#983: Sneak Peak of SXSW Online XR Program with Curator Blake Kammerdiener Neural Input

SXSW Online is happening March 16-20, and I had a chance to get a sneak peak of the SXSW Online XR world in VRChat and talk with the chief curator of the SXSW Virtual Cinema program Blake Kammerdiener about the program and special events that he’s been able to put together. The $399 entry price for SXSW is a bit steep if you’re only interested in the immersive storytelling program, but this also includes all of the tech conference, music conference, film conference, film festival, and music festival events in additional to the SXSW Online XR program. I’ll be attending a number of the different aspects of the SXSW Online next week, and talking to Kammerdiener helped me get a bit more of an idea of what to expect next week and where to track all of the different events, talks, meetups, and live performances.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So the South by Southwest Festival is coming up here next week from March 16th to March 20th, and I'm signed up to attend as a press attendee. And there is a section for immersive storytelling for the online XR. They have a VR chat world that also is going to be linking to other things as well. The caveat, I'd say, is that for most of the other festivals, let's say Sundance or Tribeca, they've had it in a way that you could see it at a very affordable price. South by Southwest is actually taking the approach where they have not only the XR section, but they have the technology conference, they have the film conference, they have the music conference, they have the music festival, as well as the film festival. The South by Southwest ticket price of $399 includes all of the different conferences. You have access to everything that's going to be happening from March 16th to March 20th. So I had a chance to talk to Blake Comandiner, who is the XR film programmer at South by Southwest. And I wanted to get not only a sense of the XR specific things that are going to be featured at South by Southwest next week, but also just generally what else is going on with all of the other features that are happening at the conference, just to help get people a little bit oriented into all the different things that are happening. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Blake happened on Saturday, March 12th, 2021. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:34.423] Blake Kammerdiener: Hi, I'm Blake Comradiner. I am the XR and film programmer for South by Southwest. I kind of lead the charge on all of the XR type programming here at the festival, starting with the virtual cinema, which is our VR project exhibition, as well as our XR track and our conference, and then our new South by Southwest online XR program.

[00:01:56.057] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I guess the first thing before we dive into a little bit more of your journey, because South by Southwest is coming up here this coming week from the 16th to the 20th. And a lot of the other virtual festivals so far have either been free or very low affordable costs. This South by Southwest is unique in the sense that it's over $300, but you get access to the entirety of all of South by Southwest. So maybe we can start there in terms of like, if people do want to make a decision, like what is made available with attending South by Southwest virtually this year in 2021?

[00:02:28.511] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, South by Southwest has always been kind of a unique event in that we're a multitude of different events all happening at the same time together under one umbrella. So we bring together the music industry, the film industry, and then the tech industry, and then literally everything in between. And that stitches that all together. So This year's event is the same in that we're bringing all the discovery for new artists in all of those different realms. You know, new filmmakers with great new projects, new musicians, new tech innovations, and we're putting that all under the online.sxsw.com umbrella. The South by Southwest online. 2021 and giving access to all of it to everyone. And so one of the biggest things that is so important is actually like meeting with these people. And so getting those networking opportunities, actually like being able to get together and meet cross disciplinary individuals, like really is what kind of helps to grow innovation throughout all of them, in our opinion, and you get access to all of that.

[00:03:27.337] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, we'll be diving into more of the specific stuff with the XR program that you've curated, but maybe let's take a step back and just talk about your own journey into virtual reality and a little bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.

[00:03:41.350] Blake Kammerdiener: All right, well, I guess it started actually when I was maybe 10 as I wandered into our local arcade and that we had, there was a copy of Dactyl Nightmare and I was like obsessed, like I have to get into that game. So I did. And so I tried the, you know, the eight bit version where you pay like 20 bucks or something and you get in, you put on this giant headset and this giant ring and you look up and try and find the pterodactyl. before the pterodactyl kills you like five seconds later, and then it's over, and then you got to try it again, you know? So that was literally my first introduction, and I was obsessed with it. I did it as many times as I could when I was young. And then after that, really, there was like a break. I didn't try it again for quite a while, but then I think it was my senior year in high school in 2000, I went to Disney Quest, which was a five-story virtual reality arcade. Spent all night there, and it was just like, brought back that same feeling of just like, the future is here, why isn't everybody doing this all the time, you know, type situation. And it brought that feeling right back. And so then again, I just kind of like lightly followed from then on, always with it fresh in the mind. And then slowly people started talking about it more and more at South by Southwest actually, starting mainly through our conference. Then there was some really, really interesting early meetups. Felix and Paul, I think, met with the early founders of Oculus at a party at South by Southwest and, you know, like helped us spur on that journey, things like that. And I was, so I'd follow these different conference sessions as they started growing up. And then in preparation for the 2016 event, we brought together our leader, Hugh Forrest, brought together. He was like, okay, well, now we're going to bring in a full section dedicated to VR and AR. And I instantly was like, Add me to the list. I want to be on the team. Help out with that programming. I did. I jumped in. And during that time, we were just like, well, it was conference focused. So we were going through looking at people talking about it and all of that. And I was like, well, VR is an experience that we really, really need to allow people to experience that. They're going to be looking for it, you know? So they were like, okay, okay. I started reaching out and touching base with people. We found a small room. We got a small room in the Hilton where we brought in Nani de la Peña with Emblematic Group and their Across the Line project. We brought in Chris Milk and they played a slew of projects in there. And then a couple of like independent people who had been working like, I think there was one, Orange Sunshine was a documentary we played that year that had a piece. So we started there. It was super successful. They were like, Let's get the virtual cinema moving, which was our large exhibition that we started for the 2017 event officially and kind of just moved on from there.

