#1270: Preview of Venice Immersive 2023 Selection with Co-Curators Liz Rosenthal & Michel Reilhac

The Venice Immersive 2023 edition is set to take place from August 30 to September 9th featuring 43 immersive storytelling projects from 25 countries and 24 works in the Worlds Gallery section. There are 28 projects in competition this year, and Venice Immersive has established itself as having one of the deepest and most diverse and most robust selection of immersive stories and immersive worlds. They are featuring well over 21 hours of content in the main selections, and that’s not even counting the 23 VRChat worlds (plus one from EngageXR) in the worlds gallery.

I had a chance to catch up with the co-curators of Venice Immersive Liz Rosenthal & Michel Reilhac to give a sneak peak of this year’s main competition as well reflect upon some of the trends in immersive storytelling and emerging genres.

I’ll be on site at Venice Immersive from August 28 to September 5, and I’m really looking to watching all of the work and interviewing as many of the creators as I can track down. Keep an eye on my @kentbye account on X (Twitter) as I give some of my first impressions of this year’s selection. Here’s a cheat sheet of this year’s selection for as a quick reference guide:

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So today's episode is a sneak peek of looking at Venice immersive 2023, which is going to be running in Venice from August 30th to September 9th. So I'll be there from the 28th until September 5th, covering all the different immersive projects. There's over 43 immersive stories that are there from 25 different countries, and there's 24 works in the world's gallery, most of them from VRChat. And so 28 projects in competition, and then nine projects that are out of competition that are in the best of immersive, and then six projects that were developed as a part of the Biennale College Cinema. So I had a chance to talk to the co-creators of both Liz Rosenthal as well as Michelle Riak to talk about some of the different trends within this year's selection, but also to go through as many as we could of the competition and give a little bit of a sneak peek as folks are traveling out to Venice. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Liz and Michelle happened on Wednesday, August 9th, 2023. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:23.681] Liz Rosenthal: Hello, everyone. I'm Liz Rosenthal. I'm the co-curator of Venice Immersive at the Venice International Film Festival. I'm also an executive producer of immersive projects.

[00:01:34.989] Michel Reilhac: My name is Michel Reyak. I'm co-curator with Liz Rosenthal of Venice Immersive and on the side doing also my own projects as a VR immersive experience maker.

[00:01:48.459] Kent Bye: Great. Maybe you could each give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into the space.

[00:01:53.838] Liz Rosenthal: So I came from film originally, that was my primary sort of medium I came from and I got very interested in interactive media and how new types of digital tools could give creators all kinds of new possibilities for new types of formats and also how it would change the way that storytelling where they engage with audiences. So I, after my feature film career, which was very much concentrated on actually using new digital tools. So I worked with one of the first organizations that was part of the Independent Film Channel in the States that financed feature film shot on video. I got very interested in actually new types of platforms and tools for creating content and distributing content. And so I set up an organization called Power to the Pixel I ran an incubator lab called the Pixel Lab for 10 years and also a very big event called How to the Pixel in conjunction with the London Film Festival, where we had a finance market, we did the first ever VR exhibition in London, and a think tank around discussing new types of forms. And also I've developed other programmes such as Creative XR, which was a UK-based incubator and accelerator programme which developed and financed over 60 projects. And then Michel and I have known each other for a while, and he was already involved in the Venice Film Festival. And I got involved in 2016 with a marketplace, which started, the Biennale started getting interested in supporting immersive projects. So in the project finance market, the Venice Production Bridge, and then Michel and I launched the section, the Venice Immersive Section in 2017.

[00:03:30.341] Michel Reilhac: And from my side, I started out in the performing arts. I was a dancer and then moved on into production and touring, international touring production for major dance companies, moved from there into theatre and then into cinema. I was head of cinema for Arte, the French German broadcasting company where I was in charge of selecting projects to finance. I was involved in co-producing about 30 to 35 feature films every year, independent film from everywhere in the world. Through that work, starting in 2008, I started being really interested and curious about interactive storytelling. And that's when I met Liz for the first time, as she was very much leading the way with Power to the Pixel at the time. I guess we found that we were soulmates in this interest of the new ways of interactive storytelling, and I was able to do several experiments within Arte up until 2012, when I decided to leave my job at Arte to fully focus on interactive storytelling. both as a producer and as an author. That's when I reconnected with virtual reality, which I had discovered in 1992 with an exhibition that I curated and got involved and started doing my first projects in VR in 2015. and moved on from there. And right away when I resigned from Arte in 2013, I joined forces with Savina Neirotti and Jane Williams in Venice to start the Venice Biennale College, which is a creative development workshop for cinema. We are now in our 12th edition of this workshop where I'm head of studies and Seven years ago, at the same time as Liz and I, we started Venice Immersive. We started the Biennale College for VR and we're now in our seventh edition. And through this, we developed 12 projects from everywhere in the world every year, and we fully finance one of them that premieres at Venice Immersive section.

