Category: News

FIVARS (Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories) celebrated its successful 3rd installment on September 15-17, 2017 with what many raved was an exceptional showcase of the world’s best narrative VR and AR. Known as the most influential independent immersive stories festival, FIVARS strives to program a wide array of emerging technologies, bringing VR and AR to the forefront of discussion.

FIVARS featured the work of groundbreaking international artists dedicated to the innovation of virtual reality and augmented reality, telling immersive stories that challenge, defy, and transcend the status quo. During the three-day festival, attendees enjoyed over 30 unique VR experiences, artist panels, augmented reality art and other groundbreaking presentations.

The Festival of International Virtual & Augmented Reality Stories featured 35 titles from countries as diverse as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, United Kingdom and the USA. Every audience member rated each experience they viewed from 1 to 5 points and these were then tabulated and averaged per selection to find the People’s Choice Award for the categories of Best Immersive Spherical Video and Best Interactive Experience.

The Grand Jury Prize was selected by having every member of the judiciary committee – made up of senior VR industry leaders, technologists and journalists – select their top three favorite experiences and assign them a point value from 1-10. These scores again, were averaged to find the winner. Criteria used included: conceptual originality, technological implementation, innovation, effective use of the medium for narrative purposes and overall excellence.

The awards were announced at The Cadillac Lounge in Toronto, Canada – Tuesday September 19th, 2017. The proceedings were hosted by FIVARS executive director Keram Malicki-Sanchez and LiveStreamed via Periscope and Facebook simultaneously.

FIVARS Awards - photo by Joss Monzon

FIVARS Awards – presenter Melanie Smith and host Keram Malicki-Sanchez present the Interactive Narrative award to “Alteration” from OKIO studio at the Cadillac Lounge, Toronto – Sept 19th 2017 – photo by Joss Monzon

FIVARS 2017 Award Winners

PEOPLE’S CHOICE:

Best Interactive

Winner: Alteration

Best Immersive (Passive)

Winner: Guardian of the Guge Kingdom

JURIED:

Impact Award

Winner: Priya’s Shakti / Priya’s Mirror

Grand Jury Prize:

Winner: Manifest 99

Watch the raw livestream of the FIVARS 2017 awards ceremony below:

I first saw Ethan Shaftel’s “EXTRAVAGANZA” (yes CAPS) at a summer BBQ at a private home somewhere up in Mount Olympus near Laurel Canyon. Ethan and I got talking by the swimming pool where it was a little quieter and away from the amazing crowd of artists, poets, musicians and technologists chattering away under the buzz of drone-mounted cameras zipping around over the banister and through the canyon. I tell him I’d love to see what he has been working on even as he snaps his Galaxy into the matte-finish GearVR. There is a black screen. Then a letter, and another, and they spell Extravaganza. Suddenly I am in a clockwork penny arcade, a participant in a strange world being observed by Paul Scheer. What came next made me gasp out loud and laugh at its audacity. I told Ethan I had a platform where this sort of provocative, self-conscious and daring work might fit just fine. But I had questions…

FIVARS: Tell us about your creative background prior to creating EXTRAVAGANZA?
Ethan Shaftel: I have a background both in games and traditional film, and for a long time created content for screens in a live setting — big pop concerts, theme parks, art installations. In those spatial settings, directing attention to the viewer and immersing them in an environment become a very primary concern, much like in VR. So when VR started to be buzzy again about 2 years ago, I felt like it was a perfect fit for my background and jumped in with both feet.

What inspired you to create a piece like Extravaganza?
Two central issues (maybe THE two central issues) in VR are point-of-view and agency. Basically WHERE the viewer is in this world, and WHAT kind of effect they can have on the world around them. The idea of making the viewer an animatronic puppet in someone else’s puppet show was really a way to address those two issues in an interesting way, a way to put the viewer in a place they’ve never been, and then also allow their body to be outside of their control, but yet very active with the world around them and the other characters. Someone else is pulling the strings, but it makes sense.

I also wanted to satirize the optimistic view that VR will somehow inherently bring positive change and greater understanding between people by creating a VR puppet show — the show-within-a-show that the viewer is forced to perform in — that is demonstrably NOT positive. It’s offensive, mean, and does nothing to make the world a better place. The puppets have to break out in order to stop it, now free to make their own choices at last.