[00:06:15.146] Kent Bye: Yeah, I attended South by Southwest in 2016, where it was a year where usually it was South by Southwest. They have like two weeks or so. Like the first week was a lot of the technology and all the main tech conference. And then the second week was the music week. And when I went and my recollection was that the VR portion was kind of like playing during the second week, which is all the main tech people had already left. So it was a little like de-emphasized in some sense, because it wasn't, integrated at the same level as the rest of the tech conference. And so then I think it took a year or two off and then came back in 2019. But also the curation for the festival is very interesting to kind of look at the different festivals and see that Sundance has its own flavor and Tribeca has its own flavor and South by Southwest also has its own flavor, which I would say some of the experiences that I've seen there is almost like some of the experiences that are ready to kind of go from just at a festival screening out and kind of launching into a full-fledged location-based experience where it's out in the world and people can see it, but at a very specific location, whereas some of the other festivals, I think Sundance, they used to kind of have some of those. And then they got a little bit more experimental saying, Hey, let's have a little bit more of the avant-garde, maybe stuff that's not as polished, but it's trying to push the medium forward. So I guess there's a bit of a tension here. I'm just curious to hear your own. curatorial philosophy, because there's different festivals that are out there that have different emphasis on either innovation or experimentation or storytelling specifically, or also looking at things in terms of the mass market and trying to grow different phases. And so just curious to hear how you conceive of that and where you see South by Southwest kind of fits into the larger mix of the festival circuit.

[00:07:54.148] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, you bring up some good points there. And early on, I think we You know, there were more demo type pieces, especially in the first, you know, like in our demo year and things like that. But number one, our audiences are all very different. Right. And thinking about that quite often, I thought that our audiences really wanted some more fully fleshed out pieces that they could really dive into and chew on. Right. And so that was one of the kind of the ways I started looking at the programming pretty early on. And so that's kind of the stuff. And it's not that we weren't looking, cause we also do like to look at innovative pieces as well. And looking at people who are really. taking the newest technology and applying it in a new way, right? So we're definitely looking at that. I think for our 2020 event, which was canceled due to COVID, like it was really even split between VR and then MR with like Magic Leap projects and then like audio AR, you know, so people who are really like trying to dive into a variety of different types of immersive medium. And then The other way we kind of look at things whenever we're programming is, you know, I come from the film programming side of things. So storytelling is definitely like a big part of where one component, but then also like art and installation is really like another big component that I'm looking at is like, how are artists from different medium coming in, looking at the immersive tech and like how they can apply it to their art. And so there's a lot of those. And so, yeah, a lot of them are very installation, very like specific to a place type projects.

[00:09:22.916] Kent Bye: Yeah. And so maybe you could go back a little bit to last year. There was, as the pandemic was coming on, I had gone to Sundance. That was the last physical event that I've gone to since over a year now. And so then there was a lot of discussion around whether or not even South by Southwest was going to be canceled. It was a long deliberative process. And then eventually it was canceled. And unfortunately, a lot of those pieces that were scheduled to be shown at 2020 never really had a medium or form to be able to be shown. I don't know if you did find some online outlet, but it seems like here in 2021, you're kind of geared towards, okay, now we're going to go all in and just make everything virtual and just bring everything online. But maybe you could take us back to last year and what that was like for you to have prepared all of this program, but then for it to be canceled due to COVID.

[00:10:10.168] Blake Kammerdiener: Oh, you know, just like everything else. It was very, very difficult. Of course, there was the whole, you know, lead up and planning to it, where it was like, you know, the world was still moving at that time. And then slowly, just like it was really just slowly starting to hit all around. And, you know, we really, really, it was very important to us to listen to the health officials and our city partners and everything in all that. And so We did just that. And then, and so, so then the city canceled all events in Austin just that week before. So then there was like, it's like a scramble to just like really find ways to take care of our, our artists and our audience, of course. So like, that was our next thing. And we ended up going, we were able to do like a 360 program with Oculus TV, which was really wonderful to give them some exposure. Um, it's just, you know, it was a handful of projects. I think six or seven out of the 28 official projects were able to be hosted there. So yeah, I mean, I will say it's tougher to cancel an event than it is to throw an event, which is very hard.

[00:11:07.965] Kent Bye: Oh, yeah. I can totally see that. So maybe we could dive into some of the different features that we have in South by Southwest, because just from me looking at it, it's a little overwhelming, a little confusing, just trying to get a sense. There's all these different websites. And so. Maybe we could start with like the VR chat world that we just walked through a little bit here. So for people who do have virtual reality headsets, and if you do want to get in, this does seem at least to be some portal to be able to go into VR chat and to go in different places where there could potentially be like live streams for other sections, either the music or the tech conferences and different meetups. So maybe you could sort of describe what you imagine here. Totally, absolutely.

