We test drive one of the highlights from the Melbourne International Film Festival’s first ever VR program.
Screenshot from The Turning Forest. All images courtesy of VRTOV Melbourne
Following the lead of Tribeca and Sundance, this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival will feature its first ever foray into VR cinema. The Creators Project previewed one of the program highlights, The Turning Forest, to get an idea of what viewers are in for.
The Turning Forest is directed by Oscar Raby and produced by Katy Morrison, both of the Melbourne studio VRTOV—you might be familiar with their 2013 VR documentary Assent, which won acclaim for its gritty depiction of intergenerational trauma.
In that film, participants assumed the role of Raby’s father, a member of the Chilean army who witnessed the execution of a group of prisoners. The Turning Forest is lighter fare—you’ll find yourself lost in a magical fantasy realm, encountering a strange beast reminiscent of Falkor from The Neverending Story.
VRTOV worked on the film in conjunction with the BBC’s Research & Development Team, who created a unique binaural soundtrack which they challenged Raby to visualise.
The result is an incredibly beautiful—and yes, very real—forest scene, in which the user finds themselves standing in an enchanted autumnal forest complete with gently falling leaves. Without wanting to give too much away, the serenity is interrupted by the appearance of a slightly terrifying and rather in-your-face magical creature with large eyes and pointy teeth.
As with VRTOV’s other MIFF offering, Easter Rising: Voice of A Rebel, the experience will be screened for MIFF audiences via Oculus CV-1 headsets. A sensor enables the user to lean forward and move around within the scene—it’s a strange, solitary and totally riveting experience.
You’ll almost definitely feel the effects of virtual reality motion sickness afterwards, but while you’re wearing the headset everything will feel totally normal—and there are moments when disbelief will absolutely be suspended.
The most striking aspect of The Turning Forest, perhaps, is how real the audio feels. Complex layers of three dimensional sound were recorded on location in an actual forest using 20 microphones, and this heightens the illusion that you’re in the middle of a magical wilderness, surrounded by towering trees—as opposed to sitting at a computer desk and wearing a slightly silly looking pair of goggles.