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A whole new virtual reality world

by Tiffany Lafleur November 29, 2016
A whole new virtual reality world

Five new VR works at the Phi Centre offer viewers a window into another world

Virtual reality takes on a whole new dimension at the Phi Centre’s Virtual Reality Garden. From now until March 2017, five works bring a whole new perspective to virtual reality by exploring a new way of storytelling: animation.

The Phi Centre, which has presented several award-winning immersive works in its Virtual Reality (VR) Garden, presents another round of short films and immersive works to captivate audiences and pull them into the story.

While past virtual reality works at the Phi Centre mainly featured actual filmed footage taken with 360-degree cameras, the works currently on display were built from the ground up, featuring animated works and fully composed soundtracks and scores.

One of the most captivating of these works is Eagle Flight, a video game demo created by the Montreal-based video game company Ubisoft. In the game, you are an eagle soaring high above Paris, completing basic quests, such as catching fish and fending off vultures from your nest. While wearing the headset, you can use your body’s movements as well as commands on an Xbox controller to navigate and control your flight path. The eagle will bank either left or right depending on how you tilt your body.

As if the wonder of flight weren’t enough, the graphics and layout of the game are also well thought out, making it interesting to navigate around the city. The version of Paris in the game is not the one we are familiar with. This Paris is one reclaimed by nature, with trees, moss and animals having retaken the city.

The game is fun, and you really do feel as if you are soaring through clear skies. However, for those who easily succumb to motion sickness, be warned. Playing the game can make you feel ill, with the motion and movement. Still, it is worth trying the demo, which can be stopped at any time.

While Eagle Flight is the most interactive of the works presented in the VR Garden, the other four are much more story-oriented.

Henry, an animated short created by Oculus Story Studio, tells the tale of Henry the Hedgehog. Henry likes to give hugs, but because of his spikes, everyone he tries to become friends with runs away. On his birthday, he makes a wish to have at least one friend. The aftermath of his wish will make you feel everything from sadness to joy.

In The Rose and I by Penrose Studios, the viewer is transported to another solar system, where are suspended around you and zoom by. On one particular planet, the sole inhabitant discovers a lonely, sick rose. The short film tells the story of what happens after this rose is discovered and is inspired by The Little Prince.

Inspired by The Iron Giant (1999) and produced by Oculus Story Studio, Lost uses the VR medium exceptionally well by situating the viewer in the middle of a forest at night, surrounded by towering trees. This short uses sound in an interesting way to guide the viewer into looking in a specific direction. Somewhere in the dense undergrowth, a large creature roams in the bushes. The film allows the viewer’s attention to wander and observe their surroundings for a short amount of time before using sound to direct the viewer’s attention to the creature—a giant mechanic hand scuttling around.

Minotaur can best be described as an experimental work. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Minotaur is a visual and auditory journey through seven stages, including birth, childhood and death/rebirth. Don’t expect anything ordinary. This is the kind of work where each viewer takes away their own meaning from the film. The beautiful score will guide you through the story, easing you from one stage to the next.

Admission to the Phi Centre’s VR Garden is free, and the exhibits are open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.  For those who wear glasses, perhaps opt for contact lenses for the day. If contact lenses aren’t your thing, make sure to adjust the headset so you can wear it comfortably, as being able to see the image properly does make a difference as to the experience of the piece.

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