#1271: Indie Immersive Narratives at FIVARS & the Fragility of XR Creation, Distribution, & Open Source Ecosystems

The latest Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories (FIVARS) starts today in a hybrid exhibition of 65 immersive stories until September 19 in Toronto and until October 3 with an online exhibition of spherical video and cinematic VR. I had a chance to sit down with FIVARS founder Keram Malicki-Sánchez to get a little bit of a sneak peak of this year’s selection. There is over 24 hours worth of content, which is too much to be able to cover in one conversation, but Malicki-Sánchez shares the deeper inspiration and motivation that’s driving the underlying independent and experimental spirit of this festival.

We also talk about the fragility of what it means to be an immersive creator in this day and age, especially in light of Unity’s controversial runtime fees that were announced earlier this week raising a lot of deeper concerns for the long-term viability of using Unity in the eyes of VR content creators. We talk about the open source game engine alternatives like Godot, but also the broader challenges for producing, distributing, and receiving feedback on immersive narratives created with an independent spirit or experimental edge. If you’re in the Toronto area, then be sure to get a ticket to check out the interactive portions of the 2023 program. And if you’re remote, then be sure to check out the hybrid portion with 20-30 different 360 videos that should be made available to be seen within their WebXR theatre viewable with a Quest Browser.

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

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] 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 future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So in today's episode, I'm featuring the founder of the 5R's Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories, Karim Litsky-Sanchez. So Karim has also been a founder of the VRTO, which is the Virtual Reality Toronto Spatial Media World Conference and Expo. and has been a curator of both discussions at a conference like VRTO, but has, since 2015, curated a lot of these different immersive stories, looking at the future of the medium, a little bit more of an independent, driven, and experimental in its curation, and a pretty significant selection. At the time of the recording of this interview that I did with Karam, There were 64 selections and there's been actually one or two more that's been added. So over 24 hours worth of content that's going to be featured at the Five Hours Festival. If you're in Toronto then you're going to be able to go and book a two-hour slot and actually check out some of the more interactive pieces from September 15th and 19th, which is today, Friday, up until the 19th. However, there's also an online component where you can go and watch some of the more passive, spatial video, spherical video, 360 video that Karim has been developing a whole online WebXR component to go and watch some of these different experiences with more of a custom handcrafted bespoke implementation so that you can go into the Oculus browser on your Quest and then be able to directly watch some of these immersive experiences. Or if you don't have a VR headset at all, you can use phones or your laptop or whatnot to have access to some of this content as well. So we talk a little bit about the five hours festival and the curation of it. And there's so many different pieces in the program. It's impossible to cover everything, but we do a little bit of a dipping in and some of the different pieces that Karen was highlighting in this year's selection. And we also talk about the fragility of what it means to be an independent creator. especially in light as we start to hear unity starting to implement some of these runtime fees that just got announced a couple of days ago where for every download and installation of a unity project retroactively for anything that you may have ever published then unity is going to be essentially charging 20 percents per install which has a lot of implications for a lot of folks within the art industry especially as you think about new iterations of VR headsets that come along every now and then again, for folks that may have bought a VR experience, there's going to be new unexpected changes to the cost structure from Unity that a lot of folks within independent game developers community are certainly not happy about because this is nothing that has been in the terms of service when they signed up for it. And these are unexpected costs that have lots of different problems in terms of how these numbers are going to be tracked in the future in terms of. spyware and getting charged for piracy. There's lots of different issues with charging on installation when it comes to free-to-play games and everything else. It's essentially unexpected costs that have been dumped upon the entirety of anybody that's using Unity as a game engine. So Karim has been deeply involved in lots of open source tool chains, whether it's from Blender or Godot or GIMP, and just a real advocate for trying to find your own sovereignty using more of an open source tool set. So he talks a little bit more of these alternatives to platforms like Unity, but also just speaking to what's it mean to be a creator, an immersive creator in this day and age as you start to go through all these hurdles to even put the technology together, but then try to find an audience for your work. And so that's, I think, a lot of what Karim's trying to do is keep an eye into watching all these different pieces of content and curating a whole selection of 65 experiences that are going to be featured at 5R's Festival of International and Virtual Augmented Reality. That's running from September 15th to 19th in Toronto and online until Wednesday, October 3rd. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of The Voices of VR Podcast. So, this interview with Karim happened on Wednesday, September 13th, 2023. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:04:15.471] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: My name is Karim Malitsky-Sanchez. I am the founder of the VRTO Spatial Media World Conference and Expo. I also founded the 5R's Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories in 2015. I teach Blender for Web 3D Worldbuilding at UCLA Extension. I was a playtest designer for the VR Award nominated VR Experience Broken Spectre that has custom hand tracking. And I am currently the lead web director for the Canadian Hispanic Latin American Museum, which will be launching in 2024.

[00:05:01.253] Kent Bye: Great. Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into the space.

[00:05:07.257] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: I began in my pre-teens as an actor. I worked in dinner theater when I was seven and I worked as a SAG actor for 25 years now. I was at the Metropolitan University's inaugural year of their new media program in 1995. I was in the first year of the digital cinema program at UCLA Extension in 1999 or 2000, I think. I am the editor-in-chief of IndieGameReviewer.com since 2007 because I really believe that those underground arts channels are a way to really tell some important stories. and going to IndieCade to cover that for about 10 consecutive years, and going to the Toronto International Film Festival for 20 years under various tickets I would be gifted through this or that or whatever, are what ultimately led to my creation of the 5Rs Festival.

[00:06:08.453] Kent Bye: Right. So I know five hours is going to be opening up here in just a few days. Uh, I guess it's September 15th and there's also an online component. So maybe you could give a bit more context as to the history of five hours and a little bit of a sneak peek of this year's program.

