WebXRAwards-Polys

The Polys WebXR Awards was an awards show on February 20th, 2021 founded by Ben Irwin in collaboration with Sophia Moshasha and Julie Smithson. Irwin wanted to feature a lot of the work that’s been happening on the immersive web in the year 2020 since the official WebXR spec was finally shipped on the Chrome Browser on December 10, 2019. The Polys WebXR Awards was a live show streamed on Twitch and with “Meta Multiverse” watch parties within Mozilla Hubs, AltSpaceVR, Engage, and Tivoli Cloud. They had an hour-long pre-awards show featuring pre-recorded, red carpet interviews, and they awarded 11 awards across a number of different categories.

I brought together Irwin, Moshasha, and Smithson three days after the show in order to unpack their journey in producing the event, as well as some of their highlights and takeaways in celebrating the experiences and developers who are helping to make the immersive web possible. There is not a video archive available for the show as they wanted to keep it ephemeral and in the moment, but you can see all of the nomminees on their WebXR Awards website or links to all of the nominees and winner can also be found in my Twitter thread coverage of the WebXR awards. They are also planning on posting more clips over the next year on their WebXR Awards YouTube Channel considering they captured a lot of historically interesting interviews and conversations.

Here’s a full list of the Polys WebXR Awards winners:

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Here’s my Twitter thread from the event listing all of the winners and nominees:

UPDATE (March 11) Ricardo clarifies on Twitter that he as indeed won a few awards prior to his WebXR Lifetime Achievement Award.

https://twitter.com/mrdoob/status/1369958753823522820

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Music: Fatality

Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler - Still 2
One of my favorite pieces at Sundance New Frontier 2021 this year was a series of four open web experiences created as a part of the piece Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler. Born out of The Guild of Future Architects‘ Futurist Writer Room, lead artists Sophia Nahli Allison, idris brewster, Stephanie Dinkins, Ari Melenciano, and Terence Nance participated in a series of worldbuilding workshops featured on the themes and imagination of Octavia Butler’s body of science fiction work. Their original output were going to be live performances, but with COVID-19, they decided to use open web technologies to distribute their speculative design art pieces. You can see these four immersive web pieces on the website Interstitium.space/.

kamal-sinclair2I had a chance about how this project came about with Kamal Sinclair, Founding Executive Director of Guild of the Future Architects, as well as with Ari Melenciano, a creative technologist & founder of AfroTecTopia. We trace the lineage of these worldbuilding processes that take inspiration from Alex McDowell’s World Building Institute, Afrofuturist designers, Allied Media Projects, AfroTecTopia, NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), Skawennati Fragnito’s Initiative for Indigenous Futures, Afrocentric Design, Processes Centered in Blackness, Janet Wong & Bill T. Jones of New York Live Arts, Future Imagination Summit 2019, as well as Octavia Butler’s body of work.

Ari-MelencianoSinclair and Melenciano talk about how this type of speculative worldbuilding allows Black artists to go beyond deficit-based narratives focused on trauma, and the space to step deeply into “the audacity of bold imaginations of our future” where reconciliation is possible and new potentials are released. They are cultivating a practice of creative & collaborative foresite that’s able to “liberate minds of calcified understandings” and ultimately democratize of the imagination of our future through these creative, worldbuilding processes. Sinclair has become convinced of the power of radical imagination facilitated through these worldbuilding processes, because she has witness multiple times how these imaginal Afrofuturism visions expressed through art have come to pass when given enough resources and community members with the capacity and willingness make it happen.

Each of the four pieces within the Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler have their own speculative designs and take on the future, and you can experience them yourself on the Interstitium.space webite.

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Music: Fatality

Beyond the Breakdown - Still 1
Worldbuilding and speculative design was a big theme at Sundance New Frontier 2021, and I had a chance to participate in an experience that facilitated a collaborative & deliberative process of worldbuilding that was called Beyond the Breakdown. Created by Tony Patrick, Lauren Lee McCarthy, and Grace Lee, it builds off some of the foundational work and processes developed by Alex McDowell and the USC Worldbuilding Institute. The core idea of worldbuilding is to design the underlying context and structures of society projected out within the context of a future time and place, and then to apply an evolutionary cultural, technological, economic, political model in order to imagine some potential futures from a variety of different perspectives and points of view. In the end, there will hopefully be some common themes and consensus that emerges.