[00:11:48.808] Blake Kammerdiener: And I'm actually going to start in a little bit different place. I'm going to start at online.sxsw.com, right? Because that is where you're going to go in. You're going to sign up. You've got your badge with us. You're linking your badge to our online system. And our main system is right at online.sxsw.com. It's where all of our schedules are. It's where you can see all of our video streams, as well as link to all of the other different platforms that are going to be utilized. We knew automatically going in that we didn't see at the time any kind of one platform that could host all that is South by Southwest. right? There's just too much uniqueness within the different aspects of what we do. So from there, you know, we're going to have, first and foremost, we'll have the video content, but you can also get that on your TV through the OTT app. So look for South by Southwest on your OTT apps, download those, watch streams of the conference sessions, films, music showcases, all of that. Yes, in your profile, go in, add your VRChat username. Then you will also need to check out our South by Southwest online XR button tile on the homepage. Hit that, it'll tell you what hosts you need to go in and friend. And once then you friend your hosts, you can join your hosts and you can get access to our VRChat worlds.

[00:12:59.686] Kent Bye: In VRChat usually, even when we were just in VRChat, sometimes when people send an invite to me, I have to request an invite. So you go into VRChat, you friend these specific people or bots or accounts that will give you access to what is presumably like a friends or friends plus, or maybe an invite only world. Then once you're in there, then you can kind of go into amongst. So the onboarding for all this, I think over time is gonna get better. But at this point you have to kind of friend an individual And then from there, join into that room and then you can kind of launch into the online VR chat world. Is that right?

[00:13:32.480] Blake Kammerdiener: Absolutely. That's absolutely correct. So, so that's how it's going to be. And there, we built these VR chat worlds so that we could have, bring Austin to life. You could go in, walk into a venue and watch a music showcase, watch film special events, conference sessions, have meetups so that you can meet up with your friends, you know, with all social VR platforms, there's multiple instances. So if you're there and there's only like, there's only like 40 people and you don't know any of them, check your instances. You know, your friends are going to be around and you can join them, move between instances, go between the different worlds and yeah. Watch some live panels, all the good stuff.

[00:14:06.326] Kent Bye: We were in a piece, I was on my PC, but are all these VRChat worlds, so they're going to be Quest compatible as well.

[00:14:12.600] Blake Kammerdiener: Absolutely. That was super important for me, especially with the big push from the Quest 2. Everybody's getting them. Last thing I wanted for somebody to be like, I just bought my Quest 2. What can I do? And I'd be like, nothing. You know, I wasn't going to do that. We all as a team worked really, really hard to make sure everything was going to be Quest compatible for the VRChat world.

[00:14:29.893] Kent Bye: Okay, and so usually there's a whole music festival and film festival, and those are usually on separate weeks just because they're so large. But am I right into saying that from March 16th to 20th is everything all at the same time? And so does that mean you can basically see whatever film you want or are those limited? Can you get into any music show that you want or are those constrained? If people- Yeah, for sure.

[00:14:50.018] Blake Kammerdiener: No, great question. So everybody has access to all, like all pass holders have all access to all portions of the event. Now, some events are going to be limited. You're going to need to go and register. There's going to be a limited seat number. So say for certain films, limited seat number, you can watch it. Most films, they'll launch at a certain time and then be available for the rest of the event, right? But only if you register and get the seat before it's sold out. Then for like music showcases, we have five live streaming channels, right? And I say live streaming, there will be live events on them. Some of them will be pre-recorded. So you'll go in, you can watch like a TV channel. You know, we have five of those and you go in, you pick a channel, watch it, watch whatever's on at the time. And those will be scheduled. We'll have conference sessions on all of them or on most of them. And we'll have music showcases. We'll play there as well as certain special events. Now the music showcases will not go on demand and you'll have to catch them live on their channels whenever they play in the evenings.

[00:15:49.290] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, that's good to know. And I think usually also in the past, South by Southwest has had, I know a technology portion that has all the tech discussions, even like a film discussions with more film, entertainment, and then music. Is a similar thing here where there's going to be lots of other panel discussions and talks and keynotes that are happening across all those domains as well?

[00:16:10.873] Blake Kammerdiener: Of course. And so those are going to take place. We're gonna have featured sessions and keynotes on those live channels once those launch and once those play, then they will go into on-demand and you can watch them on-demand. And then we have a whole library of on-demand sessions from across all of those genres, like you said, music, film, technology, so that you can go in. You can check them out. On top of that, we're going to have pitch session, like our South by Southwest pitch is going to be on one of those channels. We're going to have our gaming awards, and I believe it's going to be on Saturday night. It's going to be great. That will also be kind of shot into the VR world, I do believe. So, you know, yeah, absolutely. We're still really trying to embrace all of the audiences we always have.

[00:16:50.138] Kent Bye: Okay. And so before we dive into the actual selection that you've made this year, I just want to also clarify, because in the VR chat world, there's a number of different venues that are, that seem to be recreations of actual locations there in Austin, and that you kind of have set up different meetups and other gatherings. And so maybe you could just give me a bit of an example of like the types of things you could launch in and do within these VR chat worlds. I think there's going to be always multi modalities that you could use of like, if you want to watch this, you could go watch it on a tablet or on your computer, or maybe that'll be better to go see it with friends when you're in VR chat, if you want to be in a social experience. So I'm just curious to hear a bit more context as to what other types of events are going to be happening within the VR chat worlds that you're created.

