The 77th Venice International Film Festival is currently in full swing, with a big offering of virtual experiences this year as part of Venice VR Expanded.
There’s a wealth of VR content available across multiple platforms, but of particular interest are some of the 6DoF Oculus Quest experiences available to those with festival accreditation. Some of these are premiering at Venice while others were already available at festivals earlier in the year.
Sadly, none of these experiences are available to the public just yet. Some of them may receive a full release on VR platforms at a later date, but for now Jamie and I have tried them all and summed up our impressions.
Here’s what we thought of this year’s Oculus Quest content at Venice VR Expanded.
Ajax All Powerful
Ajax All Powerful is a short animated VR comedy that follows a crude genie (or djinn, as he prefers) named Ajax. He’s addicted to human souls, which he snorts like cocaine and acquires by fulfilling wishes to his various masters. The short sees him negotiate his contract with his newest master, a young girl called Izzie. There’s more to her than meets the eye though — she’s hired a detail-orientated lawyer to fix up the wish contract.
It’s a crude yet charming short that packs a lot of laughs in a small amount of time, playing with genie tropes in clever ways. The camera and animation work experiments with scale a little, but if there’s one thing that lets Ajax down, it’s that it never really takes full advantage of VR as a medium. That aside, it’s an entertaining ride and definitely worth checking out if it ever releases to the public.
This VR animation brings together two of the best studios for VR immersive content — Baobab Studios and 3DAR — to work on a beautiful new experience. While Baobab’s latest solo project, Baba Yaga, is available at Venice VR this year as well, Paper Birds sees them team up with 3DAR, the studio behind the fantastic Gloomy Eyes. 3DAR’s influence here is immediately evident — Paper Birds shares a lot of its visual style with Gloomy, providing some amazingly detailed dioramas and animated characters.
The similarity is definitely not a bad thing — it doesn’t feel so close to Gloomy Eyes as to be repetitive, but it’s also a style of animation that won’t feel worn out for a while yet. Unlike Gloomy , the experience does feature a few interactive moments (perhaps an addition that Baobab brought to the table) which require you to use hand tracking to manipulate the environment. It’s an interesting experience overall, but the narrative does fall a bit flat. It ends in a manner that suggests it’s the first part in an episodic release (again, much like Gloomy) — future installments might flesh things out a bit more.
We Live Here
We Live Here is a thought-provoking experience that aims to provide some insight into the life of the homeless, and de-stigmatize preconceptions you might hold towards those who find themselves living on the streets. The experience follows Rockey, a 59-year old woman who has been homeless for 3 years, living in a tent in a Los Angeles park. Through a mixture of 360 footage, interactive environments and 6DoF immersive animations, you’ll learn more about Rockey and the experience of being homeless.
The narrative provides some interesting new perspectives on an important issue, but it’s integrated into a very basic VR experience that looks visually messy and features very low quality interactions with the environment. While the message and perspective are welcome (and somewhat enlightening), they comes in a VR package that feels messy and poorly integrated. The concept is solid, but the execution is not.
The latest from Baobab Studios, Baba Yaga is an interactive movie featuring the voices of Daisy Ridley, Kate Winslett, and Glenn Close. It’s a sweet little piece, casting viewers as one of two daughters of the leader of a tribe that falls ill. Together, you set out with your sister to find a cure in a cursed forest, risking a face-off with the dreaded Baba Yaga.
The film gives viewers a handful of moments to interact with the world and make your own decisions, but it doesn’t go quite as deep as you might hope after the experiments first seen in Baobab’s Bonfire. A charming adventure for sure, but familiar territory for this studio.
Goodbye Mr. Octopus
A wistful short that recalls Dear Angelica, Goodbye Mr. Octopus sees a teenage girl reckoning with her overprotective father whilst daydreaming of her adventurous mother, currently out on travels. She reads a letter from her mother, suddenly taken on a journey through her brief past with visions of her mother venturing through the wilderness.
Though short, Mr. Octopus makes a warm impact with its welcoming visuals and look at how two divergent personalities can still find peaceful cohabitation. Director Amaury Campion makes great use of VR as both a teleportation device and a time-traveling machine, melding strands of history and space and funneling them into a specific moment in time. Quite a pleasant time, all-in-all.
A Taste of Hunger
An experimental narrative that shifts away from linear storytelling, A Taste of Hunger is one of the more mature and confronting experiences on this list. As you walk around a black void marked with only a large circular shape on the floor, various scenes will fly in and out of existence around you. Your surroundings are constantly changing as you move, showing you fragments of a story depending on your location.
All of the presented scenes are visually-distorted, blending polygonal shapes with recorded footage that has been converted into messy, incomplete 3D renders. There’s no strict start or end to the experience — you’re told to simply exit when you’re ready to — and you’ll come away with your own interpretation of what these vignettes mean and how each of them might be linked. It’s a confronting and at times creepy experience that pushes the VR medium to create a unique and unsettling look into the story of a woman’s life.
Which of these experiences would you like to try? Let us know which experience you’re looking forward to most in the comments below.