[00:06:23.826] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah, so you and I have visited 5R's a couple of times on the show. The first time was because it was the first year of the pandemic and the subject was how do you do an actual festival with tickets in web 3D, which was an incredibly volatile platform for doing anything at that time. And Zoom had just been caught off guard that, oh, I think we might factor into people's lives a little more than we expected now. And nobody really knew what was happening. And so we went and sort of rebooted the Janus XR engine, which James Baikianu was converting from a platform into a JavaScript form to live on the web. And then the second time we talked about 5Rs was because we found a gallery in Beverly Hills that we could bring the festival from Toronto to Hollywood and hit a different crowd and to show that it's a not location-specific event, that it's an international event and in different contexts in different cities, it might be received in different ways. And I appreciate that you have given us that time and the amount of time that you give to the pieces inside of all these various festivals that themselves have stories to tell. You know, it's not just the story of the festival, but like who is in this festival and the amount of work that would have to be done to drill down into what it took to make any experience in the immersive space, let alone ones that don't have a chance at further distribution or audience until some future where they're recovered through some cultural anthropological effort. is significant and the work that you do is almost singular in creating an archive of that journey. And I feel like the reason we're talking about it a third time is because 5R's now in its ninth year, which I think might be one of the longest running solely VR and augmented reality festivals of its kind, is also now become a de facto archive of the history of the early forms of this narrative version of this medium, right? Even if we say VR's been around for a century, half, three quarters of a century, or whatever else we might say, it certainly wasn't narrative that whole time. It had traces of it, but this idea of telling complex, rich stories through this media is very much more recent. And it's been declared dead, if not every day, at least every week or every month. And yet we have more submissions this year than we've ever had. It was an overwhelming number of submissions, and yet there are fewer festivals to go to. It's also strange because you'd think there are more, but some of them are starting to fade or to become narrower in scope. 360 video is not covered as much, nearly as much anywhere. And there are less platforms for the exhibit of 360. There used to be all kinds. There was, do you remember Vridio and Little Star and all these other places? And they're all gone. So in some cases, we are almost the only place that's picking up an important 360 story that someone in a village needs to tell to get a message out about something that would never get on the news otherwise, that won't make it onto a big screen. There would be no cinema that they could afford or be picked up to distribute in. And we can, through this concise and powerful format, put you in time and place with those people. So it's that combination of those things. It's not a contest, but we have 64 pieces in this show. It's almost an unimaginable amount of material. The Toronto Film Festival does 300 films, but you can expect that those movies are going to be projected on a screen. When we get these pieces, we have no idea how they're supposed to play. I have a piece that requires that you use the Whirly Gig application focused in at 11 with a curvature of 0.5. And I was like, is this, what is this? This is VR. I'm talking to the guy. He came to VRTO in 2019 and was inspired. I was like, what is, is this VR? What is this? Is this 180? He goes, no, we're making up our own thing where you, You're able to use super large, high quality sensors to shoot cinematic, but the way that it kind of wraps around your head is more than IMAX and less than 180. And we'll eventually maybe develop a custom app for it, but not all applications can give you this level of control to customize the screen. I was like, all right, well, let's try it out. That piece is called In Phase. And so on. There's almost no repeats. It might be 360, but it might be mono, it might be side by side, it might be over under, it might be ambisonic 1 or 2 or 5.1 or something else. We have a piece called Origins by an artist in Portland. and they're going to fly out to Toronto because they put you in wheelchairs that have a seed pod on them because they dance with you attached to their bodies. They want you to feel the vestibular effects of this choreographed piece while you're in VR. So there's this hybrid work of you're watching the performers on the outside with live musicians and then within the experience you're seeing even a grander vision of what they're doing. And there's a lot of that kind of hybrid work as well. We have a company from Montreal doing something called VFC and they want to bring EEGs and this custom audio setup and you watch a cinematic piece in tandem with other people. Brandon Bradley is, you know, you just had him recently on the show. He's doing non-player character where he's performing on a stage and people are watching him and then seeing behind him what's going on in VR and so on and so forth. Dan Blair has created a little tiny 1980s computer that's connected to GPT-3 that'll output 15th century English text and print you a receipt of that text. He was building this and I said to him, have you ever read a book called The Vertical Plane? from 1985 or 6, there was a computer in Dottleston right on the border of Wales in a very high paranormal activity area with ancient history. And this professor from Oxford brought home this little BBC microcomputer for his girlfriend who was 17 years old. Note the 17 year old female paranormal connection thing that we often see. And they had this house where weird phenomena was happening. Furniture was piling up and wrought iron pans were being bent in half. and feet were on the walls that had six toes. You make of it what you will. And they were restoring this very, very old coach house into a new home. They bring this computer home and all of a sudden one day the screen is filled with extremely detailed 16th century English texts talking about why are you in my home and blah, blah, blah. There's no internet connection. There's nothing like that nearly at the time available to the public, let alone out in Donaldston. And for a year this went on, these pages and pages of scholarly level English that had been endemic to that particular area, that territory. And anyway, so that's an interesting book to follow. I said, Hey Dan, this is reminding me, this AI speaking to us back and forth across time, but you're not quite sure if it's legitimacy and if it's a ghost playing tricks with you or reminds me a lot of what you're doing with GPT on this thing, so we created a piece called The Lemes Boist, which is the weird esoteric name that that specter from the 1500s claims to be speaking through, a glowing green sphere with strange moving runic patterns that's hovering above his fireplace through which he's speaking to them, called The Lemes Boist. So the festival becomes this real, like, undefinable net this exploration, this sort of circle of new ideas for communicating in this underground. You know, it's not important enough to be shut down or appropriated or co-opted or distorted. It's sort of happening in its most pure state right now, which was the same for a wonderful moment in indie gaming years ago, where it was just like, it was subversive and it was transcendent and it wasn't, the battle between Sony Playstation Indies and Xbox Indies, it was before all that time, but enough, sufficiently advanced that it was meaningful work and you could see what was going on. So yeah, there's 64 new pieces I'll let you ask more about those later. I know you have looked over the catalog a bit, but I think that's part of the conversation. And not just to make it about another five hours thing, but I wanted to also be able to talk to you about the fragility of holding space for independent work. and the creators that have already, just to get to you, have crossed the desert multiple times over. Just have the courage to submit it to you, you know, and then to have to tell the story that it even exists after that in the sea of noise that is out there, lest it be lost, this incredibly liminal, delicate, and important space that I'm fighting tooth and nail to protect and to maintain. So I'll pause there.

[00:16:34.087] Kent Bye: Great. Yeah. So I know the curators like yourself are really an important part of trying to filter through all these different experiences that are out there, especially when it comes to immersive stories and narratives and these experimental ways that folks are pushing for the medium and trying to understand what the affordances of the medium are. I find that when I go to these different festivals that each festival has different curation, different things they preference. Things at Venice tend to be a little bit more polished, almost ready to go straight from the festival out into location-based entertainment and distribution. You get a little bit more experimental stuff at IFADOCLAB, trying to look at the intersection between nonfiction and immersive storytelling, but also, yeah, just a lot of interdisciplinary fusion that's happening there. And Sunday's New Frontier used to be, when it was around still, a little bit more of the experimental, you know, things that were looking at narrative, but also like more haptic explorations. South by Southwest, I see a lot more pieces that are music based or things that are just also very mass consumer, ready to go out into the mainstream. And Tribeca also tends to be very focused on stories. And so 5Rs, you have 64 experiences here. And what would you say is sort of like the curatorial thread that is a common character amongst all these different pieces that I see there's around like almost evenly split between interactive, around 31 interactive and around 33 passive experiences. So a little bit more of the immersive 360 video. And as I told it up the total runtime, it's well over 24 hours or the content that you have programmed here. So I guess, how do you start to make sense of where some of these pieces fit in the overall ecosystem of immersive storytelling, as well as I guess the broader festival circuit as it were.

[00:18:32.269] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah, well, when something comes in, we literally just have open hearts and open minds. We have to never allow knee-jerk reactions or implicit biases filter which direction it goes. Things often can surprise us, not just on first viewing or second viewing, but sometimes just saying, oh, we actually missed the whole point of this the first time around, or there's an extra part to this, or the trailer is not really what is the thing. Sometimes they want to bring in performers and build out dioramas and There's orchestras involved, there's special technology. And so first of all, we have to decide, can we do this? Is it even possible to work with this piece? And we try, we will. The other thing is, it can be competent, but sometimes performances could just be so bad, so distractingly poor, that we think this is not a good representation of the medium, even if the 360 is perfect. In other cases, it might be more allowable because something else is really the main feature. So we do want the medium, which is already a hard sell for some reason. You know, again, I've said this to you before. I remember in 2014 or 15, there was a white van parked downtown at five in the morning to show the HTC Balloon demo. And there was lineups like three blocks down the street. That luster, that excitement is all gone. We're at the post-NFT era. We're at the AI is going to kill us era. It's all evil and it's all sort of lumped in and associated with itself. And that's a problem that I have to actually overcome. So I need to represent the medium in the best possible way. And if people say, oh, you say it's the future of cinema and the acting is horrendous, I don't think so. So that's possibly a filter. There's pieces where folks don't really know how to use a 360 camera. You know, they think, oh, it's the thing for abuse. It's like a chew toy. It's fun. It can see in all directions, wave it around, stick it to everything. And it's heartbreaking because they probably put a lot of work into it, but it's unwatchable. However, I've got a piece or two in the show this year that does a little bit of that." And I thought, well, not everybody's going to watch this in VR, but what they're doing is telling a story that is so important about a culture or a tribe or a thing that is just so uncovered that I would much rather that there's a ping around that subject matter than that we avoid it because it's maybe a group that is just getting on its feet with this technology and just exploring it and we want to be able to give them that boost to keep going and exploring the tech. So it really varies. I've said before, you know, if we have five of the same kind of thing, then we're going to pick something that maybe introduces the newest version of that idea, whether it's too many space movies or too many underwater movies or whatever. But that's really, I mean, we take it one at a time and there's no other criteria. We're not thinking about is this commercially viable? And it doesn't necessarily mean that it's all avant-garde strangeness. Some of it is incredibly well put together, world class. And some of it is surprised by who's behind it. We don't even look at who's behind it before we watch it, because we don't want that to influence anything. And then we look and we go, oh, no kidding, huh? That person is now doing this genre or working in this medium. You do see a lot of repeat people and we've seen their work evolve over the last nine years. And boy, some of it is just so, so polished and so well put together. It's studyable in any course about how to do the form.

[00:22:27.318] Kent Bye: And so the program has 64 pieces and Tribeca this year had 13 pieces and they changed it up where you would go into one location and you basically have all day to see those 13 pieces. And then in Venice, There's like 43 different projects that they had 28 in competition. I had like six in the beginning of college. I had like nine in the best of, and then the whole VR chat worlds gallery. But it's basically like you have to get up at like 5 AM in Pacific time to like order tickets. And you basically have to rush to reserve the tickets and then hope that if you don't get them, that people don't show up. And then you have to. Then go on standby. And so it's basically like a challenge to see those projects because it's a 10 day festival that you're there. And some people, depending on how long they're there, they have multiple waves to see if they have the next batch of tickets because the tickets are released in like different batches. So there's been these different approaches over the years where, you know, Tribeca used to be like, they would open up the space and be a mad rush for everybody coming in to try to get onto the queue. And then within five minutes, the whole queue for the entire two hour session was already set. So the exhibition of these projects are. pretty difficult. So given that you have 64 projects, I see that there's going to be a co-located exhibition from like September 15th to 19th, presumably there in Toronto, but there's also an online version that looks like it's going from September 15th to October 3rd. that is also going to have maybe a subsection of some of these projects, maybe the more passive or spherical video projects. So maybe you could just walk through a little bit of, of how you're actually going to be exhibiting these 64 different projects over the course of five hours.

