Transforming Hollywood, previously called Transmedia Hollywood, is a conference which I organized each year in collaboration with UCLA’s Denise Mann. Our goal is to bring together academics, activists, artists, and industry leaders to reflect on some of the core trends impacting the entertainment industry today. This year, our focus was on Alternative Realities, World Building and Immersive Entertainment.
We were very proud of the results — a day long discussion that included demos and reflections on cutting edge technologies and considerations of how these tools are being used by not only mainstream commercial media makers (from the design of the forthcoming Avatar theme park attraction at Disney to the promotional work being done for Game of Thrones), but also by alternative media-makers who want to call attention to cutting edge social issues or experiment with new artistic experiences. We also featured reflections on the historical evolution of immersive media practices, from the 19th century panorama or the dawn of world-building in the arts, through post-war experimentations in the “Democratic Surround.” We wanted to cut through the hype about virtual reality and dig deep into how these technologies might allow us to see the world more clearly, and we wanted to spend the day thinking about the core desire for escapism and the counter-forces against it, as they play themselves out here in Hollywood. We got great responses from all of the participants and attendees about the ways the themes of this year’s event jelled into something really special.
Today, thanks to the rapid work of David McKenna, we are able to share with you the videos of the conference. Help us spread the word.
Prototype the Planet: How and Why Expansive and Immersive Worlds Are Taking Over Our Collective Imagination Moderated by Henry Jenkins, USC
From roots in aesthetic philosophy (Nelson Goodman) and science fiction/fantasy writing (J.R.R. Tolkien), the concept of world-building has become a core concept across many design fields in the 21st century an aesthetic response to the complexities of a multidisciplinary and networked society, a means of creating content that serves the demands of transmedia entertainment. Both the brainstorming process of world-building and the worlds that emerge from that process have become sources of entertainment and education in their own right. In this opening panel, we are bringing together some key thinkers who will share with us their thoughts about:
Why world-building has gained such interest at the current moment?
What are some of the ways that world-building is being deployed for entertainment and education purposes at the moment?
What processes best support the design and development of multimedia worlds?
What they see as some of the most powerful examples of media worlds today?
What’s new about today’s fascination with world-building and how it relates to older models of speculative fiction?
And what connections do they see between world-building and the emergence of immersive and expansive media environments?
Michael Saler, author of As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality, professor at UC-Davis
Brenda Romero, UC Santa Cruz MS Games & Playable Media, Program Director
Ann Pendleton-Jullian, architect, professor, Ohio State University/Georgetown University
Alex Rivera, director, Sleep Dealers
Brand New Vistas: VR & AR Create New Frontiers in Art and Promotion Moderated by Denise Mann, UCLA
Imagine stepping into a rickety elevator, feeling a bracing, cold wind against your neck as you are whisked 700 feet straight up a steep incline. You walk along the edge, glancing down at the abyss below, only to realize that flaming arrows are whizzing past your face. Welcome to Game of Thrones’ “Ascend the Wall” Oculus Rift experience, created by Relevant, Framestore, and the HBO marketers. A new generation of cutting edge digital artists—Felix & Paul Studios, Kite & Lightning—and innovative marketing firms—Havas and Relevant—are eager to use VR and AR to immerse participants in vivid, arresting, and sometimes nausea-inducing experiential universes. But who is going to pay for these experiments? Notably, advertisers are stepping up in record numbers, eager to give consumers an exciting new way to engage with their often mundane consumer products or services. High-end automobile manufacturers, such as Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, and BMW, invite consumers to test-drive the latest in luxury design using VR gear from the comfort of their home or office. Not sure if you want to go to Melbourne? Why not use social media to order up a virtual tourist guide and enjoy the sights and sounds of Queen Victoria Market, the Art Centre, or a sunny beach? As one pundit writes, “The promise of virtual reality has always been enormous. Put on these goggles, go nowhere, and be transported anywhere. It’s the same escapism peddled by drugs, alcohol, sex, and art — throw off the shackles of the mundane through a metaphysical transportation to an altered state.” But what if the tech, content, and brand industries see these smart technologies, sophisticated algorithms, and immersive fun as yet another means to track consumer preferences from the cradle to the grave?
Ian Cleary, VP of Ideation and Innovation, Relevant
Ikrima Elhassan, Co-founder, Kite & Lightning
Erkki Huhtamo, Professor, UCLA; Media Archaelogist, Historian and Exhibition Curator
Jez Jowett, Global Head of Creative Technology, Havas Media Group
Kamal Sinclair, Co-Director, New Frontier (Lab Programs), Sundance Institute
Hip Deep in Knowledge: Virtual Museums, Immersive Journalism, and Scientific Vistas Moderated by Robert Hernandez, USC
Our capacity to imagine — and create — alternative worlds, often in highly immersive detail, is now being harnessed as a means of storytelling and conveying knowledge across a range of different institutions and practices. Journalists can create experiences for their readers that they could not — or perhaps would not want to — experience directly. Museums have been testing new media tools and platforms as they seek to share curated experiences with their patrons. Scientists are using wide-screen projection, among other tech, to take students into the outer limits of space, educators are using simulations to help students think about real world systems, and activists are using augmented reality approaches to get people to see their communities from different perspectives. Panelists will share cutting edge research and experimentation in immersive journalism and virtual learning, inviting us to imagine new potential uses of these technologies to expand how we understand the world around us.
Nonny De La Pena, Immersive Journalist
Scott Fisher, Associate Dean of research, Professor &Founding Chair, Interactive Media Division, Director Mobile and Environmental Media Lab, USC Cinema School
Alison Griffiths, Professor, Baruch College, author of Shivers Down your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View
Kate McCullum, Vice President of Creative Projects, Vortex Immersive Media
BC “Heavy” Biermann, re+public labs
There’s Art all Around Us: The Aesthetics of Immersive Experiences
Moderated by Jeff Burke, UCLA
Exploring immersion via the new technologies of an era has long been a part of the avant-garde in theater, film, architecture, and other art forms. The panelists will share their ideas about what contemporary innovations by artists and technologists operating at the boundaries of commercial entertainment may herald for the future of immersive storytelling.Key questions for the participants include:
What are new ways to create (fictional) overlays on everyday life (e.g., Project Tango, Hololens).
What do these changes mean for world-building based storytelling?
What will be the ongoing evolution of the film and television screen as each moves towards a mobile, context-sensitive, and personalized media surface?
What will these new screens, contexts, and surfaces mean for storytellers?
What are the implications of having the authorship of story and code increasingly paired in the creation of immersive experiences?
And, finally, what next directions for immersion are suggested by direct interfaces between technology and the human body?
Ana Serrano, Chief Digital Officer, Canadian Film Centre.
Sara Thacher, Creative Lead, Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development; previously experience designer for The Jejune Institute
Barry Threw, Director of Software, Obscura Digital
Fred Turner, Associate Professor of Communication, Stanford University
A Conversation with Jon Landau
At the close of Transforming Hollywood 6, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television lecturer Tom Nunan, an executive producer of the Academy Award-winning film, Crash, will speak with Academy Award-winning producer Jon Landau. They will cover subjects ranging from virtual production and intellectual property expansion strategies to Landau’s groundbreaking work with filmmaker James Cameron and how it has influenced other technological advances in VR.
Last but certainly not least, here’s a great montage of Hollywood’s representations of immersive entertainment, curated by USC’s own Steve Anderson. If you saw, and liked, the segment on man/machine interfaces he created for our Cyberpunk conference, then you know this video is not to be missed.