Highlights from Tribeca Immersive 2018

 In Animator Interviews, News, Virtual Reality

Highlights from Tribeca Immersive 2018

With over twenty five VR/AR installations and a dozen of 360 video experiences including many world premieres, Tribeca Immersive Festival has been, this year again, a real delight. Organizers, creators, attendees, producers, everybody I’ve crossed path with have been so nice and inspiring. It was the right mix between art show and VR reunion. After a quick round of VR experiences on the first day, I had met with Pierre Zandrowicz from AtlasV, Jimmy Maidens and Kinga Vasicsek from Penrose Studios, Paul Bettner and Mia Goodwin from Playful Corp, the full Biidaaban/NFB team, and many more. Please find below some highlights from my Tribeca Immersive experience including few words from senior programmer Loren Hammonds, interviews with Penrose Studios and Playful Corp, video excerpts of Jaron Lanier and Edward Saatchi’s talks on VR, and more.


A word from Loren Hammonds, Senior Programmer at Tribeca Immersive:

L- My feedback from this week has been phenomenal from the creators and the audience. I’m really excited and humble that we are able to pull this off and continue to expand the platform for creators in this medium. It’s really important for the festival to continue showing immersive work and to continue expanding everyone’s kind of idea of what storytelling can be in VR. Really it’s been fantastic. Technically we have two more experiences than last year but some of them are so large that we’re using way more space than last year. We have our virtual arcade which is housing about twenty five on the fifth floor and then we have twelve 360 experiences downstairs on the first floor. And we also have a large immersive experience called Hero which is one of our Storyscapes awarded last night and that one is on the second floor. Luckily we were able to have more experiences this year with multiple headsets. In the past we had single headsets on each experience which is becoming impossible with the current interest in VR. I want to thank the international VR community and the NY VR community for continuing to support, come and evangelize.

It’s not just what you see in the headset, it’s also how you feel in the room, all the immersion that’s there before you put the headset on.

Chalkroom by Hsin-Chien Huang and Laurie Anderson

Vestige, director Aaron Bradbury, producer Paul Mowbra


Arden’s Wake: Tide’s Fall by Penrose Studios

The first experience on my to do list was Arden’s Wake: Tide’s Fall by Penrose Studios. I walked straight up to their booth and met with Jimmy Maidens, VFX Supervisor at Penrose Studios. What he told me is that they’re using their own in-house built tool called Maestro to create their VR experiences. It sounded a bit like a mix of Medium (for the telepresence capacity) and AnimVR (for the sound and cameras treaments).  When I put the headset on, I didn’t realize I’ve just signed up for a 30 minutes experience, mostly underwater. I’ve had a great time in Tide’s Fall, it’s visually pleasant and the story goes at a good pace. I kind of felt like watching a Disney, except that it was in 360. To be frank, I’m not used to have a VR headset on for 30 minutes without interacting and found it a bit long. That’s my only down. Find below an excerpt from our conversation with Jimmy Maidens and Kinga Vasiscek (production):

A- Can you tell us more about your in-house creation tool? 

J- Maestro is our social collaborative tool where our team can get inside and work on the project together. We’ve developped Maestro in-house. We had a need for this, to move forward more efficiently. This is very helpful to our team of animators. No more confusion looking at shared screenshots. “Oh this needs to be closer/further, no? What do you think?” Now we’re talking directly in VR, we change things on the spot. For now, we use Maestro mostly as a reviewing tool. We animate with other built in-house tools and we’re working on a tool suite. Maestro is the one we’ve been showing and putting people in so far. We’re still trying to understand what it is, where it’s going, so we don’t have any plans for releasing it yet, but we use it all the time. Maestro brings an exponentially increase of productivity. Working with VR, you know, you must see it in VR to know if it’s working! Our goal as a studio is to become native VR thinkers.

“Our goal as a studio is to become native VR thinkers.” Jimmy Maidens, VFX Supervisor at Penrose Studios

A- The audio treatment is impressive and makes everything so smooth. I had a lot of fun going up and down, playing with the sound while going in and out water. 

J- [Laughs] When our audio designer created that, the whole team was going up and down, to experience the underwater environment again and again, it was funny to see. Even the character’s voices are filtered because, well it makes sense right!? Sound is so important. In our studio it’s a first-class citizen. How do you know what’s going on behind you, it’s because of the sound. These are the clues you get in real life, it’s such a natural thing. It just brings everything to life.
K- On a normal pipeline the sound would come after but in our pipeline we put the sound pretty much at the beginning. I start to lay out the animation and our sound engineer starts the sound with me as we need to work together to guide the viewers. And we use Maestro! Maestro allows us to do all of that. The sound designer is in VR with me. Working together in VR also brings up interesting questions. Like what does it mean when you’re in a VR social environment  to work with others to build something, what are the different things that you can do in virtual environment that you can’t do in a real environment, and things that you do in the real environment that you need to translate in VR.

A- I’ve seen many job openings on Penrose’s website, I’m guessing you’re having more cakes in the oven?

J- Allumette, Rose & I are out, Arden’s Wake & Tide’s Fall are the two pieces we’re working on right now. We have other projects in the pipeline that we haven’t talked about yet but you should keep an ear out because it ‘s for soon! We’re busier than ever before!