[00:24:13.813] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Thanks so much for that question. It is back to the thing that I've always said about 5Rs, which is it's a UX show as much as it is anything else. I've just gone through the UX program at UCLA and a project management program, two certificate programs, I think it was like 40, 50, 60 credits worth of stuff, continuing to look at how to really do good UX. That is to have data-driven research on how things work for folks, how they like to do it, what is the commonalities between those things, how not to get caught in some weird edge cases. It's better to get it there for them than to not because you're too worried about getting it wrong. We also have to concern ourselves with accessibility. We've done multiple interviews with people who are working with disabilities and coming to these media, whether it's how do they use and bash together different screen readers to make things work better, or how spatial audio can help to direct a place in terms of how the layout is done. That's one thing. So there's the real in-person stuff that we deal with and what we've done is we've ensured that you will never be in a lineup, period. You can book a two-hour block and in the old days we would have a ticket and you would basically use it like at a carnival where you would say you've got four tickets for this ride and two tickets for that ride and when you're out of tickets you buy more tickets. So we would say this piece is worth two tickets because it's this long and that piece is worth that many because it's that long but that wasn't really fair because then the long pieces didn't get seen because people didn't want to use up their tickets so we got rid of that whole thing and now you book yourself a two-hour block you can watch anything from the catalog including the 360 stuff And you're not going to get through even a fraction of it. So today we printed out a seven page menu that says, this is the format that it's in, this is the level of interactivity, this is the level of comfort, and this is the time that it would take to complete. So you can decide what you want to sample or try out. And we also say whether it will be available only in person or also online. Now the second half of it, is that some of the stuff we can give out steam keys for it, you know, early release or beta versions. Some of it happens in the browser. There's a piece from Poland this year called Maharaja's Children, A Brave Bunch in India. This wild story is a gentleman who went to the Warsaw Film School and he's telling the story of thousands of Polish orphans who were rescued from World War II by an Indian Maharaja. And the whole thing happens in the web browser. It's a super interactive web, maybe 3JS, I don't know exactly, maybe React something. And you can go through this entire sort of living comic game thing in the web. And he said, I'm very excited to be in the festival because one of the families of these children is in Toronto and I hope this will reach them. And sure enough, my dad knew that family and connected them and they saw it. So the point is that, you know, some of these pieces are online, in various ways. Some of them are the live XR performances. We've got Brendan Bradley's work. We've got Discordance with Clements DeBake, who's part of the onboard XR group. We've got Gumball and the Ferryman group. Last season we had Ari Tarr doing his stuff. So people can sign up on a first-come, first-served basis for those pieces. And the challenge there is how do you even get people to read the list of things that they can do and then sign up at the right place at the right time. We have to TLDR all of it down to extremely simple low friction processes that they can grok within a sentence or two. So often these performance troops will have their own ticketing system. And I say, forget it. Let's just put it all under our Eventbrite system. So it's one registration place. We will take their names. We will furnish their Eventbrite tickets from the same thing. Every single point of failure and friction that we can remove, we remove. I assume that the majority of the audience will not be VR people. It will not be the same circle of 300 people that all of us see on X, formerly Twitter, every single day. But the new outside looking in saying, I'm curious about the stories, not the technology. And then finally, me and James have continued to iterate. Kent, you've been at our early days of our online theater, which is a bespoke, completely recoded private Git repo of us taking videos and putting them in a 3D space so that you can interchangeably watch it on desktop, mobile device, or hopefully any VR headset that's still working out there. And that's improved substantially. The transcoding pipeline we've built has come from a thousand tweaks. So we will ingest, I mean, gosh, this year we had a 50 minute 8K piece that we had to transcode, just the cost of transcoding that. And it's not just into one version, it's into nine versions. We've got H.265 and v9 and h264 and at different bandwidths and data rates and stuff so that if you fall through one amount of data, you can fall to the next one and so on and so forth. They have to be served on demand in real time with no buffering from the browser. There are these online tickets that will give you any of the live VR performances, and you can go to our web 3D theater. If you buy an Eventbrite ticket, we're connected through the API. You can come right in and register. And then, unlike in previous years where you would have your Ready Player Me avatar and you have to roam around, some of the feedback we got was like, I don't want to walk around in your fish tank. I just want to see the damn movies. So we implemented something I call the Wooshcopter, which is that you'll come in and look down at it like as a diorama, like a map of Disneyland, and you'll see the different genres or lists that we've created. And then you can just click to woosh to that location and you're set up perfectly to look at those screens that will fill your field of view correctly and then go right into the movie. If you decide to override it by WASDing your way around, that's fine. You can still free roam. But for both an accessibility reason and for multimodal, just being able to do from phone, from desktop, from VR, we have to explore exactly what the experience is in every one of those modes. And so we spend the whole year just trying to reduce friction, reduce lineups, remove lineups. There are no lineups. and then make sure it's performant and it's performant for anybody everywhere. And part of me working on this was also what was being carried over into the Latin American Virtual Museum because it got funding from Canada. Canada does not fund VR stuff, let alone the development of an unknown thing by an unknown organization. But they bought in on this one because I said, I promise you that your concerns that investing in a non-accessible format or medium where there's a socioeconomic barrier or a technological barrier will be alleviated or mitigated by our approach. You will have no proprietary downloads. You don't have to download anything. You don't need a powerful computer. You don't need expensive hard drives. You don't need good internet. Go to a browser, hit play, and stuff will happen. when we go out and photogrammetrically scan these extremely detailed indigenous costumes so that they can feel the presence of these enormous incredible effigies, those are being optimized down to a thousand polys and still look good. So, you know, all of that is now carrying forward from the 5Rs research during the pandemic and this UX festival that has to manage myriad formats that come in any form to as many people as possible because it is a truly international audience. And we're moving it into this museum where we allege to do the same. And with the museum, because it's Canadian funded, we also have to do everything in English and French and Spanish. So if there's a word on the screen, it has to simultaneously appear in three languages. So I tell my students at UCLA, whenever you can avoid written language, do so. If you can represent something in the abstract, it'll help everybody. And yet on the back end, in the metadata, you also have to represent everything like a choose-your-own-adventure story that a screen reader can parse. All of that is built into this process. So the festival's curation and content is but a portion of the real work that we're doing here to try to make this truly accessible to anybody at any socioeconomic level from anywhere in the world so that their stories can come through unmitigated and unhampered by those technological challenges.

[00:33:35.304] Kent Bye: And so, is it safe to say that the program is split between the passive spherical videos, cinematic VR, 360 video that's gonna be more available online for a more extended period of time, And that generally the more interactive pieces that are flagged as interactive are maybe going to be more co-located. You have to be there physically and Toronto to be able to see some of those experiences, or maybe some of them are live performances that you can see either through the machines there at five hours, or people may be able to see them at home, or there may be some sinkies people can check out and download some experiences on their own machines. But that for the most part, it's kind of split between. There's going to be a short window between the 15th and 19th to see the more interactive pieces and a longer period to see the more 360 video pieces.

[00:34:26.382] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Mostly, yes. That's mostly true. I think it's more that the things that you're going to see in person are things that cannot be distributed online or that require elaborate setup or special hardware considerations. And most of the 360 content, which you can see online, hopefully you have a VR headset because the stereoscopic stuff is incredible. But some of it, like for example, in phase is not going to be online because you need to open WhirlyGig and put in these particular settings. Maybe you will, but unless you have The means to do so just simply can't be shown there. Some of the pieces are available. If you were to think to somehow look on App Lab, sure, they're out there. People might say, well, it's already out there, so why do I need to go to a festival? Because you would never even know it exists. And if you did, you would have to still go through some process. So by pre-digesting these, and putting them into a single theater, they're right there at a click for you and you don't have to go through that extra effort of downloading or streaming or whatever. Because we're taking this video and we're slicing it up so that it plays and responds to your configuration. I'm trying to answer your question, but I would say that in general, Most of the 360 stuff will be available online and some interactive will be, but there are pieces that we simply cannot distribute and you got to come in person to be there, to be guided through it for whatever other reason may exist.

