In October of this year Sony will start selling the Playstation VR, a virtual reality headset which is believed to be a tipping point in the evolution of virtual reality as a mainstream entertainment and communications platform. Hunger for virtual reality content is set to explode, but it won’t just be traditional video game producers developing the content. VR will open the doors to new creative works that will draw upon the skills of all sorts of visual artists the world over. It’s with this in mind that Screen NSW launched 360 Vision – a conference designed to stimulate local VR development within the Australian production sector.
360 Vision was a one-day invitation-only lab held during Vivid Sydney last week. A joint project between the ABC and Screen NSW, the lab brought together screen content creators to discuss VR content and technologies. Local filmmaker Lynette Wallworth, whose VR film Collisions was officially in competition at Sundance this year, is a filmmaker exploring the potential of VR and was invited to showcase her film at the Sydney conference.
In addition to a screening of Collisions, the event also featured presentations from noted filmmakers like Rose Troche (Six Feet Under, The L Word), and UN senior advisor Gabo Arora.
Many attendees that Mediaweek spoke with at the conference said that they felt it was the beginning of a major shift in the way we engage with media. TV presenter Gretel Killeen commented that it “felt like being at the dawn of time”.
Event organiser and Screen NSW head Courtney Gibson was just one of the many impressed by Wallworth’s film. “When I saw Collisions, it changed everything for me. On a personal level, it was like getting a broadband connection at home or learning to drive. Your life changes all of a sudden. It opened my mind up to something really radical and really powerful. That’s what great VR does.”
For Gibson, staging 360 Vision was an important first step in establishing NSW as a hub for virtual reality.
“We imagine that just as soon as audiences have come to enjoy the experiential VR that is out there and with more to come, we imagine that they will also be after unusual entertainment experiences along with compelling documentary and issue-based material. We want to position NSW practitioners to be at the vanguard of that. We want to work with investors both locally and internationally to support the production of new material,” Gibson explained.
It was also important for Gibson that NSW develops a presence early in the pioneering stage of VR development, getting ahead of the upcoming Christmas season that will see the consumer availability of headsets and 360-degree camera equipment for home recording explode with interest.
“The fact is it is being used now for tourism, medicine, and porn… When something gets traction in porn the way VR has, you know it isn’t going anywhere except there will be more and more of it.”
On the 360 Vision event itself, Gibson was thrilled at the reaction.
“The turnout the other day was fantastic. The fact we had so many interesting, leading Australian producers… The new managing director of the ABC Michelle Guthrie came. All of the big-end-of-town companies were represented as well as interesting, emerging companies,” she said.
One of the attendees at the conference was futurist Mark Pesce. Pesce was an early practitioner, developing in a first-generation VR startup in 1991, which was later incorporated into the Sega Virtua VR gaming headset.
Pesce commented, “I saw one producer who looked a bit ‘Skippy in the headlights’. She was well aware there was a lot she had to learn – in a hurry! That in itself is incredibly valuable, because pointing up a skills deficit is the first step to filling that gap.
“We need to see a lot of follow-up – and the Screen NSW funding will help with that. But mostly we need to have filmmakers prepared to experiment with a very new and exciting medium, and 360 Vision did its best to communicate that excitement,” he said.