Virtual Reality Movies Wow Audiences at 2015’s Sundance and SXSW Festivals

Image by mconnors

Image by mconnors

[This post was originally uploaded on December 12, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on December 19, 2014,  January 13, 2015 and March 27, 2015.]

December 12, 2014 Post:

At the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to be held in Park City Utah from January 22, 2015 through February 1, 2015, part of this major annual film event is a program called New Frontier. This year it will be presenting 13 virtual reality (VR) films and “experiences”. Advanced coverage of this event was reported in an article on Wired.com on December 4, 2014 entitled VR Films Are Going to Be All Over Sundance in 2015 by Angela Watercutter. After reading this exciting preview I wanted to immediately pack a bag and start walking there.

To sum up, annotate and comment upon some of the key points in this story, the platforms being used for these presentations will mostly be the Oculus, while Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR will also deployed. While the Oculus Rift headset has not yet released to the consumer public, developers currently do have had access to it. As a result, they were able to create and format these soon-to-be-premiered experimental works. This year’s offerings are a much deeper and wider lineup than the much more limited sampling of Ocolus-based experiments presented during the 2012 Sundance Festival.

(In a recent Subway Fold post on November 26, 2014 entitled Robots and Diamonds and Drones, Aha! Innovations on the Horizon for 2015, one of the startups briefly mentioned is called Jaunt which is described in the blog post as “… developing an entirely new platform and 360 degree camera to create fully immersive virtual reality movies to be viewed using the versatile new Oculus Rift headset.”)

Attendees at some other recent industry events have responded very favorably to Oculus demonstrations. They included a HBO’s presentation of a Game of Thrones experience at this year’s South by Southwest festival, a Jaeger-piloting simulation ¹ at the 2014 Comic-Con in San Diego , and at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

To read what some of the creators involved in Sundance’s VR movies have to say about their creations and some brief descriptions and 2-D graphics of this immersive fare, I very highly recommend clicking through and reading this report in its entirety. They include, among others, news and documentaries, bird flights, travel landscapes, rampaging Kaiju, and several social situations.

I wanna go!

My follow-up questions include:

  • Because VR movie production is entirely digital, can this experience be securely distributed online to other film festival and film schools to share with and, moreover, inspire new VR cinematic works by writers, directors, producers and actors?
  • Can the Hyve-3D virtual development platform covered in this August 28, 2014 Subway Fold Post entitled Hyve-3D: A New 3D Immersive and Collaborative Design System, be adapted and formatted for the cinema so that audiences can be fully immersed in virtual firms without the need for a VR headset?
  • If entertainment companies, movie producers, investors and other supporters line up behind the development and release of VR movies, will this be seen by the public as being more like 3-D movies where the novelty has quickly worn off ², or more like a fundamental shift in movie production, presentation and marketing? What if, using the Oculous Rift, users could experience movie trailers, if the entire film at any location? Would this be a market that might draw the attention of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Google and other online content distributors and producers?

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1.  In another Jaeger and Kaiju-related update, there is indeed good news as reported on June 27, 2014 on the HuffingtonPost.com by Jessica Goodman in a story entitled ‘Pacific Rim 2’ Confirmed For 2017 Release Date.

2.  See 2014 Box Office Will Be Hurt By Diminishing Popularity Of 3D Movies: Analyst by David Lieberman, posted on Deadline.com on February 3, 2014. For other new theater experience innovations, see also To Lure Young, Movie Theaters Shake, Smell and Spritz by Brooks Barnes in the November 29, 2014 edition  of The New York Times.

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December 19, 2014 Update:

The current release of the movie adaptation of the novel Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf, 2011), has been further formatted into 3-minute supplemental virtual reality movie as reported in the December 15, 2014 edition of The New York Times by Michael Cieply in an article entitled Virtual Reality ‘Wild’ Trek. This short film is also scheduled to be presented at the 2015 Sundance festival. Using Oculus and Samsung VR technology, this is an immersive meeting with the lead character, played by actress Reese Witherspoon, while she is hiking in the wilderness. She is quoted as being very pleased with the final results of this VR production.

January 13, 2015 Update:

While VR’s greatest core ability is in placing viewers within a totally immersive digital  environments, this also presents a challenge in keeping them fully focused upon the main narrative.That is, something happening off to the left or right may draw their attention away and thus detract from the experience.