[00:35:53.506] Kent Bye: Yeah, just trying to make sense of the program because that is like 64 pieces and breaking it up into different chunks to understand, you know, what's available when and Also, there's a bit of a paradox of choice challenge that you have. Like if someone sits down and you tell them, okay, now you have the choice of these 64 different pieces. And it's a bit of like, well, where do you begin? I mean, there's different formats that you break up things between, okay, this might be an AR piece. This is virtual reality. This is an installation. This is a live performance. This is an other, but that's more in terms of the structure of how the content is delivered. I'm curious if you have a sense of like. the emerging genres that you see or how to make sense of in terms of themes or trends that are in this year's program as well.

[00:36:38.884] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah, so I think you sort of were pointing at the problem that we're trying to solve here, which is when you come in, where do you even start? And I will start to ask you questions about what is meaningful to you. Do you want to look at pieces that are about activism? Does that interest you? Do you want to see what kind of work is being done in different communities? Are you interested in different languages and how people in different countries are living? Are you interested more in the visual arts? Are you a VFX person into wild abstraction and granularity and fidelity? Or do you want more lyrical stuff? Do you want goofy, wacky stuff that you can tell your friends about? Do you want multi-user experiences that you can do with your SO who might have come with you on a weird date night? There's ways to start to clump it together, and I don't necessarily want to do that as a hard-coded thing because people have strange Venn diagrams of interest. So we can sort of indicate towards things, and all of our docents are well-versed in the nature of the catalog. But also it's sort of like having a blank page, right? Once you start, you kind of go on a journey. It's like, oh, I want more like that, or I want less like that, or that was too active for me, or I want more exciting, that was too boring or too slow or too contemplative. So I think a lot of the problems with festivals that are trying to do XR is that it's sort of one size fits all, like, oh, get as many people as we can manage, enjoy your thing, here's the thing, wipe the thing and take off. This is a completely different way to manage it. We want to to go on a magic carpet ride really through a state change for you. That something got you to come here. It wasn't that you're covering it for a trademark. It was like something made you go through the hassle. Something inside of you is calling out for something that wants to be answered. And we want to help you to discover those moments internally that say, I needed a state change. I needed to be shaken up. I needed to be mollified. I needed to be inspired. And we will align with you in those two hours to ensure that that can happen. We'll say to you, hey, look, this will be available online. And they'll say, well, I don't have a headset. I said, well, in that case, you should really watch this 8K stereoscopic video on a really good headset. Because online, you're just going to see it on a desktop. So it's a case-by-case basis and we can't do big numbers. I mean, we just can't. In the old days when you had gear VRs and Samsung could ship you a crate of 60 phones that you'd plug in to those cheap $150 Best Buy things, that was easy. But nowadays, what are we going to do? Go buy 40 MetaQuest 2s when we're on the brink of the 3s and they'll become obsolete. And then the same thing that happened to the 1s and the Rifts. And the magic leaps happens and then all of a sudden they're deprecated and there's no support and you're left holding the bag. We can't scale that way. So we have to rely on a community lending us units. I got a couple of companies, I said, come in, bring your own headset, set it up, leave it there. It's low lift for us and it'll run perfectly in the way that you want. Is this scalable? I don't really care right now. I went to see one movie this year and I had no idea what it was about. I just bought a ticket. I thought it was cool. It was at a good time for me. We were downtown flyering for this show because we wanted to put it in front of people who don't know that they don't know. Not people who follow my Twitch. Totally different people. just putting out flyers. So we walk into this movie. It's a Norwegian film, the end of a trilogy apparently by this director. It's in Oslo or something. And it's about immigrant refugee children who are in these halfway homes waiting to turn 18 before they're delivered off into some foster care or some other situation. And they're sort of held in this limbo. And it was utterly beautiful and it was all unknown, not professional actors who had been hired giving these incredible performances, exposing me to vistas of the world like Sergio Leone that I've never seen but in the North. At the end, the director came up and the actors had come up and they were all jet lagged. They'd all come over from Norway. And this was their first time even watching the film. They'd never even seen the movie. It was the premiere. And my colleague was with me and was like, Oh my God, like they're all here. We're seeing the people from the movie right in front of us. I was like, this is what inspired 5Rs. This ability to see a part of the world that you had no idea that you didn't even know about and go into some nuanced, profound narrative created out of love by a group of people over five years and then have them be there in person within a moment's DM to be able to communicate with, that is something that changed my life over and over again and I want to bring that to the next wave of how we communicate and capture stories in the world about cultures and expand our heart and knowledge of the beautiful rich world that we live in and not have it be reduced to these attack red versus blue monoculture, corporately charged, politically charged, empty vapid pools of hate. And so it's meant to be an antidote. I don't care if it doesn't scale because it doesn't have to. It just has to be there to affect you sufficiently that it opens and extends your vision of the universe that we're a part of.

[00:42:29.482] Kent Bye: Nice. And so how many, like, what's your capacity for how many people can you serve at once then?

[00:42:36.304] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Sure. I think we were going to end up with 12 stations. The biggest show we ever had was at this Masonic temple that had been sitting fallow for like 20 years. And we ended up having something like 45 or 60 stations and they ran all day long. This year, you know, the venue dictates a lot of things. So this year we're doing it at a place called the IDFK Gallery. I assume it stands for I don't fucking know. And that's my friend Ian Kelso, who is a long, long time friend in the new media world. We go back to like the Banff Media Center type days. And he ran Interactive Ontario for a long time, which was a big funder of game development in Ontario, which is a very important part of the global scene. And now he's opened up this like punky art space right near Queen Street, which is the famous center of Toronto's arts and punk scene. And it's really nice to have something like that back. But the main thing is that it's two blocks away from TIFF. So I said, Oh, nice space. Can I come and park there for a week? And it's just because I wanted to be close to TIFF. We used to be in October, you know, Raindance is like, when is your dates, man? Because we're trying to find, you know, everyone's trying to not step on each other. But we decided to come back to being counter-programming with TIFF instead of hiding from it. Because I really want those people from out of town to walk over to see what the rest of us are doing. So that's part of it. And the gallery is really the size of a three-car garage. So that's as many seats as I could really fit in there. And plus we have various installations like Dan Blair's Leemsboist, and we've got two different AR galleries in there, and the folks from Broken Spectre will have a diorama for their horror piece. So it's a tight fit, and so we can do 12 stations per two-hour block four times a day, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. And then on my break from 5 to 6, I will have creator talks. I'll sit there and interview various creators who've come in from out of town and introduce them to the local scene.

[00:44:42.927] Kent Bye: Nice. And it sounds like it's a little bit like the old days when you used to go into like a video store and you would not know what you want to watch. And you may ask the video store clerk what they recommend. And it ends up being a conversation where you are able to declare what you might be interested in. And it's more of a conversation because there's only a dozen places you can have this custom bespoke experience with each of the people as they go in and out of these different experiences. And. this huge selection of 24 hours worth of content. They have a two hour block and they have to choose what they want to watch there. So I just got back from the Venice immersive where there was 43 projects and I watched all 43 projects over the course of two days. I watched 14 ahead of time, 14 on the first day, 15 on the second day. So it was basically like this ultimate binge watch experience and probably over like 20 to 21 hours worth of content to get through. And I find that there's the themes of what's happening in the story in a different context, but there's also the different center of gravity of like, is this more of a game? Is this more about the agency? Is this more about world building? Is this more about embodiment? Is this more about a puzzle or a possibility or a social dynamic that they're experiencing? Or is this more about cultivating a sense of emotional presence? So I kind of go with the baseline of what's the quality of presence that I'm taking away from this. And then. From there, just trying to see like, okay, what are the things that are new or different? What are the things that are novel? And so I had like a top 17 out of the 43 that were like, okay, here's what this project's doing. It's new and different. So as you think about this year's program, are there. Projects that you feel like are particularly innovative or doing something you haven't seen or pushing the edge in terms of agency or embodiment or environmental design or plausibility puzzles, social dynamics, or the emotional presence you get from the story that they're telling.

