Games, Guns

I did a Vive demo at the Microsoft store at the Bellevue Square mall yesterday. While I tried on the goggles, a gaggle of developers watched Microsoft’s live E3 presentation on a big screen. From what I gather, the new Xbox is some kind of badass gaming weapon. I’ve never owned a game console. The last game I got hooked on was a version of … Continue reading Games, Guns

Herzog Nails It

“I am convinced that [VR] is not going to be an extension of cinema or 3-D cinema or video games. It is something new, different, and not experienced yet. The strange thing here is that normally, in the history of culture, we have new stories and narrations and then we start to develop a tool. Or we have visions of wondrous new architecture—like, let’s say, … Continue reading Herzog Nails It

CNDY Factory

I keep hearing buzz about this new VR production facility a block off Westlake called CNDY Factory. They just opened and are starting to host hackathons and demos and such. They’ve got audio, video, and mixed reality studios in addition to a cool name. I’ve signed up for their mailing list and hope to visit soon. I’m keeping an eye on this place. In fact, … Continue reading CNDY Factory

The VR Avant Garde

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Frames from Stan Brakhage’s “Dante Quartet”

I hear a lot about VR as a new platform for storytelling, and as someone who likes to make up stories, this is tremendously exciting to me. But sometimes the reason I love literature has more to do with loving language than narrative. Some of my favorite writers–Gary Lutz, Lydia Davis, Bruno Schulz–are more craftspeople of language and image than of narrative. There’s a continuum in literature between poetry, which explores the inherit beauty and possibility of language, and fiction, which traffics in narrative arcs, character development, plot, and all of the other elements we think about when we hear the word “story.”

But just the English language allows for both narrative driven art and language-based art, so too should VR allow for experiences that both drive narrative and exploit the qualities of the medium for their own sake. Continue reading “The VR Avant Garde”

Mudede Discovers VR

Charles Mudede has long been my favorite writer for The Stranger.  Over the years he has filled that paper with insights on urban development, Marxism, post-structuralism, rural Washington state, and pop culture. Every time I read his work I end up thinking about something differently. This week he has an excellent piece on SIFFX and VR in general. I liked this bit in particular. Later … Continue reading Mudede Discovers VR

Some Thoughts on How to Facilitate Innovation in a New Medium

I think a lot about how to make sure things don’t suck. I’m worried that Hollywood is going to make VR suck. Remember Myspace? I happen to have been privy to some of the thinking behind 20th Century Fox’s acquisition of that old social network, back in 2006 or so. I remember hearing from excited Fox execs who saw Myspace above all as an eyeball-grabbing marketing channel. Soon Myspace was wallpapered with ads for whatever X-Men movie was coming out at the time. Then Facebook rose up and everybody fled Myspace in droves, in part because users rightly understood they were being aggressively marketed to. I think Facebook has been much more successful because they’ve been able to maintain the illusion that they’re not primarily a marketing platform, even though that’s how they make their money.

Recently I had a conversation with somebody who works in movie production and he told me that it took Martin Scorcese ten years to get The Wolf of Wall Street made. I also recall reading about Stephen Spielberg’s struggle to get Lincoln made. The auteurs of the seventies who are largely responsible for the blockbuster dynamics of the film industry now have to beg and scramble to get studio support for their movies. Meanwhile, reboot after reboot hits the screens, bashes box office records, and the cycle repeats anew.

If you’re like me, you look forward to the fall, the Season of Good Movies. This is when a new Wes Anderson or Tarantino movie comes out and for a couple months there are multiple reasons to visit the multiplex. The reason for this is the Oscars, which still manage to confer prestige on movies as an art form. The Oscars essentially operate as a charity for the parts of the film industry still committed to artistic excellence. This is what happens when a creative industry matures into a conservatory phase.

I think every creative industry itself goes through a life cycle, more or less. The birth of a creative industry is marked by a wild and exciting burst of innovation and risk. Over time, artists in that industry start to notice which innovations work and which ones don’t work, and these innovations become codified. At the time, the close-up in “The Gay Shoe Clerk,” an Edison/Porter short from 1903, was an innovation. This storytelling technique soon became just one of the tools in a filmmaker’s tool chest, and today we don’t give it any thought. But someone had to be the first one to think, “Hey, what if I move the camera closer to the actors to show the audience what this shoe clerk is doing to this lady’s foot?”


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How Buñuel and Dali Avoided Tropes

In the winter of 1929, Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel created one of the world’s most notorious works of cinematic art, Un Chien Andalou. At sixteen minutes, the film is a series of indelible images, most famously a woman’s eyeball (actually a cow’s) sliced with a straight razor. Charlie Chaplin owned a copy of Un Chien Andalou, the Pixies wrote a song about it, and it has spent decades on film course syllabi.

Dali and Buñuel wanted to make a movie utterly freed from narrative convention. As they crafted their script they pushed each other to reject every obvious idea. The result is a movie that looks and feels like a dream and is one of the masterpieces of surrealism.

Some years ago, when I was teaching creative writing courses, I devised an experiment based on the process these two Spanish surrealists employed. I had my students take out a piece of paper and have their pen poised, ready to write at a moment’s notice. Then I’d lecture awhile about something, lulling my students. Suddenly I’d smack the table and announce, “Complete the f0llowing sentence: A woman walks into a detective agency and says… Hurry! Come on, come on! Write quickly!”

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VR Storytelling Research

This article about some research into VR storytelling, which I learned about on Pixvana’s Twitter feed, got me excited. I’ve read this three times and my brain is on fire. I’m most fascinated by the relationship between the detail density of a scene and the amount that the viewer remembers, the way camera placement can trigger social anxieties, and how having “limited visual information puts … Continue reading VR Storytelling Research