Stepping inside Sundance’s New Frontier Spaceship, the virtual venue that houses the festival’s multimedia, VR, XR, and other emerging tech projects, the first thing you’ll see is yourself — in avatar form.
The second thing you’ll see is all the other avatars walking around inside the virtual Spaceship. And if you look out the Spaceship’s window, you’ll see the virtual Earth.
Inside the Spaceship, which you can access at newfrontier.sundance.org using a VR headset or just your laptop (you’ll need a Sundance login to participate), you can visit different rooms — the Cinema House, which is a virtual arthouse movie theater, the Gallery, where you can check out different multimedia projects in the New Frontier lineup, or the Film Party, where you can meet and mingle with other festival-goers. For the tech-wary Sundance has an in-depth blog post on how to navigate the Spaceship here.
Essentially, the Spaceship is the closest you can get to being at Sundance in-person without leaving the comfort of your own home.
This is the second year Sundance has been operating the Spaceship, which was unveiled for the 2021 festival as a way to allow festival-goers to interact with each other during the first time the festival went fully online.
There are 15 different projects currently going on in the Spaceship, from the live virtual dance performances like Cosmogony and Suga’ to VR-headset optimized experiences like Diagnosia and Flat Earth VR. Other New Frontier projects include Gondwana, 32 Sounds, The Inside World, Surrogate, Atua, Seven Grams, Child of Empire, On the Morning You Wake Up (To the End of the World), The State of Global Peace, They Dream in My Bones, and This Is Not a Ceremony.
Gilles Jobin returns to Sundance this year with his biodigital live dance performance Cosmogony, which features three live dancers who use motion capture technology in Geneva, Switzerland to project their movements in real-time onto avatars moving throughout 3D environments.
“The main idea was to have this continuum from one space to another and it’s like a journey, really,” said Jobin. “The camera goes through all these kinds of worlds… also, resources were in real-time. So we have to take care that it’s not too heavy on resources. It’s also this question — it’s always a question mark when you create the piece, you never know how far you can really go.”
For the dancers, the piece requires more than just moving their body — they have to make sure the motion capture is moving with them.
“For the choreography, we are already set up in the space — our spacing is very, very precise. And most of the movement [is] also, but we have a lot of freedom as well inside the structure of the different spaces,” said dancer Susana Panadés Diaz. “But otherwise, we are really, really precise in the space and in the frame. Because otherwise, the cameras are not caught in the frame.”
Lemon Guo, a lead artist on the VR documentary Diagnosia about director Mengtai Zhang’s experience as a teenager in a military-run internet addiction camp in China, told MovieMaker how VR technology can allow viewers to experience other people’s memories first-hand.
“Since we couldn’t film inside the internet addiction rehab camp, we used simulation technology to reconstruct the place as Mengtai remembered it. Then with VR, we could transport the audience inside this place, inside Mengtai’s memories, in a first-person perspective in an immersive and embodied way,” Guo said. “I think the ability to tell a story with the environment and to immerse the audience in other people’s memories is something that’s quite powerful about VR.”
To watch Cosmogony, Diagnosia, and other multimedia Sundance projects, visit the Spaceship at newfrontier.sundance.org.
Main image: A still image of the Cinema House inside Sundance’s New Frontier Spaceship, courtesy of Sundance