[00:17:32.177] Blake Kammerdiener: Absolutely. So several of our venues will have 2d screens with feeds, basically from our main platform, from our main channel. So. I'm at the Paramount Theater. You can go in, you can watch a number of our conversations on the film side, maybe more film focused or future of entertainment rather, I should say, as well as special events like table reads, gonna have like a solar opposites party and things like that. So that's gonna be a lot of fun in there. And then you go over to Red River, go over to Mohawk, you can check out a bunch of music showcases that will be streamed into those venues, as well as some more music showcases and comedy specials over at the Empire. Our friends at the British Music Embassy have the Cedar Street Courtyard down the road as well. You can also jump in, you can see we have Dan Cross. did an amazing avatar capture that you can go search out and find. And then we're going to have some live sessions. So the cast of Finding Pandora X is going to do a live session in the Contemporary on the rooftop. We have meetups from like our VR ARXR developers meetup, the French Immersion meetup, and you know, another slew of great parties, our opening parties and closing parties and all of that you can find out in the VRChat world as well.

[00:18:40.450] Kent Bye: Yeah, you'd also mentioned to me when we're doing the VRChat tour that there's going to be some music performances. And maybe you could elaborate on those, if there's going to be specific to VRChat, or if they're going to be streamed in or online XR music.

[00:18:53.477] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, totally. So right now, we're having most all of our stuff is going to be streamed in from our main set. So it'll be like most of the music showcases will be. But then we're going to have some special music showcases that'll be streamed in, most of them 2D. that are specific for, say, a party in the empire, you know, so that will be specific for the VR chat worlds.

[00:19:14.316] Kent Bye: Okay. And, um, just a quick question on the conference. A lot of conferences, you watch a zoom call or whatever. What is the mechanism for people to say? Either ask questions or interact. That's always a challenge in terms of how do you make it feel like people are able to participate in a way of just beyond just like watching a video that's completely passive. Like, uh, what are the plans in terms of people wanting to engage and watch a session? Are there opportunities to ask questions and is there text back channels or maybe just a little bit more context onto that?

[00:19:43.748] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, absolutely. So everything is on their event page going to have, or most everything will have live discussion channels that people can go in at any point in time and kind of pop in and ask questions. But also on many of the sessions and films, there's going to be times where it's going to pop up and say filmmakers live in chat or panelists live in chat. And you can go in and actually we'll have like a session viewing parties where it's like we encourage people to kind of watch around this time period and be able to go in and discuss it with the speakers or filmmakers or artists at that time. So that's definitely one of the ways we have larger discussion channels. And then literally one thing that we've encouraged is like for everybody to go out and use all the different things they use normally and where their communities are. So, you know, we've started a clubhouse club that is open to all of South by Southwest registrants, actually, which is pretty cool. So people will be having like special discussions in there and, you know, just literally we're trying to use every avenue or have people use every avenue that is good and strong for their community.

[00:20:43.770] Kent Bye: Yeah, I remember I joined Twitter back in 2007 in February before it sort of exploded at South by Southwest. So South by Southwest tends to, you know, sometimes be an opportunity for some of these tools and technologies to kind of cross the chasm and go viral. So it'll be interesting to see what, which ones of these tools end up being the place that people are heading to and what they're using.

[00:21:06.507] Blake Kammerdiener: So cool. Back to one more performance that I forgot to mention, actually. And the last time I went to it, I actually ran into you at the original show for it, but we will be reshowing the Jean-Michel Jarre concert from New Year's Eve as like a one-time special performance replay of that.

[00:21:25.382] Kent Bye: Okay. So that was in the, the Notre Dame and yeah, beautiful kind of projection maps show really awesome. Uh, I know there's a video that they produced, but the video was just a five minute piece that didn't get the full sense of the whole.

[00:21:38.685] Blake Kammerdiener: I know. Right. Like when you're in there, like, it's absolutely incredible what they, what they actually created and kind of the feel that they recreated in that whenever you're immersed in it.

[00:21:49.326] Kent Bye: Great. Well, maybe let's jump into the actual program. And so I know that you are selecting some pieces that have been out in the festival circuit and that you've done your own curation there, but then there's the competition. So I don't know if that's a good way to start of like the things that you're featuring versus the competition pieces.

[00:22:05.897] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, absolutely. The competition, just so you know, is made up of our world and international premieres. and really kind of runs the gamut between all the different types of stuff we like to showcase. So it has 360 videos, it has documentary, a narrative, it has art pieces, and so really like it really runs that gamut of what we like to showcase at the festival.

[00:22:28.760] Kent Bye: One question that I should ask in terms of performances and live performances, because I know that you had mentioned Finding Pandora X, which I'd seen at Venice, but knowing that there's both a limited amount of people that can see it, but also trying to register for those times. So maybe you could first talk about some of those pieces that do have a live performance element that if people do want to see, they should probably figure out those first and then make sure that they have a time slot to be able to actually go see it.

