Oculus Connect 2: A VR Content Creator's Dream Come True

Confession: I'm relatively new to the VR scene. I'm not a developer, and one could consider me an enthusiast more than anything. That being said, I was extremely fortunate and grateful to receive the scholarship from @vrgrls to attend Oculus Connect 2 in Hollywood this past weekend. 

Here we go - Janessa White's experience of Oculus Connect 2:

Me experiencing Oculus Touch.

Me experiencing Oculus Touch.

Day 1 - ILMxLAB, PlutoVR, Turbo Button's 'Bringing Adventure Time to Gear VR' Seminar and Welcome Reception

I arrived relatively late on Wednesday, September 23rd due to transportation issues/delays. I managed to catch the second-half the seminar of Rob Bredow from LucasFilms/ILMxLAB. His main focus was talking about the ways ILMxLAb has worked with Unreal Engine 4 to experiment with the 360° component of CG filmmaking. My favorite portion of the talk was when he walked us through a sample story. He played a scene they created in 360° on Tatooine, in which the Stormtroopers are hunting the C3PO and R2D2. He walks us through the straight narrative: the Stormtroopers meet and create a game plan for finding the droids, then separate to enact their mission. We then see the droids leave a hut in search of the ship that will be extracting them from the Tatooine. The ship is under attack by an AT-AT walker, so they go in search of an alternative route. They manage to elude the Stormtroopers.

Bredow then takes us back to the top of the story and then starts navigating the environment, though a click on his iPad, and shows us that we can uncover other pieces of the story at will. He clicks on the hut to the right and we enter and witness what C3PO and R2D2 were doing prior to their entrance into the narrative component of the story. There are other ways one can participate in the environment created on Tattooine, such as riding the speeder bike through the town or following the Stormtroopers as they hunt the droids. ILMxLAB is experimenting with making films more interactive, kind of a medium between gaming and passive film watching.

The medium they're currently experimenting with is extremely exciting. My only question from the seminar was how what ILMxLABs translates to a headset, such as the Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR. When he was giving the demo, he utilized a tap and play on an iPad, so I'm unsure if that would be a similar experience with a headset. Overall, a very inspiring seminar.

Next, I headed over to Pluto VR's Stories and Learning from the Forefront of Virtual Shared Presence. This was definitely the most out of place talk at the conference. Forest Gibson of Pluto VR spent the first half-hour of his talk setting the scene, saying things like, "we carry these little devices in our pockets that are mini-computers," and "what do we all have in common right now? We're together in this room; we are present." He didn't take into consideration in his talk who his audience was: developers and techies. If he was giving that speech at a liberal arts college or even here - on VR Dribble - his approach would've been a little more appropriate. Overall, I was extremely unimpressed with the content of his talk. There was really no story to be told at all. I can't even tell you what the talk SHOULD have been about beyond it was clear that Pluto VR experiments with human movement in VR. There simply wasn't much content in his talk.

Holden Link of Turbo Button 

Holden Link of Turbo Button 

Next, I headed over to the seminar on how Holden Link of Turbo Button built and problem-shot the creation of the VR game Adventure Time. Now, not having come from the developer realm, this seminar was a bit over my head in terms of language and processes but I certainly learned a lot in a very little period of time. Overall, he spoke on his trials and tribulations with Unreal Engine 4. It seems as though his biggest obstacles were in lighting, props and issues with latency. 

The welcome party was immediately following and was held in the Dolby Ballroom.  Food was amazing, drinks were free and the company couldn't have been better. This was the event where I met the most people, had the best (and funniest) conversations and really got to know some of the cool cats - developers, directors, filmmakers and the like - that were in attendance at OC2.

Day 2 - Keynotes, Filmmaking with Oculus Story Studio, Making Movies in VR 

The man himself: John Carmack

The man himself: John Carmack

Day 2 definitely blew the socks off day 1. The keynote speeches were really cool to see - including a surprise visit by Mark Zuckerberg himself. I could tell you in detail about the keynotes, but you should watch them yourself on TwitchTV. The biggest announcements included: Oculus partnering with Netflix, the adaption of Minecraft for VR and content being viewable in Facebook feeds. John Carmack had the most info to share and definitely shed light on some of the ways VR is pushing mediums and covered in detail how to successfully create content, (predominantly in proper utilization of sound, lighting and other attention-getting devices).