A startup called Visionary VR has developed a system to reconcile this challenge. It enables creators of VR entertainment to concentrate the viewer’s attention upon the action occurring in the stories and games. This was reported in a most interesting article posted on Recode.com on January 5, 2015 entitled In Virtual Reality Movies, You Are the Camera. That Can Be a Problem, but Here’s One Solution, by Eric Johnson. I believe this will keep your attention as a reader, even in the three dimensions in the real world, and recommend clicking through for all of the details. As well, there is a rather spectacular video presented by the founders of the company on the capabilities of their system.

To recap the key points, Visionary VR creates an invisible boundary around the main narrative that alerts the viewer that they are looking away into other “zones” within the environment. When this occurs, the narrative is suspended but viewers can venture into these interactive peripheral areas and further explore elements of the story. Just as easily, they can return their gaze back to the story which will then re-engage and move forward. Visionary VR has created platform and toolkit for VR authors and storytellers to generate and edit their work while within a virtual environment itself. When viewing the accompanying video, the interface reminded me of something out of Minority Report.

(Btw, it has just been announced that this movie is going to be turned into a TV pilot for Fox according to a story posted on Deadline.com entitled ‘Minority Report’ Gets Fox Pilot Order, by Nellie Andreeva on January 9, 2015. This post also contains a photo from the movie showing this then fictional and now real interface. How cool would it be to see this new pilot in full VR?!)

March 27, 2015 Update:

VR movie technology continues to gather momentum and accolades at 2015’s artistic festivals. Its latest display was held at last week’s (March 13 through 17, 2015) South By Southwest Festival (SXSW). The page for the VR panel and speakers is linked here. Coverage of the event was posted in a very informative and enthusiastic article on VentureBeat.com entitled The Future of Interactive Cinematic VR is Coming, and Fast by Daniel Terdiman, on March 18, 2015.

Those in attendance were truly wowed by what they saw, and, moreover, the potential of fully immersive experiences and storytelling. Please click-through to this story for the full details. I will briefly sum up some of the main points.

The article mostly highlights and highly praises the demo by Jaunt, a startup emerging as one of the innovators in VR movies, mentioned in the initial December 12, 2014 post above. Other VR companies also presented their demos at SXSW.

The Jaunt demo consisted of Paul McCartney playing Live and Let Die in concert. Here’s the link to Jaunt’s Content page containing the stream for this and eight other VR movies (including the Kaiju Fury! film also mentioned in the December 12th post above). In order to immerse yourself in ay of these you will need either an Oculus Rift headset or a Google Cardboard device.

VR movie technology is indeed presenting filmmakers with “opportunities that have not been possible before”. This is likewise so for a range of content creators including, among others sure to come, musicians, athletes, interviewers and documentary makers.

Another panelist, Jason Rubin, the head of worldwide studios for Oculus, spoke about the level of progress being made to make these narrative experiences more genuinely interactive with viewers. He believes this will lead to entirely new forms of cinematic experiences.

Arthur van Hoff, Jaunt’s founder and CTO, stated the possibility of VR films where users can follow one particular actor’s perspective and story within the production. (Visionary VR’s technology, described in the January 13, 2015 Update above, might also be helpful in this regard.)

While new “companies, technologies and investors” in this nascent field are expected, Jaunt believes its current two-year lead will give its technology and productions an advantage.

Visualization, Interpretation and Inspiration from Mapping Twitter Networks

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Image by Marc Smith

[This post was originally uploaded on September 26, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 5, 2015.]

Have you ever wondered what a visual map of your Twitter network might look like? The realization of such Twitter topography was covered in a terrific post on September 24, 2014 on socialmediatoday.com entitled How to Create a Visual Map of Your Twitter Network by Mary Ellen Egan.

To briefly sum up, at the recent Social Shake-Up Conference in Atlanta sponsored by SocialMediaToday, the Social Research Foundation created and presented such a map. They generated it by including 513 Twitter users who participated for four days in the hashtag #socialshakeup. The platform used is called NodeXL. The resulting graphic of the results as shown in this article are extraordinary. Please pay particular attention as to how the “influencers” in this network are identified and their characteristics. I strongly urge you to click through to read this article and see this display.

For an additional deep dive and comprehensive study on Twitter network mapping mechanics, analyses and policy implications accompanied by numerous examples of how Twitter networks form, grow, transform and behave, I also very highly recommend a report posted on February 20, 2014, entitled Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters by Marc A. Smith, Lee Rainie, Ben Shneiderman and Itai Himelboim for the Pew Foundation Internet Project.

