#1305: Critics Roundtable for Venice Immersive 2023 Breaking Down all 43 Projects

This is a critics roundtable for Venice Immersive 2023 featuring Pola Weiß, a funding executive for XR and new technologies Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, as well as Alina Mikhaleva who produces virtual events at EngageXR heads up a Creative XR Studio called Less Media Group, Agnese Pietrobon who is a writer at XR Must, storylistener and independent researcher, and myself, Kent Bye of the Voices of VR Podcast. See more context in the rough transcript below.

Here’s a list of all 35 podcasts in this Venice Immersive 2023 series (as well as 4 interviews of projects where I’ve previously interviewed the creators)

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

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast about immersive storytelling, experiential design, and the future of special computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com.voicesofvr. So this is the last episode of my epic series from Venice Immersive 2023, so episode number 35 of 35. It's been quite a journey and I'm going to end on a really epic breakdown of each of the different 43 projects. So I wanted to have a bit of a critics roundtable to bring together other experts from the XR industry, folks who are embedded in the industry, have a chance to see a lot of the different work and just understand different dimensions of the different stories that are being told here. And there's not a lot of opportunity for critical discourse for the different work that's being shown in the context of XR. I try to do these individual conversations where I kind of subtly sneak in different aspects of critiques or feedback that I have from my own experience. But I'm coming from mostly of looking at the mechanics of how the virtual reality as a medium is being used from the aspects of agency and interactivity and mental and social presence and embodied and environmental presence as well as the emotional presence. So all these things are all tying together to create a phenomenological experience. And that's sort of my primary first lens for looking at things. But the critics that I've invited on today, their primary lens of looking at these experiences is through the lens of both the story that's being told as well as the characters that are within the context of these stories. And so the way that they are processing and digesting these experiences are just a lot different than how I look at it. And so I think it's really important as an industry as it's still in this nascent phase to bring together the plurality of these different perspectives and different insights and just to have an honest and open conversation about some of these different experiences, what worked, what didn't work, and kind of break down the different dimensions of the experience. And so this is an epic three and a half hour conversation that I had with Paula Weiss. She's a funding executive for XR and looking at new technologies and made in board Berlin Brandenburg. So Paula actually is involved in funding a number of the different projects. And so she had to kind of step back and recuse herself. from talking about some of those experiences. And then Alina Mikheileva, she's a virtual events producer and engaged in XR, but also has her own creative XR studio called Less Media Group, as well as Agnese Pitribone. She's a writer of XR Must and a story listener and independent researcher. So she's in the process of watching a lot of work and also doing interviews with immersive creators. And so we had a chance to talk about all 43 of the different experiences and have usually at least a couple of perspectives on all the different experiences. There's a few in the best of selection that was a little bit less representative. And then a note about the order that I'm using here. So XR must, and Andre Luna, they actually did a survey of. some of the different attendees from the Venice Immersive. And there's a whole WhatsApp group and back channel for folks within the XR industry. And so a lot of folks are participating and trying to see a lot of the different experiences as possible. So they did a survey of 50 different people that saw as many experiences as they could over the course of Venice Immersive. So on average, the respondents watched around 21.6 experiences, 43 total experiences that were available. So half the average person that participated in this was able to see And so one question was to just list all the different favorite experiences. And then another question to say, name your top five. The unbounded number of favorites was used to organize as a background, and then I sorted by the top five to see which of the different experiences were people ranking up top. So I'll try to link some of the different spreadsheets in the show notes here for folks to reference. just because I think it's useful information. It's kind of the wisdom of the crowds to see what the zeitgeist of the attendees were saying about these different experiences. And I think it's important just to note that, you know, for a lot of these different experiences, sometimes some of your favorite experiences may be ranked a little bit lower than what the zeitgeist says. And I think that's totally fine, because I think there's things that are being used within these different experiences that are going to resonate with different people. That's why I think it's important to have as many a variety of different perspectives talking about these experiences as possible, because there's just going to be different personal preferences things are gonna hit people in different ways different things people just may be attuned to Appreciating or noticing and resonating with different stories. So anyway without further ado Let's go ahead and dive into this epic deep dive critics roundtable from Venice immersive 2023 So this critics roundtable with Paula Alina Ignazio and myself happen on Thursday September 14th 2023 so with that let's go ahead and dive right in

[00:04:41.252] Pola Weiß: I can thank you so much for the invitation. My name is Paula Weiss. I'm here from Berlin, Germany, and I have a background in documentaries, where I previously worked as a commissioning editor for big public broadcasting companies. And in 2017, so already six years ago, I embarked on a journey into the virtual reality world, and wrote my own blog, also wrote as a journalist and critic for some other magazines, and also as a content writer for hardware and software XR companies. One year ago, I then joined Medienbord Berlin Brandenburg, which is a regional funding institution, film fund institution in the capital region of Germany. one of the biggest regional film funds in Germany. And here I am the funding executive for XR. Innovative Audiovisual Content is the official name, but with a strong focus on XR. And so far in 2023, we already funded 1.6 million euros in XR. The year hasn't ended yet, so I'm really excited to have this opportunity.

[00:05:46.377] Alina Mikhaleva: Hi, my name is Alina Mikhaleva. I'm originally from Crimea and I've been on the journey with VR since 2015. So I worked and I had co-founded a studio based in LA in early days of VR. We were doing 360 productions, working with great companies like Riot and HBO and many others. But then the journey continued into the pandemic when I quickly started producing virtual events. So now my main job, I go to VR for work. That's something that I've been doing for three years. And I run virtual events on Engage XR platform. And also I have a studio, Last Media Group, that is working both in running festivals and a bit of distribution, as well as working with artists, helping them to produce narrative XR works.

[00:06:33.265] Agnese Pietrobon: Hello. Hello, everyone. Thank you for having me here. I'm Agnese Pietrobon. I'm Italian. You can hear it from the accent. And I have a background in psychology, social psychology, actually. I didn't work in movies, didn't work in technology before. In 2017, I did discover VR, was very scared about it, but fell in love with Alice, the reality play, like literally in love. And since then, I've wrote a bit for Pola's website, and now I'm writing for XRMust with Mathieu Gayet, who's the editor-in-chief. And it's a magazine about immersive storytelling. We interview creatives, we go to festivals, we see a lot of works. And a collateral part of XRMust is actually a database that we are developing. that right now has got almost 7,000 experiences added and in 2024 will be online. And we will need a lot of help to put all the data inside. So that's my call for it too.

[00:07:40.870] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, we all just got back from Venice immersive 2023, where I know that Alina and Paula and I, we got to see all of the major pieces and competition and most of the best of, and the also there's a whole other section of college Biennale. I know Agnesia, you saw probably about a half of them or 20 or so.

[00:07:59.917] Agnese Pietrobon: Is that right? Yeah. Half of it, maybe a little bit more difficulties in booking experiences. That was a bit tough for me, honestly.

[00:08:10.844] Kent Bye: Yeah. So that's in some ways representative of how difficult it can be for folks to go to the Island and still see things. You have to get up early to be able to register, to get the ticket. Some of the tickets go really quickly because there are long experiences. There's not that many options. And so it's a bit of a game of just trying to get through the program, but. Given that, I wanted to take this opportunity to do a little bit of a recap and a bit of a, I guess, critics, or at least people within the XR industry, folks who are able to see quite a lot of the work and just have a discussion about this year's program. I'll be featuring lots of different creators with interviews on The Voices of VR. I know that XR Must is also doing a number of different interviews with creators. And so, yeah, maybe we'll start to dive in and just a quick note in terms of the order that we're using XR must, as well as, uh, Andre Luna actually did a, a survey of around 50 different people that attended Venice immersive 2023. And they had the attendees rank both their favorite experiences as well as their top five experiences. And so we're going in a rough order of. overall favorites, but then also from the top five is basically the order that we're going. And so what happens is that the first two on the list actually end up winning awards, Emperor and Songs for a Passerby. Emperor ended up getting third place and Songs for a Passerby ended up getting the top prize. And so in some ways, it's a little bit of a reflection of what the buzz was at Venice immersive, but I wanted to also just take the opportunity to just have a discussion about these pieces. Cause I always appreciate how different people see different things. I'm really focused on the mechanics of how the medium of VR is being used on Apollo. You're really focused on the story aspects and Alina and Agnese each of your own takes on each of these pieces. So excited to get into the discussion. So I'm going to kick it off by starting with Emperor, which ended up taking the third place prize at Venice immersive this year. And this was like a 45 minute piece produced by Atlas five and I'll be on. And it was really well old story. I felt like it puts you into this kind of painterly experience where It feels like you're in a memory in some sense, but you're going through what is essentially this story of a father who has got aphasia. It's not necessarily like memory loss, but it's more along the lines of not being able to communicate properly. And so you end up having this gap of communication that the creator, Marion, was trying to create this immersive experience to give this feeling of what it was like to have this disconnect of communication. but you end up going through this dreamlike scape through all these different scenes. And I just felt like the interactivity and the depth of the story of how they told the story was a real excellent use of the medium of VR. And I walked away being really moved by the story that was being told. And I know Paula, you were a part of the funding or the production of this piece. And so I don't know if you can have much more to say beyond that, but I'd love to hear any other thoughts from us here.

[00:11:09.046] Pola Weiß: Maybe as an add-on, it was co-founded by Mediabot and the German producer was Reynach Films in Germany. We are of course really happy that they won us that prize.

[00:11:21.159] Agnese Pietrobon: Yeah, so I had very big expectations on this piece. It's one of the last ones I saw, actually, like on Friday. I had a tiny problem with how they showed it, because, for example, there are some moments in which you need to kneel down on the floor to pick up things, and I couldn't reach them, because I think the floor level was not at the right level, which was not such an Actually, it wasn't so bad because it gave me the feeling of I cannot communicate with the piece, which is like the topic of the piece. So I kind of appreciate this difficulty that I had in working with it. Rationally, to me, it was a fantastic experience. Visually, it was very stunning. It had a lot of atmosphere and the story was very intense. I'm not sure why I wasn't emotionally moved by it. which is, as you were saying, Kent, we all have different perspective on pieces the way we see it. And I guess I put a lot of emotions in the way I see VR. And this is something that I felt lacking in the piece. But maybe it was just me. Maybe it was just the way I experienced the work in that moment.

[00:12:36.604] Alina Mikhaleva: I would agree with some of the difficulties and I had a chat also on the island with a couple of people. So for me the tracking the level of the table was also a bit down. So I had to really try to find that on the floor. But for some people it was up. So I think that it was. But then there were also people for whom it worked great and they were really have very, very positive experience with it. I agree that it's visually stunning and the story is very powerful. However, I also agree that I maybe had too much expectations, but I want to point out one thing that worked really well for me. Because the hand tracking aspect felt a little bit not too stable just from technological perspective, right? And I didn't understand that would be a very interesting question for the interview and for the creators. Was it by design that you couldn't maybe write something because I was really struggling with the hand? And I understand that it's kind of the purpose of the experience if you are embodying a person who has experienced this disease. Maybe that's by design, but then I was feeling that it's just the hand tracking that wasn't working properly for me. But what I want to point out is the sound. Because at one moment, I really noticed how they were guiding my attention. Because in the moment of the experience, you have to transition through the scenes by pointing at a certain part of the scene. And the way how you get through that is that if you turn your head around, the sound becomes really distorted. And when you look in the direction that they expect you to look and point your finger, it becomes much more harmonious. It amazed me because it's incredibly powerful way of driving users' attention just by making this harmony of the audio. It's like, OK, here it's comfortable for me to look, so I should head this way. And if I try to look at other directions, it really becomes distorted. That was an excellent production part for me.

[00:14:34.463] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's a piece that is using a lot of interactivity of the participant to drive the story together. And I felt like all the different pieces, the ways that you're using your body to interact with the piece was the most tightly coupled to the story aspect of it, which I also appreciated. It's not always easy to come up with meaningful interactions, but I felt like this was a piece that tried to push the boundaries for having different types of embodied interactions that are also reinforcing different aspects of the story. So that was Emperor. It ended up taking the third place prize. So let's move on to the next piece, which ended up taking the top prize called Songs for a Passerby. So Alina, why don't you go ahead and set up this piece for us?

[00:15:14.930] Alina Mikhaleva: Well, I was very lucky to see this piece because I think it was one of the highest in demand pieces on the island and the hardest to see. I definitely was sure that it would be the winner because it was the most impactful piece for me, for sure. It is an installation created by an artist based in Amsterdam, I believe. diamond and it's her second piece. So last year in Venice she had a very similar installation I would say, so they're really continuing in the same style and language because you move around the experience by walking in the physical space. And they really written in a very good way. But then it was the line in Venice for me that we saw several experiences that were second or third experiences of the same directors. And you can really see the advancement. So what stood out for me in Songs for a Password Why, that they used Kinect technology to bring you into the experience. both from the first-person perspective, you're in the headset, but you also saw your presence in the form of Kinect hologram. And in a way, you were looking through the first-person perspective, but also you were seeing yourself from the side. And that was really powerful for me because there was a beautiful poetry about also linking the beginning and the continuation of the experience because you basically walk this very poetic journey of going up through the world and seeing people passing by and trains passing by. It's a very philosophical piece. What I also like about it, it really left space for me to reflect on what I'm seeing because they are calling it a VR opera. So it was not telling me what to feel and how to feel and what is actually the story, but it was more the reflection of the world and kind of beautiful poetry that they brought through the visuals that I got to reflect to. So I can maybe point out some of the very strong moments for me when you see yourself and then, for example, there is a child that is talking to the reflection of you. So those out-of-body third-person perspectives really work very well for me. So I think it's definitely the best piece from this year. So we'd love to hear what you think.

[00:17:26.868] Pola Weiß: maybe just very much agree that the last piece, Eurydice, it was really, really interesting in terms of the installation they installed in Venice. But it really felt, you felt the land. It was too long, in my opinion. And also, you always walk downstairs. So for me, I got a little bit motion sick, because in reality, of course, you stay on one level. And this year, they took all the strong parts from last year's piece, put it into another experience and advance in the things that weren't ideal yet. And they of course added, like you pointed out as well, they added this whole, you see yourself as a volumetric ghost somewhere in the experience. being there, but being distanced from yourself as well. So this was a weird feeling of being disconnected to yourself. So they added so much, and they eliminated all the disadvantages of last year's piece. And I thought that was really, really great, because they took the feedback by heart, I felt.

[00:18:28.216] Kent Bye: Yeah, this is a piece that starts to get into like the impossible spaces as you walk around and turn a corner. Then you enter in a whole another new Vista that, yeah, I agree with what you're saying, Paul. Like last year it was your DC, a descent into infinity. And they really leaned into that repetitive nature of like giving you the feeling that you're walking in this infinite space. But there was a certain amount of repetitiveness, but. Yeah, just the way they were able to create this, what Celine told me is this sort of atmospheric storytelling of creating a vibe as you turn the corner, you're in a new space and that that space has a vibe and you're always watching these people walk by. So it's like this feeling of liminal spaces and kind of hear the murmurs of their speaking. And then at some point you can sort of read what they're thinking. But yeah, I think for me, the most powerful part was the way that they use the Kinect camera to project your own embodiment into the piece. They're already using the space as a form of environmental storytelling, but then when you have your own embodiment and have this kind of disembodied feeling of being able to see a mirror of yourself projected in the space and you're moving around and just how they progress that throughout the piece to the culmination there at the end, I thought was really quite powerful as well. And yeah, a real, real powerful piece overall.

[00:19:40.175] Agnese Pietrobon: I totally agree with you. For me too, it was possibly one of the best. And from a philosophical point of view that Alina mentioned, I found it very interesting that for most of the piece, the only person who can see me, it's myself. Like I'm the only one who sees myself. Everybody's just walking by and I can see me there just watching and not being noticed. but for the kid that then I meet in the train, the wagon, that notices me. And there's this kind of exchange that was very powerful because it's the first person that sees me. And when you finally see yourself in front, very close, it was an even stronger moment of recognition, which I really, really appreciated. And the fact that the animals are there and are leading your path somehow through it, I think that was a nice detail that was added in the story.

[00:20:38.916] Alina Mikhaleva: There were two dogs captured volumetrically that basically guide you through this philosophical journey. And then I remember also one moment because we are going up and the beauty of this project is that as you go up, you see below the scenes that you just passed, right? So it's repetitiveness. And then as you get closer to the top, you see a crowd passing by. really down below. And then there was this small figure next to the dog that was also standing. And I'm like, oh, why is this person not walking with a crowd? And I'm like, what they want to tell? And then I understand that my movements are reflected in like Oh my God, that's me, but I'm tiny and I'm at the bottom and I'm not in the crowd. So there were a lot of very beautiful discoveries. And I think that just our brain recognizes ourselves and our movements. So immediately, naturally that even tiniest parts of the experience that reflect yourself in the third person perspective worked really well in this piece.

[00:21:43.280] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. Well, let's, uh, keep moving on to the next piece, which is called Sen, which actually had three people going at the same time. Uh, so Paula, why don't you set up this piece for us?

[00:21:53.669] Pola Weiß: Sure, thank you. So Sen is a story by director Kaizuki Ito, I hope I pronounced it correctly, who has quite a name in Venice, probably is each year a premiere of one of his pieces. He did, for example, Taipan clap beat that were the little robots with hearts. That was a very cute story. Feather was also done by him. So Venice visitors know him and know his cute stories that are at the same time about very, very human deep emotions that we feel. But in all these cute figures and all these cute, not shallow but very simple stories, just going to the bottom of it. And San basically is based on the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, So the users, there are three, you mentioned it, Ken, are sitting in a typical Japanese room with a typical Japanese floor and you hold a black teabowl, one of the Rakuten teabowls in your hands. And in this tea bowl there emerges a figure or a little creature which represents the spirit of the tea. And there are three people, we see three tea bowls and the three tea spirits then come out of the bowl and kind of discover their interconnectivity and how they can interact with each other. So that is a really cute little creature and becomes like discovering this whole world, this whole nature, and also playing together with the other spirits, which is quite nice. In terms of installation-wise, because it is like kind of a hyper-reality installation, what intrigued me very much was that we all were wearing a pulse watch. that recorded our heartbeat. And the heartbeat then was, or the rhythm of our heart was translated into vibration of the teacup. So the teacup had a tracker in it. So we had it in our hands in the physical world, but also in the virtual reality world. And it vibrated in the rhythm of my heart, which I honestly only understood afterwards when I took off the watch, which I totally forgot during the experience. And then I discovered, oh my God, it recorded my heartbeat and translated it in the experience, in the whole rhythm. And not only my heartbeat, of course, but also the heartbeat of the other users. And that was a little thing, well, to see at the beginning, but it became so huge afterwards when you went out of the experience and thought, okay, we shared one heartbeat, you and you and me. So that was quite a very, very cute, very nice thing. And especially loved how they did it as a multiplayer, but also as we only were seen by our teacups that we were holding. So we didn't have avatars or something. So we were only connected by these little tea spirits. They were playing with each other and by seeing the other's teacups. And so that was something that I loved. And still, they were able to create such a strong connection to the other users, which was very, very nice. So it turned out to be one of the pieces that everybody at Venice told, Oh, you have to see that. It's very cute. So it became quite popular in the coffee lines.

[00:25:06.472] Alina Mikhaleva: Yes. My prediction was that at least every year after I watch the whole program, I just make my own bet and my own reflection on what are the three works that I... And it's very hard, I feel, for judges, but San was definitely one of my favorites as well. It's just the animation is so beautiful. And I absolutely love all the characters that come from this production team. Because when I went out of the experience, and especially because of the heartbeat, I immediately thought about the beat, which was the experience that was in 2021 program, I believe. that also did this great way of delivering the story without a single word. That's also magic for me because it is hard to achieve and it also creates this magical space where you connect to the story but at the same time it's so light and it's not pushed on you in kind of very verbal way. It's just beautiful.

