Interlooped allows you to record real-time, volumetric capture segments of yourself where you layer these loops while interacting with recorded and real-time interactions of other people. It’s a trippy experience that shows the power of real-time embodiment that starts to blur the lines between what’s live and what’s been pre-recorded. Artist Maria Guta collaborated with real-time volumetric capture engine by Imverse that uses commercial off-the-shelf depth sensors to capture a low-fi voxel version of yourself. Guta plays with altering your perspective and blending the virtual and the real in an experience that starts to play with different flavors for how you can remix your witnessing consciousness. I had a chance to talk about and unpack the experience a bit with Guta during one of her brief breaks of performing all week at Sundance New Frontier.
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Here’s a video of Shia Laboeuf experiencing Interlooper at Sundance New Frontier.
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Here’s a brief artist statement video of Guta produced by Sundance that goes into her artistic explorations of different digital avatar embodiments and character representations of herself.
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[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So on today's episode, I'm going to be exploring the experience called Interlooped, which was a super trippy, like, looping experience of your own virtual embodiment. So we're going to be talking about the experience here. So if you have any plans of seeing it, again, this might be different spoilers, but I think it's a super fascinating experience that I think is worth unpacking a little bit. So in the experience, you are having a real time volumetric capture of yourself. And so you have this visual depiction that's a very low fidelity that you see, and then they start recording and then playing it back. And so you're looping these different experiences that are unfolding over time. And then there's like two phases where you're seeing a recorded hologram of the main artist named Maria Guta. who is doing these different interactions and they're kind of in a loop they're very clearly recorded beforehand and then at some point she comes in and is starting to interact with you in real time all the while you are continuing to record all these different versions of yourself and actually at some point you even take this out of body of experience and then start to view this from a third person perspective which is even more trippy So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Maria Guta happened on Saturday, January 26th, 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:01:39.168] Maria Guta: My name is Maria Gute. I'm a Romanian-Swiss based artist and my background is more in visual arts, photography, visual communication. And then suddenly, maybe three years ago, While being assigned for a photo project, things kind of turned into another direction and suddenly it all became a 360 video installation. And it was the key moment for me to realize that there's a crazy potential in that direction. And it really changed the way I was looking at things. So that's kind of when my interest for VR started.
[00:02:22.986] Kent Bye: Yeah and it seems like that you are taking the technology that I first saw last year at Sundance with Elastic Time and so you're able to do like this volumetric capture of yourself but also for other people in real time and so maybe you could talk a bit about the process that you went through in order to see and experience this for the first time and then what opened up in your mind for what you could do with this.
[00:02:46.094] Maria Guta: Yeah, I mean it's quite funny because I met Inverse maybe three years ago, two years ago. I was the programmer of a Swiss VR festival and they were just coming with their technology so I knew what they can do and then we just met last year and we just said let's do something together and I'm really exploring a lot in my work. the way you can play with your self-image and the way it's deformed by the different technologies and also the way we project it out there in the, I don't know, let's call it cyberspace, through social media, etc. So I'm exploring this in all kinds of different ways. So this was a new challenge to try and see what happens to your own image via inverse technology. I actually built the whole concept around what I knew they can do as well. It's funny because it's not this crazy high-end avatar of yourself that we can get with other scanning methods, so I quite like this. somehow lo-fi texture of the volumetric holograms and then yeah basically that's the starting point and then when I tried Elastic Time I flipped when there was this moment when they could go back in time so they could rewind everything so then I wondered okay what would it happen if you have a pre-recorded version of myself plus a real-time version of the user and then after a few seconds everything replays so my pre-recorded version will do the same thing but this time you're going to be caught in that loop as well and then this could keep going until you find yourself surrounded by different versions of yourself. and different versions of myself. And I really wanted to confuse people a bit about what's real and what's not real because I think it's quite a, yeah, I think it's a question of today. I mean, somehow the lines between real and virtual are quite blurred and I played with that, I guess. And the reactions are, I'm super happy because the reactions are exactly how I expected so people are super confused but they're having fun as well so yeah.
[00:05:14.082] Kent Bye: Are there very many people that are just completely utterly surprised that you're actually there and not just a hologram?
[00:05:19.808] Maria Guta: Yeah it's very surprising because I mean now I'm totally spoiling but well I'm gonna I'm gonna put it out there so the first part of the experience it's you and my pre-recorded holograms and then suddenly in the second part I get in for real and at first the person trying is not really sure whether I'm really there or not because I start to do some moves that are responding directly to their own moves and then I start to talk and then suddenly they realize okay something's it's definitely real time but then they're still not sure someone thought okay someone is being tracked down but someone is just animating an avatar but then there's also physical contact which is also quite trippy for the users and then actually at the end they realize I'm actually there in real dressed just the same they saw me in the experience and so on so yeah I think it's quite trippy.