I believe this article and report will quite likely spark your imagination. I think it is safe to assume that many users would be intrigued by this capability and, moreover, would devise new and innovative ways to leverage the data to better understand, grow and plot strategy to enhance their Twitter networks. Some questions I propose for such an analysis while inspecting a Twitter map include:

  • Am I reaching my target audience? Is this map reliable as a sole indicator or should others be used?
  • Who are the key influencers in my network? Once identified, can it be determined why they are influencers?
  • Does my growth strategy depend on promoting retweets, growing the population of followers, getting mentioned in relevant publications and websites, or other possible approaches?

What I would really be like to see emerge is a 3-dimensional form of visual map that fully integrates multiple maps of an  individual’s or group’s or company’s online presence to simultaneously include their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn¹, Instagram and other social networks. Maybe a platform like the Hyve-3D visualization system² could be used to enable a more broadly extensible and scalable 3D view. Perhaps this multi-dimensional virtual construct could produce entirely new planning and insights for optimizing one’s presence, marketing and influence in social media.

If so, would new trends and influencers not previously seen then be identified? Could tools be developed in this system whereby users would test the strengths and weaknesses of certain cross-social media platforms links and relationships? Would certain industries such news networks³ be able to spot events and trends much sooner? Are there any potentially new opportunities here for entrepreneurs?

February 5, 2015 Update:

A very instructive and illuminating example of the power of mapping a specialized Twitter network has just been posted by Ryan Whelan, a law and doctoral student at Northwestern University. It is composed of US law school professors who are now actively Tweeting away. He posted his methodology, an interactive graphic of this network, and one supporting graph plus four data tables on his blog in a February 3, 2015 post entitled The Law Prof Twitter Network 2.0. I highly recommend clicking through and reading this in its entirety. Try clicking on the graphic to activate a set of tools to explore and query this network map. As well, the tables illustrate the relative sensitivities of the data and their impact on the graphic when particular members of the network or the origins and groupings of the followers is examined.

I think you find it inspiring in thinking about what situations such a network map might be helpful to you in work, school, special interest groups, and many other potential applications. Mr. Whelan presents plenty of information to get you started off in the right direction.

I also found the look and feel of the network map to be very similar to the network mapping tool that was previously available on LinkedIn and discussed in the August 14, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled 2014 LinkedIn Usage Trends and Additional Data Questions.

My questions are as follows:

  • What effects, if any, is this network and its structure having upon improving the legal education system? That is, are these professors, by being active on Twitter in their own handle and as members of this network as followers of each other, benefiting the professor’s work and/or law students’ classroom and learning experiences?
  • Are the characteristics of this network of legal academics any different from, let’s say, a Twitter network of medical school professors or high school teachers?
  • Would more of a meta-study of networks within the legal profession produce results that would be helpful to lawyers and their clients? For example, what would Twitter maps of corporate lawyers, litigators and public interest attorneys show that might be helpful and to whom?

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1.  See the April 10, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Visualization Tool for LinkedIn Personal Networks.

2 See the August 28, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Hyve-3D: A New 3D Immersive and Collaborative Design System

3.   See also a most interesting article published in the September 23, 2014 edition of The New York Times entitled Tool Called Dataminr Hunts for News in the Din of Twitter by Leslie Kaufman about such a system that is scanning and interpolating possible news emerging from the Twitter-sphere.

Startup is Visualizing and Interpreting Massive Quantities of Daily Online News Content

"News", Image by Mars Hill Church Seattle

“News”, Image by Mars Hill Church Seattle

Just scratching the surface, some recent Subway Fold posts have focused upon sophisticated efforts, scaling from startups to established companies, that analyze and then try to capitalize upon big data trends in finance¹, sports² , cities³, health care* and law**. Now comes a new report on the work of another interesting startup in this sector called Quid. As reported in a most engaging story posted on VentureBeat.com on November 27, 2014 entitled Quid’s Article-analyzing App Can Tell You Many Things — Like Why You Lost the Senate Race in Iowa by Jordan Novet, they are gathering up, indexing and generating interpretive and insightful visualizations for their clients using data drawn from more than a million online articles each day from more than 50,000 sources.