Michelle Schroder from Zebra Partners and Mia Goodwin, Narrative Design Director at Playful Corp

One of my favorite experience is Star Child from Playful Corp and TrustGame. You are playing Spectra, she’s an intergalactic repairman. She’s coming to help the marine facility and when she gets there it’s obvious that something has really got wrong, It is a VR side scrolling game. I know it sounds counter productive but you’d be surprise how well it works! The fact that you’re using a X-box controller really brings you back (at least it did the trick for me) to a tender age, playing video games in front of the TV. Visually stunning, I sincerely hope in seeing derived products from their environment and characters, such as short films. Find below an excerpt of our conversation with Paul Bettner, Founder and Mia Goodwin, Narrative Design Director at Playful Corp:

A- I just played Star Child and wow, this is visually stunning, I want to stay in there. This is a mix of different genres, it reminded me of Final Fantasy, Fall Out, it’s very cinematic. How did you do that?

P- There’s no menus! We give you enough contextual clues about the environment so that without to have to say anything you can understand something has happened here and start to solve the mystery. Everything that you’ve learnt today that’s how you play the game. We think it’s an intuitive system, obviously we’ll need to do a lot of testing with focus groups. In your first five-ten minutes you should now how to play. So every new thing that we introduce hopefully will be invisible and come naturally. We’ve been surprised! We’ve had people that never touched the game before and, even if they don’t get all the way through it, we get positive feedback. They really enjoy being in the world, the environment, the lightings. We’ve put a lot of efforts into that. We’re a small team and we’re excited to share this experience with the world.

A- How long is going to be the game?

P- It’s going to be a 6 to 10 hours game. A lot of that has to do with how much time we have. So we haven’t announced anything yet. The way we’re putting things together is very modular. For us the quality of the experience goes first. We want people to feel excited about it. It’s a single player experience and we really want you to connect with the characters, with the world. It’s very much a story driven experience so hopefully, if we do our job well, you’re going to connect to it emotionally. At the end of the day what we want people talking about is the narrative experience.

A- The side scrolling mechanics in VR is a total surprise! It works so well. I remember a motocross game that was based on the same mechanics and I already had a lot of fun. The fact of playing with a video game controller brings me back to my teen age and I kind of wish I could play Star Child with my friends, like when we were playing on the Megadrive or the Playstation. 

P- I think that there’s a lot of opportunity with this side scrolling mechanic in VR oriented multiplayer. That’s not something we’re talking about right now, but I totally agree with you. Ultimately, it’s our desire to bring people together. Either through conversation or through multiplayer. That’s always something that’s on my mind.  When you were a kid, when you were playing games on the tv, even if the tv was not big, in your imagination it was wild, you were inside the game. And now, that’s what we do! I feel like I’m a kid again with the controller in my hands, I can experience it the way I did as a kid. It was so big in my imagination, it was all around me.

Star Child on PSVR, by Playful Corp and TrustGame

A- What are the inspirations for Star Child? The environment feels so familiar in a way. Like coming out of a Spielberg movie. 

M- We were inspired by a lot of video games. It is something that we reference quite often. As well as movies like Alien, Pixar films like Coco, Steven Spielberg. They are a major inspiration. Particularly in the first level that you’ve played there. High contrast, low key. It’s specifically drawn more from film and traditional game kind of lighting. The goal of this is to bring that immersive cinematic feeling. It’s a kind of future nostalgia. We’re trying to achieve a truly cinematic experience. It wasn’t obvious the way we had to do that. Like the sense of the scale.

A- I’d love to see short films made out of Star Child’s world, is it something you have in mind? 

P- We would love to. When we’re building games like this we’re thinking many years in the future. The story of this game we hope establishes the character and the world that can be experienced in other ways such as short animations, comic books. We would love to see that happening. Characters most popular today where do they come from? They come from films and comic books and stories from the past. The characters that are going to be the most beloved in years from now they will all come from games first. That’s a big part of who we are as a studio. That’s our belief.

When there will be an audience of 10 million of people in VR, then that will enable us to do more. Right now, we have to be more targeted because our audience isn’t big enough to support a lot of the things that would want to do.


Battlescar, very cool experiments in animation in VR

NYC, 1978. Battlescar is a very cool animation in VR. Punk and groovy, playing with different tools and senses of scale, and tells the story of Lupe, a Puerto Rican American 16 year old who meets Debbie on the cell of a juvenile detention center. Debbie will introduce Lupe to the punk rock scene of the Lower East Side and the secret worlds of Alphabet City. What I liked about this piece is that we can truly feel the creator’s passion behind it, feel the different tools, guess the trials and errors. Not that it looks cheap, the experience is beautiful, somewhere between music video and video games. Check it out if you can!


Vestige. Photo credit: Aaron Bradbury

Volumetric Filmmaking stole the show this year at Tribeca Immersive. Congrats to our friends at Scatter for initiating such dream-like VR experiences via their 3D sensor system Depthkit. Queerskins, Vestige, Terminal3 and many more VR creators used Dephtkit to capture and render human bodies in VR. While Queerskins goes for a photorealistic type of capture, Vestige chose a more abstract/dream-like type of render (see image above). Congrats to our friends at AtlasV! “The VR project Vestige from lead creator Aaron Bradbury was bought by U.K.-based distributor Other Set for a spring 2019 release.” READ MORE



Edward Saatchi on AI & the future of storytelling: “Over time, I guess I stopped having faith that it was the right model for us. (…) That led us to create an interactive character that hangs out with you (…).” A very interesting set of panelists talking on AI & VR in storytelling.


Masterclass with VR pioneer Jaron Lanier: “What if you could have a form of reality that is shared objectively between people and that is fluid like a dream or like a psychedelic trip? What if you could have objectivity and fluidity at the same time? That was the dream.”


Unfortunately I didn’t get to experience all of the VR. Keep an eye on HeroTerminal3, and Jack. Have heard very good things about these. Big thank you to the TFF/Sunshine Sachs organization team (Beryl, Damiano, Tammie, Melissa) who have been wonderful to communicate with.

More photo from Tribeca Immersive can be found here.


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