[00:46:37.795] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Yeah. You know, I love all my children for different reasons. They're all different in their own ways. But, you know, there's a lot of just a lot of everything. I mean, Juliana Lowe's worked with Chris Madsen to bring her old Tilt Brush worlds into Engage. And they had to solve the color problem and how to move around them. But there's two pieces about the post emotional journey of an abortion and they're both kind of nightmare scenarios but approached very differently. One is called I took a lethal dose of herbs and another one's called the descent which has to do more with depression of coping with that. There's a machinima movie that was made in Facebook horizons if you can imagine it There's a piece from Ireland. Actually, I think it's from Australia. Director Victor Kazan's been in the industry for 50 years or so, and he decided to make a two-hour cinematic musical that is fully VR. It's got these gorgeous Unreal-like-esque environments and everything, and it's a full two-hour thing. I can keep going. I mean, there's a piece about Marie Curie's history. There's a piece from the perspective of an autistic child, and you're sort of looking at the world through his view. There's one about solitude as a senior citizen and feeling like you're invisible, which is done by a famous choreographer from Montreal. There's one about the residential schools that all of the Canadian Indigenous children were sent to for a better part of a hundred years. And it looks at that history from the perspective of the people that were being re-educated or whatever you would call it. Permutations is a piece out of Australia where they wanted us to project it on four walls simultaneously and the entire thing is a feature film about two sisters And the entire thing is danced and it's really, really powerful. So I said, look, I probably can't sync this up in my space, but me and James happened to do this cool thing in web 3D where we figured out how to do Barco escape. So we have three screens playing in sync. And in your case, I can do a four wall theater where it's all in sync and you go in and you're watching it all in HD and it'll be fricking awesome. And that piece is just awesome. So I mean, honestly, every single one, the Fukushima piece, you're speaking to real survivors of Fukushima's disaster and you're in their old homes and it's scanned volumetrically. And so you get a sense of like, what is it even like to be in one of those homes in the aftermath? And what was it like to be a participant in that escape from that crisis and then to return home? Bloody Reunion is a Chinese horror movie about a bunch of students who did something foul and now it's come back to haunt them. And Our Compass is about child abuse and the fact that there was protections for animals before there was protections for children done by Susan Lakin at Rochester Institute as a virtual reality experience. I mean, it is so eclectic. It's so diverse. Everybody's taking a different approach. Sometimes the refinement of it is subtle. Like Andrew Cochran, who's beloved and well-known in the VR industry, used to work with Guillermo del Toro at Murata and all of that. is very, very proud of his world premiere at Five Hours. He made a small short film called The Carrier and you are in the body of a baby in the backseat of a car and the parents are stuck in traffic and something terrible is happening outside and all you see is the mama trying to calm you down. and if you turn away from her the screen goes dark and when you look back it fades back in and something has transpired and you're starting to cry again and she mollifies you and it's interactive but it also plays as a 360. I should also mention Ancestral Futurism Unapologetically Melanated, an absolutely jaw-dropping series of visual experiences It took over a year in the making. It's a team of international BIPOC artists who collaborated to claim some space in the metaverse. And you see sections on tarot cards that were made custom. You go into all these different galleries, certain ones that celebrate music and life and other ones that are sort of violent and bloody and terrifying. And it just goes through all of these different artists' experiences. So it's not just one piece. Even within that piece, you've got multiple, multiple artists represented. When I go to a bookstore, if I go to a used bookstore, I don't read every single book in there. I just let the bindings, the spines kind of wash over my eyes and thoughts start to emerge, associations come and I get inspired by an idea. I open one up, I go to the middle page, I smell it, I turn it over, I say, oh, this thing made me think of that and then I go to the book. clerk and I say, hey, do you have something by this guy? And then I find this book that I always needed. I didn't know that before I came in. I just know that the exposure to the variety, the heterogeneity of the experience is what expanded my universe. So how can I choose the best or the most innovative? All of this is innovative to somebody. Is it all innovative to me? Hell yes it is, because I didn't make any of this stuff. Somebody else decided to do it this way. And I have to just try to listen long enough and early enough that I can host a space for it to be seen without any other barrier, which is a thing you'll keep hearing me say. But I also just want to slightly digress to talk about the VRTO conference because in July, I bring the industry that makes the stuff. We've never talked about VRTO on your show, but it's the same thing in terms of a conference that 5 hours might be to a festival. We are just mostly talking about audio visual here, but at that show we had Orlando talking about BCIs and we had Ashley Huffman talking about extremely nuanced haptics and all of these other horizons. We had Blair Renaud and Alex Mayhew and Jeff Flores all talking about how they were using AI. in really, really powerful and interesting ways to ideate and to have collaborative partners. I said, we'll have one panel about ethics and the law and all of that stuff. So let's completely take it out of this panel and just see what happens if we lean in hard to these incredibly helpful assistants that let us extrapolate a thought and explore it further and, you know, have an easy to work with relationship with the tools while they are in this current state. Books three and all. So, VRTO is also a really important thing that informs me to look out for those cues. And it's not just, oh, is it fun? Is it entertaining? Is it 360? Is it a world premiere? None of that matters to me as much as like, I see all the other affordances and modalities that could slowly work their way in, and they're not even here yet. We have a best three or four AR pieces a year. The ones we have are spectacular. The one by Deepa called The Metaverse in Me, you know, at first I thought, I was like, beautiful. There's like these moving pieces of art on the wall. But when I actually spoke to Deepa, who was in Belfast and who just launched the Belfast XR Festival last year, said that she's lost both of her parents within the last few years. And that the first loss made her stop wanting to create. And the second one made her start. And she made this as a tribute to her parents and her journey. and that will unlock from the wall. The other AR piece is called Night Creatures by a team in Australia who've done this incredibly beguiling and alluring stop motion night creatures, bats and raccoons and all these other nocturnal creatures. They're all standing in line outside of a movie theater talking about how talking to other people in line outside of a movie theater is the best part of the movie. uh i couldn't make this stuff up like i would have never thought that oh one more a signal across space from tracy spottiswood in gaelic i have no idea how to pronounce how it's written our wood and literally that's what it looks like so i apologize for my pronunciation but tracy for the last three years has given us short films that are now all encompassed in this one master work, the full length film. And it's about the first ever wireless messages across open water that were transmitted between Flat Home Island and Lavernock Point on the coast of Wales in 1897 by Marconi. So this was partially that. It was partially, again, her loss of someone very important to her. She is a contemporary of Peter Greenaway's. And when we saw the piece the first time, we were like, what the heck is this? This is like people rocking back and forth on a beach. There's no words. It doesn't make any sense. Is this even something we should show? But I said, I think we should, because it's in two languages. I've never seen anything like it. I think we should just see what it is. And now, Three years later, we have this piece that I think if there was ever a criterion for XR, this will be in that collection. And it's making its debut here.

[00:56:24.850] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, that's a really helpful just to get a sense of, you know, whenever I go to a festival, I always like to hear from the curators, their takes and most festivals it's feasible to maybe get through the entirety of a selection within the course of an hour. But in this selection with 64, it's a little bit daunting to do that, but at least you're getting enough popcorn suggestions and recommendations and giving a bit of the contours. I find that when I'm traveling, I'm on the plane and I'm. want to watch a movie, you can look at all of the selections or you can break it down by genre. I tend to go straight to the documentaries, see what documentaries are there. I go to the TV documentaries. I go to see what's in drama. Maybe I look at sci-fi. So I have the things that I like to see and watch. And so I think the challenge with XR and immersive storytelling is that there isn't that fleshed out list of genres to even make sense of a program like this yet. And so I think as that develops, though, I think it'll be easier so that when people sit down, they might be able to look at like a shortcut of genre that will maybe get them to where they want to get to go.

[00:57:30.845] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: I mean, if you go into the 360 theater, I have to make lists. So for James, I break it down as non-fiction, conceptual, narrative, and then there's usually a special category, like there's a trilogy of something or whatever. But we go like non-fiction, conceptual, narrative. And I guess narrative means that I'm telling you, or it might be called fiction, but that doesn't necessarily apply either. But you can sort of break it down a little bit into those zones, at least for spherical content. And then there's just things that you can't describe.

[00:58:11.093] Kent Bye: Right. Or you just have to read through all the different descriptions before you go and decide ahead of time what you might want to see.

[00:58:17.539] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: I mean, if you think that's hard, try to break down electronic music these days. How many sub genres of electronic music are out there? There's a bajillion things. And I guess each one of those genres means something to somebody. So they must have at least two or three citizens per genre.