[00:05:49.289] Kent Bye: And so, yeah, this year is another amazing selection of different pieces here at Venice immersive, where as far as my calculations go, there's over 21 hours worth of content that you are going to be showing here across over 40 experiences and 24 different worlds in the VR chat world gallery. So I'd love to hear, first of all, some of the highlights or trends or, you know, how is it that you're able to curate some of the best. immersive stories each year. It seems to be as I go to the different festivals, you're able to attract some of the biggest productions over the course of the cycle of the year. And yeah, it's just always a really strong selection and one of the biggest of all the different festivals as well. So yeah, I'd love to hear some initial reflections about this year's program.

[00:06:37.116] Liz Rosenthal: Sure. So firstly, we're very lucky that we have the Biennale as an organisation that has highly supported Immersive. Michelle mentioned in the college, there's a marketplace at the festival, and also famous Immersive selection, which we're going to discuss now. So we are the only A-list film festival that has an official selection of projects. So we are looking at premieres. And that's why, because of the canvas of this amazing venue we have as well, the Venice and Merced Island on the La Sala del Vecchio, we have an incredible exhibition space. And because of the Biennale support and the teams that work with the Biennale on their art and architecture, Biennales, we can build a very beautiful and substantial exhibition and people use Venice as a place to premiere their works. And because we have such a big canvas, we can select a very wide range of projects that span from single person experiences to multiplayer experiences with haptics and sets and everything in between. So I think Venice is now seen as the sort of beginning of the new crop of projects. And we're excited every year when we get to the selection process. And I think you'll probably agree, Michelle, it was a really wonderful amount of projects. First, we had a record number of submissions this year, and we had amazing projects to select from, from all types of formats.

[00:08:04.823] Michel Reilhac: I think one of the first, I don't know if we can say trends, but one of the first features of this year is that while immersive and the metaverse has sort of been pushed aside from the media exposure by artificial intelligence and now spatial computing, the wonderful surprise that we had is that the field has never been so creative. the diversity of projects, the range of styles, the range and the audacity of experiments with the new options that the technologies allow artists to play with, has never been so exciting. So the field is bubbling with imagination and with creativity. And that's a wonderful surprise to see that despite the lesser interest of the media for immersive in general, the field is very, very much alive. So that's one thing I think that we are very pleased to be witnesses of.

[00:09:08.687] Liz Rosenthal: I think, Michelle, when you say that what's amazing, and this is what we've seen the last couple of years, maybe, and it's especially strong this year, is we're seeing creators that we featured in previous Venice editions come back and see how they've really honed their skills and how they're developing very sophisticated and really seamless experiences. We've got many examples of that, as well as, of course, featuring emerging creators who come from different fields. But we're really noticing, you know, we're only, what, eight, nine years into this medium as something that audiences can experience, but we're starting to see some really strong, strong forms and makers and studios, and we've seen them grow over the last few years.

[00:09:53.800] Michel Reilhac: I would add then that the other feature that we've noticed is that there's definitely a growing awareness of the need for projects to be transportable, feasible and fit for distribution. We do not have, for instance, performance-based pieces this year. They are extremely costly and very complex logistically to put together. We are seeing how producers, both from studios and independent producers, are really trying their best to either scale or optimize the way those projects can be made available to audiences, both through physical locations, what we call LBE, location-based entertainment, or at home through remote access. And it feels like the time when all the most experimental works were done as research and development, that time is over. We do see now that every single piece is streamlined to optimize their potential for distribution.

[00:11:08.460] Liz Rosenthal: And the example, for example, is the multiplayer experiences and the live performance experiences, which Michelle mentioned. We don't have live performances this year, which are very difficult and very expensive to take to a 10-day event and to run in general in locations. We're going to dive into some examples. I think an example that's interesting in our best-of section is the Gaudi L'Atelier du Devin. That's a project that comes from France, and it's been designed as something they can set up really quickly and easily in a location. using headsets that are light and featherless without backpacks. And these kinds of experiences, we're seeing more and more of these types of things that I think the teams say they can set up in about a half an hour to an hour, a multiplayer experience in a venue. So that's a very good example of something that's really being driven by the market and by costs of running immersive location-based.

[00:12:02.497] Michel Reilhac: Another feature is we're starting to see pieces that are driven by artificial intelligence. One of the best examples of this is called Tulpa Mansur, and it's a piece that comes from the USA. It's a piece in which you first start being interviewed through written text, answering questions by an artificial intelligence on a computer. After 10 minutes of such interview, you're invited to proceed to the next space where you put on a headset, and the story that you're going to experience is going to be visually and text-wise entirely designed around the answers you will have provided to the questions that the AI has been asking you about your childhood memories, about your most intense memories in your life, or trauma, etc. And all this emotional material that you can find in the artificial intelligence becomes the raw material that will shape your experience in the headset. To us, this is the first time we've seen a real-time experience designed around the emotional information that an artificial intelligence has been collecting with you.

[00:13:22.238] Kent Bye: Yeah. And as we start to dive into the competition projects, there's 28 projects, which 704 minutes. So it's a little over 11 and a half hours worth of content that you have. And in your interview with XR must, you were talking about how last year, one of the winners was eggscape, which was a mixed reality piece. And I understand there's a couple of other mixed reality pieces that are in this year's selection. So I'd love to hear a little bit about gargoyle and the latest Felix and Paul piece that is the Jim Henson using a picture book, which I. Got a chance to see a little bit of a sneak preview at South by Southwest in the hallways. But yeah, I'd love to hear about the medium of mixed reality as we start to look at some of the pieces in competition.