[00:26:03.195] Agnese Pietrobon: Absolutely. Connection is really something that I felt very strongly too into this piece with the other users, but also with this cute little creature. I kept rising up my cup and looking at the creature like very close like this and saying, oh, you're so cute. I can save you. I can help you. it gave me very clear emotions towards this creature. Also, despite the fact that we didn't have a body, it felt very physical to me. The heartbeat, the fact that I was holding this cup, it felt like the real cup. I was seeing that in my mind. Also the position, because when I you know, when I entered the booth and found myself in the room, there were pillows on the floor and I knelt in the Japanese way, let's say, like they do in karate. So I knelt down in this very elegant position, mind you. But after 10 minutes, I was dying. I could feel my legs so crampy. So it was really painful. But at the same time, it made me feel like I was really there. I was physically present in this Japanese world doing this very traditional Japanese thing. And I love that.

[00:27:11.577] Kent Bye: Yeah, this is definitely a crowd favorite in terms of ranking very high and a lot of buzz around it. And I really responded to the haptic heartbeat that you feel throughout the experience, kind of having this real-time feedback of your own biometrics fed through this haptic experience. But I'd say the other thing that was interesting about this piece was just how much they were using a lot of shader-like abstractions to take you into this kind of transcendent realm you're grounded into this Japanese tea ceremony environment, but then you kind of blip up into these other realms that feel like you're going beyond space and time. And in speaking to the director, I had to speak through a translator. So there was this bit of how these pieces are able to transmit the essence of what he's trying to say, sometimes so much better than you can articulate in words, because you get a sense of the deeper spirit of the maker and the creator as you go through the experience, but then just trying to unpack all the different aspects of the experience, there's themes of reincarnation and other, like, I think, deeper themes that it's very abstract that if you watch the piece, you may not understand all of the different meanings that are happening, but you, you walk away with this feeling and this vibe of the experience, which I think is the strength of the medium to have this kind of universal language that is being cultivated. So.

[00:28:30.963] Alina Mikhaleva: And in one last thing, I remember this part where everything around you dissolves because it's beautiful animation, but it's quite, there are specific forms and worlds that are formed, but then everything dissolves into peace. And at that moment, your heartbeat stops. That was a very interesting discovery for me as well, that it was like you dissolve and then you're formed back and your heartbeat is back. So I definitely see what you're describing here.

[00:28:56.745] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's some death and rebirth within the piece. And I'd have to watch it again to see maybe piece together what the full story was, but it just as an experience, it's a very, you kind of walk away with a vibe and a feeling, which I think is the strength of the piece. Um, so let's move on to the next piece. Uh, this is the piece that actually ended up getting a lot of buzz outside of the festival. It's called Totalmancer. And the reason why is because it was using all sorts of different aspects of artificial intelligence, generative AI, large language models, where you sit down at an old computer and you ask a number of different questions about your past, present, and future aspirations. And after you enter all these different things into the computer, a phone rings and you walk into the next door, and there's a whole immersive VR experience that's created uniquely just for you, you sit down and watch this like 10 minute experience. And then after you watch it, all of the data from that experience is deleted and it's gone. So it's a bit of like a sand painting that is interpreting what you enter into these questions as a prompt. And it creates this, I guess, arc of a narrative that is using chat to BT to come up with the narrative aspects. And so they have to do a lot of prompt engineering to construct this story, but it's sort of weaving things that you put into it and what you said into the overarching story that you're hearing being read to you by this AI narrator, which is for me, one of the stronger aspects of that consistent, you know, Sounding like someone's speaking this to you, but it's clearly taking what you've said to it and remixing it. And also some of the different things you've said, it remixes into a series of maybe a half a dozen or so different scenes that have this kind of volumetric depth map to them. So it's a generative AI equirectangular scene that you're put into. And so they're trying to create this whole experience that is very unique to you. I imagine that sometimes whatever is put together really lands with people and other times it doesn't. I heard a number of people that was their favorite experience and other people, there's all sorts of other deeper ethical implications for what's it mean to have artificial intelligence in the mix of the types of future that we're going to go into lots of sort of broader discussions around the future of creativity and AI. So this was certainly a hot topic, but I'd love to hear some of your experiences of what you actually experienced in this piece, because in a lot of ways, whatever you're experienced is purely unique to your own self and maybe widely different and varying from what other people experience as well.

[00:31:16.088] Pola Weiß: Maybe I start. So I was very curious about this experience because I recently started to use AI myself. I experimented a little bit and I was wondering how they did it, what they did with it. So I think they used text-to-text AI, they used text-to-speech, which was very, very cool. And they also used, of course, text-to-image or 360 image. So they did all these in parallel and in real time. So at the beginning you sit in a room and you have to type in a very old school computer named Topa and answer the question they ask you. And that are very, very deep questions like what are you afraid of in your life? What was your childhood like about? What was the dark moment today? So you really had to imagine some moments of your day, so far of your past, some of your deepest wishes and the more detailed you answered, the more detailed the promised the experience would be. And I took a lot of effort to give the AI as much details as I could. And of course, because the questions were so deep, let's say, I was not very much impressed by the images I saw because they didn't really match what I took into. So for example, they ask you to recreate your childhood room. And so, of course, they cannot really recreate it, but it wasn't even similar yet. But what I was absolutely impressed with was the text that the AI read to me. It was based on the answers I've given, but it also was, well, it was then a very beautiful, poetic text, a very beautiful, well, almost a poem or something that was extracting all the deep thoughts I tried to put into and made them more beautiful, bigger, try to comfort me somehow, or try to feel happy with me. So what the AI took out of my answers and did in the text they read to me was really, really great, I thought. So I wasn't so much impressed by the pictures. There you saw very well the limits of AI, but I was very much impressed by the text they created out of my answers.

[00:33:22.618] Alina Mikhaleva: I absolutely second that. During the experience, because you get into VR only after passing through the first room where you give all the input, I was closing my eyes because I wanted to be concentrated on the audio. Because audio was, first of all, the voice generation was excellent because it felt very natural. It felt very deep, and I wanted to hear exactly where they're guiding me in this poetic way, taking my memories and taking some of my own reflections. But at the same time, the images for me, though, I understand the novelty of that. And the fact that it's unique experience for each and every user is great. But at the same time, I felt that if it was audio only experience, and I did give them the input, and then they would put me into blindfold, and read this text to me, I would maybe even get deeper connection because the visuals did not resonate with the input. And I also felt that they are very standardized, like almost whatever you describe. But if you're describing your childhood room, you would get a very Western specific style of the room that, for example, for me did not resonate at all. And yeah, that's my take.

[00:34:41.804] Agnese Pietrobon: If I can say a thing about the images, there were some details that were very correct. I mentioned a blue teddy bear, I mentioned puppies, and they were generated. I could see them. So the room didn't look like my room at all, but there was this detail that I noticed and I appreciated. But it's definitely true that the text, what they told you, was much more effective than the visuals. It actually made me think about my life and what they told me. I was surprised. If I can mention the experience of a friend, though, she's right. She would write a review on this, actually. She's a very scenic person and she likes to define herself. So she gave very, not rude answers, but very direct answers, even adding some details, but very negative things. When she left the experience, she told me, oh, I think I broke it. Because even the text was kind of strange. like they were mentioning her obsession with coffee, but just because she mentioned coffee in that point of the answers. So she's wondering, and I'll pass here the question, she's wondering what if we are not as precise? What if we are cynical people? Will it work in the same way as with very poetic people? And yeah. We'll see.

[00:36:02.774] Kent Bye: It's a piece there. The creators don't actually even know what's being created. So it's a hard to have much feedback. Um, so, you know, cause I, I talked to the creators around the ethics of memory, to what degree am I protecting these memories? Are you going to be corrupting these memories? I talked to Craig Quintero, who said that you can do whatever you want. And he was telling me, he was like talking about dragons and being really imaginative. And so it's one of these experiences where whatever you put in, you can kind of dictate where you get out. But I think the consensus amongst all of us is that the audio portion of this piece was a lot more compelling to where the VR sort of visuals are right now, especially because there's such a high standard for our own memories of things. And you're, you're kind of comparing against that. Um, so yeah, lots more of discussions to be impacted that as a piece that I'll be getting into more, but let's keep on moving on to a piece called Gargoyle Doyle, which was a mixed reality piece. So Agnes, why don't you go ahead and line up this piece for us?

[00:36:56.009] Agnese Pietrobon: Well, everybody in the whole island and probably in the whole Italy knows that it was my favorite piece at Venice, Gargoyle Doyle. I say to everyone I meet, oh yes, did you watch Gargoyle Doyle? Because you should watch Gargoyle Doyle. No. You know, it's a work directed by Ethan Schefftel. We met him before for works like Ajax, All Powerful, that was recently released actually in the MetaApp Lab. in the original English version after some years with pandemics and everything. And so Ethan is back with Gargoyle Dory and a new comedy. It's a story that really makes you laugh. I mean, I laughed a lot while experiencing this work. It's a story about a very grumpy gargoyle who was supposed to grace the facade of the most beautiful cathedral built during the medieval age, the middle ages, but this gargoyle was damaged, not his fault, and so he was kind of put back in a back alcove with other strange broken statues. And Chet, who's a decorative metal rain gutter, who's kind of the opposite character. He's very talkative, he's very friendly, he tries to be nice to Doyle from the beginning to the end and Doyle doesn't like it very much. And there's also a plot twist in the story in the end which I found adorable and helps building their bromance. And the user goes through this story. It starts this story by entering a museum, a museum that's built, let's say, in augmented reality. And in this museum dedicated to the demolition of the cathedral, you can learn the story of the cathedral by entering the cathedral in virtual reality. And for me, this narrative technological choice was extremely effective to help me kind of let go of my reality. Not my persona, because it was me there, walking, discovering the story of Chetan Doyle, but forgetting the world around me and truly believe that what I was seeing, the museum, the story of Cheddar and Doyle, was real, was coming to life around me. So I'm actually a very big fan of this story. And as Paula knows, I like the fact that I can actually actually tell the story to someone. If any of my friends has never tried VR, I can go to them and tell them, oh, this is the story of Chetan Doyle. This is the experience that I did. And they would understand it, which I found it very useful from a, let's say, accessibility point of view, from a mainstream point of view. So these are the main reasons why I really like this work.

[00:39:41.122] Pola Weiß: Maybe you mentioned the mixed reality aspect of it. That's actually one thing we see more and more because in the last years, creators always had a little bit of difficulty to somehow create the way from the outside world into the headset. They used live actors, they released huge installations, but the onboarding always was an issue because the story or the experience starts a little bit beforehand. and mixed reality with these path-through technology now gives creators actually something in their hand that they can use to onboard the audience a little bit better. So to make the transition from their own living room, for example, into the virtual reality, fully immersive world, more, let's say, more smooth and not so abrupt. and he uses that very well, I think. As a European, though, my heart cries a little bit when I hear that a church, a very, very old church is destroyed because there are laws against that. But however, it was very, very funny. I laughed a lot. And you also have to say that Although the experience has so much dialogue and so much text, it's not boring. And there is no point where we really are not listening anymore, because he maintains such a great rhythm also by his instrument that he calls, I think, it's somehow of an unconscious addicting, that when you look somewhere in the right place, then there is kind of a very, very fast zoom where you transition to another position. and follow the story. So that gives the whole thing quite a dynamic and makes it so appealing.

[00:41:18.962] Kent Bye: Yeah, he calls it a zip edit, where you kind of like change scale and you zoom around. So it's a kind of a technique that he used this zip edit to move through space. And it's kind of a form of editing and spatial context. And yeah, it's one of the few stories that you see where it's really driven by the characters, character driven interactions. And Yeah, I guess the other big thing for me was the mixed reality component where you kind of start off in the context of a museum pushing buttons and it comes full circle as to why you're in that museum throughout the course of this piece. But you do end up sitting down for probably around 30 minutes or so to watch the majority of this piece. Yeah and in talking to Ethan there's this whole other aspect of like translating this piece to be able to be watched at home with mixed reality or in an installation to have it kind of staggered in a way that people can be at different phases of the piece because it is essentially at Venice a throughput of one person every 45 minutes which means that not very many people can end up seeing the piece. And so there's other things to optimize it so that people can start at different phases and still use the same space, but still watch the full piece. So there's other throughput things that they could do to optimize, but, but overall, I really enjoyed this piece. So yeah. Any other thoughts, Alina?

[00:42:31.651] Alina Mikhaleva: For me, it was definitely best script. Absolutely. And best characters on the island. I really enjoyed the dialogues. And at certain moment, when we're talking about a good experience is when the technology kind of disappears. So only after coming out of the experience, I really realized it's like, I almost didn't notice this switch in between AR mode and VR mode. And I'm like, I remember in early days, we were thinking that in the future, those would be just the modes that we switch. I'm like, that just happened to me. And I didn't even notice that because it was introduced in the story in such a great way that I enjoyed interacting with the characters and following their story. And I did not think about the tech. That's a very good sign and a very good experience.

[00:43:14.285] Pola Weiß: I also want to point out these chicken gargoyles, which is like a genius invention. And I really want to see a spin off of those because they were so great. Maybe you can pass that on to Ethan.

[00:43:26.818] Kent Bye: All right. Well, let's move on to the next piece called Jim Henson's A Storyteller of the Seven Revens. Paula.

[00:43:33.756] Pola Weiß: Yes, Jim Henson, the storyteller, Seven Ravens, which is a very long title. And Paul said in the meet the creators panel that they wanted to make what he made a joke, but obviously, that they wanted to make the title even longer, but they wouldn't let them. So I can totally believe that. So it is an augmented reality pop up book, basically. And it's also the first mixed augmented reality experience by Felix and Paul, which, of course, a very famous Canadian studio, one of the big pioneers and immersive stories. And as a user, you wear a Magic Leap 2 headset. And and have a bigger kind of book, a magical book. It looks a little bit like a book from a Harry Potter movie. And you open that, and as soon as you do that, it brings the story to life. And you experience the tale of the Seven Ravens, which is originally written, I think, by the Gebrüder Begrimm, by the German authors. And it's also, well, it's narrated by no other than the award-winning author Neil Gaiman, which is amazing. What I really loved about it is this whole mixed reality aspect. Mixed reality in a sense that you have something physical on your hand, which gets augmented by an augmented reality headset, like the Magic Leap. And what I really liked is that you... Well, the idea is not new at all, not at all, but it's executed with such a great detail with a story and with a graphic. So it was really... Sometimes I was opening my mouth and was like, wow, wow. And they laughed a little bit behind. When the team was standing there and I was doing my awe and woe sounds, which was a little bit funny, because it was so impressive in the graphic style. You can actually move the book around, you can change perspective, but the augmented experience stays really on the book. in 3D, of course. And that's how they managed to kind of turn the faults of mixed reality headsets like the Magic Leap, which is not using a pass-through mode, but an original mixed reality headset. But they usually have a very narrow field of view and they turned this fault into a very, very big advantage to experience the piece. That was something that I really loved. And maybe also to point out, they not only did one story, they created kind of a platform for multiple stories. So it's quite scalable.

[00:45:58.149] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think this tabletop scale aesthetic, we've seen a lot within virtual reality, but in the context of having a book that you're holding in your hands, I think it works quite well. And you end up becoming the editor of this piece as you flip the book. And we all know what it means to be reading a book and having the affordance of flipping a page to progress the story. So I think that's actually a quite compelling use case of augmented reality storytelling. And over the years, I think AR storytelling has had a little bit more trouble finding its feet for what the forums are going to be. But I think this is a really strong contender for how they can start to expand this into many other stories. Just a quick note on the technology of the Magic Leap. I tried to wear it with my glasses and it disrupted the stability of it and it was really jittery. So I feel like with the Magic Leap 2, if you wear glasses, I really like to see people who are exhibiting have the inserts so that people who have glasses can be able to get the full effect because if you try to wear glasses, it disrupts the stability of the experience. And so, yeah, it was quite jittery for me, but I think that's more of a function of not having the proper lens inserts to have the accessibility in mind, especially with the LBE context.

[00:47:07.607] Alina Mikhaleva: Well, I agree. And it's definitely the best representation of AR on the island, because of course, Magic Leap 2 had a better field of view. And especially with the format of the book, it did not take me out of the experience. I had just enough. The animations are beautiful. And the only thing that I talked to creators a little bit, and I think that the experience actually started its journey quite a long time ago. So I think that the production kicked off. pre-pandemic and that just it was a long completion project because it was put on hold. But it felt a little bit like we're still in this era of having good stories but tech demos. So I'm just wondering how that is from just impressive tech demo, would it find its way into broader storytelling world or would it be left as a very impressive piece of beautiful visual story that is represented in this format. So I would love to see more of that, but it's just, would we see it or not? Or would it stay as a demo piece?

[00:48:09.434] Agnese Pietrobon: And absolutely, technologically speaking, I can see this being used in so many different fields, like in schools, like history books in school, showing things in this way would be marvelous. At the same time, when I watched it, I didn't feel the story, honestly. I was so distracted by this beautiful visual, this beautiful design, that I almost didn't notice what the story was telling me. And certainly I didn't connect with the characters. In the same way that with Sen I had this creature and I could connect with it, here I didn't feel any connection at all. I was totally not interested in the destiny of the characters. From a narrative point of view, it's because you see them very small. It's a lot of details, but technologically I was in awe of it. But after the first part, I forgot about that and started asking myself, yes, but who are these characters? Are they interesting? Are they telling me something? And so I left the experience feeling like not 100% satisfied with it.

[00:49:22.036] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. Well, certainly I think it's something that I've seen a lot within ARs. For me, I really prefer VR storytelling than AR storytelling, but I think it sort of speaks to that dimension of that as well. But let's, let's move on to the next piece, Shadow Time. Agnieszka.

[00:49:37.084] Agnese Pietrobon: So Shadow Time, well, it's the new piece by an experimental theatre company called Sister Sylvester that was founded by Kathleen Hamilton, who was actually the name of one of the creators, together with Dennis Thornton, who is a film and immersive media creator. So as a not English speaker, you know, not native English speaker, I didn't know what shadow time meant. I never heard that word before, but its definition is actually a very big part of the experience that was shown in Venice. I found out reading on the website that it's the new word that was created for describing this era we are living in, and it describes the feeling of being in two irreconcilable times simultaneously. So they make an example. It's like being stuck in a traffic jam and suddenly you start thinking about the gas in your engine that is the compressed mass of prehistoric creatures, which is something I never thought about but I will now. But it's like when you are at the market and you suddenly think, oh everything is here because of the big bang. So it describes this very strange feeling of being in two different times at the same time. And the experience reflects a bit on this concept. And it's from this premise that it develops a reflection on the duality of VR and technology in our times. and the effect they have on us and on our society. I know that the tagline mentioned, oh, you are in two worlds at the same time. Your body is here, is in this world, but your heart is in the other world, but your heart is in this world, the VR world. So it's like an installation in which VR is reflecting on VR, on its history, on its significance for culture, for the future. VR is presented like a place where you can find respite somehow from everything that's happening out there. But at the same time, it shows how VR is also a big part of everything that's happening out there. It's a cause of some problems that are happening out there. It's a clear experience in some passages, despite being very philosophical, but it's definitely a work that, especially visually, is more of an artistic installation than a narrative piece to me. It's got this oneidic quality, this oppressive style, that is not there at the beginning of the work, that's actually very open. It's like a story. It makes you feel interested in VR, in technology, in the potential of this new tool that they're inventing. But the more you go on with the story, the more you see these images created in photogrammetry or generated in AI, the more there's this feeling of oppression that is like a a metaphor of what technology is doing to you somehow. And to me, it was very physically represented in the scenes of the mannequins at the end. At first, you have two of them. You look at them. They're very creepy, but that's just that. But the more you keep turning your head, the more mannequins appear. And suddenly, you're like closing yourself because you have them all around you. And I found this was a very physical way to express a philosophical idea. And there was also the chance in Venice to see it as not the headset user, but as a audience that walked by, which, you know, I didn't do that, but I thought it was very interesting.

