Virtual Reality Rodeo: A First Person Perspective – Part 1
One component of the first Sheridan WYO Film Festival that really stood out as unique was the Virtual Reality (VR) Rodeo. All day Saturday, the curious were invited to stop in to the lobby of the WYO Theater, strap on a VR headset, and immerse themselves in a filmmaker’s vision.
I was very excited, to say the least, when I heard about the inaugural year of Sheridan’s very own film festival. My excitement only grew as I talked to Justin Stroup, the organizer of the event. I know Justin to be a true movie fanatic, and he approached construction of the festival with nerdy and loving care.
In line with the educational mission of the festival, which is seeking nonprofit status, many events were offered for free, including a discussion panel, a cartooning demonstration, and the VR Rodeo.
Four films, each from five to ten minutes long, were available and participants were allowed to experience as many as they would like. One of the films, Asteroids, was aimed at children and included limited interactivity. The other three were immersive films, produced and presented identically to traditional films, but with one key difference: the use of 360 degree cameras.
I was shocked at how difficult it was to entice my children away from the iPad in order to go explore virtual reality, but I finally accomplished it. We rode our bikes to The WYO and found that we had the lobby to ourselves, as a film was currently being screened in the theater.
DannyLee Hodnett was running the rodeo and soon had us seated in swivel chairs (so we could enjoy the full range of motion). He demonstrated how to operate the volume, adjust the focus, and select on screen items with the headset.
Once my kids were immersed, and I had taken a few pictures, it was my turn. Three thumbnails hung in space representing the films My Africa, Place + Time: Banksy and the Art of Protest, and This is Climate Change: Fire.
A red dot moved in sync with my line of sight and I pointed it at the firefighting movie. I have personal experience as a wild land firefighter and was curious to see how it was presented in this unique format. I tapped the side of my headset to make my selection.
I found myself a disembodied point moving through space, following the contour of a ridge keeping pace with a crew of firefighters on their way to work. Suddenly, I was inside the cockpit of a helicopter getting ready to take off. The novelty of the environment reminded me to test the promise of the complete freedom to look around.
I swiveled my chair to look behind me and gasped at the proximity of six firefighters I had no idea were sitting directly behind me. The disembodied nature of my own perspective was starting to bother me and it was odd to note that I was staring into the eyes of a man who seemed to be doing his best to hold me steady in his hand.
My bother turned to elation as my perspective cut to outside the aircraft. This was the return to childhood dreams of flying! I took advantage of something one cannot do while watching Avatar with 3D glasses on: I looked down. It was awesome to be safely flying with such a godlike perspective of the natural disaster unfolding beneath, but I can see that those with a weaker stomach might have become nauseous.
I spun around in the swivel chair, vaguely aware of DannyLee telling me I was kicking over my own tripod. I said cliched things like “Oooh,” “Aaahh,” and “WOW!” My kids echoed me as they had their own adventures in an art gallery and in Africa.
It was definitely strange to take off the headset after the film, and come back to reality. Justin Stroup had shown up to chuckle over my condition. “Welcome back,” he said.
For my review of the experience after some reflection, check back for Part II tomorrow…