[00:14:00.740] Liz Rosenthal: Absolutely. These are really exceptional projects, but we didn't have so many projects that submitted that were mixed reality actually. And I think, you know, it says something that is a very new form of storytelling. And it's, we know that it's a very difficult for artists to sort of be able to control the real world and the virtual world together. And it's controlling that real world element that's always quite tricky, but the projects we have are really exciting. And this is something that we've noticed, for example, with Gargoyle Doyle, it's the use of mixed reality with a pass-through camera on the quest at the beginning of the experience. And then you go into a full virtual reality and then come out back again into mixed reality. And it really makes sense for the project. It's a really beautifully written comedy around these two figures. you know, it's statues on a cathedral and that look and it's their relationship over the ages. It's a kind of like an odd couple kind of narrative. So that's the first of the projects. And then the second is a really exciting new format that Felix and Paul have produced, as you mentioned, using a book and the Magic Leap 2 headset, which is obviously smart glasses. So we're in true mixed reality, not just using the pass-through with the quest. But what's really exciting about Felix and Paul's project is first it's their first foray away, I think, from 360 and into mixed reality. And it's a format you can see that could be something that can be developed as these smart glasses come into the marketplace, because it's something they'll be able to port across the different devices. And it's a really high quality, and it's really nice to see the Magic Leap 2 headset because the field of view is much, much wider. And the fact that you're focused on quite a small area you're totally emerged in the story. Whereas other mixed reality experiences, I found them personally quite frustrating because you're always limited by that small field of view and a lot is happening outside. And you have to sort of find the images often, it's quite difficult. And this is a really beautiful format because it's quite contained obviously in a book as the canvas.

[00:16:09.410] Michel Reilhac: On another note, Gargoyle Oil was part of the market at Venice Immersive last year, so it's always really nice to see a project that we first heard of at the development stage during the market, and then one year later it's ready and we can present it in the competition. There are several cases like this. It's the case also, for instance, of Keisuke Hito, the Japanese author for the piece called Sen. Keisuke was a very well-known and appreciated graphic designer in Japan for years, when he decided that he wanted to experiment with VR. And to do this, he came to the College VR of Venice, having no experience at all with VR. He did his first piece called Feather within the frame of the college. That was five years ago. And from that year, every single year, he has come back with a new piece in VR, experimenting, developing new directions for his work. and last year he experimented with world building and he created his piece as a world in VRChat. It was called Type Man and it was in competition. This year he has come back with a highly sophisticated interactive piece called Zen based on the tea ceremony and he is truly someone who has grown as a major immersive artist within the different frames that the Venice Biennale can offer. So that aspect of there's like a possibility for an artist to grow within the different formats that we offer, you know, from development with the college VR to financing with the market, to exhibition with Venice Immersive is, I think, also something quite unique. And we are seeing now the benefits of this and the impact that that system has.

[00:18:13.754] Kent Bye: Yeah. And if we talk about different genres, animation is something that I often see lots of different animation pieces. I know there's Wallace and grommet and the grand getaway is animation piece. And yeah, I'd love to hear some of the other animation genre pieces to highlight in the Venice immersive competition.

[00:18:29.956] Liz Rosenthal: Sure, we've got some really beautiful examples of things we've really never seen before. There's a project called Flow that comes from France, and it's this incredibly beautiful, almost hand-drawn style that takes you on this kind of journey through energies from waking up in the morning, taking you into the countryside, taking you to the coast, you're flowing through environments. And it's the energies that you're flowing with. And it's quite spectacular in terms of its technique. And then we have projects that have been developed. They're the last projects that were developed with the animation player, with Meta. So the Quill Projects, Perpetus and Perennials. And also we're showing a really beautiful project in the Best Of, which is part seven of Tales from Sodor, Ireland. So it's called The First Ingredient. And then there's another project that I will put in, even though it's a completely different genre, to flow. It's got a very hand-drawn feel, which is Ombre. And another animated project that comes from Japan, which is by a painter, which is called Frequency, which is another completely sort of painterly style.

[00:19:37.479] Michel Reilhac: We can add as well the Brazilian project, Finally See, which also is quite remarkable, both in its storyline, but also in its style. Every year, we're really amazed by the diversity and the creativity of the different visual styles of these animation pieces. Same with My Name is 090 from South Korea, which is an incredibly endearing story of a stranded robot in a sort of abandoned city of the future. An incredibly emotional dimension of that story rendered by very, very sophisticated animation.

[00:20:15.946] Liz Rosenthal: And I think going back to Wallace & Gromit, because you started with that, obviously, you know, it's exciting to see Aardman partner with Atlas 5, creating such a seamless piece that is in the canon of Wallace & Gromit, because, and it's a brilliant example of a narrative game that I think is accessible to all kinds of audiences and players, but it's so well developed. you feel that they've really achieved an immersive entry point into the story world of Wallace and Gromit. And the narrative, it's really funny. The interactions are really seamless, and I think enjoyable for anyone who's a gamer or a non-gamer. So that's the first part. It's going to be three parts, and we're showing the first episode, which is an hour.

