Utah’s Emergence in 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.

Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival New Frontiers section,

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.

4th Wall FX virtual reality medical visualization educational tool

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.

Celebrating Film & Digital Entertainment in Utah

By Elizabeth Latenser

On February 1st we gathered with film and digital industry members for Film Day on the Hill in Salt Lake City to showcase the incredibly diverse entertainment industry brewing locally. The industry is comprised of 450 companies that employs at least 4,300 workers and pays more than $100 million in wages and salaries. Not to mention, it keeps the world endlessly entertained! From traditional production companies to game designers and virtual reality creators, Utah truly is a hotbed for creativity across many sectors.

Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert & Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox at Film Day on the Hill.

Check out this video featuring Utah Film Commissioner Virginia Pearce from Film Day on the Hill. I would encourage you to watch it twice. First, listen to what she is sharing about the industry in Utah which is uniquely positioned to compete with other states for film production due to our iconic landscapes, experienced crew and established infrastructure.
Then take a look at all the activity in the background, including intricate set designs, groundbreaking technology, fantastic costumes and innovative companies. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what these groups can do!


I learned a few things from Film Day on the Hill:

The Utah Film Commission’s Motion Picture Incentive program has been making an incredible economic impact on the state and employs a variety of recruitment strategies to bring projects here. Those efforts have resulted in 146 films in the state, 13,830 jobs created and $239 million in direct Utah spending since 2005.
The future is bright! In 2016, more than 3,000 students were enrolled in a film or digital media program at 13 of Utah’s higher education institutions. I can’t wait to see what these students cook up.
The industry is going digital. More than 80% of film production is done digitally so it’s crucial for artists to stay on top of new technologies.
Legislators are proud of the strong film and digital entertainment industry we have in Utah and see it as an incredible asset to our cultural landscape and bustling economy.

Thank you to all the creative companies who joined us and to those who couldn’t come but continue to pour their heart into creating the best work possible in Utah. Here is a list of a few who made it. Make sure to check out what they are up to:

Contributing writer Elizabeth Latenser is a film fan, mountain momma, dog lover and tree hugger.

How to get an Internship with “The Tonight Show”

How do you get an internship with the “The Tonight Show”? Well Nick Garrett a  communications student at Weber State University had a creative idea.  Film, edit and score a shot for shot intro to the show’s original, starring himself of course as the “potential intern.” The voice over let’s you know that Nick would be a great intern because he’s hard working, a multi-tasker and can deal with a fast paced environment.

Nick spent a month creating the piece, filming various Salt Lake City locations (and Park City) to double for New York.

All we can say is, he better get that internship. Check out his video.

The Block Film & Art Festival

Logan’s The Block Film & Art Festival 

Do you like film, music, and art? We do! Which is why we’re sponsoring The Block film & art festival. Spend the weekend in Logan watching incredible films and immersing yourself in Utah’s artistic culture. Technically this is the fifth annual film festival, but this year it’s not just film. It’s grown to include music, art, and education. Logan has the benefit of having four theaters on one block, so they’re utilizing the space to create a weekend for everyone to enjoy. With nearly 50 films, music, food, educational speakers, and art, it’s the perfect way to tap into Utah’s creative culture.

The festival runs October 7th-8th and passes are only $5 for students and $20 for locals. If you only have time to watch one film, you can do that too for only $8. Or you can just walk around and enjoy the music, art, and food carts. Check out the schedule and snag your tickets here!

What do Katy Perry and Southern Utah have in common?

Answer: A big parachute.

Katy Perry’s new video for her hit song Rise takes place nearly entirely in scenic Southern Utah. The video was filmed in Sand Hollow and Snow Canyon and has more than 20 million views since its debut on YouTube. The production crew wanted to film at Lake Powell, but were blown away when Kelly Stowell, the Utah Film Commissions’s Kanab and Kane County film commissioner, showed them Sand Hollow and Snow Canyon. Just goes to show that Utah has many hidden gems for filmmakers to discover as they dive deeper than the more well known areas of Zion and Moab. Now enough chit chat, we’ll let the video speak for itself.