[00:06:21.318] Kent Bye: Oh yeah, I think it's definitely very trippy and I think for me also to be able to record myself in loops and to have a looped version of myself and start to have like a dance party that I was doing each movements in different ways and to be able to have this third-person witnessing consciousness of my own virtual embodiment with these holograms that are very, they're very low fidelity so it doesn't like trick me to believe I'm looking at a mirror or anything but it just as a representation of myself with this headset on, of course, so I'm definitely occluded in being able to actually see what my eyes are doing, but I felt like just like musicians are able to create these music loops, you're able to create loops of embodiment and be able to actually play with that for the first time, and this is the first time that I've had a chance to kind of play with that at all. And I don't know, it's something that's unique and compelling and I'm not quite sure exactly why but I just think it's a very visceral experience to be able to be around your own embodiment that has this looping of time where you're capturing it and you're seeing the loop and it's almost like around and music but you're able to go back and see where you were and what movements you were doing and see how you can synchronize with yourself in the past.
[00:07:30.654] Maria Guta: Yeah, and I mean the thing of being multiplied is also, if I go back a bit to this concept of our own identity or our own projection of our image into social media or whatever platforms we are using today, I mean we do kind of split our identities according to each platform we are using and then you control this image of yourself. And I thought of that too when I made this. But the point was that, yeah, you can have control or totally not have control because I'm in control in the first part, but then you realize you can control it too. So, yeah, I think, yeah, I like the fact that people can have this experience. But I mean, there are people who play around less and there are people who totally go for it. And that's the best. That's the best for me to Yeah.
[00:08:26.684] Kent Bye: So for you, what are some of the either biggest open questions that you're exploring as an artist or problems that you're trying to solve creatively?
[00:08:36.045] Maria Guta: Well, some of them, it's what I told you already, like, I do ask myself many questions about what we do with our image and what would we do with our image when we are able to see ourselves from a different perspective. I mean, the whole out of your body experience, it's also a way of looking at yourself and wondering what the heck you're doing with yourself. Actually, I would really like to be able to explore more with this project. I mean, I do think we can go further because I think for what it is, we actually did it quite fast. And also because suddenly we heard we're being selected here, but the project wasn't even done yet. So we had to finish it. But I think we could still go further. We could still explore the possibilities in there. Otherwise, I have another project that's been on and off since now one year and something and it's also about my own avatar that gets to life and interacts with people in real time but that would be the kind of super high-end, uncanny replica of myself but it's a different story and it's also a different kind of budget like it's quite crazy which makes things a bit harder to come and that's also amazing with inverse technology because they really have a democratic take on the whole process like they have their own technology and of course it's like this slow quality aesthetics involved that you mentioned but actually what they can do is amazing and you don't need the kind of mega production budget to be able to create that and like for me as an independent artist that's amazing being able to turn abstract ideas into something concrete, real, virtual.
[00:10:42.078] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality is and what it might be able to enable?
[00:10:50.801] Maria Guta: Oh my god, that's like the ultimate question and I don't think I have an answer at the clap of my hands because I think I can go on forever. I don't know, I can picture billion scenarios but of course I don't know, my utopic kind of scenario would be that sort of moment where our own, I don't know, let's call them avatars, virtual alter egos would become independent and live a life of their own. I don't know. We might be able to do all the fun stuff and they would do everything we don't want to do. I don't know. It's still cool to do different things. But yeah, I don't know. For me, that would be one possible scenario that I find quite fascinating. And I know this is something that most people would be like, oh, my God, that sounds terrible. But I don't want to look at it that way. I think it would be amazing if at some point that happens.
[00:11:56.773] Kent Bye: OK, awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. So thank you.
[00:11:59.714] Maria Guta: Thank you. Thank you so much. And thank you for trying it.
