Be it known that this video from RYOT of Laird at Chicama is unassailably awesome. Lord knows, we've slung our share of humorous shit toward hydrofoiling, but this video is literally breathtaking when watched in the proper VR format. I have a VR headset somewhere that I'll dig out and try later, but for now, you really want to watch this on the Vimeo app, on either a phone or a tablet. I just spent 10 minutes waving my iPad around this coffeehouse, pumping and driving like I'm the one on a mile-long left and I don't care what anybody in here thinks.

**Note: seriously, watch this through the Vimeo app. You can get some VR features through Chrome on a desktop/laptop, but it ain't optimized for that. A phone or tablet gives you full, clear 360 degree views.**

Laird's biopic "Take Every Wave" comes out on September 29th, so consider this a fancy trailer, I guess. But watch it with the proper app and have fun. The future is here.

Read More

Digital Hollywood: Virtual Reality Tests Episodic Storytelling Formats

From 'Gone,' in which a child disappears, and 'Defying the Nazis VR,' new series formats are entering the picture.

A child disappears. A boatload of children are saved from the Nazis. Virtual reality, as it tests new models for storytelling, is venturing into some surprising subjects.

The results were on display at the Digital Hollywood conference, held this week at Los Angeles' Skirball Center, as the Television Academy's Interactive Peer Group presented six, unique virtual reality projects.

Gone, to cite one of the examples on display, is a 11-episode VR thriller from Skybound Entertainment with VR developer WEVR and Samsung that is intended to disturb the viewer as he or she experiences the panic of a couple whose child vanishes.

“The idea was to make you as uncomfortable as possible,” Skybound CEO Dave Alpert said of how the filmmakers tried to combine story with the potential of the technology. “Getting people to put on the goggles was hard,” he said of the model, adding that once they did, they lost the sense of time. “We got to increase the running time on a per-episode basis, since people who came back were willing to binge.” That upped the length of each episode from a few minutes to roughly 10 minutes.

Jen Dennis, executive producer of VR at RSA Films, shared similar observations based on interactive honoree The Martian VR Experience, produced by RSA, The VR Company and Twentieth Century Fox and its Fox Innovation Lab. She said viewers often lost track of time once they were in the experience — for instance, they would think 15 minutes had passed when it was actually 30 minutes.

Syfy’s futuristic police procedural Halycon — a “hybrid” with 10 episodes to view on Syfy linear channels and five VR episodes for the Oculus Rift — offered another approach to an episodic model.

Syfy also teamed with VFX house Digital Domain on the three-minute VR narrative Incorporated, based on executive producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Syfy series of the same name. Digital Domain VFX supervisor Aruna Inversin discussed the production challenges of bringing an episodic series to VR. “[Syfy] is learning just as we are,” he said. “It was a visual effects-driven shoot. It was a challenge.”

Producer Lori Kozlowski discussed Project Empathy, the VR series about the U.S. prison system, told by four affected individuals. She said the goal is “getting this is front of policy makers and having a social impact.”

On the documentary front, the session included Defying the Nazis VR, a companion to the documentary Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War from Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky. Created by VR Playhouse for Time’s Life VR app, the filmmakers recreated a boat ride during which 27 children were rescued during World War II. “You hear the survivors' real voices recalling the experience … as you go through the VR experience with them,” said director Elijah Allan-Blitz.

Digital Hollywood concludes Friday.

Read More

Q&A with Elijah Allan-Blitz, Director of the Sharps' War VR Experience

Elijah Allan-Blitz directed a short virtual reality piece on Martha Sharp's journey from Portugal to New York City with the children she rescued. The VR film is available on Time’s Life VR app.

Elijah Allen-Blitz_mug.jpg__180x270_q85_subsampling-2.jpg

You’ve been a long time friend of Artemis Joukowsky, co-director of Defying the Nazis with Ken Burns. Can you explain how the virtual reality short film came about?

Allan-Blitz: Artemis is one of those people that’s my soul brother and I have always wanted to work with him in some capacity. I had already been directing VR and shot several pieces when we began talking about eight months ago. We talked about how amazing it would be to actually immerse the audience in Martha and Waitstill’s story and to bring them to their historical moment and allow the audience to live through it themselves. We talked about several scenes from the PBS film that we could use as a basis for the VR piece, and the one that really jumped out at us was the children’s rescue and their experience on the boat from Portugal to New York.

If I put on the virtual reality goggles for this piece, what would I see?

The VR film begins with Martha reading a letter as you set out on a boat across the Atlantic. You are in the middle of the ocean and up above are thousands of stars, and photos of the children begin appearing in the starry sky, and you hear each of their stories. Then you arrive in New York, you see Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the sun rising over the city’s skyline. The CGI team at VR Playhouse went to such great lengths to make the experience as historically accurate as possible that they got the blueprints for the boat, the Excambion, that Martha and the children were on. It’s an exact replica down to the millimeter. It’s as close to the real thing as you can get. We created a little time machine.