[00:21:03.793] Michel Reilhac: Maybe one other trend that we've seen is how some of the works become more and more spectacular in terms of their cinematography, for instance. It's the case of the German project called Aufwind, which tells the story of the first female pioneer airplane pilots at the beginning of the 20th century. And what is stunning about this piece is the level of sophistication of the landscapes, of the points of views, which really, really can start comparing with cinema. It's the case as well of the Chinese film that we have in competition called Qianqiang, which is really a showcase for the perfect gallery of all traditional Chinese motifs, from dragons to flying snakes to temples and sculpted mountains. It's absolutely spectacular in the way this is rendered. to give you a sense of a spectacle. This is something we're happy to see because one of the criticisms that some of the film people have towards VR is that they lack that possibility of dimension and sophistication in terms of image, in terms of rich, full textures of images. We're seeing that we're reaching the point now where that is possible in VR, and those two works truly represent this trend.

[00:22:44.765] Liz Rosenthal: Absolutely. And also I think Wallace & Gromit, Shen Zhang, Another Fisherman's Tale and Pixel Ripped are wonderful examples of narrative games. So this is a trend that we've been following for a while, but all of these are highly different in terms of the game dynamic and the interaction. Some are way more complex in terms of skills. You know, your skills as a gamer, for example, Pixel Ripped, but I'd say all of them are showing how narrative games are developing. And we're excited to see this area where you find it hard to actually say what is a game, what is a narrative piece. And I think these are all really great examples in varying degrees of complexity in terms of interactivity.

[00:23:27.896] Kent Bye: Yeah, I wanted to just take a step back and highlight Quill as a medium of creating a lot of these different immersive stories, because it's something I've seen over the last number of years going to these different festivals. Quill was something that was originally, I believe, developed in-house at Meta, but then they released it back to the original developer. And so it's something that they have a Quill player, but yeah, it's a way for artists to be able to do hand drawn animations, but also I've seen just a lot of innovations when it comes to the cinema photography and the movements now that it's been independently developed again, just to see the styles of animation. And there's just a lot of pieces as we talk about the genre of animation. There's a lot of stuff that we just sort of zip through, but yeah, just any other reflections on the medium of Quill and how that's being playing out in some of these different cool pieces that you're featuring.

[00:24:13.744] Michel Reilhac: Yeah, like you say, Quill is a major tool, but like Liz was saying, it's also the way the tool is being used. And we see how the makers of the animation pieces where they use Quill are incredibly savvy now and agile in using it. And so you start seeing effects and depth and detailed levels of the sets that are built using Quill that are incredible. I mean, really incredible in terms of how they've learned to use the software. And that is really nice to see because there was a moment, and it has to be like this whenever there's a new tool that happens, where there was a feeling that the films using Quill all felt and looked alike. This is no longer the case now. Quill has been appropriated in a way as a real tool, and as any craftsman who knows how to use their tool, they're able to do things that are incredibly sophisticated.

[00:25:21.474] Liz Rosenthal: And I think artists are also using it and taking it into games engines as well. And they've managed to create really sophisticated looks. I mean, last year we had Nisa, one of the fairy tale projects that was financed by Meta, which had incredible painterly look, which is actually the studio that worked with them is Studio Sorrow, who are the authors behind the first ingredient, which is another exceptional piece. I mean, that was something we were really blown away by. when we saw it, it's incredibly sophisticated.

[00:25:53.665] Kent Bye: Yeah. That was the re-imagined Nisa volume one and volume two just showed it, Rebecca. So yeah, just really impressed by that. And I guess another aspect as I'm looking through these different experiences, I remember Celine Damon had a piece last year, which was integrating opera with a very embodied experience. And she's back again with a piece called Songs for a Pastor by, so I'd love to hear a little bit about this piece.

[00:26:16.112] Michel Reilhac: Yeah, this piece is very special because Eurydice that she premiered with us last year was quite a spiritual experience. An experience that you rarely are given the opportunity to have in VR because it was truly a way the opera was a mean to lead you into a state of almost meditation. with very few special effects. The other thing that was very, very powerful is that the progression through the experience was made through your own movement. You had to walk in circles and different patterns, following a maze taking you down to hell, basically, where you needed to find the soul of Eurydice. This year with Songs for a Passerby, she continues to explore that dimension. How can immersive trigger a state of being, both a mental, a physical and a spiritual state, for the duration of the experience that is truly transformative? So this experience uses the same kind of set in a way where you have to walk through different dark spaces. But in this one, you keep meeting other people and you are in an environment where you are both alone and disconnected from masses of people that you see at a distance and that seem to be running somewhere, but also aimlessly. The whole feeling of the piece is really one of both melancholia, loneliness, and yet spiritual awakening. And I don't know anyone else who does this kind of work. She does it through installation. She comes from theater. She comes from the performing arts. She's very much inspired by the spatial dimension of her installations and it is reflected almost in a performative quality in the experience. It's absolutely unique and we're very, very happy and proud to welcome her second VR installation.

