Virtual Reality Takes Over Sundance 2017

02/17/2017 04:44 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2017

Sundance 2017 was the year of virtual reality. Talented VR artists from around the world brought their unique visions to life in Park City, Utah and shared that one of a kind experience throughout Main Street. VR lounges set up camp all along Main Street, with the most notable being the Youtube's Helicopter Tour of Mount Everest, New Frontier's VR Palace, Jaunt's VR Lounge, C1VR's VR Lounge, Facebook's Oculus, and Acura's Mood Roads VR Demo.

At the top of Main Street sat VR on the Mountain's virtual reality mecca where the Co-founders of Upload, Inc, Taylor Freeman and Will Mason, welcomed in those interested in testing out their VR experiences. VR on the Mountain featured a multitude of VR experiences including VR adapted films, artistic apps, and immersive cartoon games.

Upload, Inc. is a multi-faceted organization focused on accelerating the growth of the AR/VR industry. Freeman and Mason built the company out of a meet-up group in 2014. They are passionate about fostering a community that will bring immersive technology to life in a way that creates a positive impact. Recently recognized in the media category of the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Freeman and Mason have become essential voices in the immersive reality space– offering expert commentary, on-target industry projections, and exclusive insider knowledge on everything involving the AR and VR communities.

"It was incredible to see the amount of VR at the festival. I remember coming to Sundance for the first time three years ago and only seeing a few demos at New Frontier. This year, it felt like VR was everywhere. It was a great indication of the timing and need for our new space in LA to further support the entertainment community," said Taylor Freeman, co-founder, and CEO of Upload, Inc. a multi-faceted VR/AR company with a focus on industry growth.
"At Sundance, I've seen cinematic VR take a number of strides, but this was the first year where 360 video really seemed to be rounding out into a narrative storytelling medium of its own. Additionally, it's clear that creators are beginning to find their storytelling voices in the interactive medium as well. This year was big for VR, nothing blockbuster of course, but that's not what Sundance is for - it's about development of the art form, and it's clear that VR is part of that," said Will Mason, co-founder and President of Upload, Inc.

Those lucky enough to attend this famous indie film festival may have been able to participate in one of the many VR experiences available for testing. But, for those who were unable to immerse in the VR phenomenon, the top experiences are detailed below:

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VR on the Mountain's most memorable experience was Mindshow. This fully immersive VR experience allows its users to enter an animated world with their own personalized avatar. In Mindshow, the users are able to act out various scenes, and the avatar's movement is dependent on their body's actions. These scenes can then be exported and shared with family and friends. Mindshow provides a fun opportunity and points to the future of collaborative projects between VR and video games.

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Influential VR artist Rachel Rossin debuted her latest interactive VR installation at this year's Sundance. Emulating a sense of chaos through the explosion scene in Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, Rossin gives two users the authority to direct the final series of events based on the movement of their bodies. In choosing to go forward or backward, the users decide when objects explode while maneuvering throughout a virtual home. Upon its premiere appearance at Sundance 2017, The Sky is a Gap will be making its way around the globe being showcased at international museums.

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Based on Alex Gibney's, Zero Days, a documentary highlighting the cyber virus Stuxnet, Scatter has created a VR experience placing the user in the mysterious realm of cyberspace. With Stuxnet causing a nationwide paranoia, Scatter too arises paranoia within the viewer through this unique VR experience. The user is informed by the virus itself as well as a U.S. National Security Agent, which gives the user a sense of how perilous cyberspace can become in terms of national security. After participating in Zero Days, the user will become highly concerned with the U.S.'s past, present, and future cyber security.

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A highly emotional VR experience, Through You, explores love through movement with renowned dancers Joanna Kotze and Marni Thomas Wood. The German director, Saschka Unsel, takes the viewer on a moving journey from the 70s to the future. Lily Baldwin's whimsical style goes hand in hand with Unsel's tendency to create work surrounding the otherworldly. With highly vivid colors and experimental video production, Through You, transports the viewer into a magical realm where the search for love takes precedent over all.

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Taking the viewer back to the tragic events of the Orlando Nightclub Shooting, If Not Love, tells another story surrounding the shooter. Created by Rose Troche, a seasoned Sundance filmmaker, this VR experience takes on the heartbreaking topic of mass shootings. In this VR experience's world, the shooter is shown visiting another man before entering the nightclub. Rather than embracing this relationship, he proceeds to release fury on a nightclub filled with people trying to enjoy a night out. Exploring alternate endings to this horrible series of events is a sobering experience for every viewer that has a chance to take part in If Not Love. This piece compels the viewer to take a deeper look into the cause and effect relationship between terrible life-ending events.

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Exploring the landscape of the future with this cutting edge technology, NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, transports the viewer to a beauty salon in the years to come. While placed in this futuristic salon awaiting an appointment to receive a hair product designed to increase the brain's functionality, the viewer tests out various products that would be sold in this new day and age. This vibrant VR experience explores the potential future for women where beauty crosses paths with brain enhancement.

Overall, VR artists truly brought their A-game to Sundance 2017, placing virtual reality on the map in terms of entertainment and as an extension of featured films. Not only did artists create experiences where viewers could feel as if they were standing in these 3D crafted spaces, but they were able to build interactive, immersive experiences where users had a part in determining the outcomes of their own virtual reality. With VR technology rapidly improving, the quality and quantity of VR experiences will be on the rise in the coming years. Witnessing this year's VR talent shows just how prevalent virtual reality is about to become.

This coming spring, Upload LA will be hosting an opportunity for the public to try out their latest VR experiences. In a 20,000 square foot venue located in Marina Del Rey, Upload LA will provide 20+ VR demo stations for testing. No VR space has come close to this scale before, and it is an opportunity not to be missed.

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