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An Awards Show Pays Tribute to Virtual Reality as an Art Form

Early VR pioneers get their deserved accolades at Kaleidoscope.

Born in San Francisco in 2014 as a small meetup of VR enthusiasts, Kaleidoscope has become the biggest VR community for creators. It's also an international traveling showcase of the best in today's virtual reality as an art form. Kaleidoscope honors the most tech advanced VR projects today, from film and art, to games and other fully-immersive experiences.

René Pinnell, the CEO and founder of the Kaleidoscope Awards, tells The Creators Project about the short-term and long-term future of this emerging technology and its implications for artists, designers, and programmers. Not only has Pinnell designed products and founded companies, he's also a filmmaker and designer who's sold a TV pilot to MTV, produced the comedy show Backpack Picnic, and directed the feature documentary King of Texas. He founded Kaleidoscope with erstwhile Industrial Light & Magic technical director Michael Breymann in order to draw more attention to the work of VR visionaries like Tyler Hurd (BUTTS) and Skillman & Hackett (Tilt Brush). "We wanted a forum to celebrate these pioneers," Pinnell says. "That was the genesis of Kaleidoscope, and is still is our guiding principle."

The debut edition of the festival visited 10 cities across North America. This year, the festival expanded to three continents and 10 international cities. It attracted more than 4,000 attendees who experienced the projects on Gear VR, the Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive VR headsets, all exhibited with Wevr Transport.

Tana Pura by Mike Tucker is a visual symphony of synesthesia that won this year's Kaleidoscope Grand Prize for Excellence in Cinematic Virtual Reality. But the nonlinear Clouds by James George and Jonathan Minard, which won Best Documentary, is among the most salient of the VR presentations on the roster. Billed as a "real-time executable created with C++," the groundbreaking interactive documentary features 40 artists, designers, and hackers with algorithmically generated visuals. The user determines the course of the experience by interacting with the narrative. Equal parts game, cinema, and documentary, Clouds is a visual representation of the most up-to-date applications of VR right now.

An internal review committee selects the festival winners, with judges applying specific criteria when choosing finalists. "We look for VR experiences that add something new to the evolving language of cinematic virtual reality," says Pinnell. "We also place an emphasis on projects created by independent artists."

After producing more than 20 high-profile international events, Pinnell says he and his team have discovered that independent artists are the driving force behind the VR creator movement. "The reason is because independent artists are willing to take bigger creative risks," he says. "Creative risks are how we invent a new art form."

CLOUDS - Overview from Deepspeed media on Vimeo.

Given that VR is still in its infancy, Pinnell agrees that there are several challenges that accompany the advancements. "The first generation of consumer VR headsets are finally here and the quality is good enough for audiences to lose themselves in... virtual worlds," he says. "But it's still the early days. The headsets are clunky and heavy and the computers needed to run them are expensive. And as fast as the VR creator movement is growing, there is still not nearly enough content. 2016 and 2017 are going to be bumpy years for the VR industry known for wild growth, but [there’s] also frustration, as insanely high [consumer] expectations crash against the reality of VR."

According to Pinnell, these obstacles will likely be traversed with a convergence between AR and VR that will shrink the size of the clunky headsets into something Pinnell believes will resemble a pair of ordinary glasses. That’s precisely why it's important to pay attention to VR pioneers today, because they’re paving the road for the creators of the future. And despite its drawbacks, Pinnell remains optimistic about the future of VR. He says, "In five years the virtual reality industry will be on a hyperbolic growth curve with a clear trajectory to overtake film, TV, and traditional gaming as the dominant form of entertainment."

To learn more about Kaleidoscope, click here

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