[00:28:37.228] Liz Rosenthal: I would say, wouldn't you, Michel, that this idea of transcendental experience is something quite strong in our programme this year. We have a few projects that I would say really put you deeply in another state of being. And another one, I would say, which is really a beautiful surprise to me, was Floating with Spirits, which is a documentary, but it's an experience where it's set during a celebration of Day of the Dead in Mexico, up in the mountains, and it starts beautifully shot 360 experience in a village as people are going to the cemetery and graveyard and celebrating their ancestors. And then it takes you into this transcendental experience where you are with the spirits, you're floating with the spirits. And it's quite exceptional, the quality of the project morphing from this beautifully shot 360 into this other reality. So that's one of the other projects I would really highlight.

[00:29:37.942] Michel Reilhac: And what is really wonderful with Floating with Spirits is that it's a project that has been quite long in the making. It has gone through different stages and it's a project that we've seen in bits and pieces, you know, shaping itself over the past, let's say, two, three years. And it's wonderful when you see the work in progress, when you see the research, blossom into a piece that is incredibly powerful. The same way with the imaginary friend, which has been many years in the making. And in this piece, you are the imaginary friend of a young boy of 10 years old. and you are engaged in this connection with the boy, and you are his imaginary friend. So it is not maybe a transcendental experience, but it is definitely a magical way of entering the psychology and the emotions of a young boy who needs his imaginary friend to find his own balance and go through life at his age by discovering little by little who he is and how to be in life. So it's a wonderful piece that is about childhood, but is designed and run for adults as well as for children. So it's truly a connecting way for anyone to enter the realm of a child's imagination.

[00:31:10.234] Liz Rosenthal: And I would say also that out of those three projects, they're an incredible use of mixed formats. And this is something I've seen in the past, it's going to be quite clunky when you work with live action, and then you sort of add particle clouds and CGI and animations. And these are beautifully shot, combining different types of media into one project. So the three of these projects are wonderful examples. So with Imaginary Fend, it's a mixture of many different types of VR formats. It's an incredibly well shot. Is it volcapped, isn't it, Michel? The performance is amazing from the actors, from the young boy. And then there's interaction, there's animation, it's voice activated, floating with spirits. Like I said, the combination between the 360 and moving into this other reality is really exceptional high quality. And Songs for a Passerby, of course, is many different mediums and haptics laid on top of each other with a, you know, I call it haptic experience because you're walking through a space.

[00:32:10.205] Michel Reilhac: That's an important part of it. And I think we can also talk a little bit about the documentary dimension, if that's okay. Because we do have, like we have every year, different projects that are documentary in essence. One of them is called Remember This Place, and it comes from Palestine. where we never had any project from Palestine. And this project was actually developed during the college VR, and it's so convincing we took it in competition. And it's really about displaced families in Palestine with destroyed villages, destroyed homes, and how do people respond, react to this. It's both 360 videos, but also reconstructed sets with point clouds and animation. A very powerful way to make us empathize with these people from different tribes in Palestine who are forced out of their homes and all the way to the physical destruction of their homes and villages. Something you cannot remain indifferent to. Letters from Drancy is part of a triptych, which are the three films where people who survived the camps are remembering their experience, coming back to the places where they were during the war after they were saved from the camps. And we're showing one of these three films.

[00:33:42.228] Liz Rosenthal: And it was commissioned by the Illinois Holocaust Museum. So we're showing Darren Emerson's piece. But it's another incredible example of using live footage and recreating spaces in a very imaginative and moving way. It's a story between a mother and a daughter who lost a mother, and that's a very, very powerful story within the piece, as well as being this powerful testimonial. And another piece we should probably mention in the documentary genre is comfortless, because this is the third of the triptych that was created by Gina Kim, who won one of our first Lions in 2017. And this is the final piece. We've shown every single one of them. We premiered them at Venice. That's around the area in South Korea where American servicemen were settled. And it's a story of the comfort women or the sex workers who had to service the American armies in the horrendous conditions and things that they suffered. And I feel it's the most sophisticated out of the three. She's really developed her style over the three pieces. Again, it's told in a beautifully simple but complex way and that's Gina's way with no dialogue and you're moving through the spaces and there are ghostly figures of the women who were living there before that were played by actors.

[00:35:08.402] Michel Reilhac: In our Best of section, we also show a beautiful piece by Felix and Paul, which was shot in space from the International Space Station. And it's a very simple piece, where you're basically outside the International Space Station, and you're watching the Earth glide by under you from sunrise to sunset in real time, at the same time that you can see how particularly the solar panels of the International Space Station, change positions to optimize their reception of the sun rays for generating power for the station. So it's both a vision of our planet in its, quote, natural state, and this perception of the incredibly sophisticated man-made space station. And there's no text, nothing. You're just watching this. It's quite striking. The same way that David Attenborough's new series on flying insects, how animals took to the skies and started flying, as almost every year we're showing the new series by David Attenborough because he's used particularly of macro photography to capture extremely close-up shots of those insects, has something completely mesmerizing and forces us to have a completely different look at nature that is around us as a strange, weird, magical world.

[00:36:49.968] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I think as we go back to the competition, one of the pieces that I got a chance to see an early book was The Shadow Time, which felt like a little bit like in the genre of a film essay, but this is really like a VR essay. So really using the medium of VR to talk about the nature of reality and using different volumetric stuff. So yeah, I don't know what kind of genre you'd say, I guess the VR essay genre kind of reflecting upon itself.