[00:12:03.795] Kent Bye: So that was Maria Guta. She's a Romanian Swiss based artist who was the director of the experience called Interlooped. So this was done with the technology called Inverse. And it's like a real time volumetric voxel technology. I'm actually going to have an interview with one of the creators of Inverse to kind of unpack what they're doing with the technology. But it's kind of more on the scale of something like Depthkit. using these depth sensor cameras to do volumetric captures and to be able to do like real-time volumetric capture and have a virtual experience. I think this is one of the first experiences that I've had that's able to do that. And I think by using that low fidelity, they're able to do that type of real-time processing. So you don't ever have a sense like this is actually your body. You have like this dissociated aspect where you're having this very lo-fi expression of yourself, but it's enough of your likeness and the way that you move that you can certainly identify it as yourself. For me, I could tell pretty easily the difference between the recorded and not recorded. I don't know if it's because I actually saw Maria before the experience and saw that she was dressed the same as she was in the actual virtual experience, but also just the quality of her. She was talking to me beforehand and the way she sounded when she was recorded was a little bit different than how I was hearing when she was live. And so there's enough cues in my mind that I could sort of tell the difference pretty easily. But there's also this element of like the real time interaction where you're actually interfacing with somebody in these super trippy looped experiences of yourself which i think i've never had quite an experience like that where like a musician like reggie watts is able to record these different primary elements of a song and be able to loop it and basically construct an entire piece of music that's similar to that, except for you're moving around. And since I did the elastic time last year, I knew that the more that I moved around, the more that did interesting things and that the more interesting it would be as I watched it back. And so the whole time I'm kind of like very dynamically moving my body. And then as I'm adding more and more layers of myself into this experience, then I'm able to pay attention to what I did before and kind of move in very similar ways and then have this visual synchrony that I was able to orchestrate within the experience, which is a whole trippy experience that I've certainly never had a chance to do before. Maria Gutta started with photography, then started to do this 360 video shoot, and then was curating this film festival, and then eventually got connected to the creators of Mverse, that's I-M-V-E-R-S-E, and they collaborated, and she had this idea to be able to do this interactions where she was actually there performing, I think, the whole time. She only had just like 10 minutes to be able to chat because she had to go back and do some more performances. But she was there the whole week doing these real-time interactive experiences. And really exploring what is the difference between what is real, what is not real. Just because it's digitally mediated, then what is the fundamental components of the realness? For me, I definitely think that the real live interactive experiences are so much more compelling than interacting with a recorded hologram. I knew it was a recorded hologram. It's looping. And so it's pretty clear that there's no way to engage your agency with this type of entity that is Clearly not seeing that you're there. You're kind of like acting as a ghost Functionally in that type of experience and so the ultimate potential of what Maria was saying was that you know Oh, you could have like your alter ego go off and actually give like this visual representation of yourself and I actually don't think that that's gonna happen or if it does then it's gonna be a little weird because if you found out that you like say your dad sent a hologram representation of himself to go watch you play and a sports game, but he couldn't actually participate or see or engage, then is he actually there? So it's interesting to think about, is it possible to even put the essence of what it means to be a human being into one of these virtual alter egos and to send it out on behalf of ourselves to be our representative? Like for me, I would I would never feel like the technology would be able to actually represent my own sense of live embodied presence. And so I'm skeptical that that's a trajectory that things are gonna go, but it's interesting to think about as a possibility and what that means to live in a world where that exists. And do we wanna live in a world where that exists? And what would be the benefits and advantages of that? Because another way to look at that is that it's very difficult to be in more than one place at one time, but what would it mean to kind of have like a hologram ghost of yourself? But then what if you were actually able to embody that entity and suddenly it changes from being a ghost into actually being fully present? And so you know, we have all sorts of ways that we can, like, look at our phones and escape into other worlds. What would it mean to actually have these virtual technologies and have these virtual avatar representations of ourselves in, like, many different contexts at the same time, and then be able to do, like, this very fast context switching where we actually have these virtual embodiments into these different worlds? And so I could definitely see a world where that exists, because I've already started to see the ability to be able to be in multiple places at the same time, And it'd be kind of like watching a TV channel, but instead of just passively watching something, you could actually have a full embodiment within these different virtual worlds as you're context switching between all these different live virtual events that are happening across the world at the same time. And just finally, just being able to like witness yourself from a third person omniscient point of view, it was sort of changed at a slight angle. So it's like you're looking at yourself like at a 90 degree, but still you have this out of body experience where you're able to like watch yourself in a volumetric depiction of yourself in real time as you're interfacing with other people. And because they had like a 90 degree shift, then there's one point where she asked you to point at her. And so it's a little bit of like, you have to learn how to adapt. It's like looking into like a mirror that is actually shifting the ways that you look at yourself in the opposite way than you expect. And so it takes a little bit of calibration to listen to your proprioceptive instincts for where you're pointing and then seeing what the visual feedback is and then adapt and rewire the way that you move your body in order to like interact with some of these virtual environments. And so they were playing with that a little bit as well. But it's just a trippy experience to have this third person witnessing consciousness experience of watching yourself live in real time in this kind of lo-fi volumetric way. So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listeners-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.