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article imageReview: VR POP is compelling study of empathy & real-world storytelling Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jul 16, 2016 in Entertainment
TIFF’s second pop-up installation explores VR’s potential to put people in other people’s lives via a variety of storytelling styles.
Technology has not only transformed our daily lives, but it’s literally altering the way we see the world. The rise and accessibility of virtual and augmented reality has occurred relatively quickly, now providing anyone with the means the ability to access the technology on their phones and/or own a portable, personal headset. However, the types of stories being told via this technology are surprisingly diverse. To illustrate the range of these devices, TIFF Bell Lightbox is hosting its second VR pop-up installation July 15-17, 2016. Where the first of three themed events explored the intersection of VR, music and art, this one demonstrates the power of VR to put people inside other perspectives — and other lives.
The cross-section of narratives included in the exhibit are not only fascinating, but somewhat surprising. The first pod upon entering the gallery consists of a series of short documentaries dedicated to real-life, global stories. “Click Effect” is a fully immersive trip beneath the ocean’s surface as two marine researchers explain and explore echolocation. With a full 360-degree perspective and ambient sound filling their ears, the user feels as if they too are swimming with the dolphins and sperm whales; in fact the sensation is so real, they may feel tempted to reach out and touch one of the creatures that appear to swim by inches away from their own bodies.
Then there are more serious narratives, such as the CBC’s “Highway of Tears,” which briefly chronicles the disappearance and murder of an aboriginal teen along the infamous stretch of road in northern British Columbia. The user initially finds themselves standing on the side of Highway 16 at night, alone and vulnerable. Then they’re invited into the home of the victim’s mother who still mourns her death and provides the “human” aspect of the story as she describes the lack of police interest in her daughter’s disappearance. This testimonial is intersected with an aerial view of the same highway, illustrating the density of the forest that surrounds it and the helpless isolation that contrasts the beautiful mountain landscape.
Further into the gallery is a range of other VR experiences. Narrated by Elijah Wood, “Henry” is an animated short by Oculus Story Studio that brings users into the home of a lonely hedgehog celebrating his birthday and whose wish results in an unexpected surprise. The greatest part of this feature is being immersed in a rather detailed and charming cartoon world. Although observing from a stationary position behind the fourth wall, it still feels as if you are sitting in the small creature’s cozy home.
Google’s contribution to the exhibit is Patrick Osborne’s “Pearl.” In this short the user sits in the passenger seat of a car and watches as a young musician gradually grows into a man and father, and eventually passes the similarly aging vehicle onto his daughter so she can tour with her own band. This is a sweet, somewhat directionless story that finds its individuality in the perspective it presents as it’s annoyingly impossible to see everything, which is generally the frustration of interacting in the confined space of a car.
But not all of the experiences are based on immobile observations. “Irrational Exuberance” is a wholly interactive experience that places users on the surface of an asteroid floating through space. Walking around an approximate 5’x5’ space, you break the rocks encasing your position with the provided remotes and then use them to interact with other floating objects. Being able to look over the edge of your floating rock into the abyss is enthralling, while the ability to interact with this environment without seeing your own body is simultaneously disconcerting and intriguing.
All of the major VR headsets are available to sample, including HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR. Therefore, this is also a great opportunity for the curious to test each of the new devices. The image quality of the various pictures vary; they are not yet indistinguishable from the real world, but the experience of being “inside” these other perspectives is uncanny. Visitors are also encouraged to attend POPX Saturday night, which includes an opportunity to hear from VR creators, storytellers and filmmakers followed by an after-party. More information about the installation and tickets are available on the TIFF website.
More about Virtual reality, TIFF POP, tiff bell lightbox, htc vive, oculus rift
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