[00:22:56.393] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, absolutely. So one is like we mentioned, Finding Pandora exits in our virtual cinema section. And because we knew it would be so limited, number one, there's multiple performances throughout the event, but we also actually worked with them to create some backstage tours so that some additional people can kind of get in and explore and experience it in a different type of way. So there's that you do have to register through the main South by Southwest online website, then also in our special event section we have a special access to our attendees for dream, which is the live performance by the Royal Shakespeare company with Marshmallow Laser Feast, and a whole lot of other amazing partners came together to create this like two weeks of live performance online. So we have special access for three of those shows, one on Tuesday, one on Thursday, and one on Saturday.

[00:23:47.967] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm going to be seeing that on Sunday. So I'm looking forward to that being able to, to have like a, an interactive elements of, of live performance for up to five to 6,000 people. So that it's going to be cool to see what they're able to do, that the audience of the future collaboration that they have, it's pretty cool that they've been working on it and that they had to pivot at some point in order to focus on the remote instead of like a site specific thing they had to turn into, like how to actually give some of these theatrical performances in the time of a pandemic. So it's. I'm very curious to see all of these collaborators coming together. Absolutely. So is there a specific 360 video selection here? And they're also 6DOF. And so how are they going to be able to see that? I saw that there is a VR room store. And so what are the logistics that people need to know in order to actually get content, either the 360 video streams or be able to see the downloads for the 6DOF experiences?

[00:24:41.086] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, absolutely. So you're going to be able to access room.store through the South by Southwest online platform. So there'll be links several places on the page for the projects and then go to the online XR booth and you'll find, again, links to that store. You have to access it through, be a registrant and be logged in to access the store. Once you're in, you'll see the full selection of projects that are available for download or streaming 360 videos, you'll be able to stream through the platform and then you'll be able to download each of the six top projects. If you have the right gear, of course, which will be listed.

[00:25:19.041] Kent Bye: Right, so you need a PC-based or a somehow wirelessly streaming from a PC to a Quest if you want to see this.

[00:25:26.984] Blake Kammerdiener: Right. We do have, there is one unique project actually that I'll mention that's in our competition that is for desktop. It's for PC before your eyes. It was called Coda previously when we announced it for the 2020 selection, but we're really excited to be able to have them back and it's for PC versus a headset.

[00:25:47.756] Kent Bye: Yeah. And what were some of the themes in terms of the topics that as you were looking at all these pieces, what were the stuff that you saw either emerge out of things that were similar to all these pieces or things that you would want people to know in terms of like, these are the kind of topics or themes that seem to come up with these pieces.

[00:26:06.510] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, you know, with every year really, we do have like this wide, broad range of really wanting to hit a bunch of different buckets. And so we definitely still do that where we have some really amazing, strong documentary pieces, A Promise Kept about a Auschwitz survivor, and then Re-education kind of about struggles in Xinjiang right now, or Xinjiang right now in the region in China, that is based on a piece of journalism by The New Yorker. And I've always felt that 360 has been really strong and documentary. They just mesh really well together. And they continue to do that, you know. But then, of course, people have been locked in their spaces. People have been dealing with this pandemic. So you're going to see some pieces. Poison is actually, you know, it's about COVID and what it does to you and your body. And you get to kind of experience that in a six o'clock type way. And then but then there's more meditative projects of hybrid and strings is like really like a meditative art piece about connection and loneliness at the same time, I feel like, with nature and yourself. And it's a really beautiful piece by Lorne Moffat. Then we have the first episode of Samsara by Wang Xinqin, which is kind of a sci-fi apocalyptic view of the world as you move through it and it changes you and as it changes, it's, you know, super unique, very unique project. And then of course, you know, Space Explorers, right? Space is always something that has fascinated VR creators because everybody has had a dream of space. I think every year we've had some space projects that we've showcased because it's just, you know, being able to go there. I know it was my dream as a kid and I love to go to space as much as I can. And, you know, the Space Explorers projects were a really, really unique way to do that.

[00:27:55.283] Kent Bye: Yeah, I remember the, the Mars piece a couple of years ago, which was like a guided tour of Mars, like a hundred years in the future. It was really quite fascinating to look at the history of the different vehicles and the architecture, uh, from the lens of, you know, looking into the speculative design and really lines for the entire festival of people wanting to see that willing to stand there for the entire day, just to see that one experience.

[00:28:17.492] Blake Kammerdiener: People came like three hours before we'd opened a wait line for that project is really amazing.

[00:28:22.587] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. So the nice thing about festivals like this is that people who don't already have access to the technology being able to see some of these pieces. So unfortunately in some ways, people who are already kind of introduced to VR and bought into a certain degree, but I think it's still important to feature these stories and make them available because.

[00:28:40.986] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, I found it. I found it paramount. I found like instantly that's like. Okay, whenever we made the decision that we're going to be all virtual, you know, it's, it's like, okay, we still have to have a vibrant component, VR component and immersive component for it to tell these stories and to showcase these stories to whoever can access them. Absolutely. One of the beautiful things about South by about our virtual version of our event is that a lot of different events, you know, it's timed, it's limited access, ticketed ways to get in, but we leave that room open. Like we open the doors and we just like let people kind of stream in the whole time and create this vibrant community. And so that's one reason why I also wanted to kind of really like create an open environment as well with that. And so with the VR chat worlds and really like we gave boots in our creative industries exhibition, which is kind of like our trade show. Like they all have boots there so that they can interact with as many people in our South by community as possible. So really it's like, I was talking to some of our filmmakers earlier and I was like, go talk to the people, you know, talk to everyone. You can really like engage with our audience because that's just kind of like one of the beautiful things about South by Southwest is our audience and the people who, who come to seek out the beautiful work that they've created.

