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Holograms,campfire horror stories,and OK GO: the best VR and AR from the tribeca film festival

By Adi Robertson  |  May 27 , 2018

Virtual reality hasn’t changed the world the way its creators hoped — at least, not yet. But it’s gotten a lot of traction in a slightly unexpected place: film festivals. At last month’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, curators featured nearly three dozen virtual and augmented reality experiences across three different tracks: a cinematic 360-degree video screening program, a “virtual arcade” with a variety of interactive and cinematic projects, and the long-running Storyscapes program that features ambitious virtual / physical installations.Some of these projects will remain festival installations, but others are coming to home VR headsets. I got to see almost everything at this year’s Tribeca Immersive program, so here’s my favorite stuff.

Alt-rock band OK Go is known for its complex and geeky music videos, involving elaborate choreographed moves on a treadmill, in zero gravity, or around paper stacks from 567 printers. So it’s unsurprising that the band has been thinking about VR for a long time, but it decided that just making a music video in VR was not a good idea. “Being in an OK Go video is not as fun as watching,” says lead singer and music video director Damian Kulash. “What is the version of our thing — the joy you get from watching our videos? The closest we could come to it was if we could distill the fun part of creativity itself, specifically music-making.”

The result is Lambchild Superstar: Making Music in the Menagerie of the Holy Cow, a partnership between OK Go and VR artist Chris Milk’s studio Within. It’s an ecstatically weird shared VR world where two players compose a song through cartoon animals, a theme that was designed to shake people out of their assumptions about how to play music. Instead of writing out a chord progression, for instance, you squeeze pufferfish assigned to chords that range from most to least experimental. It’s an intricate project that feels almost overwhelming in a festival setting, where you’ve got a few minutes to explore a complicated system. But it’s being released to the public, where Kulash and Milk hope people will start using it as a real musical tool — not just a fun experience.

After the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, we entered an era in which humanity could destroy itself. Virtual reality artists Gabo Arora and Saschka Unseld return to 1945 in a multiperson experience on the HTC Vive, placing participants in a virtual re-creation of a ruined building with artifacts from the bombings. Survivors tell the stories behind the objects — a stopped watch, a lunch box — as you touch them with ghostly hands. The Day the World Changed is notable not just for these stories, but for its dramatic visualizations of a world scarred by nuclear warfare. Test sites appear as parasitic black growths on a virtual globe that looks real enough to touch, producing smoky trails that threaten to overwhelm the planet. It moves seamlessly from the personal to the universal, using the medium’s sensory immersion to heighten the emotional impact. It’s a social experience that hasn’t made it out to the public, but it’s likely to keep appearing in art shows and festivals.

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