues, the central principle is that it enables people to experience what it’s like to be another race. Volumetric video (like the DepthKit, available for rent only on KitSplit!) is a more interactive medium than 360 video. Where 360 video wraps the cinematic content around the viewer’s head, in Volumetric Video, the cinematic content is depicted in 3D holographic form, in the center of a virtual space. It allows the viewer to move around the subject and more actively interact with it, seeing it accurately from multiple angles.

Game Engine: Space Vacations For All by Olivia Koski, Jana Grcevich, James Hedberg, DreamDate VR by Zoe Bachman, and Technocity by Katherine Louise Boehm

And then there’s the virtual reality with no video at all, created instead purely using gaming engines. Three of the five projects pitched were made with this method. Game engine VR is to 360 video what animation is to film, in that you can create visuals and experiences in a game engines that have no basis in reality. This is perhaps the reason that these three projects’ creators chose to build in game engines.

Space Vacation makes space travel accessible for all. It was created by two inter-gallactic travel agents, who moonlight as data scientists and astrophysicists. The piece allows the viewer to visit an inter-gallactic travel agency and choose a space trips including visiting the Lunar Sands Motel on the moon, or taking an aerial tour of Mars’ equivalent to the grand canyon. It’s a perfect mash up of whimsy and hard science, and works in tandem with pop-up events, a Travel Guide to the Solar System (to be published by Penguin) and a live stage show in London.

DreamDate VR is a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi experience that considers dating in a future world where most of our daily lives are lived virtually- except for physical experiences like procreation.  In this future we have become so acclimated to the virtual, and essentially solitary lifestyle that we need this app, DreamDate VR, to teach us how to interact physically with another human being. As the creator Zoe put it, it’s a VR tutorial for sexual interactions, or a duolingo for dating. In the experience the viewer sees a visual of their dream date.  The experience also includes a physical element: interaction with life-size manican rigged with sensors. When the viewer touches the sensors the manikin responds physically as does the visual of your dream date in the VR headset.

Technocity is a virtual journey and game through the underground world of techno music in Detroit.  It’s educational, instructing the viewer about the history of techno music in Detroit.  It’s also playable with gamified features that encourage the viewer to explore the recreation of “Techno Boulevard” the heart and home of Detroit’s techno music scene.

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Each project’s concept and story had fascinating aspects.  And each used the emerging technologies described above in creative and innovative ways.

Ultimately the judges considered each project by how appropriately the technical and format aspects were employed towards the goal and concept of the piece. To that end, Space Vacation won the judges’ pick for it’s elegant use of real scientific data alongside the whimsical, comical, and artfully designed concept of futuristic intergalactic space travel.

DreamDate VR won the audience choice award. Something Zoe said in her presentation sums up why it was my personal favorite: she managed to “critique VR in VR.”  Essentially, she tapped into the open and experimental inflection point that VR finds itself in today and she commented on the weird aspects of this hugely influential creative movement.   

Coming out of the pitchfest, I found myself revelling in the weirdness that DreamDate VR and the other projects so adeptly address.  And I found myself hoping that the virtual reality creative community continues to experiment and create amazing projects—to essentially keep VR weird.


Lisbeth Kaufman is Cofounder and CEO of KitSplit, the marketplace for camera rentals and production services powering a new generation of content creators.

This article was also published by TheVideoInk.com

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