[00:53:13.389] Kent Bye: Yeah, they had a camera obscura installation that was projecting the image from a window. And this is a piece that I saw at Tribeca, it was at Onyx Studios. It wasn't at Tribeca, but it was during the preview at Onyx. And I had a chance to talk to the creators. And what was interesting about this piece is that there's little subtle things about the piece that I didn't get until I talked to the creators about it, because they have a previous piece called Our Arc, which is inspired by Elon Musk's simulation theory And it starts off with as a film essay. And then by the end, the narrator is trying to like brainwash you into believing into something. And they do something very similar into this piece that I didn't pick up on, but they were inspired by this Palmer Luckey quote where he says that If you just go into VR, then you'll be able to have just as an amazing life as someone who's rich. VR is able to solve all these problems of solving these inequities in our world. And I think as the piece, they're really arguing against that thought, but they're using a voice that's arguing for it. So they're kind of taking the same turn where they're like arguing for this thing that they don't actually believe themselves. So it starts off as this film essay, but then they start to argue things that they themselves don't actually believe in. And that's not something I picked up on when I first watched it. And so it was interesting to like go back and watch their film again, our arc, and then to rethink about what they're doing in this piece, because they're in some ways exploring the amazing potentials of VR. But by the end, it does take this kind of dark turn, but it's sort of symbolically there. having the technology kind of eat itself and get to this point where it's really trying to have us interrogate this split between what's virtual, what's real and arguing things that they themselves don't actually believe in. So it's sort of an interesting interview that I had with them to kind of unpack it, but yeah, either Alina or Paul, if you picked up on some of those, like the voice of the piece being different than what the authors actually believed.

[00:55:10.717] Alina Mikhaleva: It was a very interesting piece for me and I definitely picked up on the same scene. I cannot say that I followed the whole philosophical essence of what you're describing. For me, it was almost three different experiences in one. It was a bit hard for me to connect because in the beginning they had very cool hand tracking technology where you can interact with a cube. Then it split to me into three parts where then it didn't make a lot of sense like when you were going through the photogrammetry scenes but the one at the end where not only you see people appearing around you in like the forms of really faceless mannequin but then they are moving in the same way as you are moving. And as I mentioned, this is something that triggers very quick presence as we realize that those are our movements. So they're reflections of me, and there are more and more people. But then when all of the mannequins all of a sudden turn and look at you, That was a very, very powerful piece for me. It was a very clear message of awkwardness of this technological advancement that was presented. It's interesting that this piece brought a lot of discussions on the island. At least one of my friends just loved it. He tried to see it, I think, three times because he said it's the only piece that I love. For me, it was a great piece, but as I said, it did not completely make sense as a whole, and I kind of almost saw it as three different parts of the experience.

[00:56:43.219] Kent Bye: All right. Let's move on to the next piece called Over the Rainbow, Alina.

[00:56:48.616] Alina Mikhaleva: Yes, so we're jumping to the format of 360 videos. It's the second work from Craig Quintero on the island. So this year he brought Over the Rainbow, but last year he brought his first VR piece called All That Remains. And I think starting from last year, it's really the Taiwanese production studios set such a high level for 360 videos, such high level of storytelling and visual quality. In the same way as with the songs for Passerby, it's great to see the second work of the same director in two years in a row that are exploring the same language. It's an abstraction. It's a philosophical essay about interactions with very abstract visuals filmed in 360. You have live actors. But what I like about Craig's work is that he's really playing with scale. which is very unusual for a 360 video. And you are constantly confused by the geometry of the world around you, because he puts yourself into such unusual perspectives. But in a way, in the same way as Songs of Passerby are taking the best from this year's piece, made much more sense to me visually, and it connected with me in a deeper way, comparing to last year's All That Remains. So I think it's definitely the best 360 assay on the island that was presented this year. And it's great, great work by Craig.

[00:58:28.587] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I also agree. I was very, very excited to see that piece because I was so impressed by last year's All That Remains. Not because, from a story perspective, not because I understood it, it's super abstract, but I love how, well, it's basically a theatre company. So I love how they do the staging, how do they work, how they work with the actors to create this incredible connection. Even though it's only 360, they managed to create such a high level of suspense, like real suspense, which is so hard to achieve in virtual reality. Because how can you create suspense when you just can't see everything that's going on around you? And they do that with just very, very tiny theatre like work by the actors. So how they look you into the eyes, the moment when they turn and present you something that you haven't expected before. So that for me always when I hear that somebody is doing a 360 movie, I absolutely recommend to watch this work. all that remains. And now, of course, that as well. And also the men who couldn't leave, of course, of last year's edition in Venice to see what is possible in 360, how you can unfold a story with such an amazing staging. And as you mentioned, also the scaling, but also the acting, just the acting, which and all the colors. Well, he's painting pictures, basically, in 360. But yeah, how they react to you as a user, I haven't seen that in 360 before. Of course, as a story, it's quite abstract. You can't really understand. You can't tell it to your friends and neither to use your way of telling. That's absolutely amazing what they achieve there.

[01:00:12.847] Agnese Pietrobon: It's true that you cannot tell your friends. I don't even know how to tell myself about it, honestly. But what you can tell is definitely what you both just said. The actors in particular, they have a way of looking into you that feels like they're reading you. They're reading what you have inside. I felt this very... even now I have a bit of goosebumps just thinking about it. It feels like they're taking something out of you in that moment. And the tension that it's actually a bit scary. It was a bit scary for me. I kept turning around, looking around very slowly because I had the feeling that something was going to happen like in the next second. And this is all like the actors, they're fantastic. And the perspective is a great intuition on how to work with psychology, in my opinion.

[01:01:06.142] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to see both All That Remains and Over the Rainbow and talk to Craig after each of them, both last year at Venice and after Tribeca. And I love how he's able to try to continually pull the rug out from what you're expecting. And he had a chance to tell me part of his inspiration of Marilyn Orsum and the work that he saw when he was 18 years old. And he went into great detail about what his experience was of seeing Maryland's performance art, which is kind of like this experimental transcending your expectations and pieces like this of Over the Rainbow and All That Remains are really trying to lean into this more mimetic form of associative links and not explicit narrative, but trying to create these emotions and vibes and associations as you watch the piece and also have this kind of novelty of going beyond what you're expecting. And so it creates this surrealistic dreamscape of an experience. So I love to see his latest iteration of that and how he's continuing to take this kind of one-on-one immersive theater troupe that he has there in Taiwan and continuing to do these kind of experiments and then translate those one-on-one encounters into these immersive experiences. So looking forward to the third part of the trilogy, which hopefully is coming out here in the next cycle of the festivals. So let's move on to the next piece. Paula, there's a piece called Body of Mine.

[01:02:26.960] Pola Weiß: Yes, that is an installation, one of the installations that were shown in Venice, that allows you to experience gender dysphoria by inhabiting the body of another gender. So you go into the experience. It was a really, really nice installation. They did a lot, I think, with paper. And so it was very, very beautiful to enter it. And then they give you trackers for your arms, for your waist, and for your legs, so that you really can experience this full body experience in virtual reality. in this very organically virtual world. And you look into a mirror and in that mirror beforehand, you can choose one person you want to turn into or you want to experience, you want to be in the body of this person. And I, of course, took the one of a man. And I did not really know what gender dysphoria was at the beginning. It was more of a vocabulary because in German it is another word. But then I found out in the experience, which was quite nice. And it's not a new, but a really great idea. And I think it was very well done. Very important topic as well. However, and interestingly, it wasn't so much the gender that triggered the most feeling of identification, or especially the lack of identification in me, but the physics. So I'm not very slim, and I felt most comfortable in the body of men. There was one who had like a more robust, solid build. He wasn't overweight, but there were a lot of muscles. And so I could identify much more with him than I did with all the others that were thin and sporty and perfectly sculpted and not really diverse, to be honest, in terms of physics. And so for me, it wasn't the gender at all, what I found out, it was just the physics. And I experienced this not feeling well or not feeling myself in this body, not because of the gender. That was a really interesting feeling, which I didn't expect. And plus something I briefly mentioned after doing the experience, the bodies you incorporate in the experience have different underwear. They wear underwear, which probably was because of potential censorship and they wanted to publish it in different countries. So I understand why they didn't show them naked, even though it would, from a story perspective, make sense. have made sense. But yeah, so they had this weird dichotomy, because the women were wearing bras and the men didn't. So the experience told me if that was a woman or a man. And so this was like, I thought the opposite of what the experience wanted to show me. in its story, that they judge beforehand by telling me this is a woman or this is a man. So that was something I got very much irritated while doing the experience. I understand why they did it. But being a European, I'd say having naked bodies would have served the purpose of the story much better or the experience. Otherwise, it was really interesting installation. I'm really glad that I did it.

[01:05:26.289] Alina Mikhaleva: I agree with what you're describing. For me, it was a very powerful experience. I think that full body tracking really does a great job because the whole experience is basically you're looking at yourself in the mirror for quite a long time, but you don't see yourself. You see different bodies that are changing. So I found time to move around to explore different movements of my body and see their reflections while I was looking how the avatars or the representations for different people changed. But I do agree that for such an important topic, it almost was not enough for me just to see myself in different representations. I also felt that maybe that's just my view, but that the people that were chosen were quite stereotypical. And it's just a reflection from the outside. But of course, it did give me the perspective to reflect on my own experience with the body and looking into the mirror and just moving in all different ways to try to reflect on what I was offered as an experience. And I do appreciate this work.

[01:06:39.378] Agnese Pietrobon: Yeah, absolutely. I had your same experience in relation to this work. Somehow it made me think about the topic more after I left the work than while doing that. I was actually pretty, like a moment that was really intense while doing the work was when my characters suddenly had a different skin color than mine. And strangely that was more impactful to me than the gender aspect that you mentioned. But I really appreciated the fact that they were always there to talk to you about it. to comfort you because some people were crying after trying that. And I think that's as part of the experience as the experience itself. So that detail, the fact that you thought about it, the thought that you could talk about it afterwards were very important in my opinion.

[01:07:32.432] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I had a similar experience to you, Paula, in terms of, I think you may mean physique rather than physics.

[01:07:38.115] Pola Weiß: Oh, sorry. Yeah.

[01:07:39.603] Kent Bye: the physique of the sort of the build of the different characters. And there is this feeling of having these pretty different body builds and physique than my own as you're cycling through these different identities and using that affordance of VR to create that disconnect to also symbolically talk about the gender dysphoria as a similar type of disconnect to your identity and your body. So I think it's an interesting exploration of the affordances of what it means to be embodied in VR and to try to use that symbolically to talk about this as a topic. And I saw it at South by Southwest and have an interview with Cameron that dives deep into it, where I was able to actually pick up an award there. Um, so there was a number of different VR chat worlds that were there for different world hops. But I think from what I heard and from everybody that actually saw the Dr. Morrow experience of the epilogue last year at organism, and this year he had epilogue one and two, the people who did see it rated it at the top. And so that's why it's sort of this high on the list of the overall experiences. And so Alina, maybe you could set up this experience of Dr. Morrow and the VR chat world hop of the epilogue chapter one, chapter two, and the organism, and just generally the work of Dr. Morrow when it comes to VR chat.

[01:08:53.448] Alina Mikhaleva: Yes, that's a very interesting personality and interesting creator. So Dr. Moro is a VRChat world builder. As you mentioned, he has created those three worlds. Organism was released last year and then throughout this year he released two huge worlds, like each of these worlds if you go into really detailed world hop. which I've done, takes you about two hours to just go through them. Those are the worlds that are created from his memories, as he described that, and from his reflections on the childhood. For me, it's a special place as well, because the architecture of the world really resembles with the late Soviet Union, beginning of the 90s. So it very much reflects with Moscow, where Dr. Morrow is based. And we don't know much about him, because he's preferring to stay anonymous. But at the same time, I did have a chance to do a world hop. in epilogue one with him when he joined our group in VRChat. And that was, of course, a unique opportunity because if you ask him directly how you would translate what your world because it's really a metaphor. It's an architectural metaphor. It has a lot of symbolism in it, but the symbolism is not explained. For those who grew up maybe in Soviet Union, a lot of things that we see in the world, they bring immediate memory from the colors of the worlds, the textures of the worlds, some imprints. It's just such a universal imprint that was surrounding in this period of time that immediately brings us back. But at the same time, there is the next level and the different layer of absolutely magical places that are filled with tubes and some really incredible geometry that are not rooted in our reality. And it comes straight from Dr. Morrow's imagination. And for me, this mixed of his absolutely futuristic imagination and something that is deeply rooted in my childhood as well, it creates just a magical mix of presence and memories and fantasy.

[01:11:08.670] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I have had a chance to go through these worlds of Dr. Morrow. And I feel like, as I told Liz and Michelle, I said, you know, it's a shame that he has released them to the world, Michelle went into, you know, it's not an international or world premiere. Otherwise, they would have for sure had him in competition. And I think it would have had a chance of potentially placing, or at least being in the top 10, top five, whatever. Cause I think as both Liz and Michelle said, and many people within the VRChat community regard him as a master world builder, being able to translate these memories and impressions into these surrealistic spaces that just you can go on and on and exploring. So yeah, I know that Andrei also background from Russia and Soviet Union was giving a lot of impromptu tours and getting his own memories. And it's just one of those worlds that I think is. one of the best in class when it comes to what the potential world building is.

[01:12:01.633] Alina Mikhaleva: The only one maybe comment that I can add that it really brings some questions in terms of how easy it is to show such big work at the festival, especially to those who are not experienced with VRChat, because VRChat and social VR in general, you move around the world a lot. It's a very big space. And for new users, I heard some feedback that if it was first experience of the user ever in VR, they would not be able to even get to a certain point of the experience. And it's not only about kind of epilogue or Dr. Morrow's worlds. But it's just because there is so much locomotion and you really have to cross large distances in VR. It is becoming a problem for new users because they're just unable to go there. So it's just a question that we bring, like, how can we maybe teleport people into certain parts of the worlds that are most visually stunning? And it's just something to keep in mind when you're when we're showing it to completely new audiences.

[01:13:00.326] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, maybe let's move on to the next piece called Letters from Drancy, which happened to be one of my favorite experiences. Pola, why don't you set up this piece for us?

[01:13:08.793] Pola Weiß: Thank you so much. I'm just so excited to summarize this piece because this was actually my absolute favorite of the whole festival. Letters from Drancy is a virtual reality film done by Darren Emerson. And it is a story of a mother and her daughter that were separated during the Holocaust. So in Germany, we hear this kind of stories like, Well, throughout our entire childhood, there are so many books, there are so many films about that, that kind of stories. And there are so many, well, we have that at school and literally every year of school we have, well, we talk about the Holocaust. So this is the story I have, I don't mean it's cynical, but I have heard a thousand times. However, this story, when I first saw it, I was crying so much. I couldn't concentrate on the story because it's so emotional. So I had to see it a second time to kind of try to distance myself a little bit and see how he actually did it. And how he did it is he used a very classic storytelling tool, but for me, it is in one league with the Men Who Couldn't Leave of last year. except he's doing it more in a documentary style, meaning that he's filming the main character, Marianne Deichmann, in 360, but he's also using 6DARF, he's also using a very minimal animation style. And what is very noticeable in this piece is first the transitions between these different different graphic styles or different ways of telling the story are almost unnoticeable. So because they are so well integrated into the story, they are so carefully edited. And he's also, for example, using a lot of archive that is somehow integrated into the set. So you see it. Well, this is something that has been done by virtual reality films for quite some while, but he's doing it in a very nice and natural and smooth way. But the one thing that really stands out for me, of course, is the protagonist, Marion. She's just a wonderful, wonderful woman, a woman you can really admire. She's telling the story from a distance because she had so many years to think about it. She probably told that story like a thousand times. She wrote even a book about it. where are many more details. So she's used to telling her story, but at the same time, she still feels it. She still can make you feel it. So that was a real treasure for a filmmaker to work together with such a protagonist. But what really stood out for me is the rhythm of the piece. So what he's done, I think, in a very good way to master this big story arc that you can find in big, normal, flat, traditional films, and he's editing it at the exactly right moment. He has integrated, for example, camera movement, also something we've seen for a couple of years in animated and also in 360 real time shot movies, but it's not narcissism because he's using it in a very, very, very slow way. But it still adds something to the experience. It still gives you that rhythm that is very, very unique. And a lot of filmmakers don't get to that point where they actually can guide the user in an emotional way that this documentary is doing. Yeah, you hear that I'm really excited about it. I saw it twice, and I could still see it another five times, I think.

[01:16:32.104] Kent Bye: Yeah, this was the piece that moved me the most emotionally. I think by telling the story, it's a heartbreaking story of losing a parent, and it's got these other aspects of the broader context of the Holocaust. It's like this one story, you're going through the history of that region and in a way that is kind of telling the story of the Holocaust from people that weren't necessarily like in the camps, but sort of in the periphery, in a way that they were impacted by everything, but using 360 video, using projection map techniques to kind of overlay images on top of the video to switch into sixth off in certain moments. And so, you know, I think all the different techniques were just kind of like building up all serving the story. By the end, it just took me to this place emotionally that I was just in tears by the end of it. And I feel like it, it's still a piece as I think about it, it just sort of takes me back to that story. And I think it really speaks to the power of the medium. And for me, this was certainly the my top experience that I had seen there at Venice this year.

[01:17:32.910] Alina Mikhaleva: I can just add that I'm lucky because I just had a keynote from Darren kind of reflecting on his past work because I'm in the program where he's mentoring. But what I loved about his approach to VR as a story, it is the most solid piece for me in Venice. It's such a complete story visually from the direction point of view. But also, I loved how Darren is pointing out that there are so many different technologies that we can use, but it's almost time to move beyond the technology. doesn't matter whether it's 360, it's projections. And in his piece, it blends very organically that you stop noticing how it's produced, you're following the story. But for me, the strongest part of the story was embodied connection that I had, because there is a scene when the main protagonist, she's telling the memory when they were crossing the border at the back of the car. And they were hiding from the guards that were supposed to search the car. And if they found them, that was the fear. And he added this breath, that as a girl, you can release your breath. And for me, that automatically brought me to the sync of this breath. So I just realized that my body is seeing those clues. So I start breathing in the same rhythm. And then when the guards are approaching, your mother is telling you to hold your breath. And at that moment, I automatically stopped breathing as well. And this embodiment immediately places me into that car, into the back of this car. So that was absolutely amazing technique.

[01:19:16.877] Agnese Pietrobon: Absolutely. The element of the breath, I did the same. I had to check that it wasn't actually a technological thing they were doing, that it was actually me just trying to synchronize my breathing with what I was seeing. I think Darren did a fantastic work with writing, though, too. I mean, he chose from the book, he chose from the interviews, all the details that help him to give you a specific kind of emotions. Because I saw a lot of people leaving the world crying. I was one of those who were crying. And the fact is that I don't think anyone was crying for the darkness or the violence of the idea of the Holocaust and everything. Everybody was crying for this connection between this bond for mother and daughter, the feeling of love that you could perceive, the feeling of reconciliation that Marion Deichmann mentioned in the end when she said that she doesn't hate them, she just feels this disgusting pity towards them. And it's somehow liberating, like the flock of birds flying away in the credits. and at the same time so universal that I think we couldn't not cry in a piece like this. That's been a majestic result.

[01:20:40.192] Kent Bye: All right, so that was Letters from Drancy. Let's move on to the next piece called The Imaginary Friend, so Paula.