[00:58:34.571] Kent Bye: Well, once you start to be able to put language to it, then you can start to have associative links and recommendations and whatnot. But you also had mentioned the fragility of what it means to be an immersive creator right now. Just yesterday on September 12th, 2023, Unity announced what is a pretty controversial new business model of runtime fees of. Anybody that produces any sort of unity project at any point retroactively changing their business model so that you're going to be charged an installation fee. If you end up having a project that goes viral and you have a million downloads, you may be. on the hook to pay Unity $200,000. And these are new costs and expenses that no one had budgeted for because it wasn't in the terms of service. And they just erratically are making these changes that are making people consider leaving the platform. And when I look at the ecosystem of virtual reality, Experiences probably 70, 80, maybe upwards over 90% of the projects I see end up being built on Unity. So these are changes within the core of how these experiences are being created that are being disrupted. You've been doing a lot of exploration with WebXR as these alternatives, which is really great to see that there could be potential alternative ecosystems for distribution at least. But I think the production of these immersive experiences is something that is. Kind of speaking to this broader fragility of what it means to do the impossible, which is to create an immersive experience and to actually complete it and to ship it and for people to actually experience it and to not only communicate what you want, but to navigate all the different hurdles technologically to even just achieve that. I'd love to hear any of your reflections on what you're seeing from, as a curator, a lot of these projects have a lot of passion, a lot of time and energy, and there often isn't a lot of financial outcome or reward for these people. At the end, it's driven by passion to be able to tell these stories and to create these experiences and to really push forward what's possible with the medium, but yet Perhaps their only reward is to be recognized as to show it to an audience and to be seen and potentially get an award or whatnot. But as a curator, you're sifting through a lot of pieces that may have fallen through the cracks of other aspects of the system, just trying to get an audience and to communicate and to tell their stories. And so y'all have to hear any reflections on this broader fragility of what it means to be an immersive creator and 2023. Yeah.

[01:01:09.577] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Okay, where to begin? So, I won't name names, but some people that submitted to our festival said that they knew for a fact that other festivals that they had submitted to never even looked at their work before they were rejected. That's just one thing. It's very difficult to be seen. And once you are seen, there's all sorts of lateral considerations for why you should be seen. Politically, commercially, Audientially, there's all these different reasons why something may or may not get in that have nothing to do with the quality of your work or your potential, your capability. Fine. That's even if you got to the point of submitting. That's even if you have the money to submit. You submit to one festival, it's $40, and it's $50, and it's $60 here, and it's $70 there. You're in $500, $600 just to submit to all the festivals to see if you have a chance. And when you get rejected, you won't necessarily know why. I would be the first person on the planet that would write you a handwritten letter and tell you why I couldn't take your piece, but I don't have time to do it. I might somewhere down the line say, listen, man, it was great. I loved it, but just couldn't fit it in. It came too late. It was too hard to run. It wouldn't have, but I can't do it. So that's daunting on its own. Being an actor my entire life, I can tell you that I had to be ready at the drop of a hat, if I was on a family trip, on a camping trip, in school, to do an audition. I had to get out of whatever I was doing, put myself on tape, or go to the thing, memorize six pages of lines, make a fool of myself, go to a room, a one-way mirror, and I would never hear back. Did I do well? Did I do poorly? What could I have done better? There's no remuneration for my time. There's nothing. It's just do it. And you get worn down. You really get worn down. There's a lot of things that are going to wear you down. So every single person who has submitted to our festival this year, I honor you because you have to be some level of resilient, some level of visionary, some level of tenacity that could guide us to the higher land when stuff hits the fan. So good for you for doing it and you should try. And once you're in, it's not that hard to shake up the whole industry with your piece. You know, if you can just get through that first barrier, you can change the world. Still can. Now, as to Unity. Well, yes, today we're talking about Unity, but Waves plugins, which the musicians have all been using for the last 30 years, did the same thing about two months ago. You have spent your whole life buying perpetual licenses. You used to go to the guitar center and you'd buy a box piece of software, you'd bring home, it was $700 for a compression plugin. And you would have a key and a dongle and all this nonsense, all this DRM, so you could run this compression plugin. Then eventually they made it so that if you wanted updates, you had to pay for those updates. And I had to pay for them every year if you wanted the new new, because if there was a bug, if there was an interface overhaul, whatever, They need to have a way to pay it, right? They've hit market saturation. Nobody else who needs compressors is going to buy compressors, so they got to find new ways to milk you for more cash. And then all of a sudden, a couple of months ago, Waves decides that they're getting rid of perpetual licenses across the board, and you can have the whole kit and caboodle for $29 a month. It's not just that now you can never own it anymore. and stop paying the tithe, it's now that all of the investment that you ever made in this company was meaningless and that they've completely leveled the playing field with everybody else who just happened to come in later. So what reward did you gain for coming in early? Well, they say, well, you got the advantage of using our incredible software for all those years. It's nonsense. Adobe's got us all in this sort of subscription pattern, avid, you know, digit design, can't figure out how to keep improving their completely outdated and obsolete bloatware pro tools that everybody uses. And so they started to do a subscription model and everything else. I use Reaper. It's $79. It's built by the guy that made Winamp. It's the most incredible software I've ever seen. He punches updates almost every three days to it. And I can extend it in any possible way. Which brings me to the point of open source. If you want a game engine that's awesome, just go to GatoEngine. It's so good. It's free. It's open source forever. It interfaces directly with Blender. Also open source, also can never be owned, also something you'll never have to pay for. You can make donations just like you can to Kent Buy, and you should make donations because when you do, these things go on and they improve and the people that are making them. Same with Mastodon, right? You might not like Mastodon, but isn't it kind of nice to have Mastodon when it's a decentralized thing and someone like Elon can't just come in and take it over? So in my course, I'm always saying, Hey, this is called GIMP. This is called MeshLab. This is called Godot Engine. This is called Blender. These are open source tools. This is why open source is awesome. This is why the companies that do open source or stuff live longer, can address more people's concerns that are not decided in a boardroom. And they're not going to like make you give up half your rent just to be able to keep doing the thing that you've been training your whole life to want to do, or just want to get started to do. It's unconscionable. So, Unity, you know, I was on LinkedIn today and some different people were talking about that this is some super clever strategic play where they want to watch their own stock tank so that Apple can do an acquisition, blah, blah, blah. I'm like, whoa, man, that's some like 4D chess right now. But generally, most of this stuff is just, it's interesting that the bigger they get, the more likely they are to try to create this serfdom, right? You live on my land, you pay me and everything will be good. But if you don't, you will be penalized, you'll be thrown in jail, you'll be cast out of society, you will no longer be able to work. Oh, you like that tool? We acquired it. Fuck you. So I think that that's... the difficulty with these subscription-based models. It's not that Unity needs more money. I mean, same with Netflix, right? Saturation. Everybody has Netflix. So what are you going to do now? Well, we're going to start taking things away. We're going to start making it so you can't share passwords. We're going to make it so that you can't do this and you can't go across territories and so on and so forth. And That's not sustainable. It's going to crumble. The better thing is to build goodwill. There's this weird thing about piracy. People say there's thousands of people involved in a film. Yes, that's completely true. The thing is that if your film sucks and nobody wants to watch it and has nothing to give, no one's going to pirate it anyway. If it's something that everybody wants and they're all talking about it, it's good for everybody. It's going to be seen by more people. I'm not sitting here saying, go pirate stuff. But there's an interesting dynamic with piracy that if more people are listening to it, you're generally starting to get more sales. You're starting to sell more tickets to concerts. You know, in the past, I had used freeware, shareware, stuff like that. And eventually I go, you know what? I really want the full version and I want updates. I'll just buy the thing. And then I bought the thing and I'm the person that bought the thing and I don't need to keep paying you for it because I'm paying you for it in a different way. I'm going to my friend, Kent Bye, and saying on his show, you know what's awesome? Reaper. It's $79. It's a company that I trust. They're a noble company. They're a company I can stand by. You should support them. Everybody go buy Reaper. That's how that works. If you build bad will and you just try to squeeze those people and put them in an untenable situation, it's going to fold in on itself. So I think it's just all going to work itself out. I do feel for all of you who have spent years building in unity, that are stuck in certain version locks, who have stuff that is not reversible. And I really do feel for you, but I gotta tell you, I can load Godot on a Raspberry Pi. I can load Reaper on a Raspberry Pi. And I can program full 3D games with a Vulkan engine and everything else in Godot right now, and it runs, like, in 13 seconds. I can open it. It takes me an hour to open the Unity session. It's unbelievably bloated and slow. So I don't encourage people to use Unity. I'm not trying to hate or love or anything, but that's how I feel about that. And that's how I feel about open source. The fragility question. We have people like Brian May saying, this is the last year that humans are going to dominate music before AI is making all the music. And I lament that. I think, what's the point? I've been a musician my whole life. I am sitting in a room right now with outboard gear and keyboards and a frame drum and chimes and guitars. And I'm asking myself, what is the point? No one's going to listen to this except my neighbor who's going to hear me making noise at night. Okay, sure. There's the internal journey. I do it for my soul, for my heart. But really, should I have invested in any of this? Yes, because when I play the guitar in my fallible, half-bendy way, you're hearing the texture of the moment that has been captured. And in your world, whenever you might hear it now or a hundred years from now, it will resonate for you. It will remind you of the delicate, fragile nature of your day and your moment. And something of beauty comes up in that and reminds you that it's good to be here. And that just speaks for itself. Festivals like Five Hours should never be taken for granted. I think of Sinead O'Connor, right? Everybody understands this dynamic. Oh, yes, she was a hero. She was a rebel. She was all of these things. She was a voice for this and for that, against organized religion and abuse and for women and rights. But she lived on this planet for 35 years, ostracized and forgotten and expelled. And what happened to support her? What happens to these artists when they're alive? Why do we do everything after they're dead? We need you now. And it's so weird, this human dynamic, to think, well, they're still here, you know, whatever, they're working it out. And then there's this big posthumous celebration and the records sell billions of copies. What is that about humans? I'm sure there's a psychological name for it of some kind, but we got to turn this around. It's the same thing that's destroying the planet. Like not to get super grandiose here, but it's like the world is exceptionally beautiful right now. The most unbelievable forms of life are available in the world to behold and to honor and respect. And yet we act like it's a trash dump that we can just light on fire and we'll say, ah, yeah, we'll deal with it later. How is it that we do this to ourselves? That we can't allow the present, delicate, beautiful moment to thrive and wait for some moment to come later when it'll get figured out? Five hours is a delicate flower. It will not always be here. It is not sustainable. You know, I get occasional likes. Oh, good for you. Glad to hear you got that little festival going on. But on the other side of it, We have content creators who say, this changed my life, this got me funding, this validated our project, this told our story. And that's really, really hard for me to ignore. I don't think of myself as some sort of altruist or special person. I just have a really hard time stopping doing it because I can see the value of doing it. holding the space and it's a lot of work. It's months and months and months of 18 hour days and we won't pay ourselves to do this show at this point. We just won't. It's not sustainable. So when Kent says, hey, I've got a Patreon, he has to say it humbly, but you should support Kent. When Fiverr says, buy a ticket, there is no corporate backing. There is nothing funding this. We fall through the cracks of government funding. They don't fund platforms. They don't fund festivals like ours. Your ticket is what funds it. I don't want to sound like I'm running a money drive here, but I want to point out that we should not take beautiful and important things for granted. We should turn and face them and say, how can I make a small contribution to make this easier? I could write an article about you. I could come up with a group at a school that could get a discount and send the students. In fact, something that's been working really well is us reaching out to different colleges and saying, I think your students should come see this. Like you're going to teach them a bunch of theory and computer science and graphic design, but this is the outputs. This is the incredible outputs that are available in so many different forms. And these creators are going to be there to talk to you. And you can see that there's people like you making this work everywhere. It's not of a type. So I say, I'll give you a significant discount and you send 20 students and we'll say you sponsored the show. And then people will learn about your school that would even know to be connected to a festival. And that kind of symbiosis is what we really need to do. And for some of them, it makes sense. But I find that the industry at large generally ignores us. And there's also this kind of, I don't want to make any enemies, I love you all, but I'm going to just say it. There's this Hollywood effect, right? There's this sort of glow of celebrity, a glow of brand equity that makes certain people attract to certain things more than others. They go, well, that's not quite as... But it's a very important part of the ecosystem and you shouldn't ignore it because eventually the bottom will fall out and then you will have Elon Musk deciding what you should watch and not the stuff rising up from the bottom. You know, the wetlands are important, the swamps are important, the dead forests are important, the deserts are important, the moon and the sun are important. It's all part of the picture and we ignore those things at our peril.