In order to facilitate this process the Beyond the Breakdown collaborators created a simplified teleconference application that replicates the feeling of a group Zoom call. There were six participants who are on this call along with an AI-assistant named Serenity that’s puppeteered by a human off screen. The goal is to project out into the future into 2050, and then have a group discussion that’s catalyzed by a series of prompts provided by the AI assistant. The goal is to find the underlying principles and values that are consistent today and in the future, to imagine a better potential future, and then create a collaborative community dialogue to see where there are common interests and goals so that people can individuals within a community can start to think about what types of actions that can take today in order to make these imaginal futures a reality today.

I’m really excited about the power and potential of democratizing these types of community worldbuilding practices, an especially the potential of using immersive storytelling to actually build out some prototypes of these speculative futures within a virtual environmnt in order to start to prototype the large-scale designs, architecture, and emergent social dynamics of some of these imaginal futures. We’ll be taking a look at some specific examples of this in our next episode on Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler.

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Music: Fatality

Nightsss - Still 1
Nightss is an sensual experience that’s structured around an erotic Polish-language poem by Weronika Lewandowska that uses dance and spatial metaphors in VR to create an immersive poem. She collaborated with co-director and co-screenwriter Sandra Frydrysiak who also has a background in dance. They both are very interested in researching how the immersive experience they created impacts the neuroscience of embodiment, perception, and empathy in collaboration with the University of Social Sciences & Humanities in Warsaw.

Lewandowska and Frydrysiak are also interested in creating immersive experiences that help the audience feel embraced, immersed, safe, intimate, and sensual, and they’re working with the Visual Narratives Lab do help do some research into directing attention and other foundational research topics for immersive storytelling. They coded Lewandowska’s poem, and used it to structure multiple layers of story that included the emotions, visuals, movement, music, interaction, and overall immersion. Poetry uses a lot of powerful visual metaphor, and so it makes sense that the translation of poetry into immersive poems will help to form the underlying affordances of the spatial language of virtual reality and immersive storytelling.

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Here’s a performance of Weronika Lewandowska’s poem featured in Nightsss

Music: Fatality

depthkit-scatter
Depthkit’s volumetric capture solution is democratizing access to the tools of volumetric filmmaking. I had a chance to do a deep dive with two of the co-founders of Scatter, James George (CEO) & Alexander Porter, who have been pioneers in the volumetric capture space. We talk about the talk about the history, evolution, and future of volumetric filmmaking. But also how tools like Depthkit play an active part of shaping the storytelling affordances of the medium. We cover a number of different sensemaking frameworks to makes sense of emerging technology evolution and diffusion, but also the funding that catalyzes innovation and aspects of culture that are on the bleeding edge of digesting, disseminating, and pushing the boundaries of innovation around creative expression and immersive storytelling.

In the second half of this in-depth interview, we do a technical deep dive to look at some of the pragmatic challenges and open problems when it comes to integrating volumetric capture within an independent immersive storytelling project. We talk about Scatter’s intention of democratizing access to the tools of volumetric filmmaking and the decision to move from a scrappy open source project to a fully-fledged start-up company with funding and customers.

The team behind Scatter and Depthkit are some of the most experienced immersive industry veterans since the modern resurgence of consumer VR. Be sure to check out my previous interviews with George, Porter, & Yasmin Elyiat in Zero Days VR as well as The Changing Same, which debuted at Sundance 2021. I also have a number of unpublished interviews with the Depthkit team that I hope to publish at some point in order to fill the gaps within the history and evolution of volumetric filmmaking.

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Music: Fatality

the-changing-same2
The Changing Same is one of the most ambitious pieces of volumetric filmmaking yet since it combines all sorts of volumetric capture techniques with Scatter’s new Depthkit Studio multi-depth sensor set up, photogrammetry, and a fusion of rigged avatars and volumetric capture. It also has scenes with multiple captures, and new innovative spatial storytelling techniques like fusing multiple realities together, magical realism, a rich set of symbolic and visual metaphors, and using the spatial affordances of context to draw out similar archetypal patterns of oppression, systemic racism, and white supremacy that repeat throughout the course of history.

The Changing Same is the fourth production from Scatter (Clouds, Zero Days VR, & Blackout), and they continue to use these immersive storytelling pieces to innovate on their Depthkit volumetric capture solutions as well as content pipelines and workflows. Depthkit provides a democratizing impulse into volumetric capture by using a single or multiple commercially-available depth sensor cameras paired with a DSLR camera.