[00:29:58.083] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think being able to travel to these conferences and see stuff, one thing you get is like kind of exotic technology haptics and things that are not consumer ready. But now with this turn with the pandemic, it feels like a healthy way of having a lot of these festivals. Think about, okay, how do you make these pieces more accessible? How do we use what we already have? How can we maybe flesh out some of these remote distribution issues because the challenges are so hard that it's easier just to meet face to face. I'm happy just being able to go to all these different places without having to travel. I still have to deal with other issues, which is making sure that there's something not wrong with my computer or something, have other technical glitches. I mean, when I travel, it's like they have to deal with that. And then it's, it's more of an issue of trying to get the time to be able to see it. And so there's a trade-off between. less stress to figure it out, but more stress of trying to actually get in to see it. Now there, you can see everything just assuming that it works in whatever glitches that you have in your computer or whatever else. But yeah, maybe you could talk about that process for you because now it's a year out from you attending virtual conferences to do curation where normally you would be doing that. And so you've probably a seasoned attendee to a lot of these virtual conferences, like I have been attending as well. So you know exactly what I'm talking about, but I'm just, curious what that has been like just for you in terms of being able to discover things. Maybe you're able to pop into smaller regional conferences that you wouldn't normally go to because of just, you know, travel, but yeah.

[00:31:27.590] Blake Kammerdiener: Not only that, but like, I mean, I attended multiple conferences at the same time. So like, I definitely, it's, it's free that we're, you know, across the world from each other. So it's definitely given me a little bit more freedom in that sense of like, I've been able to attend more in certain respects. It's harder. And this was what I was actually talking to my filmmakers about in the sense that Now I don't get away from my daily life and work to immerse myself in that like 100%. And so I'm like splitting myself between a work meeting. bedtime with the kid and attending a conference, right? But, and this again, like I said, go meet people. What has been the most valuable for me is being, you know, attending the markets, being able to have one-on-ones with creators nonstop. That's what I did literally this whole last year is I've attended these events specifically to have these one-on-ones and really connect closely with a bunch of new creators that I hadn't met prior. And, you know, several of our projects came exactly just from that, from those meetings and being able to just kind of like, chat, have a just a good long conversation because we could have it there, or there's some of them were like, our schedules don't work, we can't meet right now. But now that we've been introduced, let's set a time for next week, we'll do it, we'll do it next week. So we've been able to kind of extend that and it's been very valuable in that sense.

[00:32:43.697] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that's probably one of the probably more challenging aspects as a curator is that you are looking at these projects in an aspirational phase in the sense that they're still in development. I come in as a journalist and get to see everything as it's happening, but you as a curator are seeing things at different phases of the project and then having to, like you said, cultivate these relationships just for you to be able to be aware of things that are emerging before they've been fully formed. And so, yeah, there's a lot of that networking that I've also found is a key part of just knowing the creators and being at these places and be able to run into these people and have the technology enable those types of serendipitous collisions or ability to have those one-on-one meetings has been a key part that I've noticed, at least being able to have those opportunities to kind of, for me, it's to tune into the zeitgeist of what's emerging in the community, those types of conversations. And for you, it's helping to curate this selection.

[00:33:36.057] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, absolutely. And 100%. And I, it's kind of a beautiful thing being able to be behind the curtain of the creative process, actually. So it's like one of the perks of being a curator is you get to see kind of, you get to see the process, you get to see how these pieces are formed. Sometimes, like literally from the beginning, I have sat on with meetings where they were like, okay, we have this idea, we've literally just started talking about this idea. And then being able to see it As work in progress, you know, going all the way to completion and it's really beautiful to get to be able to see that process and to help in that process, you know, ultimately, as a curator, we're here to Help show these amazing artists work to the world and to really help people find those artists. Right. And so it's like we really want to where these matchmakers in a sense that I think is just like it's we're still being able to do even, even through these crazy challenges. So it's, it's like being able to, the fact that we were able to kind of find a way to still do that, I think it's been really, really great. I mean, it's been hard, like we were really good at throwing live events, you know, like on the ground physical events, that's something we knew, but then literally we had to like, okay, so how do you throw a virtual event? And, you know, starting from ground up, really like starting from the beginning. So it's been amazing to see that we've been able to kind of get to this point. So we're really excited about it for sure.

[00:34:50.257] Kent Bye: Yeah. And maybe we could quickly go through the rest of the selection and some of the VR virtual cinema spotlights, because, you know, these are pieces that I've seen a number of them either at Venice or Sundance or Tribeca. Maybe you could just sort of give some highlights here from some of these other pieces.