I highly recommend a full read of this story for all of the fascinating details and accompanying screen captures from these apps. As well, I suggest visiting and exploring Quid’s site for a fuller sense of their products, capabilities and clients. I will briefly recap some of the key points from this story. Furthermore, this article provides a timely opportunity to more closely tie together seven related Subway Fold posts.

The first example provided in the story concerns the firm’s production of a rather striking graphic charting the turn in polling numbers for a Democratic candidate running for an open Senate seat in Iowa following a campaign visit from Hillary Clinton. When Senator Clinton spoke in the state in support of the Democratic candidate, she address women’s issue. Based upon Quid’s analysis of the media coverage of this, the visit seemed to have helped the Republican candidate, a woman, more then the Democratic candidate, a man.

Politics aside, Quid’s main objective is to become a leading software firm in supporting corporate strategy for its clients in markets sectors including, among others, technology, finance and government.

Quid’s systems works by scooping up its source materials online and then distilling out specific “people, places, industries and keywords”. In turn, all of the articles are compared and processed against a specific query. In turn, the software creates visualizations where “clusters” and “anomalies” can be further examined. The analytics also assess relative word counts, magnitudes of links shared on social media, and mentions in blog posts and tweets. (X-ref again to this November 22, 2014 post entitled Minting New Big Data Types and Analytics for Investors that covers, among other startups, one called Dataminr that also extensively analyzes trends in Twitter usage and content data.)

The sample screens here demonstrate the app’s deep levels of detail in analytics and visualization. As part of the company’s demo for the author, he provided a query about companies involved in “deep learning”.  (X-ref to this August 14, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Spotify Enhances Playlist Recommendations Processing with “Deep Learning” Technology concerning how deep learning is being used to, well, tune up Spotify’s music recommendation system.) As this is an area the writer is familiar with, while he did not find any unexpected names in companies provided in the result, he still found this reassuring insofar as this confirmed that he was aware of all of the key participants in this field.

My follow up questions include:

  • Would it be to Quid’s and/or Dataminr’s advantage(s) to cross-license some of their technology and provide supporting expertise for applying and deploying it and, if so, how?
  • Would Quid’s visualizations benefit if they were ported to 3-D virtual environments such as Hyve-3d where users might be able to “walk” through the data? (X-ref to this August 28,2014 Subway Fold post entitled Hyve-3D: A New 3D Immersive and Collaborative Design System.) That is, does elevating these visualizations from 2-D to 3-D add to the accessibility, accuracy and analytics of the results being sought? Would this be a function or multiple functions of the industry, corporate strategy and granularity of the data sets?
  • What other marketplaces, sciences, professions and products might benefit from Quid’s, Dataminr’s and Hyve-3D’s approaches that have not even been considered yet?

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1.  See this November 22, 2014 post entitled Minting New Big Data Types and Analytics for Investors.

2.  See this October 31, 2014 post entitled New Data Analytics and Video Tools Affecting Defensive Strategies in the NFL and NBA.

3.  See this October 24, 2014 post entitled “I Quant NY” Blog Analyzes Public Data Sets Released by New York City.

*  See this October 3, 2014 post entitled New Startups, Hacks and Conferences Focused Upon Health Data and Analytics .

**  See this August 8, 2014 post entitled New Visualization Service for US Patent and Trademark Data .

Robots and Diamonds and Drones, Aha! Innovations on the Horizon for 2015

"DSCOVR Liftoff", Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

“DSCOVR Liftoff”, Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Towards the end of each year, much of the tech and business media traditionally make predictions about which technologies to watch during the following year. These prognostications are always of interest to, among others, people working in technology, the sciences, startups, academia and financial services. However, many of these predictions often do not live up to their hype or expectations.

Nonetheless, on November 20, 2014, correspondent Sam Grobart hosted a 45-minute presentation on Bloomberg Television entitled The Year Ahead: Innovation about ten technologies ranging from food to virtual reality that conveyed a remarkable sense of excitement and anticipation from start to finish. Any of these ten could reasonably be expected to find their markets and break out, but only time will tell. All of them are offering highly imaginative and innovative systems that could potentially and significantly impact domestic and global populations and markets.

Be assured that this is not a puff piece on these innovators and their work. Rather, this is a declaration of the work being done by very smart and resourceful people striving to make a difference in their fields. I highly recommend viewing this in its entirety.