I had a chance to get more of the backstory The Changing Same and the exploration of the history racial terror in America by talking to creators Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson, and Yasmin Elayat. We talked about the backstory and evolution of this project, the struggles of funding independent and experimental works of volumetric filmmaking, and how they were exploring questions like What does an an American Pilgrimage look like? What is Magical Realism within context of The Changing Same? And what is the definition of Afrofuturism from an American perspective?

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True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality

Music: Fatality

XR-Ethics-Invitation

I’ve been an executive committee member of the IEEE Global Initiative of the Ethics of Extended Reality for the past six months, and we had our official kickoff meeting on Friday, February 5th. The goal of this effort is to produce a white paper that helps augmented reality and virtual reality designers and developers to understand the landscape of ethical & moral dilemmas when designing for XR, and to provide a framework with some guidance of applied XR ethics & ethically-aligned design. There will also be some technology and privacy policy and recommendations for the government policymakers and technology policy lawyers.

Timeline-for-White-Paper-IEEE-Global-Initiative-of-Extended-Reality-Ethics

I’ve volunteered to chair and head up the white paper committee, and so I presented an proposed timeline and an initial survey of the landscape of ethical and moral dilemmas of XR based upon my previous work within my XR Ethics Manifesto. Here’s a video of my presentation from that initial meeting on February 5th, 2021:

Here’s my initial survey of the landscape of ethical issues. This is merely a starting point, and how we end up breaking this up into chapters is very much open to deliberation by this community-driven effort.
Landscape-of-XR-ETHICS

There’s going to be lots of stuff that’s not included, and there will also be generalized principles independent and universal across all contexts, but also other lenses and perspectives to be included. I’m going to attempt to be as inclusive and pluralistic as I can in how we structure this white paper on XR Ethics.

To get more involved, then you can sign up here to stay informed over the whole time period, or if you want to dive in and help collaborate on one of the subcommittees, then send an email to xr-ethics-chair@ieee.org with the “Subject: Add Me to iMeet Platform.”

The full slide deck can also be found here.

We’re getting our collaboration platform set up, and I look forward to working on this project with the community. If you have any questions, then feel free to ping me @kentbye on Twitter.

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Music: Fatality

sundance-new-frontier-2021

sundance-critics-roundtable
After watching the 14 immersive experiences at Sundance New Frontier 2021, I invited three other immersive critics for a roundtable discussion unpacking each of the experiences inlucing CNET’s Joan Solsman, Forbes contributor Jesse Damiani, and CNET’s Scott Stein.

Here are the time codes for when we start to talk about each of the experiences from Sundance New Frontier 2021.

I will be having a series of over a dozen interviews with artists and creators totaling over 15-16 hours worth of conversations that were recording during Sundance 2021. If you’d like more information and context on this year’s show, then be sure to check out my interview with Chief Curator of New Frontier Shari Frilot.

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Here’s my Twitter thread round-up of the 14 New Frontier pieces.

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Music: Fatality

fox-buchele-twitter-2021-01-14
On January 14, 2021, VR developer Fox Buchele announced on Twitter that he was fired by Owlchemy Labs in 2020, and “I’m sharing this now because I’m done with this industry. And I don’t see myself coming back.” He described being a VR developer as “hard, thankless work – made worse by toxic, business-first development cycles, authoritarian ‘trickle down’ management and design, and a general lack of respect for the grunts in the trenches.” And that “I can’t in good conscience continue to support an industry so broken and exploitative while pretending everything is normal.”

I reached out to Buchele to do an exit interview of sorts to explore his side of the story for what happened during his time at Owlchemy Labs, but also his perspectives on toxic work environments for VR developers within the game industry at large, what he sees as a stagnation of innovation and creativity due to authoritarian creative practices and a lack of diversity and inclusion, but also the larger context of the abuses of Big Tech.

This interview is an oral history of Buchele’s experiences and perspective. In the long run I’d love to capture other perspectives as well to get the full picture and other sides of the story, but the types of things that Buchele talks about are aspects of the games industry that others have been talking about as well.

Also, because Owlchemy Labs was purchased by Google on May 10, 2017, then this was also an opportunity for me to ask Buchele about that acquisition, and what types of insights that it could provide into Google’s overall XR strategy. Google has had a lot of XR projects come and go including Daydream, Google Cardboard, Google Expeditions, Google Poly, and Project Tango. Buchele points to the lack of willingness for Google to produce their own VR hardware combined with an already fragmented ecosystem within Android did not create a compelling platform for VR developers to buy into Google’s ecosystem. As a result, Google has yet to build up any serious traction within the broader VR industry, and they’ve been focusing their efforts on AR and AR Core within Android.