[00:37:15.567] Michel Reilhac: Yeah, almost like creative documentaries. The funny thing with Shadow Time is that we're going to show the full installation that they dreamt of. It's a very, very complex installation to put together because they want to reproduce a camera oscura, which is one of the very, very first devices invented in the 19th century to show images, you know, in a black room through a pinpoint source of light coming from the outside. So we had to provide them with a space where they could use the only window we have on the island from the inside of the space where we are exhibiting onto the water, onto the Laguna. So they're going to build their space around that window so that the light from the Venice Laguna can come through a pinhole into the installation space, where they will make us experience their perception or their questioning of reality. So the tension between an archaic device that is like the ancestor of cinema and of virtual reality at the same time as showing state-of-the-art technology to experience the same concept of what is reality is a very interesting way of talking about that.

[00:38:37.648] Kent Bye: I believe Home is another installation piece, is that right?

[00:38:40.610] Liz Rosenthal: That's right. And we have two projects that are a form of large-scale projection. So both Home and Purply. So Home is by a UK-based artist and published by a French team. And I think this shows a trend of experiences that are being developed out of EBSA. So Home is very unique. He's an artist that Michelle and I were so excited to discover. The pieces around the breakdown of the environment due to our human systems is projected on a giant beehive that's hung from the ceiling. A reconstructed idea of what a beehive is and it's projected onto the images are projected onto this. So it's a visual art piece and it has these incredible images of crowds, of the environment, of the earth from above and the messages around what we do to the planet and what the planet may do to us. So it lasts about 30 minutes and that'd be something that people can enter in at any time to experience. It's in the same, last year we have that incredible project frame rate, which was programmed across LED screens, but it's going to be a very contemplative piece that people can go into and experience, you know, any moment. So you don't need to book a ticket for that. And the second piece is also on an environmental theme is a large scale projection with interaction, which is incredibly complex in terms of technology, but it shows a trend of people working very inventively with spatial computing for scalable installations where people do not need to wear a headset. And obviously we're seeing these very commercial exhibitions around the world, Immersive Van Gogh, Immersive Monet, Immersive Frida Kahlo, and it's really exciting to see original IP that's been developed using some of these projection techniques.

[00:40:37.541] Kent Bye: You know, I had a chance to see Body of Mine by Cameron Costopoulos at South by Southwest where I picked up an award where using a lot of embodiment and exploring issues of gender identity. And yeah, I don't know if that's a new version that he's showing or if it's the same version, but yeah, I'd love to hear any comments on Body of Mine.

[00:40:53.990] Michel Reilhac: It's basically the same version. They tweaked it, but it's basically the same version. It's one of our international premieres. So it had its world premiere in the US. Being a US piece, it qualifies as an international premiere for us. But it's basically this experience where you are in front of a mirror set inside a human body close to the heart and you saw it, but it's this incredible environment in which you are, and you're watching yourself in the mirror, and the image you see in the mirror is different images, different identities of transgender persons. So it's a very powerful way of empathizing with people who are going through the journey of transitioning into a different gender than the ones they were assigned by birth.

[00:41:43.306] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as we start to wrap up the competition, we have One Room Babel and Spots of Light. Love to hear any reflections on those two pieces before we go to the VRChat Worlds.

[00:41:52.614] Liz Rosenthal: So these are two projects from Korea. We've had a very strong selection of projects, actually, from Korea this year that are very original. I think they have a very specific flavor, the projects that come from Korea. We've seen this from Taiwanese projects, a particular palette. kind of sensation and ambiance in the pieces that's very particular, I think, to the region. So the first project, One Room Bubble, is a very beautiful analogy of what home is. And you're actually in a bizarre kind of underwater environment in an apartment that you move through. And there's a lot of kind of poetic text that you're listening to and experience what home is today in our urban environments and in places that are so expensive to own a home. The second project is about a robot set in a dystopic world. It's a really beautiful animation about this robot who's an outdated robot and he has to escape being destroyed. And he's moving through the city, trying to power himself through, illegally through cables and escape the dog catchers, the dog robot catchers. And it's very, very moving. And it's a very original, dystopic take on a robotic animal, robotic dog.

[00:43:13.438] Kent Bye: And as we move into the Venice worlds competition, there's two VR chat worlds within Prowler with Horse Canyon. And then Fens is back again with another VR chat world and competition with Complex 7. And then there's 24 total worlds in the Venice worlds gallery. 23 of them are VR chat worlds. One that's not is the Fatboy Slim Eat Sleep VR Repeat, which I had a chance to see in Engage and do an interview with Fatboy Slim, AKA Norman Cook and the Engage XR team. But yeah, I'd love to hear any reflections on VRChat Worlds Gallery and the two pieces that are in competition. I would also give a shout out to Dr. Morrow with Organism and Epilogue Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. For me, that's like, for my money, I would put, you know, some of Dr. Morrow's worlds in competition because I feel like his are so epic. I don't know if he meets all the different, um, standards.

