VR films inspire awe and hourlong lines at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival

Virtual reality may not be in mainstream films, but it’s already hitting the indie movie scene in a big way.

Last year, the Tribeca Film Institute proclaimed the Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) would be “the new home for the virtual reality revolution”; this year it opened up a new VR area at the show. Tribeca isn’t the first show to feature virtual reality, but it’s one of the most internationally renowned film festivals to feature it.

Movie theaters have been rolling out reclinable seats and 4DX theaters that spray wind and rain in order to increase the value of moviegoing in an age where home TVs now exceed 70 inches. The virtual reality experiences at TFF somewhat married that ideal of the tangible movie viewing experience being symbiotic with the movie itself. All of the virtual reality films on display were accompanied with some sort of physical installations inspired by the film.

“I think there’s a huge interest in augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and now secondary sensors integrated with VR.”

Each VR experience required free sign-ups, and from our experience, many of the films were raucous successes. Three hours after the start of the day, most of the VR films had hour-long wait times with some holding you back by three hours. The place was buzzing with a mixture of excited chatter and questions. All of the installations and VR experiences were in close proximity, leading to numerous moments where attendees in line for 2D films were drawn into the VR area.

The films on exhibit had themed areas. People sat in a boxed structure, its floor and walls covered in leaves, to view Oscar Raby’s audible VR experience The Turning Forest, about a magical forest. For The Guardian’s Francesca Panetta and Lindsay Poulton’s 6×9: An Immersive Experience Of Solitary Confinement, attendees sat on a bench in a white box while onlookers watched. Experiencing solitary confinement, headset wearers twitched and often adjusted in their seats as if to get more comfortable, even though they were simply sitting on a bench.

Keith Nelson Jr/Digital Trends
Keith Nelson Jr/Digital Trends

After Patrick, 34, watched 6×9 he told Digital Trends the commotion from the crowd prevented him from fully feeling as if he was in the silence of solitary confinement. He did say there was an emotional connection, however, and the environment of the 3D rendering differentiated VR from traditional films. “Whatever I tell you is my story, but you have your version,” Patrick said. “But if I put you in this VR experience, it’s more realistic.”

Some of the VR films were too ambitious for those in attendance. Sens was promoted as “the first project to adapt a graphic novel into a virtual reality,” and it took you through a maze of sorts. Jessica, 26, described it as “a bunch of white, black, and grey, which kind of makes you dizzy, but it’s fun.” She did say “the dot you’re supposed to navigate with is really small,” delaying her immersion into the experience — a hinderance VR filmmakers are still trying to figure out.

Opeyemi Olukemi, senior director of Interactive Programs at the Tribeca Film Institute, spoke with Digital Trends about the festival’s record-breaking crowds. Olukemi also hinted at what new technology next year’s festival could feature. “I don’t think there’ll just be VR next year,” she said. “I think there’s a huge interest in augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and now secondary sensors integrated with VR.”

If the Tribeca Film Festival and the long lines at each VR film are any indication, VR filmmaking may be closer to reality than we think.

Movies & TV

Apple’s first original feature film reunites Bill Murray, Sofia Coppola

The Lost in Translation team of Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray will reunite with their A Very Murray Christmas collaborator Rashida Jones for On the Rocks, Apple and studio A24's first official feature together.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Virtual Reality

Think virtual reality is just for games? These awesome apps will change your mind

Virtual reality isn't all about gaming. Swim with turtles, paint in 3D, and immerse yourself in some unique experiences the platform has to offer with our curated list of the best VR apps.
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw,’ ‘IO,’ Fyre Festival, and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. That's why we round up the best ones for you. This week, it's trailers for a Fyre Festival documentary, as well as Velvet Buzzsaw and Iron Sky: The Coming Race.

HTC brings two new headsets, a VR browser, and ‘Netflix for VR’ to CES 2019

HTC Vive made several new announcements to CES 2019, including two new headsets, a new subscription service, and a new user interface that completely transforms how applications are launched.

Camera records real-life scenes to design virtual worlds using a single device

Creating virtual reality worlds may get a bit easier in 2019 -- the Axis is a camera module that records a 180-degree depth map, allowing designers to reconstruct the scene for virtual or augmented reality.
Product Review

HTC puts eye-tracking tech in Vive Pro Eye to make next-gen VR hands-free

With the announcement of integrated eye tracking for the Vive Pro Eye, hands-free VR, less demanding high-quality experiences, and intuitive software, are all on the table.

The Vive Pro Eye uses Tobii eye-tracking technology to make VR more lifelike

HTC revealed the Vive Pro Eye with eye-tracking support at its CES 2019 press conference on January 7. We now know that Tobii will be the company responsible for integrating the technology.

Oculus’ Quest is the headset that will make me (and you) a VR believer

Without excessive wires or complicated setup, and a price point that makes sense for tech that just isn't there yet, Oculus' upcoming standalone headset, the Quest, could bring VR mainstream.

Dive headfirst into the best experiences available now on the Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift brought back virtual reality and put a modern twist to it. Grab your Touch Controllers, put on your VR headset, and jump into the fun with some of the best Oculus Rift games available now.

The best VR headsets at CES 2019 could bring the technology to the mainstream

While there weren't a ton of new VR headset on display at CES 2019, the ones we saw led us to believe that VR could have a real moment soon, both from a gaming and business standpoint.

These are the coolest virtual and augmented reality gadgets from CES 2019

CES 2019 had plenty of VR and AR gadgets on display, including headsets that completely change how you experience virtual reality, and some that don't even require a PC or a phone to run.

These shoes let me stroll through ‘Skyrim,’ and I desperately want to go back

After being funded in just two hours on Kickstarter back in October 2018, Cybershoes has earned itself a place among the coolest VR walking and running tech. At CES 2019, we got to try them out and they live up to the hype.

The Teslasuit could turn Black Mirror’s terrifying ‘Playtest’ into a reality

We spoke with Teslasuit co-founder Dimitri Mikhalchuk about VR gaming at CES 2019. With all its features, the future of the Teslasuit and virtual reality look bright. And it also sounds a bit like a Black Mirror episode.