[01:15:23.972] Kent Bye: Yeah. And as I track the evolution of the medium over the last decade or so, going on 10 years in May of 2024, you know, there's a lot of big platforms that are coming up online and XR, you have roadblocks, you have met horizons, you have rec room and VR chat. So you have all these platforms that are also creating lots of different worlds and experiences. And I look to see. there's a diffusion of where I'd like to see the future go, where you have indie games that have been driving the innovation within XR. You have immersive storytellers who are trying to understand the contours of how to use the affordances of the medium to communicate meaningful stories across all these different modalities and contexts in which that they're trying to figure out the mechanics of how to really bare parts of their soul of communicating these things that you can only experience. And it's at these festivals that I go to and including 5Rs to see what the bleeding edge of innovation are. But it's not a guarantee that this peek into the future is going to take hold and going to really move out of the cinema of attractions phase of VR where, you know, in the very early days of film, it was a lot of amusement park type of things where you would go and it'd be a spectacle. And then eventually when film got commodified and figure out how to actually make money, then the business around all that then drives where the future of the medium is going to go. And so. Is it going to be really, truly meaningful about what we're doing in these immersive worlds? Or is it going to be another manifestation of the candy crush, escapist, monetized gambling mechanics to get people hooked in, but not really saying much of anything meaningful. So yeah, lots of different platform shifts that I think are really disrupting the stability of what people thought was at least a foundation that they could build upon and then having such a drastic change from Unity kind of disrupts that honestly. And it's been very chaotic to see the disruption and people questioning, you know, what are the alternatives? Are they going to move to Unreal Engine? There are other alternatives.

[01:17:33.408] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: They're just not popular and shiny. That's okay. You know, some people, I mean, Cliff talks about building your own engine all the time. So does John Blow, like just go build your own engine. These days with chat GPT, you might even have a standing chance of doing that. You can learn Python pretty quick if GPT is there telling you how it all breaks down. And let's not ignore that massive paradigm shift. Might feel a little long in the tooth now a year after, but I mean, heck, we can't be blasé about this effect. This is a program that can run on code that takes up two computer screens and most scientists can't figure out how the heck it's doing what it's doing. And it's incredibly helpful in teaching me a lot of things that I couldn't figure out from books and tutorials and videos in a linear fashion. So for my brain, it's an incredible resource to leap forward and not wait to gain permission or access from some gatekeeper out there who's going to determine the terms of my ability to create. Go indie forever. forever go open source forever keep it open and free and we have to support it i will say that it's not that we're petering out i feel like when the apple vision pro does finally trickle down into the iphone mainstream with their spatial face computers then we're going to look for a catalog of works. What is meaningful here? And you're going to look back at 5R's catalog and go, where are all these films? Who is archiving these films? Where can they be recovered? Which many of them won't be able to be recovered. And we store them all in a big Google Drive securely or AWS Drive to make sure that there's some version of it. I had a piece that submitted this year and by the time that it came down to decisions, they couldn't run this Khan award-winning piece because alt space was gone and they had fully crafted it in alt space. So I say to my students, make sure you output your whole thing as a GLB file. You can do it in parts and modular pieces that you could reassemble, but don't assemble it on the destination platform because that could seriously just be the end of your work. So we have to be thinking about that archiving. Anyways, to my point, at some point, the Apple Vision Pro generation is going to say, where are the great films of our past? And then they're going to come to the 5Rs catalog and say, these are the great films of your past. These are the great early films that taught us the grammar and the thing. And all these young auteurs who are now grown up to be these great auteurs and everything else. That's one thing. The second thing is, Spatial video on your handheld phone is a pretty great way to capture very seriously beautiful moments in your life. I gave my sister and my brother 360 cameras. I said, when you have those kids, turn this thing on. They're going to grow up really, really fast. And they didn't. I was like, don't you kind of wish now that you could go back to that little nursery and see that in 360? Don't you kind of wish that you had captured that club that went under, that house that you used to live in, that car that you used to drive? Wouldn't it have been nice to see that spatially and be able to go back there? So when this comes in Q whatever 2024, make sure that you turn your camera on and not just shoot stuff, but shoot it well. And if you don't know how to shoot it well, then go to a festival like Fiverr's and watch people who have figured out with a lot of experiments, how to do it beautifully. And then you can preserve your corner of the world and your phenomenological journey so that future generations can understand what it was like to live in our time.

[01:21:05.613] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, five hours is going to be running from September 15th and 19th there in Toronto. It's also going to be having an online component until October 3rd. So yeah, to go check out the tickets. And I guess as we start to wrap up, I'm curious, Karen, what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be and what am I able to enable?

