By Kent Nichols
Portland is a fun place. It’s known for being a little grey, a little weird, and a haven for new and exciting ideas. On August 22, it was grey not from the usual clouds but from massive forest fires plaguing the Northwest, and was a little weird and exciting because it was the first stop of the Kaleidoscope VR Film Festival, a first of its kind traveling festival of immersive and interactive films.
I’ve been curious about what all of the VR fuss is about — will this be the next big thing or the next Google Glass? What better way to see the current state of the industry than with a festival of 20 curated pieces, artist talks, and some of the best minds in VR to hob knob around with?
I Uber’ed to a soontobegentrified part of downtown Portland, to a refurbished warehouse with a line out the door. The festival is organized by Kaleidoscope, an agency for artists working in VR, and sponsored by 360 video platform VRideo. It had dozens of headsets donated by Samsung, and several Oculus stations around as well.
VR is such a personal experience, how does one organize a mass screening of VR films?
Kaleidoscope chose to group several like films into separate lines. Each line was really two lines, one fast pass for VIPs and one for general admission. In front of the lines were several chairs with headsets and volunteers to help get everything setup and moving along. It was all in a single large room, which was fine, but it made it awkward to watch films during the talks by various professionals and directors, and the lines got blurred quickly with conversations and networking.
I found the most interesting presentation was by Tyler Hurd, director of “Butts,” which began life as a traditional film using 3d animation, and was translated into an Oculus film. Hurd talked about the challenges of the new medium and the choices that they made in translating the film into VR. I was able to watch the VR version immediately after the talk, first as a total spectator, and then I looked for the technical details he discussed on a second watch through.
There was a great use of 360 live action in the documentary section in “The Nepal Quake Project,” about the devastation in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Nepal. And the Oculus experience “Der Grosse Gottlieb” was trippy and fun.
So will VR be the next big thing? I don’t know. Nosing around Vrideo’s platform, most of the videos have a small amount of views, but it’s early days. And I know that I’m shopping around for a PC that can handle an Oculus and googling how to create 360 videos.
The Kaleidoscope VR film festival will hit 9 more cities on its tour, which goes into October.
Kent Nichols is an online video pioneer who co-created one of the first breakout web series, “Ask A Ninja,” which has been viewed over 160 million times since debuting on YouTube in 2005. More recently, he worked with PewDiePie, Ray William Johnson, Rooster Teeth, CaptainSparklez and other top YouTubers as the director of creator and talent relations at Blip (2011–2013) and Maker Studios (2013–2014). He is currently starting a company to help fund digital content and independent television and serving as a mentor for companies at the Oregon Storyboard.