SIXR’s Summer Cinematic VR Challenge and Hot Tub Party

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Jeff Lewis demos one of the VR experiences created over a weekend near Discovery Park. Photo by Nikola Costa.

A quickly growing cohort of artists is inventing cinematic VR in Seattle. Last weekend about fifty cinematic VR pioneers gathered at a home known as the Birdhouse near Discovery Park to create 360 VR experiences. SIXR organized the event and suggested a theme: relaxation, inner peace, leisure, and introspection. I stopped by the event for a few hours on Saturday, finding myself in a funky private home full of good books and good people sharing ideas, food, code, and laughs. Despite the theme, the scene was buzzing with activity.

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This GoPro rig ended up in a hot tub. Photo by RB.

Kawan Welth, Budi Mulyo, Julian Peña, and Diana Fairbank of SIXR circulated around the gathering assisting indie filmmakers with their projects. Don Alvarez, the brain behind Filmmaker Live, was on hand to demo his VR storyboarding software. Eric Neuman of Sprawly held forth on the porch about our augmented reality future. Neuman was among the many who provided gear for the event, which included Ricoh Thetas, a Samsung 360, and Go Pro rigs, one of which ended up in the hot tub. I heard somebody playing a drum set in a recording studio on site. There were Vive demos in the basement. A spirit of fellowship and cooperation animated the gathering.

The event was magical. It felt like time had stopped and we were whisked away to an enchanted island for 48 hours,” Welth said later.

I found myself reflecting on how the matter-of-fact diversity of Seattle’s VR community is one of its great strengths. Budi, Kawan, Julian, and Diana have done an exemplary job at welcoming all sorts of people to this conversation about how to create cinematic VR. Everyone was treated as a collaborator in an environment where the best ideas arose not from individuals but from their interactions. What a beautiful array of people.

So what did these creators create? 360-degree interactive VR movies. I hid behind the hot tub while Kawan and others filmed a quite chillaxed interpretation of the event’s theme with a GoPro on a tripod. Elsewhere various creators were hunched over laptops amid the trees, plotting shots, expressing amazement at the emergence of this new medium, or rushing off to film in the late August light.

Casey Krub (who–weird side note–is the daughter of the grade school librarian who inspired me to pursue a writing career) was on Team Tai Chi. They shot their movie down by the locks, amid boats and the sounds of seagulls and lapping water.

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Jennae Numo using a SIFFX Cardboard. Photo by RB.

Krub described her team’s 48-hour concept-to-finished-movie process. “Initially we were thinking of making an instructional Tai Chi video, but it evolved into more of a performance piece,” Krub said, “The first night we had come up with a plan to use green screens to film Kelsey in different positions in relation to the camera and then film 2 or 3 different 360 backgrounds that we could place her into. We had a lot of help from mentors checking in with us and giving us feedback on our ideas, which was really quite awesome. The filming went pretty quickly once we found a spot on the docks and had our plan. Once we finished filming Quinn took the film home to stitch together. Saturday night Rakesh cleaned things up a bit more and rendered the film which took about 9 hours. Kelsey composed & recorded some ambient music for the film on Saturday. Also on Saturday afternoon, I went back to our filming location and recorded ambient sounds for the film – water lapping against boats, seagulls, etc. On Sunday Kelsey created the soundtrack for the film merging her music, the ambient sounds, some narration & breathing sounds to the film. She also did a little color correcting, I believe.”

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Who are these guys? The event’s organizers weren’t sure. Whatever it is they’re doing looks fun. Photo by Nikola Costa.

After the event, Sprawly put together a 360 portal to the movies and posted them on their site. You can head over to Sprawly to check them out by clicking the image below.

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These VR experiences are the result of fifty people, many of whom don’t have any background making movies, spending their weekend with strangers to invent something together in a new medium. There is no school you can attend that can teach you how to do this stuff. The only way to learn is by creating, sharing, failing, and trying again. That’s easier when other people who are also starting from scratch gather to share knowledge and support everybody’s efforts. By creating such an inclusive and open environment in which to learn about cinematic VR production, SIXR helped everyone in this community take an important step toward developing a VR content industry in the Pacific Northwest.

The event was so successful that SIXR is planning more cinematic VR challenges, here in Seattle but also in Vancouver, BC.

Welth and the rest of the SIXR team are taking a different approach with their next event, scheduled for September 30-October 2, also at the Birdhouse. Check out sixrfestival.com for details. Welth says, “The next event is about using deep learning, NLP, big data, and other computer processes to create art. I call it Art from the Machine Jam.”

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Jennae Numo with the Vive. Photo by Nikola Costa.