[01:21:28.995] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: So Elliot Edge, who's a writer, wrote a great piece on Medium this week. He was at VRTO on a panel that you did actually around psychedelia, psychotropics and everything and the crossovers with this virtual reality era that we've entered. And it was about how it shows us about the fake worlds that we live in, whether it's inside of religious worlds or other indoctrination or some sort of dogma or some sort of political bubble, whatever. And I was like, yeah. And Donald Hoffman can put the science behind that and show you how we are inside of these evolutionary containers that make things look a particular way to us and that VR gives us this scaffolding to go outside. And they say, well, it's not to go outside of it, but to say, this is the construct that it takes to fool you. So you're being fooled and great, do with it what you will. But I think there's also something else about those many folks who are curious in expressing and extending their means of expression, there's a yearning to overcome boundaries that exist. When you speak to someone who speaks English as a second language, There might be some impatience or a sense of judgment there. And yet those people might have ideas to communicate that you really need to hear that are so much more complex than you could have ever imagined. And that language barrier is in the way. And what are new ways to be able to express things phenomenologically more directly? through non-linear forms that could override those problems that we have of not honoring artists while they're alive, or not protecting the planet when it's already beautiful and just needs to be saved, or not hating the person across the street because the news told you to. That is the form that this medium can bring us closer to. I always defer to John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, the mutant children who, because they are abominations because of their sixth toe or four fingers or whatever, have learned to communicate telepathically. and they have this very sweet natured dialogue with each other to protect themselves from this overbearing religious autocracy that has cast them out. And so I think there's certain impulses within us that want to reach towards that form of communication, whether we want to be understood better or we want to understand better. Some people called it the empathy machine. I don't really go into that whole empathy machine thing, but I think it has something to do with finding a sort of new path to communication, new things to communicate. We're finding that there's new ways to taste, there's new tastes to be tasted, that there's many more senses than 5 or 20 or 30. I'm sure you've talked about this on your show. And why don't we continue to grow out in those directions? All of this is super, super tiny baby steps. We're using Apple Newtons to try to write novels right now. But we'll get there. We'll get there. And you and me and everybody else will be long forgotten, and that's fine. But it was worth doing when we did it. You know, we don't remember the people in the 1920s and 30s other than the super duper Rupert stars. We don't remember all those people that did all of those things. But it mattered. And it allowed me to go to TIFF and see a beautiful movie about refugee children in Norway and open my consciousness wider about the world I lived in.

[01:25:18.768] Kent Bye: Nice. And, uh, is there anything else that's left and said that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[01:25:27.913] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Get even broader, get bigger community. We also, we're a small, small tribe. It is a little tiny group of people. And of course we want to open the door to so many more people. I don't think that we're trying to stop it, but it's not really about the selfies, you know, and the just being seen for being there. It's like turning and doing the real support of those delicate spaces that need your help. They need your acknowledgement. They need your amplification. It can change their whole course. It can keep them in the game. And they might have something to teach you that you really needed to hear. So while I am grateful for this community, and I feel like over the course of 10 years, we've all become quite a family. It's tiny, so, so small. And I've seen incredible things around the world that are trying to do the same. And so let's water those flowers for sure.

[01:26:36.838] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Karen, best of luck for five hours festival. That's coming up here from September 15th to the 19th and physical location. And then up until Wednesday, October 3rd. Yeah, 64 pieces there at the five hours program. Some of that will be available remotely for folks to be able to check out. And if you're having to be in Toronto, then you can go and see some of the stuff that will only be there at the festival. And yeah, also just really appreciated the reflection of the go indie, the open source, the indie creative spirit that I think you're carrying forth both in the five hours. selection and your creation there, but also VRTO as a festival that brings together the frontiers of the next phases of all these different discussions of where the industry might be added. So yeah, always appreciate the curators that are out there that help filter the experiences, trying to highlight and focus. And I think from what I've seen previous years of 5Rs, you're really trying to dig deep into the nuances of the medium that may have been overlooked by other curators. And I think it's important to have a diversity of different curators and different filters that people have to be able to understand the medium.

[01:27:44.130] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: It is. I honor all the other creators and all the other festivals that do this too. Please know that that is extremely important. If there was only one of us, it would be that much more fragile. So I hope that they all are able to keep going in whatever way. And I know how much work you have to do. hats off to you.

[01:28:04.219] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thanks again for the chats. Very timely as we reflect on all these things. And I guess a little bit of an antidote as we move forward into the future. So thanks again for taking the time.

[01:28:14.426] Keram Malicki-Sánchez: Thank you so much.

[01:28:16.054] Kent Bye: So that was Karen Melechi Sanchez. He's the founder of VRTO, Spatial Media World Conference and Expo, as well as the founder of 5ARS, which is the Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories, which he founded in 2015. And the festival is going from September 15th and 19th in Toronto. And you can also watch an online version with some of the more passive 360 videos up until Wednesday, October 3rd. And you get more information on tickets online at 5ARS.net, F-I-V-A-R-S.net. So, I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, Karim has obviously got this deep independent spirit and there's so many different moments in this interview where he just waxes poetically about what's it mean to be an independent maker and creator and artist and Yeah, just how different organizations and folks need help and support to be able to continue to do what they're doing. 5Rs has certainly been driven by a lot of passion. It's not necessarily a money-making venture for Karim, but it's important enough for him to be able to go through all the work to curate all the different works that are out there and to provide a platform for some of these immersive creators who may have not been able to have an opportunity to show it to an audience or in the context of a festival. There's a number of different world premieres and North American premieres and Canadian premieres. And yeah, I think there's a value of having a variety of different types of curators that are out there selecting these different pieces. I've talked about a little bit in the course of this conversation, you know, some of the different overall vibes and the character of some of the different experiences that tend to go at other different conferences. And I think CARIM has certainly a unique, independent, driven, and a little bit more experimental that I honestly see on other festivals, which I think is really great because it's some of these more experimental pieces that start to push the edges for what the affordances of the virtual reality medium are, especially in the context of immersive storytelling. So well over 24 hours worth of content that's going to be featured here at the five hours festival of international virtual augmented reality stories So if you happen to be in Toronto, you can go and check out some of the more interactive pieces Not all the interactive pieces are going to be made available virtually but there is a hybrid virtual component of this festival that you can check out over 30 different experiences that can be made available and up until Wednesday, October 3rd, so you can check out more information for how to get tickets and go in to see some of the frontiers of accessibility. That was a big thing that Karim was emphasizing in terms of using these web technologies and having accessibility in mind as he starts to find new ways of looking at all the user experience of how to really optimize, how to show some of these different content. Having a dozen different stations and have people just have a two-hour slot they can just watch as much as they want from the entirety of the selection I think is an approach that I haven't seen as much. I actually saw it at New Images in France where it was more for folks who are looking for pieces to potentially distribute across different location-based entertainment experiences. so there's a whole selection from australia and diversion cinema lucid realities and a couple other folks like gao shang film festival where you could just sit down and watch as many of the different experiences as you want depending you know how many other people that are in line this case you have two hours and there's 24 hours of total content so you would feasibly need to like buy 12 different slots and tickets just to try to get through the entirety of the program however most of the stuff is going to be online as well so this hybrid component that you can go and watch stuff online I think is really great especially for folks who don't happen to be in the Toronto area. So you can check out some of these different 360 videos there as well. And uh, yeah, just reflecting upon the fragility of what it means to be an immersive creator and maker in this day and age certainly not easy and Go check out five hours independent virtual and augmented reality stories support the independent spirit Of what it means to put on an event like this and uh, yeah for me for sure I can always use more support for folks to be able to support the type of work that I do trying to go and cover these different events and immersive experiences and I'm in the depths in the midst of processing and getting through my coverage from Venice Immersive where I went and saw all the 43 different projects that were there at Venice Immersive and I've recorded now at this point 34 different interviews well over 30 hours worth of content that I'm gonna be digesting and processing hopefully starting to at least push out an initial batch ahead of MetaConnect but still a lot to get through and we'll see how that goes over the next week or so as I continue to digest and process all these different interviews from the selection that was there at Venice Immersive this year. So that's what I'm currently working on and we'll be headed out to MetaConnect here in a couple of weeks to check out all the new latest MetaQuest 3 and all the demos and everything else as I go out and be a part of the Select View that got invited to be on site there for the MetaConnect. It's not open to the general public, unfortunately, like it has been in the past, but I was able to get press access to go check out some of the latest demos and see what the latest and greatest is that's coming from Meta. So more on that here soon. That's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. 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 list of supported podcasts, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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