This intriguing peek over the horizon featured the following:

  • Soft Robotics Inc. is working on the design and materials for robots with soft exoskeletons for applications in rehabilitative medicine, space exploration and athletic clothing.
  • Thalmic Labs has created an input device called the Myo Armband for computers and other electronics that consists of a band of sensors worn on the user’s forearm that interprets different physical movements as gestural input.
  • Hyve 3D – As discussed in a Subway Fold post on August 28, 2014 entitled Hyve-3D: A New 3D Immersive and Collaborative Design System is a very agile and extensible virtual development platform. This program takes you inside of it with its director, Tomas Dorta, at the University of Montreal and further reports on how Hollywood is now using the system to create virtual storyboards and other projects are in for building construction.
  • AeroFarms is fabricating and implementing “vertical farms” using aeroponics to grow crops, faster and more energy efficiently than under traditional farming, in a system using mists of water rather than planting in soil.
  • Beyond Meat is creating imitation chicken and beef products using plant components to achieve comparable tastes and food textures.
  • Akahn Technologies is growing industrial diamonds and integrating them into computer chips in place of heat sinks thus significantly reducing heat generation and enabling much slimmer computing devices to be manufactured.
  • Suneris is working on a product called “Vetigel” that fully stops major bleeding from wounds and burns within a matter of seconds.
  • The Zephyr from Airbus a solar powered, geostationary hybrid drone and satellite being built and tested to provide broadband network access to underserved territories.
  • Groundwater Replenishment System by the Orange County Water System is purifying waste water and groundwater back into drinkable water in drought-stricken Southern California.
  • Jaunt is developing an entirely new platform and 360 degree camera to create fully immersive virtual reality movies to be viewed using the versatile new Oculus Rift headset.*

Mr. Grobart’s reporting and the production values on this show are absolutely top flight in every journalistic respect. None of the ten endeavors are over- or undersold, but rather, objectively formatted and presented. The production is internally consistent in its narratives about each one and sequenced in a logical order. Thus, the micro view of each startup or project and the macro view of these innovators innovating is done in a highly professional and accessible manner. IMHO, these are all great stories well told.**

In a world filled with so much troubling news each day, it was incredibly refreshing and inspiring to watch this program and try to assess the potential these undertakings.

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*  See the cover story from the May 2014 issue of WIRED entitled The Inside Story of Oculus Rift and How Virtual Reality Became Reality by Peter Rubin for comprehensive coverage of this technology and company.

**  X-ref to this November 6, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Say, Did You Hear the Story About the Science and Benefits of Being an Effective Storyteller?

Hyve-3D: A New 3D Immersive and Collaborative Design System

Collaborative tools have certainly come a long way since drawing on restaurant napkins and the backs of envelopes. Sure, these methods are still used today, but for a quantum leap into the future of idea sharing I highly recommend a article that appeared on Phys.org an August 10, 2014 entitled Spectacular 3-D Sketching System Revolutionizes Design Interaction and Collaboration. This report covers an extraordinary new system called Hyve -3D that was developed at the University of Montreal. On the day this story was published, this system was presented at the SIGGRAPH 2014 Conference.

As described in this report, Hyve-3D (an acronym for “Hybrid virtual Environment 3D”), is a full immersive space where collaborators can create, shape and test new designs for products such as cars and many others. Through a series of input tools such as tablets, designs can be manipulated in a multitude of ways from this highly in-depth environment.

The U of Montreal is current pursuing ways to commercialize this technology, promoting its cost-effectiveness and relative simplicty in comparison to other systems like this currently on the market.

The eye-popping (albeit 2D), accompanying photos show how this works in car design. Many other field are anticipated such as, among others, architecture, medicine and game design. The Hyve-3D website contains more photos of the system in action. Many other field are anticipated such as, among others, architecture, medicine and game design.

This looks to me like the Holodeck some to life where the possibilities can barely be imagined yet. As I recall from Star Trek: Next Gen, there were several episodes where Geordi use the Holodeck to design and configure technological solutions to problems confronting The Enterprise.

I suspect that 3D design collaboration will find many unanticipated uses. Moreover, when combined with other leading edge technologies and materials science, designers will only be limited by their imaginations. For instance, if a 3D printing system were added to Hyve-3D, medical devices could be customized for individual patients needs. The current state of research in this nascent area was covered in a remarkable story also posted on Phys.org on August 21, 2014 entitled Researchers Use 3D Printers to Create Custom Medical Implants.