[01:20:45.579] Pola Weiß: The imaginary friend is, yeah, it's a very nice story told by an 80 year old boy named Daniel. It is a journey into the colorful imagination of Daniel. He is dealing with a big loss. I hope I can say that without spoiling the experience. So he has lost his mother, which you I hope you haven't listened if you want to want to do that again, sorry. But you only find that out like after a couple minutes. And in his mind, so he's in this state where children are when they mix the reality and the fantasy world, and he's really taking his fantasy, or he's living the fantasy world he's in as a reality, and you play the perspective of his imaginary friend, which is a little bit inspired by Wolves and Wolves, of course. You can see that very clearly. But there are also some games. So there, for example, is a scene where you have to fight against all the anxiety and all the fears that a nine or eight year old boy has. And you do that very physical and fight against the monsters, which is quite nice. The young actor I have mentioned, he's doing an absolutely incredible job. He's really great. He's well, it's volumetrically shot. So you really see him as he is and he's acting very well. And like the use of volumetric recording is quite effective in that case, because He's really living there. He speaks with you. He tells you his deepest secrets that he probably can't tell his father. So that was very nice. And I think I'm not really the target audience. I think it is very great for children, for older children. Because what they did is that they kind of separated the gaming scenes that you have, there are several, and they're quite long from the story. So you always have these islands of interactive gaming experience. And then you follow the story, which was one of the things that I didn't like so much at the experience. But when I came out of it, and I really loved the story, then I thought, okay, if I were a child, a little bit younger, then it probably would be the absolute right amount of playing and listening to the story and guiding my focus a little bit more and keeping me motivated. So that's something I didn't like when I did the experience or one of the things I did like, I loved a lot of other things. But at the end, I think it is not made for me, especially I think it is especially also made for children who are After COVID, of course, dealing a lot of them dealing with anxiety and fears and problems, not only because they might have lost somebody, but also because of isolation and all the things we all experience. So I think it is very important, very strong work. And it is great to see such a young actor doing such a great job.

[01:23:30.279] Alina Mikhaleva: I absolutely agree that it was probably the best acting for me. So I really felt that in a lot of VR pieces, acting is a very tough job and especially in volumetric to make it really fit organically. And in that particular experience, it was a wonderful acting job. Like it felt, though the actor is really close to you and he's talking right at you, it felt like a very personal interaction for me. And it also kind of in terms of just the technique and how the experience is structured, I really felt that it's a continuation of the Goliath playing the reality type of the experience, because it's really a nice blend. Maybe not for all the audiences, because there are a lot of active participation, but it is already the type of the experiences that is being born where it is a combination of very distinct gaming techniques. that are justified and blended into the narrative story of the experience. So overall, I had a very positive experience and I really liked that.

[01:24:32.933] Kent Bye: Yeah. In terms of the different modes of presence and storytelling, this is probably the most ambitious piece at Venice this year in terms of trying to integrate different aspects of like interactivity and agency. And there's a little bit of like giving the impression that you're doing voice interaction, but it's only, it's not really actually interpreting what you're saying. And so it's more of like amplitude of what you're speaking, but trying to give you this sense of that you're actively engaging and participating into the piece. And I think that's, you know, on one hand, it's trying to tie all these things together. But on the other hand, when you're trying to really have like true agency or true interactivity, there's a certain amount where I was like, okay, what if I don't do anything and see what happens and then It still progresses. You don't die. So it's not like a game. You're still doing this level of participation and interactivity, but it's not like true agency of making choices or deciding or having this kind of gameplay loop where you're able to fail. So I feel like it's trying to more than any of the other experiences on the island this year, trying to integrate so many of these different things into it. And I feel like that there was moments where it was asking me to reply. And then when I was just replying, it wasn't detecting it or it wasn't understanding what I was saying. And so once you introduce the the audience to say, Hey, let's listen to what you have to say. Then I actually want to have it understand me and to take that to its full extreme. And it's sort of doing it as a facade and not really actually interpreting what I'm saying. So there was a number of times where I was like speaking out and it wasn't like interpreting anything. And so kind of testing the limits at that way. But yeah, I feel like overall this as a story was kind of taking on this boy's journey and doing a really ambitious child acting volumetric capture piece that has all these other interactive components as well. Um, so yeah, and I know Agnes, you weren't able to see all these pieces, this one included. So maybe let's go on to the next piece called Gaudi, where you can give us a little bit of an introduction to this 6% experience of going into the architectural work of Gaudi.

[01:26:34.625] Agnese Pietrobon: Absolutely. It was in the best of section. And it's, as you said, a multi-user, multi-lingual experience that was directed by Stefan Landowski and Gael Cabois. I was reading that it was born out of the documentary that the producer were doing on Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia. And at some point, they realized that to make people understand who Gaudi actually was, the best thing was to take them in the place that was most personal to him, most intimate, that was his atelier. And this atelier was actually destroyed between the First and the Second World War, and they recreated it virtually by using all the images they had recreated. So you go around this beautiful environment where there are statues and there are models, and you find the models, the small models of the monuments that Gaudi created, but then suddenly they become large and you can see the details in them. and I didn't know much about Gaudi. I've been to Barcelona but I really knew little to it. But this was actually something that the experience to me did very well. There could be a lot to say about, you know, embodiment and some details that gave me emotional sickness and everything, but the at the end of it, I heard many people saying, oh I want to go to Barcelona now, this is incredible. And to me this means that the piece didn't only teach us something about Gaudi, but it actually made us marvel at him, at his way of looking at the world and his monuments. Like the moment in which you see how he created the arcs of the Sagrada Familia in his mind of the cathedral, like you say, oh no, it's not possible he did it like that. And it's like, it was, I was in awe of his persona. And really, I think that they show his work, giving us their passion for what he created. And that was great to me.

[01:28:37.735] Kent Bye: Yeah, Gaudi's work is amazing and you really have to see it in a way that the architectural and the spatial aspects of it. And it's a six person experience and talking to the producers afterwards, I think it's showing in Japan and they said it's like sold out for the entire year. It's the type of location based experience that I think it is a bit of a crowd pleaser in terms of being able to really tell the spatial story of Gaudi's work. there is this full embodiment that they had where you see your full body and their inverse kinematics weren't fully dialed in. And I saw a lot of like glitching out of stuff that was really quite distracting. So I feel like if you're going to go full inverse kinematics, full embodiment, then, you know, it ended up being at a point where It felt like some of the erratic movements that I didn't know if people were actually moving like that. And it became a little bit more of a safety issue as to whether or not I had to like pick up my headset a couple of times to see if this was a glitched out technology or if this was something that people were actually moving like that, because if they were, I was going to get smacked in the face. So it was like one of those things where some of the technology of their social VR inverse kinematics needs to be dialed in a little bit. But overall, the overall experience was amazing.

[01:29:44.215] Agnese Pietrobon: Absolutely, I agree with you on this. I was trying to move very carefully around and also there were frequent times, especially at the beginning, which I was feeling not very good. I know the lady next to me had the same experience because she asked me at some point, are you okay too? Because I'm not feeling very well, but when the walls fall down at the end of it and the cathedral rises around you, like a wow. That was a wow effect that wasn't related to technology, but to what I was watching.

[01:30:18.459] Pola Weiß: Yeah, maybe just a little comment at the end, in terms of the multiplayer nature of the piece. So I agree with everything you said. I also liked it very much. However, I would have wished maybe for a little bit more motivation to engage with the other people, because you're basically just following the experience beside the other people, which can be fun if you are in there as a group. And I think that's main target audience, that there is a group of friends that experience some virtual reality together. So that can be fun because then you can talk. But at the same time, there is almost always a voiceover. So you don't really have the time to speak with each other and discover things together. You're not given little tasks to work together, for example. It doesn't have to be like a puzzle game, but something to be able to experience the experience more together or more as a group. So that was one thing I missed a little bit in the experience, but everything else was really, like you said, really great.

[01:31:15.721] Kent Bye: All right. Well, let's move on to the next experience called Orihen Alina.

[01:31:20.805] Alina Mikhaleva: Okay, so this is a piece from College Biennale, and it's one of the pieces that I was very keen to see because I was tutoring in College Biennale two years ago. It was all done in virtual reality, so I haven't met the team, but we spent a lot of time discussing this piece, and it's always interesting to see something in the beginning and then to see actual delivery of the work. So the director, Emilia Sanchez-Ciccotti, She's from Brazil. It's the first part of the series that she wants to make. So at the end, there are three pieces that are supposed to be produced. And it is the first story about the Amazon rainforest. So you really go into the authentic indigenous tribe. And it's a beautiful animated piece where there are different interaction techniques and you have to move around. So you are walking through the jungle. And as you walk through the jungle, you uncover the miniatures of the stories that are unfolding, telling you about the culture of this specific Amazon tribe that they've selected. And Amelia shared that in each of the three pieces, they want to tell the story of different tribes and also that Her team is represented by a very international crew from Latin America, from Peru, from Brazil, from Colombia. So I felt that I really liked the piece. Of course, it's bringing the whole culture of really close connection to the nature, connection to the plants, connection to the universe. There are some great visuals and also I loved the soundboard because the Shipibo songs, it's something very specific to Amazonian culture. bring a lot of authenticity and work great. At least for me, it was a great connection to the experience. And overall, there are a lot of experiences actually already done previously that kind of reflect or try to reflect on the same culture. And for me, this piece specifically makes a very good job of representing this culture because it brings it in a very delicate way. Because some of the previous experiences are putting more emphasis on, for example, the psychedelic aspect of the connection to the plant and maybe some other journeys that people experience. They are concentrating more on the experiences that people have and on maybe some really vivid visuals. But here, it's more about the culture and the people and the carefulness of her treatment of this very, very, very small world that they want to preserve. And that was something that I really appreciated about this piece.

[01:33:57.181] Pola Weiß: So you mentioned the movement. I was very happy to see that she probably got inspiration by Labruntas. That was also in the Biennale College and also by Kirsten Ayewaska that you were talking about. So she took a lot of inspiration by other pieces and did something very unique on her own with using all these different storytelling techniques. And I'd love to see more of that and to see what creators do when they watch work of other creators and how they come up with own pieces of themselves and own creative ideas, but continually developing and evolving the medium via virtual reality.

[01:34:32.265] Kent Bye: Yeah. And in terms of the college biennale, this is a piece that got 10 out of the top five votes out of the 50 people that saw it. And so kind of a consensus, one of the stronger pieces. And I agreed with that as well, as I was seeing the work, um, just the amount that you're doing this kind of redirected walking. And I did have a chance to actually do an interview with her and yes, indeed, she wasn't inspired by labyrinth and seeing what they were able to do. And she took that idea of this impossible spaces, redirected walking, but did it in the context of a jungle. and really serve the story to make it feel like you were kind of in this space wandering. It's one of those pieces where you end up using every last square inch and square centimeter of a space to feel like you're really walking through and exploring it. And yeah, the sound design and everything else to tie it together with these portaling into these indigenous knowledge that she's capturing in this piece. It's certainly one of my favorite pieces from the festival. So yeah, that was Orihen and maybe we should, uh, move on to the next piece called Pixel Ripped 1978. So agnese.

[01:35:32.624] Agnese Pietrobon: Yeah, it's the first game in the list. I think, yes, we didn't find any other game until now. So Pixel Ripped 1978 is part of a series of video games that AdWords Immersive Experiences is doing. The first one was Pixel Ripped 1989, then there was 1995. And as the name tells you, they play with specific ages, specific years to talk about about not just video games, but what video games represented at the time. So this game is really a trip back to memory lane, nostalgia all over the world, to remember how it felt to play those games. And they add a lot of details in it. Pixel elements, obviously, the characters, the kind of consoles they use. And while for the previous two games, so 1989 and 1995, they were doing it inspiring themselves by real consoles, with this game they actually do with the real one because a collaborator of this experience is actually Atari. So They were telling me a very interesting story about how they started to collaborate with them and how actually Atari did give them a lot of freedom in the way they could create this experience. Like the bugs, they could add the fact that there was a huge problem with Atari that we're all familiar with. And so there were not a narrative limit from this point of view. At Venice, I had the chance to try a bit of the piece. I know that my other friend of mine, he tried it all the 40 minutes or so that was even longer, I think that was available there. And in general, one of the things that a lot of them liked the most was the fact that you could actually go inside the narrative as the character of the game. And that felt to them like a step forward in the way, because they could also be outside of the game, but I could also be inside the game. And for them, it was like a very interesting way to play with this kind of production.

[01:37:53.564] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to play through the entire experience after I did the demo at Tribeca. And then I came home and played through the whole game. And what I'd say about in terms of gameplay, it's a game within a game. And so you have a 2D game and you have like the VR game and sort of a narrative that kind of ties it all together that there's a number of times when I was playing it where I had forgotten that I was in VR, which I think it's, it sort of speaks to the amount that they're able to really give you the sense of being embodied into these different places. But just the way that they play with embodiment, you're playing a 2D platformer, but you have to actually physically move your hand around because you're in VR. And so some of the more compelling aspects were kind of the boss battles where you had to play a 2D platformer, but do this extra dimension of moving your body in a way. And I think overall, just kind of like the lighthearted, fun narrative they have around it, because you're kind of embodying this developer in Atari and then embodying the actual character of the Pixel Ripped and I thought the gameplay of the 3D elements, I think as they move forward, can have a little bit more of a progression curve over time to make it a little bit more interesting. But I think the overall context of the story and the 2D platformer with embodiment made it compelling enough for me to still enjoy playing through the entire thing, even though there were some repetitive aspects of the 3D gameplay as I progressed through it. So, but it's certainly a piece that blends together the narrative and the gameplay in a very unique way and with its own sort of sense of humor as well. Well, let's move on to the next piece, First Day. So this is a piece that was actually documenting different aspects of the war in Ukraine. The piece actually had an AR installation of an apartment. You see the VR experience and then you go into another AR installation that's sort of like aftermath of what you experienced within the context of the VR experience. And I had a little bit of a unique experience. I don't know if other people that saw it also had this experience. The experience itself was not necessarily completely finished, meaning that depending on when you saw it or how you saw it, you may have seen a little bit of a different experience. For me, I had the director that was basically giving me a guided tour through the piece and giving a lot of additional context, which ended up being a real quite powerful aspect of like to hear all these additional stories from the creator and the maker that wasn't necessarily built into the VR experience itself. So I feel like as the VR experience, you're going around through these photogrammetry scenes of these war scenes and the centerpiece of an apartment that gets attacked and you see the kind of before and after and you're packing your bags and you're kind of just walking through these different spaces that you see the after effects of the war. And there's different written texts that give you a little bit more additional context So I don't know how they're going to wrap it up and eventually, you know, it seems like they still have a lot more developed to be happen on it and just understanding everything that's happening in Ukraine. It's totally understandable the difficulties of putting together a piece like this and trying to get it ready for the festival. And so once it does get finished, then it'd be interesting to see it again, to see how they were able to tie all the loose ends and put all the music and create it. So it's a little bit more self-contained for people as they go through this immersive experience, rather than what my experience was a little bit more of a, a handheld guided tour through the piece, which I thought was very powerful, but in terms of once it goes out into the world and gets optimized and everything else, and it really buttoned up, be curious to see how they tie it all together.

[01:41:17.316] Alina Mikhaleva: Well, I think that this piece is the winner of the College Biennale this year, right? So they were on really tight timeline to deliver for this year. I did have like an independent experience. So I just went through it. And I really feel that it's super important that this experience was represented in Biennale. Like for me, it's very powerful because obviously it's the story that is very close to my home. So this is also my home region. So that's why especially it was resonating with me. But in terms of just VR experience, because you kind of start in the installation and the installation was built that there is a very comfortable and cozy looking room, like bedroom, where you see personal photograph and some nice touches. And then you go into the VR experience that is trying to show you the the immediate change of the first day of the war, where something that is completely normal, like going to the store, all of a sudden becomes a complete mess because the store is ruined by the rockets and then your apartment is shattered. But probably the most powerful part of the experience for me was the off-boarding in the third room. Because when you take off the headset, they take you to the third room and basically you see the same very cozy room, but only it's affected and ruined by the rockets. And maybe that was the most powerful part of the experience because in VR itself, and this is also some of the feedback that I've heard in the discussions on the island, There are a lot of steps that you need to take. For example, you have to go through the task of finding the water in the store and finding the bread and all of that. The mechanics and that it's sometimes a bit confusing to find this specific thing and people get stuck a little bit. It did not add to the overall meaning of the experience, what they wanted to tell. I got the message in the third room and that was my moment where I appreciated this experience overall.

[01:43:11.877] Kent Bye: All right. Um, so moving on to the next piece was called flow. Uh, this is a piece that actually ended up winning the second place prize overall at Venice. And this was a piece that was really exploring, you know, how to tell the story of air in these different wind dynamics where the director Adrian had essentially spent years figuring out this technique to create an object within Cinema 4D and create these particle effects around it. But you end up seeing the contours of the movement of air and you don't see the objects, but you get the shape of the objects. And so it was a piece that I felt like was a real exploration of exploring the visual grammar of spatial storytelling and sound design in a way that I was a little surprised that the jury had put it as their second pick. I enjoyed the piece, but I feel like it's a little bit of a statement of the pieces that we're really trying to use these different levels of abstraction to push forward what kind of stories you can tell within virtual reality without using any language, just using the spatial design and these particle effects and the sound design to be able to take you on a journey without having to explicitly tell you anything about what's happening that you have to kind of figure out and fill in the blanks. type of piece where there's enough of the contours there that your imagination kind of fills in the rest of what's happening in the course of going from one scene to the next. So yeah, Alina or Paula, I'd love to hear any other thoughts that you have on this.

[01:44:40.538] Pola Weiß: Well, for me, it was also a surprise that it gets a second place, not because I didn't like the piece. I liked it very much. I watched it two times. And I also recommended it to a lot of people, because I thought it's a really genuine use of, like you said, of spatial storytelling, but also it reminded me a lot of Dear Angelica, but in like in a 3D environment. And really, when the wind blows into your hair, you can almost feel it. So that was really nice. However, I get so relaxed when I did that, that I, for the first time, kind of forgot the story. I didn't understand it because it was just so relaxed and so into the flow. And that's why I wanted to see it a second time. And then I could concentrate a little bit more on the graphics and what the team had done there, which is truly amazing because it tells, yeah, it tells the story of wind, which is really nice. I think that is a piece that will give a lot of inspirations to other creators in the next years, and we'll see a lot of pieces that are using some of the techniques there. And that's also why I think they rewarded it with a lion, because they kind of create something in an animation that hasn't been done before so much at all.

[01:45:51.642] Alina Mikhaleva: I also saw the piece only once, but I went with the flow and the story did not stay with me. I appreciated the visual style. I really liked the abstraction and the music of the experience. Overall, it was very, very good. But at the same time, I was very surprised to see that because for me, there were more ambitious work, even using the same types of abstractions and even using the same techniques, but in more innovative ways for me and more large scale projects as well for me. So in that sense, I was a bit surprised because yes, in style it's different, but we've seen something like that before, maybe in other more abstract and point cloud pieces. And also a quick comment that there were some camera moves that when I was doing the experience, I had a thought that as a distributor, it's like they would not put a first timer into VR because just as you go with the wind, they are changing the camera position quite quickly. That would not be comfortable for a new user. So that's why I was surprised. It's a good experience, but I was surprised to see that being awarded.

[01:47:03.439] Kent Bye: Yeah, this, uh, I've been on juries and it's sort of like really up to personal preferences and what people see in the different experiences. And sometimes it could be a resonance of the piece. I do think that I really enjoyed the piece. It was in my top 17 that I had, but I had other pieces that I had on my shortlist that I was expecting to get different awards. But I think that's part of the reason why I wanted to have this conversation just to be able to talk about everything and, and to get different takes on and what people are taking away. So, all right. So let's move on to the next experience. We have Forger, which premiered at South by Southwest, and this was part of the best of selection. So Alina.