EXTRAVAGANZA_3

Talk about the production process, how you found funding, how you handled post-production?
My team had been using Cinema4D animation software to create previz and placeholder shots in VR, not as an end in itself, but as prototyping and planning on the way to doing a live action 360 shoot. But at some point we realized that we had to stop prototyping and make a complete, standalone 360 movie to get into festivals. Doing something that was largely animated in the same software we’d been using for so long was a great way to do it cheaply, and by ourselves without having to hire or bring on many more people. By making EXTRAVAGANZA mostly animated we were able to do a traditional shoot with a non-360 camera for the small part of the screen that is live action, and thus avoid a lot of the cost and difficulty that goes into most 360 projects right now — the specialized cameras, the stitching, the visual effects fixes to visual problems, etc.

What would love to try next?
We’ve been writing and developing other VR films and interactive experiences using some of the lessons we learned with EXTRAVAGANZA — both roomscale (6 degree of freedom), volumetric, and linear 360. Right now is such a great time to experiment and play.

Do you feel there is a need/value to festival like FIVARS? Or will they eventually become a part of the regular entertainment landscape?
I love film festivals in general and am a big fan of going out to see movies that aren’t yet out on the market, or that maybe never will be publicly available outside of festivals. With VR, these festivals are even more relevant, because the audience needs to congregate in a physical space simply to have access to the right equipment — the headsets or whatever immersive technology your film utilizes. I think VR festivals and arcades will be the route that our culture takes to these platforms being more widely adopted as a storytelling and art medium. Maybe in the future we all have standardized VR contact lenses, but for now, you’ve got to come to FIVARS, or Tribeca, or Kaleidoscope to see what’s out there in the immersive art world.

FIVARS 2017 Runs September 15th-17th at House of VR in Toronto, Canada. It is a production by VRTO and Constant Change Media Group, Inc.

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I have always believed that VR or its cousin 360 videography do not have to be full of bombast to make their entrance into the broader audience. In fact it is often the quieter, more nuanced experiences that truly underscore the power of this medium and it relationship with presence. Shivani Mulekar’s “Sanctuary” is one such piece – exploring the conditions of life for a refugee family in Canada and the simple day to day life living in a Church awaiting their fate.

These spotlights are designed to not only accquaint you with the stories themselves, but also the people making them, whose journey often as interesting as their work. Shivani Mulekar is a researcher and talent scout. She works independently sourcing stories and developing TV show concepts. Prior to being a VR filmmaker, Shivani worked with TV networks in India creating award winning TV series. She holds an MFA degree in Documentary Studies from Ryerson University. Sanctuary is her first project in VR.

Marie-Espérance Cerda is an award winning video producer (NextMedia DigiAward, Montreal Remix NFB-INA Prize Winner) and an accomplished photographer. She completed Ryerson’s Master of Media Production program, where she produced two immersive and interactive 360-degree virtual reality video journalistic reports. She has worked in West Africa with organizations such as Abode Youth Projects and throughout Canada as a video journalist for The Canadian Press, exploring the stories that make up cultures.

FIVARS had to opportunity to interview Shivani in advance of the world premiere of Sanctuary at FIVARS 2017:

Shivani Murekal

Shivani Mulekar

Tell us what inspired the creation of your project?
Shivani Mulekar: Being an immigrant myself and living in Canada for nearly 10 years, I strongly believe in the issues of immigrants and refugees. When I learnt about the Juhasz family and the issue of sanctuary, it piqued my interest. The concept of sanctuary was new to me and I wanted to create awareness about the issue of undocumented immigrants. The use of 360-camera gave me an opportunity to immerse the audience right into the centre of the story. 360-camera gave me an effective tool to create spatial storytelling.

Tell us about how the production came together
Sanctuary was self-funded. It was made on a meagre budget and Vinit Rajan provided complete funding in-house. My friend Marie-Esperance generously supported me by sharing her camera as well as agreed to be the cameraperson for this project. I managed post-production independently. I learnt to stitch and used AutoPano to stitch the images. Editing was completed using Adobe Premiere.

What did you discover in the process of making this piece?
The biggest discovery during this process for me was realizing the importance of VR and its impact with spatial storytelling. 360-cameras change your complete perspective and take you way beyond the traditional rules of filmmaking. This filmmaking process was such an eye-opener in terms of what a technology can do to your storytelling and how it can impact in immersing your audience.

What would love to try next?
I would like to merge VR with AR to present my next documentary. I was exposed to the AR world of holoportation. If given an opportunity, I would like to develop my next project in VR and merge it with AR for its exhibition.

Do you feel there is a need/value to festival like FIVARS? Or will they eventually become a part of the regular entertainment landscape?
I believe festivals like FIVARS have a strong value in today’s VR market. The festival not only creates a breeding ground for upcoming VR artists to collaborate and exchange ideas but it also offers an opportunity to share each other’s work. Exchange of ideas is key for the future of VR.

FIVARS Runs Sept 15-17 2017 at House of VR in Toronto, Canada
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