[00:44:02.769] Michel Reilhac: We would love to have it. I think Liz and I would concur that we would have loved to have it in competition, but we are bound by very, very strict norms and criteria for what defines a world premiere. And because Dr. Morrow's worlds were already published and open to the public, it did not qualify as a world premiere and therefore it could not be in competition. Otherwise, it would have been. So the two worlds in competition are in competition because no one has seen them. They haven't been published yet, and they will be published after the first day of showing at Venice Immersive. But we are bound, because like Liz said, we're the only competition in an A-list festival. The criteria that apply to us for defining what can be in competition are exactly the same criteria as for the feature films. So we have to have the world premiere or with the few exceptions of international premieres, like we said, was the case of Body of Mine. So that's why. But we agree with you that Dr. Morrow's worlds are among the masterpieces of the world building community and what you can see on VRChat, definitely.

[00:45:18.792] Liz Rosenthal: And Michelle and I are totally committed to representing world building. You know, this is the second time we've had the World Gallery section and shown projects in competition that are worlds. And as we've mentioned many times, we do feel that this is an area, the world building community are creating some of the most exceptional works and experiences. They work in a completely different way to some of those other projects that we mentioned that come from artists and directors and studios that tend to show projects and festivals, or the game studios. I was mentioning at the beginning how we see artists hone their skills as they create new works, and nearly every year, for example, the director of Sen, there's Celine, who's come back, and Phoenix and Paul, for example, we've shown their work before. But with the world building community, these are creators that are building, you know, iterating rapidly and building several worlds each year. So you mentioned Dr. Morrow, Finns, creates several worlds each year. And this is actually the sequel to a world he created that we showed in our world's gallery last year, District Roboto. So it's a narrative sequel. that has some kind of interactivity and puzzles within it. And N. Prowler has created worlds in, has several worlds in the VR chat already, and he loves doing these kind of expedition worlds. So this is an incredible sort of wild west exploration into a very sort of arid desert where you actually ride horses. So it's an extraordinary experience of actually sort of galloping across this terrain.

[00:46:57.457] Michel Reilhac: It takes a little bit of getting used to it.

[00:46:59.940] Liz Rosenthal: Yeah, it's really like horse riding.

[00:47:03.884] Michel Reilhac: It is, it really is very realistic.

[00:47:07.647] Kent Bye: Nice. Well, the VRChat world's gallery, most of them are available that you can go check out. And a lot of the actually, yeah, all of them, the Fatboy Slim Eat Sleep VR Repeat is something that is a performance that I don't know if it's available just yet.

[00:47:21.504] Michel Reilhac: No, no, it's not available. Actually. It's been talked a lot about. But it hasn't been actually performed that many times. And it will be a great opportunity to be able to catch up with this piece, which is quite a remarkable example. I mean, you've seen it. I don't know if you would agree that it's a wonderful example of how a musician can experiment with immersive to give an incredibly fun dimension to their concert.

[00:47:52.413] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. It's definitely a spatial journey that has interactive social dynamics that are really quite fun as well. And then a number of the best of immersive projects are actually also available. Utility Rooms on Steam and stuff that has shown at South by Southwest, Forger, Kraken Tarot is back with his second piece and his trilogy, which started with All That Remains and then Over the Rainbow into this surrealistic exploration of the 360 video medium of this one-on-one immersive pieces. So looking forward for other folks to be able to see that. And yeah, there's six different pieces that are in the Venice Immersive Biennale College Cinema. And so I think we were able to talk about lots of other projects here. Any other sort of final thoughts before we kind of wrap things up here?

[00:48:35.588] Michel Reilhac: I would like to just point out in the college section, every year we have a winner of our college VR, which receives 100% funding for the piece from us. And this year, it's a Ukrainian project called First Day, which is a remarkable project showing the devastation of war in Ukraine in a spectacular way. It will be connected with the official organization for the rebuilding of Ukraine that people can get involved with. But visually, it's an incredible work of reconstructing digitally the buildings that have been destroyed through the war in the Kiev area.

[00:49:19.815] Liz Rosenthal: And also, if we're going to be wrapping up, just to mention that if anyone is thinking of coming to Venice, and I'm hoping this podcast comes out before Venice, we do have our Venice Immersive Pass which should go on sale, I believe, at the end of this week, which is only 60 euros for five days and 90 euros for the full festival. So it's an amazingly, obviously you have to get to Venice and find somewhere to stay, but it's an incredibly accessible pass that enables you to visit the island and book all of these experiences and hang out with the people that made them and the rest of the immersive community.

[00:49:56.228] Michel Reilhac: Two things maybe we can add is that, yes, like Liz was saying, basically the greatest part of the immersive community gathers in Venice on the island. So it's an incredible opportunity to mingle and to get to know everyone. The other thing I would like to mention is a new tradition that we have for our jury in Venice Immersive, where for the second year now, we have decided to invite the three winners of the three awards from the previous year to be our jury members. And the reason why we do this is that we found that in order to fully appreciate what goes into a new work in VR or in any immersive technology, It really needs someone to understand, to have gone through the process of trying, of testing something that does not have a codex, does not have a Bible, does not have methodology. Everything is being invented as we go. And to fully understand what is at stake in a new project, you really need specialists. And we found that the idea of a peer jury was really quite right for the art form right now, so that the three winners who were judged by their peers the previous year now find themselves with the responsibility to judge their peers. And we saw how last year, it gave way to incredibly deep, well-informed and respectful discussions from the jury, which made for endless discussions, because it's very difficult to make decisions when you understand the work so well. But it guarantees that the way the work is appreciated and viewed is really done with the greatest love and expertise that you need for a new art form like Immersive.

