Herman Fredlund (right) prepares to shoot Bernard Fredlund (left) in a short film where a disabled father plays a virtual reality game with his son.
The scene opens with with a robot coming online. It opens its disturbingly lifelike eyes and begins shuffling toward the viewer. The robot reaches out its clamps, grasping at the air – only to grab a loaf of bread and begin making a sandwich.
This VR experience was one of nine projects developed at a 30 hour “create-a-thon” in the new Upload LA co-working space. The event, called #OnceUponAFuture: The #WhiteMirror Edition, was dedicated to creating projects from VR experiences to short films that portray a positive vision of emerging technologies.
Los Angeles based futurist and artist Zenka conceived of the event after watching the Netflix series Black Mirror. “I realized that we’re instinctually fearful of the future because of the massive amount of change that’s coming,” she explained, “But if we don’t know what we want out of the future there’s no way we’re ever going to get there.”
Earlier this year she set about creating an event where creators from filmmakers to developers could come together to create stories that depict a White Mirror future in which technology improves people’s lives and brings them closer together. As the website for the event explained, Black Mirror showed visions of how technology will impact our lives that were “brilliant but deeply depressing.” Instead, this event would be “a temporary think tank to create stories about what we want to happen in the future.”
(From right to left) Stephanie Dean, Sophia Brueckner, Jessica Westbrook, and Frank Spencer work on a presentation on Chrysalis, an AR app that allows people to view humanity as a whole.
From 10 am on Saturday, April 22nd to 4 pm on Sunday, April 23rd, nearly a hundred filmmakers, developers, VFX artists, musicians, and artists worked on a variety of projects that showcased how technologies ranging from augmented reality to androids can improve our lives. The results ranged from laugh out loud funny to profoundly moving, but all were thought-provoking in their attempts to show a world where technology makes our lives better.
In the short-film EVE, a woman uses augmented reality to see the emotions of others she interacts with and then calibrates her responses for maximum positive impact. She lands a job, a hot date, and even the best latte she’s ever had. Augmented reality gave her the ability to connect with people on a deeper level.
It’s Just Human took a humorous take on the classic sci-fi trope of an android attempting to become human. In the 360 video, the android begins by communicating through emojis but through therapy first learns to nod, then talk, and eventually fall in love. While the audience laughed at his use of eggplant emojis and ellipsis to express himself, his journey showed a world in which human connection can be forged even in a world of robots.
One of the more ambitious projects was a VR experience called ReFLEKTION, which tried to capture how someone might deal with a hangover in the world of tomorrow. A full body scan shows what’s hurting and why before prescribing a meditative experience to take the edge off. The viewer can even hop into a 360 video of the previous night to help with lost memories. The experience ends with a recommendation on the number of alcoholic drinks to have next time.
With the majority of sci-fi films and movies today depicting dystopias or at least the negative implications of technology, these kind of stories take on a special resonance. Sophia Brueckner, an artist, engineer, and one of the creators at the event, felt that “If we can’t envision a positive future it’s unlikely we will end up there accidentally. If you don’t design something then someone else will and they might not do it in a way we would prefer.”
Zenka hopes that the event will not only inspire technologists, but also other events like it across the country and around the world. She wanted to “create a foundation that makes it easy for other people to pick up the baton to run in whatever direction they want.” To that end, she’s created the Once Upon a Future website that not only hosts all the projects from the event, but also has detailed instructions for doing similar events under the same banner. She’s already working on events in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and as far away as Argentina.
(From left to right) Carole Pavina, Marcy Boyle, and Corey Mack get the spatial audio right for It’s Just Human.
While Zenka knows that technology is “neither a force for good or evil, but is determined by how we use it,” she’s doing her best to create clear visions of how it can improve our lives. As another creator from the event, the Studio Director at Virsix, Inc. Evan Hembacher put it, “We need to have idealism built into our thought process before we can have the intention of creating positivity in the world.”
Find all the #OnceUponAFuture: The #WhiteMirror Edition projects and the resources for creating your own Once Upon A Future event on their website.
Disclosure: Matthias McCoy-Thompson is the Community Events Lead for Upload LA and was involved with the creation and planning of the #OnceUponAFuture: The #WhiteMirror Edition event. Upload was considered a sponsor of the event.