The future, of the future, of entertainment (part 1 of 3)

Imagine you were invited to be a silent observer, able to witness the creative process of your favorite filmmakers, game developers, and artists… I’ll wait.

Now imagine the invitation asked you to visit the infamous Facebook Campus for a private get together with the folks that many are heralding as the harbingers of the future of entertainment.

Don’t recognize this? You will soon.

This was the invitation we received from Facebook-owned Oculus and independent incubator DevLab for their first ever showcase of up and coming Virtual Reality (VR) talent.

WHAT THE HECK IS DEVLAB?

DevLab is like a cross between Kickstarter, LinkedIn and film school – if film school included a mentalist, an immersive theater troupe, and an open bar.

DevLab participants enjoying a break from the day's workshops. Photo courtesy of DevLab
DevLab participants enjoying a break from the day’s workshops. Photo courtesy of DevLab

Launched Nov 1, 2016 by René Pinnell and his VR community/event organizer Kaleidoscope, DevLab was founded with a mission to support independent VR creators and allow them to explore the boundaries of VR as an art form.

DevLab Founder René Pinnell kicking off the showcase
“We started DevLab to give independent artists the exposure, funding, and support they need to do great work.” – René Pinnell, DevLab Founder

They’ve teamed up with Oculus (a premium VR headset/platform) to give artists and creators a unique opportunity to connect and collaborate with peers, conceive groundbreaking works, and pitch said works to a captive audience of media giants with money in their hands and VR on their minds.

DevLab participant Daniel Ernst demoing his project to a potential investor.
DevLab participant Daniel Ernst demoing his project to a potential investor.

DON’T JUDGE A FACEBOOK BY ITS COVER

Sufficiently hyped for the opportunity, we flew up to the Bay Area and nervously arrived at the security lobby of Building 15, one of many on the sprawling Facebook campus. It felt like a mix between City Walk and Disneyland, the difference being that you can’t buy your way into this theme park.

A single block in the massive Facebook mega complex
A single block in the massive Facebook mega complex.

A group of attendees huddled with us in the lobby waiting for what I could only assume was a quick background check of our past Facebook posts to ensure we were not on some watch list. After just a few seconds (thankfully I had erased all my past critiques of Zuckerberg) we were handed our badges and escorted through the campus.

Retail stores selling Facebook and Instagram swag and a couple different Facebook “restaurants” surrounded us for our short walk. After a few minutes our escort deposited us at a nondescript building overlooking a row of large fire pits (all ablaze at 10 am). We dutifully headed upstairs and were greeted by a handful of security, making sure we were in the correct place and lightly reminding us we could not leave without an escort. I took one last gulp of Facebook-owned air. It was time to get virtual.

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The view that greeted us at the top of the stairs.

MEET YOUR MAKERS

A group shot of DevLab's 2016 creators (the camaraderie is palpable)
A group shot of DevLab’s 2016 creators (the camaraderie is palpable). Photo courtesy of DevLab

Prior to this showcase, DevLab’s class of creators flew in from eight countries around the world including, Germany, Korea, and the Netherlands to attend DevLab workshops in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Kaleidoscope has been building up a global network of innovators for the better part of two years, and it shows. This group of creators really are the best of the best at, well, whatever it is they do.

Typical DevLab roundtable workshop
Typical DevLab roundtable workshop. Photo courtesy of DevLab

These workshops took an unorthodox approach to the typical developer think tank model, all in an effort to force creators outside the confines of traditional filmmaking or game making in order to embrace the immersive opportunities made possible by VR.

Former Pixar art director Saschka Unseld, turned creative director of Oculus Story Studio, gives a casual storytelling lecture.
Former Pixar art director Saschka Unseld, turned creative director of Oculus Story Studio, gives a casual storytelling lecture. Photo courtesy of DevLab

The workshops included a mentalist performing magic tricks, another featured a full interactive theater troupe, all designed to help the attendees think about the ways audience may participate and interact with their art. The DevLab Workshops were designed to highlight the unique struggles, and benefits, of creating in a medium like VR.

A performer from the immersive theater group Third Rail Projects; just one of many diverse DevLab coach
A performer from the immersive theater group Third Rail Projects; just one of many diverse DevLab coaches. Photo courtesy of DevLab

The final showcase featured 28 creators pitching 20 unfinished projects to an audience of investors, collaborators, and their peers. While it was hard to pick our favorites, we whittled down the list to the projects that we felt represented the best of the bunch.

The master list of VR hopefuls.
The master list of VR hopefuls.

Over the next few days we will be sharing our favorites and giving you the inside scoop on the best VR projects you’ve never heard of before.

Without further ado let’s dive in:

TREE

Conceptual rendering of Tree provided by Milica Zec
Conceptual rendering of the Tree experience provided by Milica Zec and Winslow Porter.

Tree is part two of a three-part virtual and augmented reality miniseries examining the current state of our collective life on Earth. The series and the creators received critical acclaim for part one, Giant, which focused on atrocities humans commit against each other. This next installment, Tree, explores atrocities committed by humans against the planet.

Tree creators Winslow Porter and Milica Zec presenting their project.
Tree creators Winslow Porter and Milica Zec pitching their project.

The demo experience was equal parts chilling and exhilarating. It casts you as a tiny sapling in a lush and beautiful rainforest. As the experience progresses, your shape morphs and grows as your tiny sapling body gives way to a magnificent tree. For a moment, all is tranquil, until plumes of smoke begin to rise from far off and all at once this idyllic rainforest oasis is transformed into a fiery hellscape. Climate change and deforestation are no joke.

KCRW Creative Director Joey Caroni acclimating to his newfound sapling arms.

Tree creators Winslow Porter and Milica Zec plan to release the experience as a standalone home VR experience, but their overarching goal is to craft a mobile art installation. They said this art installation could feature: real world elements (such as real trees adorning the installation space), a sapling given to each viewer of the experience (in case you feel guilty enough to plant it after viewing), and even a haptic suit which would allow you to physically feel the sensations of the Tree you are inhabiting.

Conceptual mock up of the proposed haptic suit, provided by Milica Zec
Conceptual mock up of the proposed haptic suit, provided by Milica Zec and Winslow Porter.

We are not the only ones that loved Tree. It has been accepted to Sundance’s New Frontier and will be part of the festival this year.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Image from tomorrow's featured project. Photo courtesy of DevLab
Image from tomorrow’s featured project. Photo courtesy of DevLab

In part two of our three part series we revealed three more projects from our list, one developed in our backyard here in Los Angeles, one that explores the plight of mass human migrations across the globe, and one that shines new light on the history of human innovation.

Check that out here.

Words and Photos by Sean Dellorco and Joey Caroni