[00:52:00.437] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, we were able to give a lot of great overview and sneak peek of this year's program. And I'd love to ask one last final question. I always love to ask is what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality, XR, augmented reality and the intersection of immersive storytelling, what that ultimate potential might be and what it might be able to enable.

[00:52:21.206] Michel Reilhac: For me, right now, my main reason to love Immersive so passionately is how hopefully it's going to blend with physical reality to enrich our lives as human beings and that it does not become an escape. We all bear, you do Kent, we do as curators, artists do, we all bear the responsibility to make sure that immersive is not an escape, that immersive is a way to enrich our lives as a whole as they grow more and more intertwined between the physical dimension of our life experience and the digital dimension of it. I think if we manage to educate the younger audiences and if we manage to truly understand what a virtual experience brings to our physical experience of life, then we will grow. If we see it as an escape from reality, we will fail.

[00:53:33.653] Liz Rosenthal: And for me, I think it sort of follows on from what Michelle says, I'm super interested in how using spatial computing and virtual reality enables you to question who we are, what our reality is, and has this kind of transcendental nature that allows us to question our reality, our planet, who we are, what reality is, and it's really important because it's the only medium that allows you to truly do this. So I'm really interested in where storytelling, where art, technology, wealth being, the state of mental health sits together and I'm particularly interested in these projects and it's wonderful to see in our programme and the projects that were submitted how varied and how inventive that can be when artists start working with technologists and start working across different mediums. Because I think we see in our program, there are artists who are working with scientists and philosophers and psychologists and doctors who are creating these projects that are really difficult to define in terms of genre now. and the beautiful ways of us questioning who we are and on our relationship with our planet and the cosmos. So that's what I'm very excited about with the medium. And it's wonderful to see the inventiveness of the creators who are going to be showcasing in Venice. And it gives me a lot of hope for where the medium is going and also the importance of artists working in the space. Because I think One of the things that is very tough for artists is the consolidation and monopoly of the platforms, of the hardware companies. And a lot of the time this work is not being seen. And we feel very strongly that it's important to have spaces and distribution for this work. So that's something we feel very strongly about, Michelle and I.

[00:55:31.460] Kent Bye: For sure. Yeah. And it's, like I said, it's my favorite event of the year. It's over 21 hours worth of content and lots of different experiences. And it is an Island that you have to go to. And then once you're there, you just have this basically hanging out with all these different folks from the immersive industry and. The funders that are there for the gap financing market, that's going to be happening there as well with a dozen projects and just a ton of different content for people to watch. And yeah, like I said, if you can't make it to Venice, that's the can't miss experience of the year. And I'm looking forward to being there and to try to see all the different experiences and talk to as many people as I can and to help cover this event and. It's always a great selection of content and getting a sneak peek of what's to come when it comes to the future of immersive storytelling. So thanks again for taking the time to help unpack this year's program. And I guess I'll see you on the Island there in Venice. So thanks again. Definitely.

[00:56:21.625] Liz Rosenthal: Thanks so much. See you in Venice.

[00:56:23.830] Kent Bye: So that was Liz Rosenthal. She's a co-creator of Venice Immersive and an executive producer of Immersive Projects, as well as Michel Riak. He's a co-creator of Venice Immersive as well as a VR and Immersive Experience maker. So I've a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, Liz and Michelle do an amazing job of curating some of the best immersive stories throughout the course of the year. And they always have some of the biggest projects that are premiering there at Venice. It's really quite an amazing scene. We have all the different immersive storytellers from the industry that are coming in there. They have a whole gap financing, which brings in lots of funders and producers of exciting work for future projects. And yeah, just an amazing selection of over 21 hours worth of content. And 24 worlds in the worlds gallery, 23 of them are from VR chat with two VR chat worlds and competition this year as well. And so, yeah, just always an amazing selection of different immersive stories. And I'll be onsite seeing all the different work and then talking to as many of the different creators as I can. So as I come back in the early September, I'll be digesting and processing all these different conversations as quick as I can get out a lot of different conversations and latest innovations when it comes to immersive storytelling. So. Yeah, looking forward to being there on the island. And like I said at the top, I'll be there from August 28th until September 5th. And so, yeah, looking forward to seeing all the work and seeing all the folks from the industry. And yeah, also, you know, there's going to be a number of these different projects that are going to be coming out. I think one of the things that Liz and Michelle were emphasizing is that there isn't as much performance pieces this year, but that I think more and more folks are thinking about distribution. And there's other folks that have come online, including Astraea. Diversion cinema and other emerging distributors that are coming to festivals like this to start to curate some of these different pieces and to have a whole other life of the location based entertainment circuit, but also starting to be shipped and distributed across different platforms like oculus and steam and viveport and Pico and yeah, just a whole ecosystem of places that you can start to see some of these different immersive stories and you can get a lot more information when a conversation I did with Danielle's you're back in episode 1191 talking about Estrella and trying to close the distribution gap when it comes to some of these different immersive stories And so yeah, they've been really picking up in terms of acquiring some of these different projects I know they're representing some of the ones that are already going to be there at Venice and I'm sure they'll be picking up some of the other best of from the selection this year as well and So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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