[00:35:05.385] Blake Kammerdiener: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, Four Feet High is a 360 video that I'm sure that you've seen, you saw at Sundance. It's an episodic. There's, I think, four episodes in it that we're showing all of them, I do believe. And it's a really lovely story. about a wonderful girl in a wheelchair and how she's working with new relationships and dealing with sexuality, which is a really, really beautiful project. And it spurred from another version of it that we played, I think, in 2019, actually. So really wonderful to kind of see that piece grow. Then we actually included, say, Odyssey 1.4.9 was a project that we had programmed last year, which is like a really kind of amazing art piece dive into 2001 A Space Odyssey. So it's, you know, I don't know. The moment I saw that thing, I was just like, I could watch this over and over and over again. I don't know. It's a lot of fun. Then, okay, so there's a couple pieces that are related to other, like, say, features in the greater lineup, right? So, Potato Dreams was actually a 360 video from Wes Hurley that he made, I think, in 2017, I think, that was actually, like, a partner piece to a short film that we played. We weren't able to play the 360 video at the time. It came to us a little late, all that. But then he made a feature version that we're playing this year called Potato Dreams of America. And the moment that we were like, we saw the feature, I was just like, I hit him up. I was like, we got, we have to play this 360 video because it's Awesome. It's actually so far ahead of its time from, say, 2017. If you think about it, the way he utilized the sphere, it's beautiful. It's amazing. It's a great way to tell a story. Already live on the internet, you can find WebVR, but it's really great. It introduces you to the web telescope. We're playing for Planet B, which is a documentary on that and more and beyond on the web telescope and women in the field of space. It's really amazing. And this is kind of like a partner to that, right? So I really just wanted, like, I was like, you go to Steam, there's so much stuff on Steam and like, how are you going to find certain projects like this? You know, some people just will never even get down to that space. So like being able to kind of like take people's space, like I said, go into space, it's always great, right? Yeah, and then, I don't know, Under the Skin from Juul and Nada is a really, really amazing look into, say, police brutality in the favelas in Brazil. And so it hits on so much stuff that really is, like, it's been a phenomenon here in America or like a huge, massive issue here in America, but it's worldwide. It's not just here in America. And this is, it's a really, really kind of amazing three different stories of how this has affected these individuals. So it's a really strong piece there as well. So many more. There's all sorts of, I don't know, Paper Birds is beautiful. I don't know if you've seen Paper Birds yet. It's such a beautiful piece. This is episode one. I can't wait to see episode two when they have that ready.

[00:38:07.857] Kent Bye: Yeah, Namu for me was a highlight from Sundance. Eriko, his animation is just like,

[00:38:15.497] Blake Kammerdiener: out of this world, you know? And it's such like a beautiful story of life.

[00:38:21.218] Kent Bye: Yeah, and finding Pandora X, I'm curious, actually, there's actually some branching choices and I'd be curious to potentially see that again, the stuff that I haven't seen and see the other updates, because I know Kyra Benzing has been since a love seat at Venice a couple of years ago, experimenting with this idea of theater and VR. And when I talked to her back then, she said, you know, it's basically like producing two shows at once because they were also producing it for the people that were there. Co-located now, it's all sort of virtual production, but this week in particular, it was a huge week for, a lot of immersive virtual productions that are happening from Dream to Finding Pandora X and there's the Fifth Wall Forum and other, there's like a lot of action that's happening within the space. So I'm curious to see that as well.

[00:39:02.893] Blake Kammerdiener: One of the interesting things about the space as well is There's a little more freedom in how you can update and work that piece, I think, in the, in the virtual space, because there's this time in between where you build a new set. I don't know, you know, so I look forward to seeing how they've adopted and updated through the iterations. Right.

[00:39:21.073] Kent Bye: Yeah, or adding avatar things. So you can do as a embodied avatar, you start to do things that you wouldn't normally be able to do in other experiences. Um, quick follow-up question to four feet high. Cause I know at Sundance this year, there actually had a 2d version of that same piece that was six episodes and they were showing it.

[00:39:39.370] Blake Kammerdiener: Is that also screening at South by Southwest or is this just going to be streaming in our episodic pilot competition, actually?

[00:39:45.292] Kent Bye: Okay. So I would highly recommend people to see both versions because this is actually a really good use case to see the same story told through different mediums. And they have the same characters and basically a lot of the similar arcs, but different nuances for how the story is told in VR versus the 2d version. So I would highlight people to definitely go check out both versions there. Cause I think it's a fascinating use case. I actually have a couple of interviews that I haven't published yet talking about both the directors as well as with one of the writers and the main actress talking about some of those different nuances and differences. And so for anybody that's interested in the medium and telling the difference between the affordances of each medium, Four Feet High is actually, I think, a breakthrough in the sense that this is the first time that I've seen at least a story of this depth and complexity told across so many different episodes across two different mediums.

[00:40:39.055] Blake Kammerdiener: And, you know, quite often it's funny. I know in the VR community at large, we talk often about like, should a story be told in VR? Like, what does this story do? Like, what does VR do for the story and all that? And it's a great, great example of how a story can be told in both mediums and meant to be told in both mediums. You know, I think it's really, really impressive.