Oh, and did I mention that after the keynotes they gifted everyone a Samsung Gear VR with game pad? It was very exciting for all attendees.

Oculus Story Studio Team

Oculus Story Studio Team

The next seminar I was extremely excited about: Introduction to VR Filmmaking from Oculus Story Studio. Oculus Story Studio is responsible for the creation of Lost and Henry - a short VR film about a hedgehog who wants friends, but keeps running them off because his hugs are pokey and painful for the other animals! This is an incredible leap forward for VR content and is definitely reminencient of Pixar Films (as the bulk of the team at Story Studio team came directly from Pixar). 

Listening to their process was incredibly informative. They spoke a lot about their challenges with Unreal Engine 4, especially in creating Henry's eyes and fur. Here are the highlights of the talk:

In creating their stories as a team, they look for patterns/rituals that exit in traditional films that they could carry over, including:

  1. "The In": the first thing you see; this teaches an audience where to look and how to move
  2. "The Letting Go," which is the filmmakers time to give the audience time to look around and become immersed and comfortable in the environment
  3. "The call to story": title credits, which acts as a soft nudge that a story is about to commence; follow up with an audio or visual clue that your audience should focus on a particular point in space

The problems they worked hard to solve in the creation of Henry:

  1. How do we iterate cheaply on story?
  2. What does pipeline look like?
  3. Do we have enough tools with a game engine?
  4. How do you render in 11 ms?
  5. What's the best way to author for VR

If you'd like to watch the whole presentation, visit Oculus Story Studio's recording.

I was VR starstruck: (from left to right) Saschka Unseld from Oculus Story Studio, Robert Stromberg from The VR Company, Ted Schilowitz from 20th Century Fox, Ikrima Elhassan from Kite & Lighting, Chris Milk from VRSE, Felix Lajeunesse from Felix & Paul and Arthur van Hoff from Jaunt.

I was VR starstruck: (from left to right) Saschka Unseld from Oculus Story Studio, Robert Stromberg from The VR Company, Ted Schilowitz from 20th Century Fox, Ikrima Elhassan from Kite & Lighting, Chris Milk from VRSE, Felix Lajeunesse from Felix & Paul and Arthur van Hoff from Jaunt.

Even a little girl like me can be starstruck and at the panel of filmmakers in the VR space, this was definitely the sensation I had. I swear, my heart was beating out of my chest the entire hour of the panel. It was fascinating to hear the different perspectives on filmmaking within the VR space, as this panel was comprised of filmmakers in live action and CG content creation. There were some bullet points all of the panel could agree upon: composition of presence for the audience is critical, articulation of the viewers presence is essential so they don't feel as though they're intruding or violating the space of the actors within the scene, and that the technology must evolve along with the content creation to overcome the current limitations of the equipment, gear and tools. 

Immediately following this seminar was another social gathering: a pool party. Only, it wasn't really a pool party because you weren't allowed in the pool. I threw on my swimsuit and swam regardless; the party was pretty uneventful overall. 

What WAS eventful was at the end of the evening, I got a chance to hang out with Robert Stromberg. Super nice guy. Did you know he was the first person to show Steven Spielberg VR? Yeah, neither did I. Stromberg is an accomplished and inspiring dude; glad I got the opportunity to meet him.

Day 3 - Demos and a Woeful End

The third day really wasn't much of a conference day at all, as all events ended at 12:30pm. I took this opportunity to experience as many demos as possible. I headed over to the Samsung Gear VR cafe and played a couple of games, then hit the Oculus Touch demo and Oculus Rift demo. My favorite games included: Bullet Train - where you have the ability to teleport yourself short distances, grab bullets and rockets in mid-air and steal guns from your rivals, it was a difficult game to figure out, as the Touch is a game controller unlike any other, but it was a really beautiful game and a lot of fun to play; Chronos - which is a gorgeous game, with lots of textures and epic scenes, in which you run around with a sword in a labyrinth and kill ancient-looking monsters and creatures; I Expect You Die was a fun puzzle game where you have to sequentially solve problems to avoid death, one of which I managed to solve (eventually)!

Overall, the conference was an amazing thing to be a part of. I met a lot of exceptional individuals who are pushing this medium far past what it's ever been. I am grateful to @vrgrls for allowing me to be a part. Virtual reality is the future and this conference confirmed we are one step closer to that becoming an everyday part of our lives.