[01:47:39.731] Alina Mikhaleva: Forager is a very short experience. It's just eight minutes long. It doesn't have any narration to that. But it's visually a very beautiful experience. And also, the installation, it's not the installation itself, but just the way how the author is presented experience to you was very effective. It is visually stunning story of mushroom and mycelia, right? So you are lying down in a very comfortable chair, and also you have additional wind blowing, and especially the smell. And with absolutely zero words, you just see this beautifully done animation when you are lying underneath the trees, and then the mushrooms are growing above you, and then you get a chance to control mycelia with your hands. So for me, if I was creating a perfect installation and I had a choice where to put the first time user to be in love with VR, that's the most comfortable place that I would put the new user, just to be amazed by the beauty of the growing mushrooms, playing with the scale, amazing animation. And I immediately also thought about the Peace Tree, which is from the same creators, Winslow Porter and Ali Zananiri, I think, that was released, I think, in 2017, where they used the same technique. As the tree was growing, they were bringing you the smells of the ground and the tree here. We also felt some smells of the mushrooms and the ground. And that's just a very powerful way of adding additional layer to the immersion. But overall, very short and sweet piece.

[01:49:17.427] Kent Bye: tree was actually Winslow and Lisa. So Ellie didn't work on it, but yeah, I saw this at South by Southwest. And this is a piece that uses like time-lapse of mushrooms and just a shout out to the upgrades of the wind and haptics that I think they were using a new machines. And it was a lot more dialed in than when I first saw it really trying to give you this whole sensory experience and smells as well. But yeah, just a really short and sweet experience that I think a lot of people were able to actually see this because it was so short and easy to get into, but definitely a crowd pleaser as well.

[01:49:49.695] Agnese Pietrobon: It makes me think about how important it is, as you were saying, Alina, for distribution, for making new users try it, to put the user in a comfortable situation even before they start doing the experience. Sometimes you don't get that. Sometimes they put a headset on you and that starts and maybe some people get confused by it. Here, you are comfortable. You are put there and you feel at ease. And I think it's very relevant and something to be tried in more experiences.

[01:50:19.878] Kent Bye: So yeah, moving on to the next piece is called floating with spirits, which I really, really enjoyed this piece. It's kind of in two parts. The first part is a 360 video, and then it gets into a little bit more of a point cloud exploration of the different elements, but you're kind of following these two sisters through this celebration of the day of the dead. So they're getting ready for the celebration. And then it kind of goes from more of a fictionalized into more of a docudrama where there's actually like, they're documenting this ritual, but they also have the actors in there as well. But that's really exquisitely beautifully shot scenes. And then they transition into this more transcendent realm of looking at the different spirits of the different elements of earth, air, fire, water, and different motion capture dancing that happens within the context of each of these scenes, but also trying to take this indigenous transmission of these different elements and trying to translate it into visual representations. And so I really appreciated the infusion of this animistic spirit and looking into different aspects of this indigenous knowledge and try to translate these ideas into these immersive experiences into what Liz had talked about in this program as one of those experiences that are trying to explore these realms of the transcendent with this virtual reality point cloud representations.

[01:51:38.400] Alina Mikhaleva: And I think just in short, it's the most beautiful point cloud on the island. I really love both the second part, the 360 part is also beautiful. I like the scene at the cemetery because the lights there and the candles are kind of putting you into this very intimate space. But then the point cloud and the way how they integrated the dance, but also the background and everything is is melting and shifting a little bit in this, really connecting you to the natural vibe that is constantly changing. I thought that it was a really beautiful and technically very well done piece.

[01:52:09.316] Kent Bye: All right, well, let's move on to the next piece, walls and grommet, the grand getaway. So Paula, maybe you could set up this experience for us.

[01:52:17.632] Pola Weiß: Yeah, it's our next game. It's a story-driven VR game for the MetaQuest. It already has its page on the official MetaQuest site, so it will be published very shortly, I think. It takes fans of famous Wallace and Gromit characters to a new adventure, and it's, I think, the first time that Wallace and Gromit will appear in virtual reality. We have here an example of a great IP that is done in virtual reality. We had Doctor Who and a lot of others. This is quite amazing what we see. Last year, for example, we had Peaky Blinders. I have to admit that I haven't had so much exposure to Wallace & Gromit when I was a kid. Maybe because it's not that popular in Germany. Maybe it's just me that I haven't come across it. I don't know so much. So I can't really say so much about the game. Just I enjoyed it. But I think overall the story was, how can I say that, it was very British actually. At one point I got stuck in the story because I just couldn't understand one of the British words they were using. And I was like screaming out and saying, tell me what he means. I can't find it. I don't know what that is. And The person who was running the stand was laughing a bit, helped me out so I could continue with the story. So I think for fans, it's a great experience. But to be honest, there were two things that made it a little bit difficult for me. First was this experience about perspective change you have. So you're playing each of the characters you're playing at one point. So for me, that was too quickly. And the moment I understood that I'm now the other character, because I wasn't so familiar with the characters, I was switching character again. So that was something I think that's really tailor-made for the fans, not maybe for people who don't know the story so well. And the second thing is that the game mechanics were at times quite challenging. So I did the first two chapters that were shown in the exhibition, and I even started, I think, with the third. So I get a little bit further than what they thought is possible in the time. So I probably made good. But however, I think if you are coming from the series, from the film, and you want to try for the first time virtual reality, it is a little bit too challenging. At the same time, I don't know if the target group is the gamers. So I'm really interested to see how that will perform in the MetaQuest store, how it will be reviewed. And so overall, it's a great experience. I love when they are doing games out of IPs. Yeah, that I would have loved to play a little bit more.

[01:54:45.580] Agnese Pietrobon: About the characters, I know that in the original story Wallace is this human, he doesn't do much, he's not very useful to the story, while Gromit makes everything, he's like a dog genius. And I like the fact that in the game they actually play with this. So when you are Gromit, you do everything. You're like this wizard with technology and with solving problems. But when you are Wallace, you just put butter like on your bread and that's like the top of the difficulties of your role. So that was very funny from a fan perspective, you know.

[01:55:22.443] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I had a chance to play through the entire experience and I'm also not familiar with Wallace & Gromit and I had like a bit of a Wallace & Gromit 101 education from folks from Aardman and getting a lot more about the dynamics of the characters, which I think I would appreciate more if I would have known some of these different character dynamics that they're playing with. But yeah, there are different parts of this where the difficulty does get ramped up, which I think is good for people who are like the hardcore gamers. They want to have a little bit of a challenge and so there are things that it's like a narrative driven game, but there are different aspects and puzzles that you do have to solve that. I'm glad that I had the leisure of being able to play it at home because it took a little bit more time. I was able to take a little bit more time to not feel pressured to get through all of it. And the other thing I'd say is that the environmental design of this is really exquisite to feel transported into these other realms and yeah, to see how they're translating this IP. It's also quite interesting as well. Um, and so, yeah, moving on to the next piece, uh, remember this place and there's a GPS code 31 North and 34 East. I won't go through all the numbers, but yeah, Paula, maybe you could set this piece up for us.

[01:56:26.156] Pola Weiß: I'll just call it Remember This Place. It is a six-day VR experience that explores a little bit the concept of fragile homes and goes into the question, what actually is a home or what means being home? And the director, Patricia, was spending some time in the occupied Palestinian territory And she visited various communities there and saw live how some of their homes were destroyed. And then she decided to talk with many Bedian women, especially women, about all these questions, what means home and so on. And honestly, the piece left me with a lot of questions. I don't know if it was a techno problem or if it just ran made because she doesn't translate all the interviews. You get like a little recap on a little notebook, but you hear most of the original interviews. So you don't understand them necessarily. And in a piece that is all about listening to the stories of people, that felt a little bit confusing to me because I really wanted to listen to the stories and I don't know if that was techno here. At the same time, the director made it very much a personal journey or personal story about her own filmmaking. And that is something I can really appreciate when it's a very personal and familiar story or when it is an investigative journalistic piece where you as an audience go together with the journalist on this detective-like story and find clues and want to really reveal the truth to the public. And in this time, I would have appreciated being more close to the protagonist she introduced because I love the subject so much. I think it is so important. That left me with more questions than I went into, actually.

[01:58:15.242] Alina Mikhaleva: I can agree with that, because I did come out with a lot of questions, especially on the kind of narrative of the story that describes this in a lot of details, like how the interviews were made, and that this story, kind of this person first agreed to talk and then didn't agree to talk. And it was a bit confusing to me, like why this is becoming part of the story, why this is becoming the focus of the story. and we're not concentrating more maybe to connecting more to the actual protagonist that the author wanted to portray. But it had some really interesting approaches from the documentary storytelling side, because I appreciated the use of the kind of scans and the way how we see the world in the beginning, like a very small sphere. So it had some interesting approaches, but at the same time, I did feel a bit strange about the choice of the narration and direction.

[01:59:12.872] Agnese Pietrobon: Now, I did notice these things. Honestly, I didn't mind them so much. I didn't mind the fact that I couldn't understand what they were telling me. I didn't mind the fact that the creator was actually telling me, oh, that wasn't my plan. But I still tried to work on this story. It felt like she was confused a bit by it and that's the feeling I got too. I was a bit confused by it as if that word doesn't belong to me but I still can see it and even if we talk to different languages, we belong to different words, I could still feel a kind of bond with the protagonist of the story and with the researcher, the journalist, let's say, that is the middle ground between the final protagonist and me, the user that's totally out of it.

[02:00:04.526] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I was able to talk to the creator and ask her about that. And she doesn't speak Arabic natively. And so it was also trying to recreate her own experience of not always able to understand everything that was being said and translated. But I would have also preferred to hear all the translation, even if it was imperfect. And she had difficulty, the through line of different people, because different people would, would actually drop out. So the only thing that was consistent was her own experience of this. and trying to tell the composite story of something in a way that is difficult to come up with that singular narrative, but to try to create this sampling of these different experiences and to give this little bit of a fragmented puzzle that you kind of have to piece together and find the connective tissue that she does at the end, try to draw the parallels between all these six or seven different spaces and stories that she's telling. So that was a, remember this place. So there's a VR chat piece that was actually in competition. It's called complex seven by fins. And so maybe you can set this piece up for us a little bit.

[02:01:03.763] Agnese Pietrobon: Yeah, so Complex 7 is an expansion of the previous work that Finns presented in Venice, Districto Roboto, that was inspired by a famous game that's called Stray, that's about a stray cat. And actually one of the co-workers at Stray is declared by Finns to be a big inspiration for his own career as a lighting artist, light artist. and when you go to try this experience at Venice you are there with other three people, I think. I think there are four people that can try it simultaneously and you enter this world and there there are two people waiting for you and kind of being your tour guides in this world. So it's a world that's a post-apocalyptic one. not dramatic, but you can see that something bad happened there and humans are not there anymore. There are just animals, mostly cats and robots, all very cute, all very, very nice. You can even pet the cats and there are signs of what happened that you can look for, like clues that you can look for. but in general is a world that has no story happening in that moment. There was a story behind it, but in that moment you're just visiting it. But I think what I liked about it is that you can actually put your own story in it. you can imagine anything in that world, from the big plot about how everything has happened to the smaller stories of the single characters that you meet around. And I think this is like a very positive element of this kind of world, because we were discussing with other people, what do I do in a VR chat world? I just go there. I talk with people. I visit as if I was getting a drink in a strange bar. But I think, and we discussed it a lot, I think that you can actually invent story there together in that moment, which is, you know, it's not, it's partially something that we did while doing Complex 7, because I, like, I found myself there with someone I knew, which was surprising, we didn't plan for it. And we started giving a personality to our characters. So there was like a very simple, very easy theatrical thing coming out of it. And I think that's why I liked it because we could improvise and we could do it inside this beautiful world.

[02:03:33.633] Kent Bye: Yeah. And talking to Finns, he said that for Rain Dance, he's going to be having the full complete version. This was sort of like the first iteration. And so there's a lot more of that type of storytelling that I think is going to be embedded into it through like text and the robots and stuff. And so right now it is very sparse environmental storytelling, but as he continues on with it, I expect to see a little bit more of that. And, uh, yeah, just to see the genre of the cozy home, the home worlds, and then going into the city, into this big, vast open space. And he's also planning on having a lot more exploration into different shops that can go into once you get to the main city square. So yeah, really a masterclass in lighting, I think in this piece. So yeah, moving on to the next piece, uh, queer utopia act one cruising. So this is a part of the college Biennale, and this is a piece that was going back in time and looking at the era of queer folks from the eighties and this phenomena of cruising for sex and had this theatrical framing where you have somebody who's a point cloud representation. And they end up taking you on a journey and you're going in from scene to scene to see some of these different interactions, but you're getting the through line of the narrative through the voice, but also at the end, coming back into this theatrical staging. And I thought that the sort of use of point cloud representations to represent memories and this old time, also the use of generative artificial intelligence to be able to manufacture different composite memories that are kind of imaginal memories that they took a lot of source material to generate these, these images as well. And I really liked the way that the story was told, and it really resonated with me, and some really quite powerful moments of visually representing different aspects of the AIDS epidemic. And you have these light little embodied interactions to progress the story, nothing too serious, but just to get your sense of your body into the scenes and to feel like you're there in a way that you're receiving these oral history transmissions in some ways. So yeah, I don't know if anyone else has any, any thoughts on queer utopia act one cruising.

[02:05:37.027] Alina Mikhaleva: I think that it was a solid piece. It had its story and I think that the story that they wanted to tell was delivered. I also think that the point cloud, as you mentioned, because we kind of see the main character who is driving the narrative through this very vague representation, but at the same time, It serves the purpose because it's almost like, does this person want to be seen or his transparency and his sense of vagueness actually allow him to tell this very deep and personal story of his journey? I did like some of the direction elements as well, especially like with the lights and with some of the scene transition. So it is a solid piece about the topic that delivers the story.

[02:06:22.037] Pola Weiß: I'll be just saying at this point that the selection of the college project this year, I thought, was very, very strong altogether. So it was, for me personally, the strongest selection of college projects I have seen since, in all the years I go to Venice.

[02:06:37.460] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's almost like they started the college finale and then this year they usually they would have like at least one or two and this year they had like six. So there's a lot of that have been in the oven baking for a while. You can see when they started at different times and. And it was nice to see such a robust selection this year, for sure. Moving on to the next selection, there's a piece called Horse Canyon, which is another VR chat piece. So Alina, you want to set this piece up for us?

[02:07:00.780] Alina Mikhaleva: Yes, I can maybe quickly try to summarize that because it's the piece done by the world creator and prowler, and it is a very, very big VRChat world that is based in the desert, you're basically kind of finding yourself in this Western desert full of horses and different characters and places that you can go to. And interesting part that you have to ride a horse, that was something very distinctive about this experience as a new type of interaction that I have never seen in VRChat at least. And I can say that I really enjoyed it, especially galloping at the second speed as soon as I understood how the control works and just riding through the world at full speed was fun for me. I do understand that it is absolutely not fun for anyone who is not familiar with the motions, with the same level of motion sickness comfort, because it can be very triggering and once again, in my head putting this experience. I would never recommend it to anyone who has not done extensive VRChat worlds explorations, but it is a very big world and it's beautifully produced. And I think that it really plays very well with the culture that it's bringing and the time and the reference. And at the same, like, I haven't seen maybe even a third because we've been on a tour, but it's just impossible within one hour to get and see such a huge world. But there are some great places where you can really find very comfortable conversations, like around the fireplace or in the bar playing pool. So I do believe that it's going to be a very popular VR chat space for upcoming year.

[02:08:46.482] Pola Weiß: I get motion sick after 15 minutes and now I'm hearing what I've missed and no, I want to go back. I had to opt out, unfortunately, but I'm quite sensible in that case.

[02:08:58.133] Kent Bye: Yeah. I, uh, I had a direct tour from Improwler ahead of the festival and it was 90 minutes and it did also make me motion sick to the point where I actually was doing other VR chat worlds later in the day and actually threw up for the very first time ever. So I feel like. The thing that the piece is doing is that usually when you're in a vehicle, you have a fixed frame, but here the fixed frame is not fixed. It's actually bouncing. And so he, he's not moving the camera up and down. The camera is pretty steady, but having that reference frame of the horse bounce up and down gave me motion sickness. So. I ended up having to use the tunneling at high level to really block that out. But it is a vast world. It's really great. I just wish I would have known that it would have triggered my motion sickness a little bit earlier in the piece. I might've been able to mitigate it a little bit better. So yeah, that was Horse Canyon, the second of the two of the VRChat worlds and staying with the competition, Agnesia maybe could talk a little bit about the spots of light.

[02:09:53.916] Agnese Pietrobon: Yeah, so Spots of Light is an immersive VR documentary by Adam Wengrold, who is an independent filmmaker from Israel. It is a documentary told by the voice of its protagonist, Dan Lajani, who was a soldier who lost his sight in combat in 1992. And then through surgery, he had it restored 25 years later, which gave him the chance to see his wife and his kids for the first time. and the user just sits there and is led on an introspective journey through moments in Dan's life and has the chance to hear his thoughts about those moments. So obviously when we hear about a piece that's talking about blindness, well, the first thought that goes to not some blindness, at least for me, which is very well known for obviously quality reason. And here too, the piece is trying to simulate a dense blindness using a variety of techniques like, you know, mostly colors, particles that give the shape to things. the movement of people around him, those spots of light that are the only thing that he can actually see when he's blind. But to me, the idea of spots of light, the title, goes a bit beyond the visual representation of blindness and seeing. And it's more of a view that he has on the world, because then he gets his sight back, but then he loses it again. And this leads to a big depression, because before it gets better. And Between getting his sight back, losing it again, as I said, he sees his wife, he sees the children, he has this huge party to celebrate his sight, he sees his friends, and then everything is gone. To me, Spots of Light convey a change in perspective. he could be angry about that. He was sad about that for a long time, but at some point he realized that it could be great for the fleeting moments that he experienced. Those spots of light that are all that remains in the end. So, I don't know if the creator meant that, but to me, this is what I brought home from the piece.

[02:12:11.685] Alina Mikhaleva: I can just reflect that it's a very powerful story when you can see the world and then it disappears again. And I'm glad that it was told in VR. So it's for the documentary perspective, I would definitely recommend that.

[02:12:25.058] Pola Weiß: That's interesting. I had a little bit different take on the story. I loved the story. I loved to meet the protagonist. I thought it was very, very strong. At the same time, the VR experience, of course, was short, so it couldn't tie it in full length. And I was coming out of the experience and I remember thinking, oh, I wished I could have seen that in a feature documentary, like in a traditional documentary form where I can learn more about the character, more about everything. Because for me, being in virtual reality and having this near-blind experience didn't add so much to the story. I wanted to hear more about the protagonist. I wanted to hear more about that. So maybe it doesn't exclude each other. Maybe they can still make a documentary film out of that very strong character, very strong protagonist. And that story deserves to be told, I think.

[02:13:11.326] Kent Bye: Yeah. And there is a element where they do a thing where like one eye is completely blacked out and the other eye can see. And so they're trying to recreate certain aspects, but I also find that sometimes when you do that, that can cause a sort of amount of motion sickness or discomfort within the viewer. So I actually kind of had to like mitigate some of that by closing my eyes a little bit, because I know that that can actually make me a little bit motion sick. Some of the techniques that they were using to try to tell the story, are not necessarily always comfortable from the user and could cause different degrees of motion sickness or at least headaches. So there was a number of different VR chat worlds that were there and also a number of events. And one of the events that I actually saw earlier in the year, it was called Fatboy Slim Eat Sleep VR Repeat was an experience that I really love this as an experience. But Alina, maybe you could set up this piece that was actually taking place within Engage platform to take Norman Cook, AKA Fatboy Slim and did a whole like one hour or 40 minute journey into his music.

