FIVARS 2023: Spotlight on Pulsar – The VR Experience

Gabriella Hoffman Pulsar – The VR Experience is a sonic immersive art installation that promotes well-being, inspires awe, and encourages personal interpretation by inviting the player to influence the flow of time, to engage in galactic events, and to discover the magnetic melodies, rhythms, textures, and colors hidden in three imagined corners of the universe. FIVARS had a chance to speak with director Gabriella Hoffman.

What led to the creation of this piece?

PULSAR is a sonic immersive art installation inspired by the final birthday wish of six-year-old Eloise –our little friend– who lost her battle with leukemia (read her full story here). When Eloise’s remarkable wish was made known to us, we decided to design our debut VR experience around it so her beautiful spirit could carry on and touch others: children struggling with cancer as well as the general audience who seek to decompress, unwind, and relax to captivating music while discovering uncharted dimensions of an awe-inspiring universe, where time is irrelevant, where stars are born and reborn, galaxies form, then vanish, where the silence of space is filled with the tinkle of stardust and the harmony of symphonic melodies.


What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?

Dizzy Magnolia VR is a boutique indie studio with a tiny team, which translates to: we each wear many hats. Sometimes too many. The greatest challenge for us has been time management since we also have real-world jobs and responsibilities.

Moreover, we are perfectionists, constantly adjusting, refining, and playtesting to improve and improve our design. Producing PULSAR with the quality we deemed ready for market took us considerable time.

“The eye is connected to the brain, but the ear is connected to the heart,” so the saying goes. We wanted to recreate Eloise’s birthday wish as a true multi-sensory immersive experience. We decided on a musical journey that would best convey the child’s precious innocence and her fascination with the stars. Our visual storytelling was inspired by original musical compositions by our in-house talent, Loping Wolf, and, in turn, his final musical score was influenced by the story and overall design of PULSAR.


The main focus of the framework our Dizzy Magnolia team developed in Unity was on music-driven scenes and interaction timelines. Employing purpose-built Unity assets (e.g., Koreographer) enabled us to precisely control the synchronicity between music and VR events/interactions.

One of the many things we learned: Despite our goal to reach as broad an audience as possible, the high-definition visuals we used for PULSAR could have been more compatible with stand-alone headsets like the Oculus Quest. So, remaining true to our vision and standards, we compromised on the audience reach and opted for delivering PULSAR in superior quality through PC VR.

How did you become an immersive media content creator and why?

Creative people instinctively seek ways to share their voices with the world. Our team members have been creatives for years, exploring various mediums, both traditional and digital. The release of the first Oculus Rift made us realize that we can combine our talents in music, the written word, visual arts, design, and programming to bring to market products that allow everyone “to step into and participate in our dream.”


What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?

While a couple of active groups focus on game development in general, we can’t say there is a strong presence of VR/AR developers or studios. Yet. We aim to change that shortly.

What do you have planned for the future?

Let’s talk about the immediate future for now. We have two projects lined up, one of which is about a preteen confined to his wheelchair but dreams about someday traversing outer space –our favorite location for awe-inspiring events to transpire. Will his circumstances limit our hero’s potential, or will he discover the path to fulfill his ambition? Head to our website to find out more.

As for our other project … Well, let’s say it’s steeped in history – our different favorite milieu, which, similarly to space, allows us to utilize the fluidity of time. Each project will feature stellar original music composed specifically for the experience.

What would you like to share with fellow content creators and the industry?

Good question. If you have a message or a story that you and your team deem worthy of sharing with the rest of us, don’t be daunted by the amount of work it takes to make it come to life in VR. This industry is still in toddler shoes, and opportunities abound. Producing quality takes time and tremendous effort, even for the talented and experienced. We have a couple of inspirational quotes in our studio that we refer to daily:

“The difference between the impossible and the possible is determination.”

“Losers quit when they are tired. Winners quit when they’ve won.”


Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?

Absolutely. Not only are they important but essential to our emerging industry. First, FIVARS and similar festivals provide a unique opportunity to showcase the breadth, width, and depth of creative talent in the virtual space. In addition, they provide a platform for checking out “the competition,” and for networking with other creators and potential investors (in cases where a VR festival features a marketplace).

Most importantly, the various awards highlight selected projects’ strengths, thereby assisting participating indie VR studios in future goal settings.

Pulsar – The VR Experience at FIVARS 2023 runs in person September 15-19th in Toronto and online through October 3rd.