March 2nd 2016.

Over one evening in March, over 100 people gathered at Studio Thick in Fitzroy for the first ever Storia Salon, presented by VRTOV.

They came to experience award-winning Virtual Reality docs from around the world, many of which were premiering in Melbourne for the first time, meet artists and hear from local creators in a series of lighting talks,  and join the discussion around VR for documentary.

The works

Seven non-fiction VR projects showcased at Storia, selected to capture a range in terms of both subject matter and production techniques.

Witness 360: 7/7 (UK, Darren Emerson) and Warwick Gold (AU, ABC R&D) both on the Samsung Gear VR, spoke to the accessibility of immersive 360 video for both documentary producers and audiences, a point highlighted by ABC R&D producers Amy Nelson and Astrid Scott in their lighting talk during the evening.

Clouds (USA, James George and Jonathan Minard), Drawing Room (Netherlands, Jan Rothuizen & Sarah Kolster), Virtual Drag (AU, Alison Bennett, Megan Beckwith & Mark Payne) and Assent (AU, Oscar Raby) on the Oculus Rift and Kiya (USA, Nonny de la Pena) on the HTC Vive, spurred interesting conversations amongst the audience, from guests shocked at the power of immersion felt when witnessing Kiya and the potential for journalistic stories, to admiring the balance of art, whimsy and technical sophistication of Drawing Room.

The talks

We always wanted the Salon to include talks, to stimulate discussion around the possibilities virtual reality holds – its’ affordances and challenges – from the people who are involved in the making of it.

Oscar kicked off the talks with some background about how he got into making VR work, tracking his first production Assent in 2013, to forming VRTOV and announcing the two upcoming projects; Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel and The Turning Forest.

He was followed by Alison Bennett, an artist and PhD candidate at Deakin Motion Lab who took the audience through her work with Virtual Drag – a project which explores the potential of 3D scanning to create cyberspace encounters with drag queens. This included sharing the 3D scanning process, which involved taking the drag queens down to Officeworks for full body scans.

Representing ABC Research and Development were Amy Nelson and Astrid Scott. They were both producers on the documentary short Warwick Gold, which was shot in 360 video. They shared their experiences of being involved in a project which allowed them to experiment 360 filmmaking and explore its potential for ABC.

Last, but not least, was Kalonica Quigley – VRTOV’s 3D artist – who took the evening on a technical turn by guiding the audience through her creative process when making VR, impressing the audience with her 3D storyboards and giving insight into her personal journey from game design to virtual reality documentaries.

An important focus of the Salon was demonstrating the diversity of people making this work, directly challenging the all-male panels we see at so many events. We were really proud to showcase predominantly female speakers, talking about their work and framing the discussions for the night.

The challenges

Evenings like this would not be able to happen without the generous support of places like Studio Thick, who allowed us to take over their amazing Fitzroy studio. Without this support, running something like this at an affordable cost to the public would be impossible.

Secondly we were using brand new tech – most of which were developer kits, rather than consumer versions and it was a lot to manage. Understanding guests and our incredible studio team who ran the experiences meant that this wasn’t a barrier to a successful event and if anything it allowed people to see the very real challenges of working with virtual reality.

Technical difficulties were also improved by having the talks which served to break up the evening. They also encouraged more conversation around the production of virtual reality, rather than the entire focus being on the pieces we had installed.

Katy and I went straight from our packed-out panel at AIDC in the morning, to setting up and running the Salon in the afternoon and evening. It was a day that proved the strong interest for VR and the possibilities it holds for documentary makers.

For a lot of our guests, Storia was their first experience of virtual reality, particularly from the documentary field, and it was great to be able to be the ones curating their experience and wrapping it in an immensely enjoyable evening.

– Jess Linington

About VRTOV

We are an independent digital production studio based in Melbourne making stories in Virtual Reality.

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