[02:14:16.379] Alina Mikhaleva: Yes. And I can quickly summarize that because part of my journey to Venice was that as I work with Engage, I was showing this experience every single day. So I had my own 10 day rave nonstop. And I am very thankful to those who came to the experience. We had a lot of fun. So it is 45 music concert that really shows the power of social VR experience that actually happened earlier in the year publicly. And so it was an exclusive run for Venice where we had, in the same way as with VR chat worlds, like six people joining from the island. And I think that it was very interesting to see the reactions of the people that are completely new to VR. For some of them, it was their first VR experience. And I almost fell for them and tried to make it as comfortable as possible because it is a very intense piece if you have never tried VR. And then you would see this huge difference in reaction to this intense music, interactions, experience. if there were more experienced users like those who go to VRChat. And you can almost feel that there is this culture that is forming where people already feel completely embodied and they totally get it and they start exploration of the world immediately versus new users where you really need to hold their hand. And I was glad that I was hopefully able to provide some of the careful onboarding to new users to get them excited about the future. of shared music experiences in virtual reality.

[02:15:51.372] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to see it with like, I don't know, what was the capacity of this piece? Is it like 60 or 80?

[02:15:56.636] Alina Mikhaleva: No, it was 50 users in one session, but then it multiplied automatically. So obviously, Ben is running it at a very low scale. And that also brought responsibility to party as hard as I can to set the example for the room.

[02:16:10.140] Kent Bye: Yeah, I saw it with like 50 people. It was like a max capacity. And that was a whole other experience to go through the experience with so many people that I knew, because there is so many things to discover from a social VR perspective that you may miss if you're just going through it. So it is one of the best musical VR experiences I've had. And the social dimension has a whole nother layer. And I have an interview with Norman Cook and some folks from Engage that helped make it. So. Um, but yeah, let's move on to the next, another fisherman's tale. This is a piece that it looks like I may have been the only one that I've seen this piece. So I'll just give a little bit of a brief recap. I've done the demo. I haven't played the entire game, but it's a game where you end up kind of like having different parts of your body that you kind of throw your hand out and then you control your hand and then Uh, so there's a lot of like, depending on from what perspective you're viewing things from, there's a lot of different unique abstractions for the control mechanism. And it ends up being this real like embodied puzzle game, as you are kind of modulating through all these different ways that you're able to navigate through the world and solve these puzzles. And. Yeah, just a really, truly innovative types of embodied gameplay technique. And probably of all the different experiences, the most sophisticated game this year in terms of like exploring embodied gameplay mechanics from Interspace VR. And it is a piece that is already available. It was part of the best of selection. And so if you do have a chance to check it out, it is pushing the edge for what type of embodied gameplay is possible within the context of VR. So that's another Fisherman's Tale. That's a sequel to Fisherman's Tale, which is also another quite unique, uh, spatial game that has unique multidimensional aspects of it as well. Uh, but let's move back to the competition. We have One Room Babel. So this piece from South Korea. So Paula, why don't you set this piece up a little bit.

[02:18:00.043] Pola Weiß: Yes, thank you. It is a six-star virtual reality experience. And one room basically means what we call a studio, where the bathroom, kitchen, living room, all is integrated in one single space. And if I understood that correctly, the director, Sang-Hyun Lee, she conducted several interviews with residents of such spaces. And she also scanned some of the spaces using LiDAR scanning technology. And she didn't feel comfortable to kind of show them like they were. She used another way of telling the stories. And she told the story of those rooms in, well, it's like a mythical underwater world where everything is covered in corals, which gives it quite an interesting spin because you can't see really the details, but you see the shapes of the things and of the apartment. And you're in this room, it is interactive, so you can activate some quotes by touching very cute looking creatures. And I don't know the English word, Ken.

[02:18:58.841] Kent Bye: Jellyfish.

[02:18:59.661] Pola Weiß: Oh, jellyfishes. Yeah. Thank you so much. And at the same time, you read the quotes that are hidden somewhere in the rooms. And I think he walked through four rooms altogether. So it is a point cloud uptake. And For example, me, you might want to compare it to Floating Spirits. I didn't connect so much with the whole spirit story. However, I connected very much with this room, the story of the rooms, the whole point cloud optic, I liked very much. Because Room, for example, Room works very well in virtual reality, all the scales and you feel there. So that was an interesting experience, an interesting documentary project. However, it was a little bit too much text. So you sometimes had a little bit difficulties to read and listen at the same time. But still, I did it two times as well, because I felt that I was missing a lot of things. And I'm really glad that I did because yeah, even though it is very, like very Korean story, people, especially young people live in these temporary homes a lot of times because they don't find bigger flats or and they are apart from their families. I think that's a story you can see in every big city and you can see everywhere. It can of course be a student's home, it can also be a refugee camp, it can also be an old people's home where somehow they are not in their home, a boat, a house they bought, but in a very temporary, very small space that is quite anonymous for them. So that is not really, really theirs. But at the same time, they make it there. So that was quite interesting. I liked it.

[02:20:33.785] Kent Bye: Yeah, one interesting note about the background of the creators is that there's an anthropological background to this piece where it does feel like anthropological study in a way of taking the phenomena of people in South Korea who can't afford anything other than one room apartments, these one rooms, and to get a series of different quotes to give you this composite experience of what this part of the South Korean culture is like, which ends up being this sort of anthropological study, and the use of virtual reality medium to take these composite spaces and stories and be able to weave them all together, I thought was quite interesting. All right, well, let's move on to the next piece. It's called the English translation is frequency. The Japanese name is Sayu Hasu.

[02:21:17.089] Pola Weiß: I was waiting for you to pronounce it because I definitely cannot. So the film called Frequency, it is a VR film from Japan, and you are placed inside a wall of paintings. So what is really interesting in that piece is that it is a 2D graphic that is in this paper cutout style that's moving. So that's something I'm still not decided if I liked it, if I didn't like it, but it was very, very unique and very, very interesting to have done. We've seen that also with from the main square last year, I think, where they put like 2D graphics into a 3D environment, which kind of gives an interesting spin to things in virtual reality. For the protagonist and narrator Ange, she's telling you her story and how she became a painter and how she discovered a little bit her individual uniqueness. So because she was kind of mobbed when she was younger, so people didn't like her so much. And then she had this journey, how she found out what she could do and where she could go and did this. an autobiographic story, I think by Elie Omiya, which is the director. It has a very nice interactive moment at the end, but I can't say because that definitely would be a spoiler. But at the same time, I liked the experience. However, when you get told the story by a narrator, there's always this point where they tell you too much, where they tell you the obvious. And I had a little bit of a feeling in the story. She told me so much what I was supposed to feel, what I could have felt by just experiencing the story. by just feeling the story and by just following her graphics and how she painted everything. And so at the same time, I liked it very much, but I was giving the interpretation of what I saw like direct in that moment. And what was for me a little bit too much guided from a narrative standpoint, but at the same time, I still think that it is a very, very interesting animated work.

[02:23:08.292] Alina Mikhaleva: It was, in terms of style, it was also quite conflicting for me, like it was so unique and different, because it's CG and the characters movements are very bizarre in moments that I was like looking at that it's like what in the world is going on it's like so unique that I almost like it, but at the same time it's so bizarre that I can not make my mind. But at the end, I think it's an interesting piece in terms of the style. There were some movements once again, where I felt it's like, that's a trigger moment for me, but because you cannot put the person going in circles or movement when you're making any types of circles is quite dangerous in terms of motion sickness and disorientation in VR. But I like the story at the end.

[02:23:53.093] Kent Bye: There was a piece last year called the Miracle Basket, which also had a lot of this kind of 2D compositing where this creator, this director, Emily is actually a painter. And so everything that you're seeing is she's painting and then she's putting it into this 2D and they're using like motion capture to kind of animate it to give it like this little paper cutout feel. So yeah, I'm surprised about how well that kind of aesthetic is able to give me the sense of building up these big imaginal worlds. where normally you kind of expect to see like the use of 3d models and stuff, but it's one of this, like you said, also from the main square also uses 2d in the spatial context, but that's much more of a drawing, uh, animated style. Whereas this is much more of a, a single painting static, but being animated in this 2d. So yeah, quite a unique style, the way that the story is told and, um, had a chance to talk to the director as well to kind of unpack how this is kind of an autobiographical aspect of her own story as well. So let's move on to the next piece called Finally Me. Let's see, maybe we can set this piece up a little bit.

[02:24:56.063] Agnese Pietrobon: So Finally Me is the first piece I saw when I arrived at the island. It's directed by Martio Salle and produced by Ideograph. And it is the story of Mr. Saul, who is an old musician who has been rejected his whole life and lived in shame, trying to hide who he really was. But then the joy of carnival in Brazil leads him to a way of self-acceptance and happiness for who he is. So, I know that Márcio Salles started reflecting on this topic through a documentary that he was working on before COVID, before the pandemic, but it was a very difficult period for politics in Brazil. And so he couldn't complete that work. And when pandemic started, he actually started playing with the idea of going back to his origins as an animator and to create a project that he could realize with his own resources. but still on the same topic. That was the idea of breaking free from the constrictions of society, and in particular, in this case, through an LGBT story. But that could be read in a universal way, so anyone could connect to it. Indeed, there's this universality in what he depicts. No matter the main LGBT topic, you could feel connected to what he was actually narrating in that moment. I know that Paula has a lot to say about this work, so I won't add much, but I just mentioned the music aspect, because I'm a huge fan of narrative VR that uses music. I find it too rarely, and it's something that I really appreciate. And I know music was very pervasive in this work, even before it was created, because the inspiration of many of the themes, including the character, came from the music. And you can see that it accompanies you from the start of the story to the end, in which you find yourself dancing movie to the Brazilian music of carnival. And this is something that I always like to find in this kind of VR experiences. But yeah, Paula, you say everything you want.

[02:27:11.043] Pola Weiß: Yeah, I'm super impassioned because that actually was the second favorite piece I had in my hands. And I'm super, super sad that we only discuss it now at the very end, because I just loved it. It was fantastic. I think the whole art style is very, very unique. But yes, as I said, everybody can connect to it. It's like this, yeah, this character who is finding out that he's different. Well, he knows that he's different and he's finding out that there are others like him. So that is a very, very open story to tell. And of course, there's an LGBT background to it. But yeah, you can connect anyway, you can connect in each way you want to connect to that story, because it's just something about uniqueness and staying together when you're different or feeling some discrimination or something. And on top of that, it's done with a lot of humor. So we don't see so many humorous or funny pieces. So they have this very nice, very optimistic, very humorous approach to it, to that very, very deep subject. It was also very round story, I thought. And something I want to point out here is that the change of perspective we have, so we have the third view, we have the first person view. And this normally doesn't work so well in virtual reality, I think. In this case, it worked very, very well, because I always had like two things. When I went into the first person view where I impersonated the character, I was either staying in front of a mirror, or I saw some pieces of my appearance, or I saw my unicorn at least. So it was something about rhythm. So at least I could make the switch between first and third person view very, very easily. And I think that is an achievement of that experience from a storytelling perspective that I haven't seen executed so well before. And I was standing at the end, definitely.

[02:28:57.966] Alina Mikhaleva: That's actually a great point, Paul. I agree that it's very rare that you change from the first person perspective to the third person and it's working very well. I can say that when in Frequency, I was seeing a very unique graphic style and I was not sure if I liked it or not. It was almost too much. Here, I was very convinced by the visual, both the character and the overall style, and also how they played with the scale. Because at the end, the scene is quite small, so you really can appreciate the detail and you can see the characters evolving. So it's a very visually beautiful story.

[02:29:35.459] Pola Weiß: Well, with the scaling, I wasn't so convinced, to be honest. At the end, it works very well. But in between, they switch a little bit the scale where sometimes I'm bigger, sometimes I'm smaller. That kind of threw me one or two times out of the immersion. But at the end, it works also very well. So it is in any case, it is a toolbox for storytelling, I think. And that makes it very, very valuable.

[02:29:56.952] Kent Bye: Yeah, definitely a sweet story that you end up in a community and kind of finding your identity. So yeah, definitely one of those LGBTQ plus IA type of stories, but then also kind of also has that universal discovery of your own identity and finding community as well. Um, so let's go on to the next piece as a quill piece called perennial. So Agnes, maybe you can set this piece up a little bit.

[02:30:18.848] Agnese Pietrobon: Yes, so I was familiar with Zoë Rowling's work. She's the creator of Perennials, and we saw her name often in the past year. There was Illustration VR, which I liked a lot. That was a choice. I know that the work of comics and fan art is actually in the background of Zoë. So I was very curious about this work, this new work that she was presenting in Venice. And it was produced by Meta. It's going to be on the VR animation player soon. So I wanted to experience it. It's the story of Elias who returns to his family-abandoned vacation home to take stock of what's left behind after the death of his father. There's a niece with him, Amy, who's hungry for adventure and eager to try and make his life a bit better and to help him with his grief. And I know it's a work that took a year to be developed using Quill. And it's also a bit of an autobiographical story, because not in the specific characters from what I understood, but in the idea that this house, these memories are to be taken stock of, like they're part of our family history. Her grandfather had a house like this in the mountains in North Italy, actually. And so I think there's a personal element to it that makes the story more human in some ways. And also the fact that it talks about childhood, about nostalgia, about times passed by and your memories of what it was before. Even the fact that, you know, parents are never completely happy about the things you do. I think this talked to a lot of people, at least it talked to me. These are topics that I found myself in connection with and that I like to find in the piece. Visually speaking, it's totally in her style. I mean, I'm a bit familiar with it now and it really reflects her kind of style. It's 2D illustration made in virtual reality. And from a VR perspective, it's a story that's a bit lacking of the VR element, the immersive element in some way. It could work as a movie. It's got, you know, the way scenes are cut, the way that the different shots are taken is a bit movie-like, let's say. But at the same time, this aspect, I think, makes it for a very accessible work for everyone. Once again, a kind of middle ground between, you know, people who have never tried VR before and people who are used to immersive experience. And I don't mind this kind of approach, honestly.

[02:33:02.305] Alina Mikhaleva: It was interesting to see for me because there are three experiences in the overall program developed in Quill, and they are all completely different in style, in the dynamics of it, in the editing, in the cut of the scenes. I found some beautiful transitions in there, especially when we were in the forest and The main character is running and at the same time we see almost his memories, like his childhood version of himself is running in parallel, right? And it's visually very well translated in VR through these layers. But I agree that it is a more kind of linear story and it's beautifully done, but it as well can work in a flat version of the same story.

[02:33:46.967] Kent Bye: Yeah, we'll get into some of the other Quill pieces as well. And, you know, at the end there's a lot of wipe cuts and going through a forest and cutting in between dimensions of time. And so, yeah, just to see Quill as a platform, I was really happy to see the three different pieces. And I had a chance to also talk to someone from Meta to talk about the funding of some of these pieces as well as kind of this brief time when Meta was still funding these types of stuff. Their focus is much more shifted into Horizon Worlds, but there was this kind of moment when You have the funding of all these different projects that we've seen on the festival circuit. I think well over like 30 of them over the last number of years that we've seen. And there's three of them that are featured this year. So moving on to the next piece, we have Shenzhen VR, which I, unfortunately, as I was watching this, there was a game breaking bug that happened after 15 minutes. And then I watched it again and then it happened at 30 minutes. And so I saw two thirds of it. Wasn't able to get through all of it, but I can speak to what I was able to see so far. This is a really beautifully designed piece from the environmental storytelling. And it, it. I kind of like think it aims or aspires to be a game, but yet the game-like components are so simplistic and basically pushing a button to go to the next phase of the cinematic where I'm curious if this would play better for me if this was just a cinematic experience without the illusion of having any sort of type of gameplay, because the gameplay ends up being push a button to go to the next part, essentially. So, and there are certain cinematic moments where you're changing perspective and changing view and Yeah, so I really appreciated the way that they're using this environmental design and getting into these different elements of Chinese mythology. And I don't know where it ends up. You're kind of searching for your mother. So I'll have to wait and to see the final aspects of the experience. But I had a lot of different moments of awe and wonder of the different types of environmental design, really exquisitely designed spaces that they were taking me through. And so for me, this is much more about the spaces and the spatial storytelling they're doing here is a piece that's produced out of China. So it feels like a piece that's trying to embed different aspects of their history, their culture, their mythology into a piece like this that I was really captivated by, but unfortunately ran into these game-breaking bugs that I wasn't able to actually finish the experience to get the full sense of the piece as a complete piece.

[02:36:04.701] Alina Mikhaleva: I can maybe add that I felt a bit conflicted. Maybe I'm not the right audience. I'm not really kind of leaning towards the game-like experiences. I also was a bit conflicted by the fact that there is the point of view where I need to do something like small interactions to get to the second scene, but at the same time there is narration. So I'm seeing the scene unfolding and the main protagonist, the boy, the character that is trying to get through the valley to to find his mother and he's fighting all of those godlike creatures. But at the same, there is narration that at the same time is explaining to me exactly what I'm seeing. And the narration, at least in the English language, was not the strongest one, let's say. And so all of a sudden, I was questioning why am I being explained something that I'm seeing as a scene develop, right? So once again, it was not a compelling experience for me. I understand that it's visually very beautiful and especially the scene where you're flying on the bird. It's incredible world building, but from the experiential and narrative perspective, it brought a lot of questions to me.

[02:37:15.893] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's a piece produced from China and there's a lot of narration that's just a simple AI generated voice that seemed very flat. And there was a certain amount of redundancy of you see something happen and then the AI narration is telling you what you're seeing happen. So. Yeah. Moving on to the next piece. It was a piece called populate popular. And, uh, this was a piece that was right at the very front. There's six people that go at the same time projection map experience. And so, yeah, maybe Paul, you can give a bit more context as to this experience.

[02:37:47.021] Pola Weiß: So Poopley is an immersive and interactive installation. And you can enter as multiple users in the same time can enter. What is very interesting is that you have to choose a location on a map beforehand. So I know you take Berlin or you take Venice or something, and then they project a map of the city or the location you chose to the floor. And that's kind of your starting point. In the room, there is basically nothing but just a white illuminated tree, very artificial tree, but beautiful. It's like very minimal style. So the moment the production goes on, you are a little bit confused, but then you quickly understand that you need to move or they tell you also beforehand that you need to move to create actually that experience. The experience is interactive and it reacts to the users that move around in the room and it responds, it creates the images according to a movement. So if you don't move, basically becomes quite boring. If you move, it becomes very interesting. And that is something where I enjoyed it. Absolutely. I was together with somebody who was a little bit more hesitating to move around. So I did all the work and jumped and so on. And I know that there's a video of Kent dancing very happily around and enjoying the experience. So you were not alone. I did that as well. That was really, really great. It is, yeah, one of these experiences I think that can be quite successful in a museum or in an experience because, you know, there's also something for children. There's something for people just enjoying the immersive projection without having to wear a virtual reality headset and having, you know, like if you fly with your arms, you see that projected as kind of a shadow, like on the wall. And so these things can be quite popular in museums and I enjoyed it.

[02:39:36.380] Alina Mikhaleva: I also visually enjoyed that, especially kind of interacting with your own reflections that works really well in the projection setting. The only probably thing that kind of was a bit off maybe for me is that when you're onboarding to the experience, they're telling you the story that this experience is that kind of really asks you to reflect on the fact that humans populate the earth and we kind of put so much emphasis on that. So if it was not for onboarding, that was not reflected for me in the piece. So the piece kind of exists separately from the onboarding and maybe the meaning that was behind that. And then it just beautiful visual experience where you interact with nature like patterns appearing from your body and around you, which is a beautiful experience. But those two didn't connect to me.

[02:40:23.782] Agnese Pietrobon: to me neither. Like two minutes after I heard about it, I had forgotten. I was just there trying to make the thing, the floor color and the walls do things. So literally, I forgot about it. And honestly, she told us something about the kind of line that we would have gotten if the tree had been in a specific area or in another. But at some point, I looked at it, but I wasn't able to understand if our tree was in a good situation or not. That wasn't very clear to me. So, yeah.

