Announcing Transforming Hollywood 6: Alternative Realities, World Building and Immersive Entertainment

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
and
USC Annenberg School of Communication &
USC School of Cinematic Arts

present

TRANSFORMING HOLLYWOOD 6: Alternative Realities, World Building and Immersive Entertainment

Presented by The Andrew J. Kuehn, Jr. Foundation

May 8th, 2015, James Bridges Theater, UCLA

Here’s where you can go to register for the event.

New digital technologies come and go, but the public’s desire to engage with immersive storytelling worlds is here to stay. In 2014, Facebook and Google each entered the alternative realities game with a vengeance. Facebook spent $2 billion to acquire the latest virtual reality (VR) hardware company, Oculus Rift, invented by Palmer Luckey. Google countered by investing in augmented reality (AR) start-up Magic Leap, a firm that hyped its wares with a twenty-three second video clip of a lifelike elephant held aloft in a human hand. Soon after, Microsoft jumped on board with its own AR offering, HoloLens. Samsung used VR to stimulate sales of its latest Samsung Galaxy Note 4 by making its Gear VR Innovator Edition incompatible with all other smart phones and devices. Not to be outdone, Sony announced Project Morpheus, a VR system to enhance game play on its Playstation 4.

Each of these internet technology (IT) giants claims to have high-minded goals for their new platforms—as a means to enhance human capabilities in the worlds of education, science, medicine, and the fine arts. Most likely, each of these Silicon Valley industries is looking to Hollywood and Madison Avenue partners as part of a long-term monetization scheme. After all, both the content industries and the consumer brand industries are eager to whet millennial audiences’ appetites for the latest form of tech-fueled fun. At present, there’s a glut of VR and AR gadgets and not enough content. Therefore, cutting edge artists are stepping into the void, offering to experiment with these new immersive world-building tools, even if it means they must create an occasional Budweiser Margarita girl that morphs into a 4D hologram in order to pay the bills.

While dial-up modems created a generation that was addicted to email and search in the early days of the internet, once broadband internet infiltrated our homes, a generation of digital natives became addicted to making, streaming, and sharing content in the Web 2.0 era. What else does the future hold? Futurists, who spoke at the Mobile Media Summit in Barcelona in 2014, wondered out loud whether the “gigabit internet” will create a generation hooked on augmented reality, holograms, virtual reality headsets, and other “wearables” by 2025. Indeed, as pundits observed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, brand marketers are placing bets not only on VR and AR, but also on our fascination with the “internet of things” – smart devices (including sensory-driven thermostats, data-driven sleep monitors, and self-driving cars) that communicate with us by means of our mobile phone. But what if “the internet of things” isn’t just another way to seed consumer desire for superfluous gadgets and services?

Some see these new technologies and new experiential worlds moving us closer to that highly anticipated, if dreaded, moment when artificial intelligence outpaces human intelligence. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if iPhone’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, like Spike Jone’s Samantha in Her, outgrow their humans? In 1992, Neal Stephenson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Snow Crash imagined a future-world in which all of us are part of a virtual shared space. Those who chose to stay connected to this Metaverse via portable goggles and other equipment were called “gargoyles” for their outlandish appearance. It looks as if Stephenson’s vision is more prescient than we originally thought. Gargoyles, get ready to step out of the CAVE, strap on your Oculus Rift, HoloLens, Samsung gear, or Morpheus goggles, for the future is now.

The tendency to discuss immersive entertainment in a breathlessly futuristic language, through metaphors of science fiction, masks the larger history of these techniques and practices across the 20th and even 19th century. Thus, a key strand of this year’s event involves bringing together the perspectives of technologists with those of historians who work on earlier moments of media change, a vantage point which can help us to qualify sweeping claims about the impacts of these still emerging (and often precarious) technologies by looking at how earlier generations sought to expand sensory perceptions, to map and explore complex worlds, to immerse themselves into multimedia presentations, or to create intense collective experiences that remove us from the constraints of the everyday. We are not the first generation of entertainers who wanted to create a sense of awe in spectators, of journalists who wanted to convey a more vivid sense of the world, of museums who wanted to bring their visitors into a more immediate relationship to remote corners of human knowledge, or artists who have sought to teach us new ways to see, touch, smell, taste, or hear the world around us.


Schedule 

9:00-9:10 a.m. — Welcome and Opening Remarks: Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins

 

9:10-11:00 a.m. — PANEL ONE
Prototype the Planet: How and Why Expansive and Immersive Worlds Are Taking Over Our Collective Imagination  
Moderated by Henry Jenkins, USCFrom 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
  • Brian David Johnson, chief futurist, Intel
  • Alex Rivera, director, Sleep Dealers

 

 

 

11:10 a.m.-1:00 p.m. — PANEL TWO
Brand New Vistas: VR & AR Create New Frontiers in Art and Promotion
Moderated by Denise Mann, UCLAImagine 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 Ideation & Innovation, Relevent
  • Ikrima Elhassan, Co-founder, Kite & Lightning
  • Jez Jowett, Global Head of Creative Technology, Havas Media
  • Kamal Sinclair, Co-Director, New Frontier (Lab Programs) at Sundance Institute

 

 

1:00-2:00 p.m. — LUNCH BREAK: Lunch options available on campus

 

 

2:00-3:50 p.m. — PANEL THREE
Hip Deep in Knowledge: Virtual Museums, Immersive Journalism, and Scientific Vistas
Moderated by Robert Hernandez, USCOur 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

 

 

4:00-6:15 p.m. — PANEL FOURThere’s Art all Around Us: The Aesthetics of Immersive Experiences 
Moderated by Jeff Burke, UCLAExploring 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 of the Canadian Film Centre.
  • Sara Thacher, Creative Lead , Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development; previously experience designer for The Jejune Institute
  • Barry Threw, Head of Software Development, Obscura Digital
  • Fred Turner, Associate Professor, Communication, Stanford University; author of several books, including The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychodelic Sixties

 

 

More pending speakers will be announced soon.

Here’s where you can go to register for the event.