Utah’s Emergence into VR
By Elizabeth Latenser
Photo courtesy of THE VOID
The largest virtual reality expo, VRLA took place this last weekend and it clear that VR has grown in leaps and bounds in the past few years. Everywhere you look (pun intended) it’s working its way into our lives from entertainment to healthcare. Utah is at the VR forefront and the Film Commission is integrating the emerging media into its mission of marketing the state as destination for content creation.
Danfung Dennis, filmmaker, and Founder/CEO of Condition One based in Park City, Utah eloquently shared his thoughts saying, “The power of virtual reality is its command of presence — its ability to transport the viewer into another world, and have him feel present in it. These experiences are technically difficult to create, but once achieved, it’s breathtaking.” At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Dennis released a short documentary style virtual reality short called Melting Ice to compliment Al Gore’s sequel to Inconvenient Truth.
If you have attended the Sundance Film Festival in the last 10 years, chances are you have played around with the mind-bending VR technology in their New Frontier section. Sundance Institute added a virtual reality residency program to empower artists as they experiment with creating cinematic virtual reality work.
Because VR is so multi-faceted, production company’s and studios are able to create experiences for different purposes and needs. Jarom Sidwell has been doing visual FX work for years in Los Angeles and overseas, working on such titles as Avatar, Man of Steel and The Avengers. He ultimately landed in Utah because of the large talent pool of artists and developers that live here. His company, 4th Wall FX still works on film and television productions, but VR technology has given the opportunity to create for other areas, Recently 4th Wall created a virtual reality educational tool of the human body, exploring the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems, reaching all the way down to the cellular level.
Companies that delve in VR, have greater options on what to make and show. In the town of Lindon, Utah digital creatives at THE VOID are hard at work making VR adventures. In an excerpt from the New York Times we learn that at a first glance “THE VOID’s invention looks like nothing special. Four black wooden walls form a 30-foot square. But everything changes when you put on a special virtual reality headset, pick up a rudimentary plastic gun, slip into a snug vest and strap on small backpack, which has a lightweight computer inside: You and your friends instantly become Ghostbusters.” You can now try this experience out, with THE VOID’s doors now open.
With a huge crop of local digital creators already in Utah adding to their current scope of work to include virtual reality, it’s clear that there is money to be made and space to grow in the industry. The Utah Digital Entertainment Network (UDEN) exists today because of a belief that Utah is a leader in the visual effects and gaming space and with a little collaboration could easily be a leader in virtual reality too. Jon Dean, chair of UDEN says the skills needed to make virtual reality films and games are transferrable across the different sectors that already function in Utah. If you can make a virtual reality film, you have the technical skills needed to make a virtual reality game and vice-versa. By sharing the innovation and creativity, you can do both and help other creatives trying to do the same.
Contributing writer Elizabeth Latenser is a film fan, mountain momma, dog lover and tree hugger.