[02:40:54.544] Kent Bye: Yeah. I had a chance to talk to the creators and there is a lot more that's happening at the visual storytelling level. That's very abstract that you have to maybe hear what the decoding of that story is and then see it again, which is what I, I did. There's the city that you have, and then the city roads become one dimension and then there's the green and then you have a battle between the. the roads versus the green that happens throughout the course of this piece. That's more of a subtle storytelling aspect that goes deeper into how they're telling the story. And I have a whole interview where they unpack and decode all of it. And it's one of those ways of a subtle, abstract, mimetic way of storytelling that's very representational and abstract, and you have to decode the meaning of it to really understand it, but it's there if you want it. And I think that's the type of experience where it's just a visceral, interactive, awesome song to dance to. But there is another layer of the meaning of the story that you kind of have to decode and unpack and hear from the creators and then watch it again to really parse together how they're telling these types of stories. So. So moving on to one of the best of experiences is a piece called David Attenborough's Conquest of the Skies. This is a three part 180 documentary series that's actually like a remix of an existing documentary series that has already been produced, already been released. And talking to the creator, there are certain things where some of the stuff that was shot before was shot and like stuff for 3D TV. And then they took that stuff for 3D TV and made it stereoscopic. Some stuff they shot with 180 video in studio and some stuff they just did a pure AI translation of it to make it look like it was 3D when it wasn't. So there's a lot of techniques that they're doing here, but It's a traditional nature documentary with David Attenborough, and it's kind of re-edited and remixed and mashed up into this immersive manifestation of a piece. And I really quite enjoyed it. And I loved talking to the director, Louis Ball, to kind of decode all the different movie magic on the back end that he's doing in order to actually pull this off. But I just enjoyed the storytelling of this remix of the piece that was originally in 2D, and then we got to see the spatialized version of it.

[02:43:04.652] Alina Mikhaleva: Just overall summary for the experience. First of all, it's the only experience that really works for me in 180, because when you have a huge fly or the butterfly and you just see every single particle on the skin, you really are not looking anywhere else. And of course, the kind of stereoscopic effect of this macro camera works incredibly well. It's something that you would try to forget, but you will not be able to forget. as soon as you've seen it. And just best educational series, like it's so visually impressive that it would be a great introduction to really young new audiences as a great piece.

[02:43:43.697] Kent Bye: And that's available for folks to see on the meta quest. If you want to check it out. I highly recommend it. Alina, maybe you could talk a little bit about a vocal landscape.

[02:43:53.027] Alina Mikhaleva: Yes, that's another quite strong piece from the College Biennale selection, as we already mentioned that. So the directors are Anne Japsen and Amin Zarayi. I found that it was a beautiful, poetical essay about the dreams that people have. and a very intimate conversation between two people. We see a man and a woman remembering their dreams and discussing their dreams. What was visually beautiful for me, and very special, that there is a very well-made volumetric capture from the titles. I can understand that it's Microsoft Mixed Reality Studio, which is one of the best qualities that you can get. And then they really did a very good job of mixing that with the super abstract parts of the experience, where you basically see that the volume of the body of one of the protagonists turns into this abstract animation when the body disappears. But at the same time, you still keep the volume. It's only possible with the volumetric capture. And I think they used it in a very nice visual way. And it is a dream-like casual story where I was not pushed to really kind of follow the narrative. It gives you some freedom to reflect on your own thoughts. But at the same time, at the end, there are some abstract kind of scenes where it's like the fruits and giant fire and you listen to the stories, which created this kind of fantasy place for me that I enjoyed. So it's a good piece.

[02:45:28.146] Kent Bye: There's an element of this piece that kind of transcends genre. It's like trying to create something that's unique to VR itself. And in talking to the creators, I was really fascinated to hear how much they're focused on the voice. It's called a vocal landscape and how much they started with like these special recorders to kind of get a high quality recording of this authentic conversation. And then how they, from there, edited that conversation and sculpted it and created this whole volumetric capture of that conversation, but trying to maintain the authenticity of that vibing middle of the night, maybe slightly intoxicated ruminations about the nature of reality. And then to take those and to kind of poetically explore different associative links in this imaginal space that takes this surrealistic turn. So it's kind of like this chill vibe, conversational piece that is kind of pushing at the edges of what genre it even is. And I appreciated it a lot more, actually, after talking to the creators and hearing more about their intentions and their process for how they ended up there. Next piece was another Quill piece called Tales from the Soda Island, Chapter 7, from Studio Syro. And this was actually a seven-part series that all came out throughout the course of the pandemic, funded by META, and really quite groundbreaking in terms of the visual storytelling, possibilities for Quill, a lot of different techniques that came out of the series that inspired so many other different experiences. If you talk to anybody who's in the Quill community, this is a real groundbreaking series that has been airing over the last two or three years. So I was really happy that Venice had highlighted it and was showing what ended up being the final chapter of this. You know, the first season was three parts and the second season was four chapters. I did an interview with Studio Syro and they're like, yeah, we were, you know, meant to do like five minute, you know, episodes, and then they would turn in like a 10 minute episode and a 17 minute episode. And so just the ambition of world building that they had in this piece was really huge, but also just in terms of the grammar of immersive storytelling, really a groundbreaking piece overall, as they're exploring dimensions of music and the juxtaposition of silence to music and how that relationship between silence and music is playing out in the context of this island called Soda Island as all these characters. You can go look at the Sodex, which is like the codex to unpack the different symbolic meaning of all these, because there's not a lot of language. There's no dialogue. You just have these characters and who these characters are. You can get additional context by like watching a chapter of Soda Island and then reading about the Sodex. And it's really trying to push the edges of purely visual storytelling and world building, but also just the grammar of visual storytelling when it comes to Quill and what's possible with Quill. Again, this is like a real groundbreaking series. And I was really happy that they were able to be featured here at the festival because a lot of their other chapters haven't been showing up on the festival circuit. So it's really nice to be able to see the final one and to see the whole arc of their series leading up to Venice and to be able to unpack it with the creators there.

[02:48:28.525] Alina Mikhaleva: To be honest, I haven't seen other series. So now that you're saying that, I will go and try to find them in meta because I really loved it from all the Quill pieces on the island. That was my favorite. And specifically because with other pieces, I was thinking and questioning a little bit, like, would it make a very cute 2D animation short? And with this piece specifically, with some of the transitions and the characters and how you're spacing into the world and That wouldn't work in 2D. That was very VR specific and I really liked the style of it. So we'll definitely watch the rest of the series.

[02:49:03.476] Kent Bye: Yeah, definitely worth checking out the whole series. Moving on to the next piece, it's called Offwind, or maybe, how do you pronounce it, Paula?

[02:49:11.720] Pola Weiß: Offwind.

[02:49:13.043] Kent Bye: off wind offense. Yes. Often it's called upwind. Uh, so this was a, a volumetrically captured piece using volume cap. Actually, when I was at VR now, I had a chance to visit their studios and get a little bit more context. And it's a technique where they're able to capture multiple actors at once. And so this is a piece where you have multiple actors kind of acting together. And it's a piece that's exploring in the early parts of the 20th century, how there's a lot of sexism within the context of aviation. And so there's different ways that men would try to undermine women as they were trying to fly. And you're on a motion platform, you're getting haptic wind feedback. You're using the motion platform to drive at some point, which, you know, there's doing some things that could be triggering emotion sickness. at a certain point you're flying through the air. So it's trying to use this different dimensions of multimodality of the mediums of VR to take you on this spatial journey. And I was really just struck by how they were able to capture so many different aspects of the historical aspects of these cities and these landscapes and the environmental design and world building was just exquisite. My biggest complaint was the fact that it was dubbed into English in a way that it seemed, well, talking to the creators, it was a request of Venice and kind of rushed in the sense that the dubbing didn't necessarily match up with the lip of the people as they're speaking. And so I feel like, um, I almost would have preferred to hear the original German and read subtitles rather than to see the desynchronized voice that was happening there. Uh, just because I think there's something about the performances that are lost when I'm seeing a dubbed version versus the original version. So as a piece though, there's a lot of really exquisite world-building and. Kind of experimenting with this. What's it mean to have multiple actors with correct eye lines, acting, using their technology of all your cap to do this, you know, have these scenes that have multiple volumetrically captured people in the same scene together, which is something that you don't see a lot of within the context of VR. And I'm happy to see it starting to push that edge and I'm excited to see where it goes in the future.

[02:51:19.478] Alina Mikhaleva: I think it's technically a very advanced piece because just they combined so much technology, meaning that like you can see, of course, the value cap, but also, as you mentioned, the 3D worlds and the lighting is very well done. So like you don't see the difference of the technology. It really blends very well into the world around you. And even some kind of additional characters are added maybe as a green screen capture, right? Because they're standing a little bit further, but you wouldn't realize that because it's all blended in such a perfect way. The only issue that I had with the piece is that I would really appreciate maybe a bit of work with this scenario, with the writing of it, just because from the perspective of the story that is inspiring women by the early times of when women were maybe not allowed to do a lot of things. But I feel that if you repeat many, many times that you're a girl, you can do anything, that's not really adding a lot of value to this story. If you repeat that five times during the experience, that's not making it a very strong statement. I would appreciate a bit more maybe gentleness with the script in this sense.

[02:52:34.682] Kent Bye: I agree. I feel like there were certain aspects of the script that didn't necessarily resonate with me as I was watching it. Well, it's a story about women, but it felt like a piece that was produced and written by men. And I feel like there's certain aspects of that story that that felt very heavy handed in some ways, like men saying at least four or five times. Women cannot be an aviation. And it just felt like, okay, you're, you're telling this over and over, but are there other ways to tell this experience? So I totally agree. And Paul, I don't know if you can say or anything, if you want to say anything or you can say anything off wind.

[02:53:08.223] Pola Weiß: about Aufwind? Well, it was co-funded by Media Mod, so I can't really tell so much things about it. We were a smaller partner with a co-producer of Vodacap that you mentioned, who did all the cinematic capture. And the biggest part was done in Nordrhein-Westfalen. So in Germany, as we have a very regional film fund system, a lot of the bigger experiences are funded by several institutions. For example, Emperor was on the German side also funded by Bavaria and Berlin-Brandenburg. We have the same here. So this is a little bit the way to get your projects funded. But yes, I think that's very valuable feedback.

[02:53:45.865] Kent Bye: All right, so moving on to the next piece, Pepitos, the Beaks Saga. So another quill piece by Roxanna Poppscu. So this is a really short and sweet story about the Beaks Saga is, you know, these different characters have beaks and there's an origin story of where those beaks are from and where they're going. And it felt like it was certain aspects of this story that you have the very literal aspects of the characters and you have this symbolic translation of different things that are happening in the story that are trying to communicate the traveling from one place to another or to just to take you into another place. There was moments in the story that I was like, Oh, I wonder what's going to take me into the next version of what's going to happen to the story and to see how they're using the spatial design to communicate this in some sort of symbolic way. So I thought it was a really short and sweet story that I enjoyed the whole arc of it and enjoyed the different ways of this use of the spatial medium to abstractly explore different dimensions of the story as well.

[02:54:40.605] Alina Mikhaleva: Well, maybe I can add, it is a very short and sweet story. And I think that, once again, like you can just see how different they are, like stylistically, and just to think that they are all made with one tool, which is Quill, just showing how diverse it's becoming and how many styles you can approach. However, with this piece, when I was watching the story, I maybe did not have as many aspects that worked for me spatially, because I felt that it was a story that was unfolding very much around me, and I did not find justification for the spatiality of this piece. But the characters were very cute and very well developed, but I did not connect that to the VR that much.

[02:55:26.299] Pola Weiß: I also thought it was very, very cute and a story I really love to watch in virtual reality. Well, I neither connected so well to the characters, so I have a little bit the same feeling as Alina. I think it was because, well, at the end they change their opinions and there is a very quick progression to an ending. And I thought that was, from a storytelling perspective, not so well prepared. So I didn't find a reason why they changed their opinion so quickly. That kind of kept me a little bit from identifying with the characters. Otherwise, I thought it was a very cute story. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anybody. But short stories are very hard to write, of course, because you need to fit everything in a short story. And that is a thing we have to master in this piece. It did so many things right. But that specific point of the end, yeah, kind of kept me from identifying with the characters.

[02:56:23.242] Kent Bye: Right. And this next piece is actually the third part of a trilogy. It's called Comfortless. The first one is called Bloodless and then Tearless that showed at Venice a couple of years ago. Actually, all of them have showed at Venice as a premiere. And so Alina, maybe you could set the stage here for Comfortless.

[02:56:38.808] Alina Mikhaleva: I think it's very interesting to see, once again, the continuation and the development of the direction from the same author, bringing pieces from year to year to Venice. And especially with Gina Kim's work, it is reflecting on the same topic. It is a question for me how it can work as a three-piece installation on basically the same topic but kind of unfolding the story. I appreciated the artistic style and the direction of it because really it's a 360 video but at the same time it's directed in a very nice way because you are present as a ghost in an empty city but at the same time in the empty world where it used to be the place that was created for the U.S. Army. U.S. soldiers were spending time with the comfort women that were based there. And you go through the empty scenes and empty, for example, cafes or some spaces, but they are filled with the sound. And for me, that's enough. And also very beautiful work with the reflections of the mirrors and overlaying like 2D videos and the characters that you see almost as ghosts. That worked well for me. At the end, there is kind of actor work as well, but almost those empty spaces filled with reflections and the audio scapes create a deeper immersion that really allowed me to be present there. So that I enjoyed the piece.

[02:58:07.053] Kent Bye: Yeah, for me and talking to the creator, Gina Kim, just to hear more about the context of Bloodless and how she wanted to really tell the story without really explicitly showing some of the different acts of violence or transgressions of, you know, these are sex workers and what they're referred to as comfort women. that are really largely supported by the state and South Korea and the way that she's able to use the medium of 360 video to use the environment to tell the story and leave a lot of the blanks that are filled into the sound design or other aspects of how she's visually telling the story. But yeah, just to see how she's got this social justice angle that she's trying to tell these stories in a different way using the medium of VR that goes above and beyond maybe how she would tell the story in the context of a 2D film as she's like a professor of film at UCLA. And so she's really thinking deeply about the nature of storytelling within the context of VR. So excited to see how she's approaching a story like this. And like, it's a series of bloodless from tearless to comfortless, and each of them are covering different aspects of the story as well. All right, moving on to an installation piece called Home. So Paula, maybe you could set this piece up for us.

[02:59:17.527] Pola Weiß: Hi, thank you. I seem to present all the installations today. So Home tells the story about the troubled relationship of humanity with our planet. And it is symbolized by beehive. So actually, what you do is you are not wearing a virtual reality headset, but you enter a very dark room where you can sit down on the floor and look up where there is an installation of a massive hanging replica of a beehive. and there's video projected on that beehive and you can watch it from all sides. And the video actually forms an infinite loop of mankind's self-destruction and its impact on nature. So it starts with the bees, like all this humming and what you hear with the bees, you see this chaos, which is not chaos, of course, of the beehive and the bees crawling around and taking care of their queen and so on. And then it progresses more and more, then you see people protesting, then you see the nature change until it is a desert and there is so much destruction. And then It restarts again, we hear the baby crying, then the bees arrive again. So it's this endless loop. And if you compare it to Peuple, for example, where some of you didn't have the feeling that it told the story, or you didn't understand while doing it, what it was actually supposed to tell you. Here, I think it was very, very obvious. You could enter it whenever you wanted, and you understood it quite suddenly. Even though when you started in the middle, you could do the loop and could leave the loop whenever you wanted, and you understand it. I thought it was really at the same time relaxing and yeah, devastating piece to watch because he saw everything in like very, very fast future we might end up. I still like that it had this very optimistic end at the end.

[03:01:15.988] Agnese Pietrobon: I actually was happy that Paula got to comment on this piece because I was a bit scared of it. I didn't have the best experience with it, but I was wondering, it's actually a question this one, how can you compare in a competition a work of this kind with other works that we discussed previously? What's your opinion on this?

[03:01:39.771] Kent Bye: Uh, for me, this piece is a, it's an installation. It's got a volumetric aspect of like this beehive that is kind of like this thing hanging from the ceiling and it's projection mapped on top of it. And so there's a spatial dimension of how the story is being told and like sort of an environmental storytelling type of way. And there's not a lot of words. It's like using images. And so like, it could be a film, you could watch this as a film. but the fact that you're sitting there in a space and you hear the, the sound surrounding you in a way, and the spatialization of this on this beehive, it's sort of like, you know, in talking to the creator, he had like woke up one morning and there was a beehive underneath his bed. So he started to think about where his home, what does home mean? What's the home for the bees? And so he kind of translated it into this big giant beehive and thinking about what does it mean for home for all of us on this planet? And so there's this kind of like through line between the relationship between humans and the environment by using the spatial medium. It's for me, it's kind of using the affordances of things like film and sound design and other ways of telling stories. But in this installation that makes you maybe think about our relationship to the world around us and maybe a different way, given the fact that you're kind of immersed into it and something that's a little bit different than if you're watching a film, when you watch a film, you know what to expect. But when you're in an installation like this, you don't quite know what to expect. And so it creates this kind of more immersive art quality. So it's more on the edge of like immersive art and how to kind of use the spatial dimensions to be able to tell stories in a way that is blending to different aspects of like sculpture and installations and this more immersive art side of things rather than the immersive storytelling side of things. you know, when I was talking to the director, he was like, I feel like a bit of an imposter being here at this whole VR where everybody's using all these high technology. And he, at the end of the day is using something that's really straightforward of this very physical construction of these spatial installation objects that are being used to projection map these stories onto. So this, that's how I think about it because it is this fusion of these different domains coming together.

[03:03:50.604] Agnese Pietrobon: Absolutely. And I'm not commenting on the quality. I mean, it was a very interesting piece. It was just something that I was wondering about.

[03:03:58.888] Alina Mikhaleva: Just from the metaphorical perspective, maybe, and once again, comparing the installation pieces on the island, this piece translated very well, maybe simple and transparent metaphor that there is for the beehive and the humanity and how we're developing and how we relate to each other, like, are we co-living or are we fighting each other? And this metaphor was translated very well in terms of narration, where, for example, with Populate, as we discussed, it is a very beautiful piece, but at the same time, maybe the message that was initially there was not as easy to read. And so that's why as a coherent art piece, I appreciate it home a bit more, just because it was is really something that I could connect with author's vision immediately.

[03:04:45.311] Kent Bye: All right, well, let's move on to Human Violins Prelude. Lina, maybe you could set this experience up.

[03:04:52.420] Alina Mikhaleva: And maybe I can suggest that's not cheating. I'm just thinking that we have two pieces from College Biennale and they're both from 2021. And they're both relating to the Holocaust theme and to kind of the Second World War and its human violence prelude and also Tales of March. So I wanted actually to bring them in connection because they are in a way related to the topic and to the time, horrible time in history that we're talking about. Human Violence is a piece directed by Ioana Misci, hopefully, once again, I'm pronouncing that correctly, from Romania, that I had a chance to meet virtually during the 2021 Biennale. It is a piece and the story about Holocaust and when the Jews were taken to the camp, they were allowed to take only one thing with them, right? And so for many musicians, we have a protagonist, main character, Alma, a 15-year-old, girl who played violin all her life. Violin is the only object that she's taking to the camp. And then it's a very, it's a beautiful story that also brings music to the concentration camp, right? So how people were fighting their freedom and freeing themselves emotionally through the music when they were able to play the violin, even if it wasn't proper, like it was broken. And of course about the violence that remained after the concentration camps, after people disappeared and were killed, but those violence remained and they continued the story and they continue to bring music and in that it's a very beautiful metaphor once again of life manifesting through the death and through the music. The second piece that I'll cover quickly is Tales of March, which is a completely different experience because it's a cinematic piece produced by Stefano Casertano and Tim Doucet. And it is telling the story of when in the concentration camps, the war was getting closer to the end, people were pushed to walk hundreds of kilometers just because they were moved to different parts of the country. And this story is produced in a cinematic way. So it's filmed in 360. And I just wanted to put them in parallel because I really was thinking a lot about how to really approach such harsh topics. And for me, human violence really found the artistic style of telling the story that worked Well, just because it is a very metaphorical and artistic interpretation of the scene. When we see the violins and the main character and the trains and all the scenes developed in very specific artistic style that almost can be printed as a 3D print and work as an installation. And this kind of artistic interpretation really gives me the space for imagining this person. where I really found myself struggling to connect to a cinematic piece about the same topic, just because I felt that it is really hard, especially in 360, to portray people that are hungry and on the edge of death and are dying. when your brain is really telling you those are the actors that are performing and maybe they're trying to perform their best and it's really strong piece. But at the same time, if it was an abstraction, like in the piece of human violence, that might have been more powerful to me just visually and in terms of how I can connect to those stories.

