Sex slaves, Isis, & VR: oh my!

A still image from The Sun Ladies VR by Celine Tricart & Christian Stephen

I was completely and utterly blown away by
Kent Bye‘s “Voices of VR” podcast that interviewed directors Céline Tricart and conflict journalist Christian Stephen about The Sun Ladies VR 360 video / VR experience.

It’s about the Yezidi women who were taken as sex slaves after Isis invaded their towns and killed all the men. Some managed to escape from their ordeal and are now trained fighters hunting the men down who did it to them, intent on rescuing as many other women as they can.

VR at its best: used to communicate a powerful story, in a way that can’t do anything less have a massive impact on you the viewer. VR will enable storytelling and journalism on an emotional scale previously unimaginable; here you get to not only watch the women, but be in the thick of the fighting, experiencing the drama nearly first hand (without the danger!).

I really think VR has the potential not just to entertain, but do far more in terms of enhancing empathy than it’s ever been possible to do before. Possibly one that really will help humanity build bridges in an increasingly crowded and shrinking world, where lots of people with different ideas and experiences are bumping into each other.

Listen to the podcast,  watch the trailer (below), and if you can – seek out the VR experience. It’s an incredible story.

Five day VRaycation

I spent five full days over New Year’s playing with an HTC Vive. Which is interesting in NYC apartment, since half the furniture had to be moved to make room for the motion tracking units mounted on two spindly tripods! As an artist as well as a tech enthusiast, it was an interesting experience. So much to try out.

I have a book’s worth of impressions and opinions coming out of the experience, but quickly – my favorite: hands down, Blortasia by Kevin Mack, a neuroscientist and artist. It’s a psychedelic drift through an ever changing, pulsing, organic color blitz. Absolutely, mind bogglingly, surreally, beautiful. I love that he’s not adapting something to fit into VR, he’s actually designing something for the medium; one of the few, I think, who “gets” it.

His work is inspired by transcendent visions, nature, and technology, and is informed by research in a wide range of fields from neuroscience to artificial life. Not to mention, I’m guessing it’s a lot like taking mushrooms! Blortasia is being used in therapy and it’s effects are the subject of a medical research study. Now *that’s* a use for VR I can get behind.

The other favorite was (of course – as an artist): Tiltbrush. But I wasn’t as in love with it as I should have been….it’s purely a paint stroke program (I called it “the MS Paint of VR”) and I really missed being able to create actual solid objects. Perhaps a hangover from my CAD roots – nevertheless, I persisted, and determined to grok the program as best possible, after a while realized how to get the most out of it (hint: don’t try to be precise).

Tiltbrush: “Garden of Eden”

Here’s a glimpse of one of the worlds I created – a flock of beautiful glowing birds. I made another with huge pulsating jellyfish hanging from the sky, so you could stand in between the tentacles; that one’s for another day.

That book-length blog post is coming, about everything from the experience to the content, user interface to opportunities – just wanted to jot down some initial thoughts to start.

Face Swapping: Deepfakes

Face-swapping celebrity faces onto porn performers’ bodies (“Deepfakes”). It’s a thing

Yes, it’s about porn….but it’s not: if Photoshop has played a major role in bending “reality” the point where no one believes a photo any more, just wait until the same “bending reality” happens easily, with video. How will anyone know what’s “real” ??

Will there be clipart galleries, just waiting for faces to be superimposed on them?

What about superimposing faces on bodies in VR? – wonder if actors will make deals with entertainment producers to license their faces into VR/AR content, not at the studio level (that’s a big “duh” – is cheaper and less hassle than actually dealing with a live person) but as something fans can pay to use in their own content (dare I say it, fantasies?).

I did talk a little bit about this back in 2011. It is obviously, an inevitability – a natural progression of visual manipulation. But are we ready for this? Legally? Ethically?



Not quite feeling it

One of the major challenges facing virtual reality is that when you’re visually immersed in another world, your internal body mechanisms are screaming “Danger Will Robinson!” since they know you’re not *actually* moving/flying/speeding/whatever. There are plenty of companies working on simulating all that, to trick your brain into coming along with your eyes; but it it’s early days for VR, it’s even earlier days for that.

Take for example, the situation where you’re exploring Mars. As one does (or will be!). How are you “moving” through the terrain, without your legs actually moving? – and if you do decide to walk, how big is your living room?

If you’re driving. how will it feel if there’s no acceleration?

Things like that drive your brain batty. And create nausea / cyber sickness in about 2/3 of people using VR.

Another problem is that you can’t actually interact with anything in VR {yet}. So, can’t crash into walls, fall, pick something up….shakes someone’s hands…it’s like being a ghost!

So you can see all this cool stuff around you but actually interacting with it all is still a challenge. One that many companies are working on solving.

Some solutions these days include relying on game pads or sticks to interact with virtual objects. While practical and, in some cases, effective, it’s not ideal. In addition to not taking into account fine hand and finger motion…and it also doesn’t match what your hand is actually doing in the virtual environment. So yet another point of discontinuity between your hands and brain (more opportunity to get sick).

There are VR gloves, of course, which – while they do come a bit closer to how real hands and fingers work – leave out natural feedback (resistance) that is necessary when “picking up” objects in the virtual world. In order to grasp and pick up a virtual object it has to feel as if you’re holding an actual one.

One company who’s working on the “being able to touch” something in VR is Dexta Robotics, a Chinese company that has developed gloves that not only track the location and movement of fingers for input, but the gloves also apply “force” to simulate actual objects. Importantly, the resistance changes depending on the virtual material you’re interacting with; bouncy like a rubber ball, hard if it’s wood.

Genius. And paving the way for truly immersive interaction. No launch details available yet though *sigh*.

Still, I have to wonder: with all the suiting up you’re going to have to do, to properly experience immersive VR experience though – headset, exo-skeleton gloves, pressure suits, rotary treadmills – how easy will it be to actually fully engage?

Going to put some thought towards what future VR interaction will look like. Because all this gear just isn’t practical.

And it’s still not even multiplayer!

That’s a hill of beans (a hill of seed?)

These people got financing for, among other reasons, they aren’t inventing any technology, rather are closer to a traditional studio creating Virtual Reality content for clients. That’s a lot of capital for a seed round!

Penrose Studio raises seed capital for VR content studio