Fox’s time at Owlchemy Labs also mirrored the time in which Donald J. Trump was the President of the United States, and so he also talked about the dynamics of shutting down polarizing political discussions in the workplace during that time period. He talks about how he consciously and unconsciously shut down the more political parts of his social media presence in part because he didn’t want to have his private thoughts reflect poorly on the upbeat, positive, fun, and lighthearted brand of Owlchemy Labs.

He characterizes the working environment as one of “toxic positivity” that started with the stifling of polarizing political discourse, but ended in the resistance to having deeper critical deliberations about creative decisions. He claims that as time went on, then there was also a hierarchical creative decision-making process where only a couple of the leaders were involved making critical decisions in the absence of listening to creative feedback of the development team.

There’s certainly a number of things that Buchele discusses that is unique to his experiences at Owlchemy Labs, but also likely a lot of experiences that other developers in the VR industry and games industry at large have experienced as well. There’s a lot of taboos that Buchele is breaking in order to speak out about some of his experiences, and so I’m grateful that he was willing to elaborate on his Twitter. Sharing his story is in the spirit of being able to reflect upon some of the cultural aspects of VR industry that contributed to his experiences, and what we can do in terms of resisting Big Tech’s consolidation of power, the stifling of creativity through diversity and inclusion, and being willing to speak out about toxic elements of culture and how those can be changed.

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Here’s a Twitter thread where I reflect upon the deeper cultural and technological dynamics of political polarization and filter bubbles

https://twitter.com/kentbye/status/1348073773568716800

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Music: Fatality

sundance-2021-film-party

Sundance New Frontier 2021 features 14 immersive experiences that will be accessible via the $25 Sundance Explorer pass starting on Friday, January 29th until Wednesday, February 3, 2021. The New Frontier site will also be hosting virtual premiere parties on their “Film Party” platform featuring six films at a time within a 3-hour window. This will be a chance for the directors producers of the 71 Sundance films and New Frontier pieces to have their own virtual premiere party throughout the festival. The schedule will be displayed within the Film Party virtual environment, but you can also see it in this PDF of the premiere schedule.

sharifrilotI talk with Shari Frilot, Senior Sundance Programmer and Chief Curator of New Frontier, in order to get a sneak peak of the 14 experiences at Sundance New Frontier 2021, as well as as overview of all of the virtual gatherings & film parties, the New Frontier Gallery Space, and the four virtual cinema house screenings (details below).

There will be a Virtual Film Party Bar that is VR-enabled as well has webcam support where clusters of 8 people will be able to have conversations within an opt-in, audio bubble that needs to be initiated. The capacity will be 250 people, but new instances will be spun up once it reaches capacity. The Film Party premieres for each of the films will be capped at 250 people. All of the New Frontier directors will be having their premiere parties on either Monday, February 1st or Tuesday, February 2nd.

The New Frontier Gallery will also have infinite instances of 250 people, but there will be no webcam support. There will be VR-chat enabled though, and so this will be a great place for the VR community to gather.

There will be an unofficial New Frontier Opening Night Party in the Virtual New Frontier Gallery on Friday, January 29, 2021 at starting at around 7 or 8p PST.

There will also be a virtual cinema showing four films in virtual reality as a part of the Explorer Pass. Capacity is 200 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Here’s schedule for the Virtual Cinema House for Sundance 2021:

  • Friday, January 29, 8 pm MST (7 pm PST) – Documentary Shorts
  • Sunday, January 31, 3 pm MST (2 pm PST) – Station to Station
  • Monday, February 1, 7 pm MST (6 pm PST) – Users
  • Tuesday, February 2, 4 pm MST (3p PST) – Mother of George

Also, for fans of simulation theory, there’s a midnight documentary called A Glitch in the Matrix, which premieres on Saturday, January 30, 2021, 10 pm MST (9 pm PST). Individual movie tickets are $15 each, and there are still tickets available for a number of screenings.

Facebook sent all of the Sundance 2021 directors Oculus Quest 2 headsets, and so these Sundance New Frontier virtual spaces could a really good opportunity to connect and network with the independent filmmaker community.

You can catch all of the other details for Sundance 2021 in my interview with Shari below (or you can also check out No Proscenium Podcast #278 for more context & information from Shari & Active Theory).

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Music: Fatality