[00:40:59.144] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I'm, I'm really excited. I'm really glad I had a chance to talk to you because it's, you know, like I said, it can be a little confusing or overwhelming. And so this is at least given me a good starting point to sort of start to dive in. But for you, are there anything that you're particularly looking forward to in terms of either live events or talks or anything else that you personally are interested in or you think people within the XR community would be interested in? Um,

[00:41:25.578] Blake Kammerdiener: That's like the toughest question because, okay, no, I will not give you a real answer to that question because as a curator, these are those things, right? We've worked really hard to bring together all these things that we think that is going to be really, really exciting for you to see. And really for me, the most, I actually was okay. So personally, I can't wait to go see more music stuff because I haven't had the chance to see more of our music showcases. I'm really excited to see them with my friends in VR chat. You know, I'm really excited to be able to actually just like get to hang out with some of the people who I only get to see when I when I travel to these different events. I've had my head down since Sundance. I could attend a little bit, but I was kind of busy. So I was jumping in and out. So I'm really, really excited to actually get in and meet with some folks and be able to just like kind of hang out.

[00:42:10.407] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I'm, I'll be very curious to see all the different mediums and how everything comes together. It's always a bit of a crapshoot in terms of if you build it, they will come. And sometimes it's like, you get overwhelmed and you never really know, you know, creating all the right conditions. And so, yeah, I'm excited to see the latest experiments.

[00:42:28.202] Blake Kammerdiener: My biggest recommendation seriously to everybody is take next week off and go to Southwest Southwest.

[00:42:35.125] Kent Bye: All right. Well, Blake, I guess I should ask you the wrap-up questions, which is what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:42:50.167] Blake Kammerdiener: Really, really, I think that there's endless potential for VR. I think that it's becoming more accessible and I think that it really allows people to dive into different types of stories in a completely different way. I think they're able to dive into different types of art in a completely different way and really connect with each other in a different way that I'm really, really excited to see to continue to evolve. Absolutely.

[00:43:17.269] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:43:24.119] Blake Kammerdiener: I love and miss y'all and I can't wait to see y'all again in person. Even though as much as I love seeing you in VR, I can't wait to see you in person again.

[00:43:31.933] Kent Bye: Awesome. So South by Southwest, uh, starts next week, March 16th, 20th. So you have a lot to take in. It's a lot cheaper than actually going to the actual South by Southwest in terms of travel and the hotel costs. Uh, it could be, you know, many more orders of magnitude, more than that. And here you have an opportunity to immerse yourself and dive into so many different aspects. So I'm really looking forward to checking it out here next week. So yeah, I look forward to both seeing the rest of the conference, as well as the program that you've been able to curate here. So.

[00:44:00.962] Blake Kammerdiener: It's been lovely chatting with you.

[00:44:02.684] Kent Bye: I really really really have enjoyed it So that was Blake common dinner He's a XR and Philip programmer at South by Southwest and leads the charge on all the XR programming including the virtual cinema The XR track in the conference as well as our new South by Southwest online XR program So I have a number different takeaways about this interview is that first of all? Well, if you haven't already made the decision to attend South by Southwest, then you have to make the choice in terms of whether or not you're going to go to be able to see the entirety of all the other conferences. Because the price point at $399, I would say, is not necessarily worth it if you're only interested in seeing the immersive storytelling pieces. But if you're interested in attending a little bit of the tech conference, the music conference, the film festival, so you have access to some of the films as well, but also the film conference and the music conference, and there's specific tracks for XR as well. The VRChat worlds were interesting just because there is this surrealistic aspect, but also a skeuomorphic one-to-one design of some of the actual buildings. And so as an example, like the meetup for some of these gatherings, you have to kind of find up onto the third floor, whereas the virtual architecture, you know, I would imagine it would be somewhat beneficial just to have, like, when you go in, you're directly into that meetup rather than having that level of skeuomorphism where you kind of have to go into a virtual world and then from there figure out where you have to go. which in some ways, you're kind of recreating the feeling of you're actually going into this building, you have to like, figure out, okay, where's the meetup? It's up on the third floor. So anyway, I think that's an interesting approach of taking some of those skeuomorphic aspects of how design and architecture works within in real life versus the virtual architecture that they have. But I think a lot of it just comes down to how many people are going to be committed to experimenting with a lot of these different platforms and being able to explore, generally, if people already have a pass to all these other aspects of Southwest Southwest, if they happen to have a VR headset with the Quest or a VR PC, to be able to hop in and go to some of these events online. But also just generally the XR program that I'll be checking out as well next week. I'm personally looking forward to seeing all those different pieces. And also, there are going to be aspects of the technology conference and all these other music conference and the music festival and the film festival. So I actually have some early access to some of the films I'm able to check out already. So it's kind of fun to be able to just check out some of that stuff as well. So if you do want to make a whole thing of seeing all these other aspects, and I think it would be more worth it. Again, if you're only interested in the XR, then I think it's hard to justify the cost of $399 for only the immersive program. But last year, they had to cancel the South by Southwest. And so this year, they're needing to really make a go of it in order to continue to survive and thrive. So like said, you know, they're very experienced with being able to throw in real life events. And so it'll be interesting to see how well this virtual conference gets translated, and how it differentiates itself from the other conferences. But having that interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, I think is part of the thing that makes it such an interesting conference for me to be able to pop into some of these other discussions and chats and to see some music and to see some of the films as well. So I'll be taking a look at the XR program. Keep an eye out on my Twitter thread to be able to see any threads. If you want some recommendations, I'll likely be doing some interviews as well, but also just checking out generally all the other stuff that's happening and the virtual conference and all the other events that are happening next week at South by Southwest. 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 listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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