[03:08:34.888] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a bit of the conceit of a durational take within 360 video, which is like you set a camera and you watch things kind of progress over time. And I feel like this piece, Tales of the March, is really trying to use that durational take approach where there's only three or four shots within the entire piece. But yeah, to give you this sense of the cruelty of these marches. And I understand what you're saying, Alina, in terms of like, at no time did I think this is a documentary, it's like a reconstruction. And so at what point do you suspend your disbelief into really kind of immersing yourself into this as a scene that's being reconstructed? So, yeah, it's an interesting question because it's the medium of VR and how the human violins were able to explore this in a much more poetic and abstract way. So, yeah.

[03:09:23.511] Pola Weiß: So maybe I can just add on and say something about human violence, because Tasteless Minds, again, is a medium I found, so I can't really talk about that. I still love it. Human violence was a very different approach. I loved it, too. And what I loved about it was especially how it was visually done. So it's all in the optic of the strings, the violin strings, which is very great. I sometimes had a little bit difficulties in doing the interaction, because I just didn't understand how I had to do that. I got a little bit help. So that was fine at the end. And I had the impression that, well, the characters, there was one point when I really wanted to see at least something of the face of the characters, you know, so to bond more with them. So that was something I don't think they were motion captured, probably because of budget. So this and the fact that I weren't able to see their face, kind of gave me a bigger distance than I wished for. But that was the only point. Otherwise, I think it is again, part of the very, very strong Berlin, Berlinale college section that we saw this year. And maybe we can also compare to letters from Rossi, because again, it's the same. They are all so differently done. And they are all targeting this huge topic about the Holocaust. And I think that is very interesting if you see all three together. how different they are and how different they talk about this topic.

[03:10:49.725] Kent Bye: Yeah, for sure. Great. And as we move on to the next piece called the utility room, Alina, maybe you could say a few words about this piece.

[03:10:57.528] Alina Mikhaleva: Well, that's an interesting piece because I think that it was discussed as well on the island because it's an hour-long game and not a lot of people got a chance to see it, but also not a lot of people got a chance to get through it. I was very lucky to get a recommendation from a friend before I went into the experience. She said, don't try to reach the end of it because it's not really a game, it's an experience and you need to really dive into that. And I did that, and actually I got to the end. And I can say that very surprisingly, it was one of the favorite pieces that I got because of the complete insanity that was happening in there. It's basically very much VRChat-like world where you're constantly moving through. I heard that it was quite hard for some people to get through because you had to move through a lot of corridors, but at the same time, the artists and for the artists, I think it's the first VR piece, which is also very intriguing. It is a very visually, artistically distinguished style of the world where you constantly explore the caves and the corridors, but then there is a geometry that is appearing and all of a sudden you see those incredible landscapes with floating heads around you. And as you progress, the further you get, and that's why I inspire everyone who didn't get a chance to maybe see it on the island, to set yourself comfortable time where you're not rushing and you're not feeling motion sick and you're not trying to achieve anything and slowly go through the experience by just enjoying the visuals and the artistic presence that starts appearing around you. Because at the end, it gets completely insane. And I love it. And I will not spoil more because it is available. It's just completely insane. What I really love about some of the VR experiences.

[03:12:58.788] Kent Bye: Yeah, this is an experience that's available on Steam that you can check out. I actually bought it ahead of time and there's an extended version that's like 90 minutes or more. And then there's a classic version that they were showing there at the festival. I was playing at home. I played the extended version. I was doing smooth locomotion and there's this kind of like jump technique that you have to get down. And I was trying to jump on everything. And I basically was like, this is so difficult and hard. And I talked to the creator and he said that he originally designed it for the teleport technique and that the smooth locomotion and the jumping was something that people that are hardcore gamers asked for. So I was playing it on like super hard mode. And he said, the director told me, I can't even imagine finishing this game without teleport. And I was like, okay, I need to go back. I need to like give up on smooth locomotion. I need to just teleport through this. And I played it actually just this morning to actually finally just kind of play all the way through it. And it, at the end, it does have this kind of surrealistic cut scenes of lots of it's very abstract and very kind of surreal and. it does have this payoff of you go through a spatial journey, but then you kind of get like, I'm not sure what he's trying to say with it, but I just enjoy the kind of surrealistic nature of taking on the spatial journey. And there were some parts of it, like game, like with the rocks knocking off cliffs that I was like, where am I supposed to go? And some like game like elements that like, it did feel like probably one of the more complicated, like spatial journey game, like aspects where you do have to kind of puzzle through some things. to figure stuff out. So yeah, I enjoyed it, but it was also, I went through the thrashing of like trying to do it with smooth locomotion. Yeah. Highly recommended to do the teleport and try to just get through it.

[03:14:45.088] Alina Mikhaleva: Only teleport. Yes. And that was another recommendation that I got from the friend. Don't try to use the smooth locomotion, just teleport. And I got to the end and there was a reward. That was really insane.

[03:14:58.632] Kent Bye: Yeah. So that's a piece that you can check out. So moving on again, there's a piece, a number of different VR chat worlds that were there. There's one that was called we move at night. It's a break set by PK. And it, I think PK is doing a lot of really amazing stuff with shaders and spatial journeys and music. It's a music set. So he's like an independent music label. So you have this like kind of independent music vibe and just the way that he's exploring shaders and just pushing the edge of like music exploration in the context of VRChat. PK actually has a couple of new, well, an old and new experience. It's also going to be showing at Raindance. So for folks that Raindance just got announced and Maria from Raindance, like 75% of all the different worlds and experiences at Raindance are VRChat related. So she's become a curator within the VRChat world. And I like the piece that fans had created is going to have its final version there and lots of exciting stuff that's happening in the realm of VRChat there. So if you can get to a live show of PK in the context of VRChat, definitely highly recommend checking out some of the break sets there. Moving on to the next experience, Space Explorers, Blue Marble, Orbit One. This is a piece that's available for anybody to see. Anybody that's familiar with Felix and Paul and their Space Explorers series, they've been tracking different aspects of space. This is an amazing poetic piece where they finally got a camera out on the exterior of the International Space Station. Takes around 90 minutes to go a full revolution around the Earth. And so about half of that's in darkness. And so they took a sunrise and sunset on the International Space Station. and created this really poetic, beautiful piece that you can just watch the earth go by from the international space station. It feels like the type of experiences like this is what VR was made for. Also, this has been an inspiration for Felix and Paul that they've wanted to get a shot like this from the very beginning of them creating like of all the things you'd want to do in VR. Why not be on a space station going around earth and be able to look down on the earth to kind of have this proto overview effect as you're watching it. So a really beautiful poetic piece that I watched twice, once facing forwards and once facing backwards. And this feels like an experience that you can give to people to kind of give them this awe and wonder wow factor when it comes to what VR is possible.

[03:17:16.422] Alina Mikhaleva: It's a beautiful meditation for 30 minutes. I really love that there is no narration and there is just space for you to, to witness the beauty of the earth. It's pure meditation.

[03:17:30.037] Kent Bye: All right. And then finally, the final experience that we have on our list today is my name is Oh, 90, the piece from South Korea. So maybe you can set this piece up for us.

[03:17:39.345] Agnese Pietrobon: So, you all need to know that this was the one experience I was terrified of trying because, you know, I can watch things with horror, very dramatic themes, splatter, blood and whatever, but don't give me a product with dogs. Like, that's really a weakness of mine. So, when I read the plot, I said, okay Agnese, you can do it. Just go and do it. So I put on the headset and this work that's about this very cute dog actually, he's called O90. He works with artificial intelligence. He's been abandoned because new cooler dogs have been produced. And, you know, he walks the alley alone, trying to find a way to recharge himself. And he keeps remembering his friend that abandoned him. So the plot was already very intense. And so I put on the headset and the first scene to me was very beautiful. You have this dog, like a sharing with you his thoughts and looking forward to the city. And there are two other abandoned dogs that are real dogs next to him. That's very, you know, it was very saddening. I was almost moved to tears in that scene. But I had two major problems with this piece. And the first one was already there in that moment, which is the voice. Like, to me, the English voice didn't match the character at all. Like, I was expecting something totally different, I guess. It's a particular voice. Maybe it fits, you know, a robot, but at the same time, it didn't do it for me. And the other thing that, while we progress with the story, while some scenes I liked, they were, they had potential. They could be a good story, like an emotional one. it went on a too philosophical road at some point for me. Like the dog started asking very, maybe not philosophical questions, but he asked them in a very philosophical way. So, I found it hard to follow his thoughts at some point. I couldn't understand what he was saying. And that's probably because I'm, you know, I'm a bit ignorant in philosophy maybe. But yes, I lacked this connection with what the dog was feeling. So, like half the experience, the end of the experience didn't work for me. But the plus is that the dog is definitely a very nice character and the places are, the settings are beautiful too. And I think that the story per se had a very good potential to be something good.

[03:20:19.097] Kent Bye: Any other thoughts Alina, Paula?

[03:20:21.386] Alina Mikhaleva: I think it's just the style of the piece is very distinct to kind of very different from everything else in a way. And the lighting is beautiful. I enjoyed the character. I don't follow right now all the questions that were asked on the journey, but I remember that at the end, it becomes very abstract as well, because the dog is disappearing and then you go on this journey through the floating trees and through the point cloud. So there is a very beautiful way up as a scene. And that was visually very deep for me. So I saw it as an essay, as a philosophical essay about the nature of the future, where it's sad robots that are seeking connection. And in that sense, it almost like I did not need anything else. But at the same time, there was freedom for my interpretation, because maybe I did not follow the story. I just followed my own experience of the story.

[03:21:30.795] Pola Weiß: I think it says very much that we have two experiences that play together with complex seven that play in the future. And humanity is basically not there anymore. And the robots or artificial intelligences are colonizing the earth and haven't taken over. And that is a little bit dystopic, to be honest. And I think it says also a lot of our actual time, our time now, that might be a future we are a little bit afraid of, because the dog is basically seeking humanity. He's seeking human connection, everything he is not, everything that he represents to be not, because he does not have all the flaws that humans have. But still, he's looking for something that humans have. So that is kind of symbolic, also for Complex Seven, I think.

[03:22:19.115] Alina Mikhaleva: I also felt that there is kind of visual connection between them, like stylistically and in terms of light and in terms of characters.

[03:22:26.417] Kent Bye: Yeah, it is. It is this vision of the future where it's post-apocalyptic. There's no humans. It's all robots taking over. And yeah, I think because of that, there's certain aspects that it's like, well, I don't, I'm not sure if this is a future that I want to live into. And so it sort of creates a disconnect for me to getting these speculative futures that feel super disconnected from what does it mean to be a human embedded into the earth and connected to the earth. and what's the role of AI and artificial intelligence. So this is actually a piece I would have to watch again to understand each of the beats, but it's a story that left me with an impression. But I just read through the synopsis again, just to get a sense of, to redraw my memory after seeing 43 experiences over the course of three days or four days or whatever. 14 ahead of time, 14 on the first day and 15 on the second day. It's like a bunch of stuff jammed all in there. Um, but yeah, I guess as we start to wrap up, I'd love to hear any final thoughts of just kind of reflecting on this year's program as we start to kind of wind down this epic four hour recap of all of the different pieces there at Venice this year. What are some takeaways that you have from this year's selection?

[03:23:31.865] Pola Weiß: Maybe I take the freedom to start because I thought this year was an exceptional selection. Well, we are not having so much on the installation side. We're having more and more pieces that, of course, go to mobile headsets. That is a logical development that was expected. But at the same time, we see, again, quite a few real inventions, real innovations in storytelling and, of course, also in technique. And some of that I was missing a little bit last year. Well, last year was a great selection too, but you still could feel that the creators and the producers, of course, had a very, very hard time during the whole pandemic. And so I feel now that definitely after this selection, you can say it's really, really not a new medium anymore because there are rules, there are storytelling techniques that are quite approved now. And that you can see, so it became very, very much more professionalized, I think. And also having that innovative part that I was so much looking forward to.

[03:24:32.909] Alina Mikhaleva: I think for me, the selection was really about the continuation of the medium, just because if you see the continuation of the development of the language, especially from the same directors and the same teams, and it becomes like a repeating itself thing where every year, it becomes just stronger. And it means that you as a viewer have also an opportunity to follow this journey and say, OK, I really understand what is the vision that you're trying to convey. And all of those pieces that we've seen this year kind of continue from the same authors. They are much stronger. And so it also kind of means that if we are on this trajectory, I really want to see what's coming next.

[03:25:17.633] Agnese Pietrobon: I absolutely agree with you both like 100% in everything you said. From a certain point of view, I do miss some installations like the ones that we had years before when people were still experimenting with things. I understand why they're not there. but I cannot deny the fact that I missed some of those works. From a managing point of view, I know this is not what was asked, but I would like to point out that this year compared to the previous one, I found a lot more knowledge by the people that were onboarding you in the experience. They had tried the pieces, they knew what to tell you about the piece. Also the fact that they actually added a comfort rate that wasn't just related to motion sickness. It was also for the topics, because Emperor kind of had an E, like extreme, which I didn't understand at first, but they explained to me that it was for the topics. I think this was very useful elements, and not just for us that use this media quite frequently, but for people who are used to it and want to discover it better. These details were very useful to me.

[03:26:31.157] Kent Bye: And Agnes, I know that you had mentioned that both you and other folks just, you know, the difficulty of scene experiences. I don't know if there's anything that you want to say just on that front.

[03:26:39.960] Agnese Pietrobon: Well, I did think a lot about this. I was there when the booking started. I started to be in the line before, but then there was like two hours of waiting and so I had to go to work. So I closed the booking page. I came back in the evening and everything was gone and I had this problem. I was able to book for the following days more experiences, obviously, but I know this problem happened to people who had the subscription for the five days of VR, which was kind of worse even. I did think on it. I know it's a dream, it's not something that's probably feasible, but the idea of splitting the two lines into people who are booking movies and people who are booking immersive experiences would solve some problems. It wouldn't give more spots, but at the same time people wouldn't have to stay in line for so long. They would be able to be there in time and compete with each other equally in some way. And the other thing that's, you know, it's something that I don't like to say because I like to have this many works, But I had the feeling that maybe less works in the lineup would actually help solve the problem. Because some works, not the installation, but some works could be in two booths, for example, two booths. And so people would have a double chance to see them. So it's something that maybe I would consider because it was really frustrating. Me from a working point of view, but as I was writing in some group, I mean, Some people I know have been there for years, even if they don't work in the VR field. And they told me that they are not going to come back next year if these are the conditions, because they cannot see the works that they want to see. And that's a pity, because it's such a beautiful place to visit. So I hope that we can find a solution to this. And I know you all saw the experiences, so it's my fault.

[03:28:38.270] Alina Mikhaleva: I think that it's just like from my perspective because I first got to Venice in 2019 and it was kind of a transition and I was not really introduced to Venice. I used to go like to South by and other US-based festivals and I came in the last three days and I saw the whole program for the first time. Absolutely. Kind of my advice for those who would be interested to go and see the works. don't come in the first days because it's craziness madness every single person on the island networking and it's the hardest time to see the works but actually in the last three days everyone disappears it's a completely different crowd like more people from film are coming And there are almost no lines and it's possible to see almost all the experiences in just the last three days. But the problem is that for the industry, you also need to come for the first three years. So stay for the whole period and you will see everything. You solved it. Yeah, I did that.

[03:29:37.431] Kent Bye: Yeah. What it tells me is that there's a demand for people to see the work. And that certainly was a high demand for people to see the work. And it's always a shame that it's the limited throughput and capacity that it's kind of a numbers game where it's difficult for people to actually see everything. But for me, the selection was the strongest that I've seen it yet. And, you know, I was able to get through the selection and come up with like a top 17 list of things that I really appreciated and enjoyed. And just through the process of doing 33 interviews with the creators over the course of both at the festival and afterwards that, you know, just a lot of really deep thinking about the medium and what's happening and pushing the medium forward. And yeah, I feel like Venice has really established itself as a premier place to come and see the latest and greatest of immersive storytelling as the festival season has kind of kicked off now. And we'll start to see some of these other pieces at other festivals that happen over the course of the year. And Yeah, just a real honor to be able to be there and see what these makers and creators are doing to push the medium forward. And I also want to just give a shout out for each of you that it's now one thirty in the morning of each of your respective places. And we've been on this four hour journey of talking about all these things. And thanks again for taking the time to be able to to have this epic conversation and packing this election. And yeah, I don't know if there's any any other final thoughts or anything else that's left and said that you like to say to the broader community.

[03:30:55.880] Pola Weiß: I just wanted, we have said that, but I just wanted, again, to thank all the creators out there, because they're putting so much effort, they're putting so much, so much energy, money, time, and these amazing pieces in a world where there's not yet so many ways to distribute them and to reach people. So thank you, everybody for doing that work and for pioneering this medium.

[03:31:19.218] Agnese Pietrobon: Absolutely. They're heroes. They give us something to discuss, something to enjoy, something to dream about. And we even complain about some of those words because, oh, I didn't like that. I didn't like this. But they're giving us so much and it's beautiful for us, you know.

[03:31:38.218] Alina Mikhaleva: Absolutely. And I also want, of course, to mention Liz and Michelle, because it is a great selection that every year, what I enjoy about seeing all the works, it really gives you this perspective on why maybe this aspect of storytelling or this aspect of the development or the technique or the visual language of why this work is special and why it is selected. And when you see it as a whole, it's really great for you. But also, There were a lot of discussions around the industry days, and I think one of the biggest discussions was on distribution. So I really want to thank them for pushing and putting people into one room to really discuss this most pressing subject, because the reality that we're facing is that we need to work harder to make those works seen after the island, because if there is such a great demand and people are rushing and waking up at seven o'clock in the morning to book their slots to see those works, we have to translate that further than the island and to actually allow more people to see those works. And that's probably the biggest challenge. And Liz and Michelle are leading the conversation in that way. And hopefully that would be able to also have positive impact on the industry.

[03:32:54.014] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yes, indeed. And shout out to Liz and Michelle and all the crew for helping to put this together. It's really quite remarkable to see how they create a whole island of VR and all the different things that they have to bring onto that island to make that happen. And it's really a great space to be able to see all these latest works and to have these artists and creators from around the world to be able to exhibit their latest tinkerings on the frontiers of immersive storytelling. And yeah, there's certainly a big demand of people who are there to be able to see all this stuff and I suspect that this is going to translate and eventually we'll start to see these types of pieces more and more out in the broader ecosystem of virtual reality as we start to move forward. And, uh, yeah, thanks again, both Alina, Paula and Agnese to, to take the time to be able to unpack this year's program and to do it justice, to be able to talk about where things are at and where they might be going here in the future. So thank you all.

[03:33:44.783] Alina Mikhaleva: Thanks to you. Thank you for your work and thank you for invitation. Absolutely.

[03:33:52.325] Kent Bye: Thanks for listening to this interview from Fitness Immersive 2023. You can go check out the Critics Roundtable in episode 1305 to get more breakdown in each of these different experiences. And I hope to be posting more information on my Patreon at some point. There's a lot to digest here. I'm going to be giving some presentations here over the next couple of months and tune into my Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR, since there's certainly a lot of digest about the structures and patterns of immersive storytelling, some of the different emerging grammar that we're starting to develop, as well as the underlying patterns of experiential design. So that's all I have for today, and thanks for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And again, if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listen-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

More from this show