What potential does VR have for allowing us to experience the past?

The potential of this technology is pretty much limitless. I’m interested in using VR to educate, to raise awareness, to use this incredibly powerful technology as a force for good. You can take someone into a refugee camp in Syria right now in real time and live stream it, or like we’ve done, you can take someone back to a boat in 1940 that saved these Jewish children from going to concentration camps.

You showed Amelie Holmstrom, one of the children Martha saved who was on the boat on the boat, the VR piece. What was that like?

We showed a rough cut of the VR experience to Amelie, so there was a holocaust survivor watching a recreation of her rescue in virtual reality and her reaction is amazing. Her son also watched it, and when he took of the goggles there were tears streaming out of his eyes. He looked at us and said, “I’ve heard about this boat ride my entire life and now I can finally see it.”

In that moment we knew that all the time and effort we put into the piece was worth it.

To watch the full experience and explore more exclusive virtual reality content download the LIFE VR app for iOS and Android or visit time.com/lifevr.

Read More

Holocaust Survivor Experiences Her Own Rescue in Virtual Reality

In 1940, Amélie Diamant-Holmstrom was one of the 29 children who arrived in the United States aboard the Excambion, a ship carrying child refugees from Nazi-occupied France, who escaped via Portugal. That journey is the subject of the new documentary Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, which premieres on Tuesday on PBS. It’s also the subject of an exclusive virtual-reality companion piece, released Tuesday by LIFE VR.

When Diamant-Holmstrom watched the virtual-reality piece for the first time, this summer, she had no idea what to expect, says Elijah Allan-Blitz, who directed the experience. Her reaction, as can be seen in the video here, was one of awe. And that kind of reaction, he adds, is “what this [VR] stuff was meant for.”

“We almost owe it to [survivors]” to tell their stories in new ways “sooner rather than later,” he says.

And the story, in this case, is an incredible one: Waitstill and Martha Sharp were a Unitarian minister and his wife, who in 1939 left their own children back in Massachusetts so they could go to Europe to help refugees. Martha got the children on board the Excambion, including the Diamant triplets, Amélie, Eveline and Marianne. They were 13 years old, from Czechoslovakia, and though their parents would eventually make it to the United States, they had been sent ahead to safety.

To watch the full experience and explore more exclusive virtual reality content download the LIFE VR app for iOS and Android or visit time.com/lifevr.

Defying the Nazis VR is produced by VR Playhouse in association with Artemis Joukowsky and Farm Pond Pictures and directed by Elijah Allan-Blitz. LIFE VR is the exclusive distributor.

Read More

PROFILE Elijah Allan-Blitz, Californian VR pioneer

Having pursued teaching, acting, and touring the globe, this Santa Barbara native and Surf Air Member has become a prolific and innovative filmmaker in the emerging medium of VR. Here’s a brief take on his work and travels from the man himself.

How would you describe what you do?

The simplest way I’ve been able to describe it is that I direct virtual reality, create different pieces of content for different companies, mostly around mindfulness and trying to expand consciousness in some capacity.

How did you get into VR?

Once I started directing shorts, trailers, and teasers, and I got a job to work on a VR project in Haiti. I was helping to produce and direct it with a very small crew, and it had a snowball effect that really took off. It’s such a small field that one project leads to another, and once that started happening it led me into some very interesting places. Some of my projects are live action, some are animated incorporating motion capture, tackling subjects from poverty in America to making enlightenment scalable to the masses—that’s really the goal, to make experiences that uplift people.

We have this technology, so why don’t we use it to help as many people as possible, at as grand a scale as possible?
— Elijah Allan-Blitz

What’s your preferred destination and why?

I grew up in Santa Barbara so I’ll always have a deep connection to it, but my favorite Surf Air city has to be Monterey. I love that I have access to Big Sur, and the fact that you can get there from LA in two hours? That’s incredible. In Monterey, I love everything from the little shops and restaurants to the ocean, the history, the freshness of the city that makes it feels like a little village—there’s so much magic.

But, I’m also starting to work with more and more people in Silicon Valley, and being able to meet people face to face for projects and come back the same day is key. It allows for this incredible cross-pollination that’s accelerating more and more.

What’s your favorite spot in California?

Of all the incredible, beautiful views and spots? I would say, the top of Gibraltar Rd. in Santa Barbara. You have this patch of pine trees where nothing else is growing, and you can look out over the whole city.

What does an average day travel day look like for you?

The real answer is that there’s no such thing. Every day is so different, and it’s all happening by the minute. So that’s something that Surf Air really allows for, to have such a fluid schedule and book 30 minutes in advance.

For instance, last week I went up to San Carlos for a meeting and heard about this incredible place in Los Gatos. I ended up going to this 3-Michelin star restaurant, staying the night, meeting up with a really close friend in San Francisco, and joining my mom who was in town for a dance competition. It was just this synchronistic two days where I could take advantage of the opportunities that arose and not say, “no, my flight takes off at X.”

Read More