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SXSW 2016: Chris Milk on What You Need to Know About the Future of VR

SXSW 2016: Chris Milk on What You Need to Know About the Future of VR

Chris Milk’s name is synonymous with the future of virtual reality. That’s not hyperbole. During this year’s SXSW, whenever discussion turned to someone pioneering a new technique or working on a platform, the expression used to describe the artist was, “she’s the Chris Milk of ____.”

Indiewire’s Eric Kohn led a one-on-one panel conversation during the festival with the pioneering artist, whose company Vrse is at the forefront of testing the boundaries of the new medium and helping define where it is going. Here are some of the highlights from that discussion, including Milk talking about working with Megan Ellison and Spike Jonze, why we don’t need to fear VR and what the future really holds. 

READ MORE: Chris Milk Talks Empathy in VR, the Commerce of Art and Waiting for The Holodeck

Moving Past Spectacle

Milk believes that today’s virtual reality is a far ways away from what VR storytelling will be in the near future. The comparison for him is to the first films of the Lumière Brothers in 1895, where the moving image of train coming into station being projected onto a screen was said to have sent people running from the theater. The early days of the VR are similar to the early days of film in the sense that the first pieces are largely spectacle designed to give a curious audience a sense of what the new medium can do.  
“We have to move past the spectacle,” insisted Milk. “We have to move past the roller coasters, we have to move past the trains coming towards us, we actually have to dig into what does it mean to tell human stories and that’s what a lot of the stuff we’ve done at Vrse has been about – experimenting with how do you connect character and other human beings in this medium.” 

Megan Ellison

Milk made it clear that the work he and his Vrse compatriots are pioneering would be impossible without their partner Megan Ellison and her company Annapurna Pictures.

“It’s complicated to shoot actual 3D in 360, it’s complex to shoot in ways that you can actually walk around in [VR]. It require resources. As she does with independent film, [Megan Ellison] invests in things she believes in. With “Evolution of Verse” – there was no immediate or obvious way to recoup an investment in something like that.  It’s about the long term success of the medium.  She really is an incredible partner.”  Milk said.

VR Being Used for Evil

Kohn asked Milk about the potential to use the medium in creepy or damaging ways, but Milk doesn’t see VR to have the capacity to be used for evil anymore than any other new technology.

“With a pen you can write a hated letter or a love letter,” explained Milk. “An airplane can transport people around the world, or you can drop bombs. [VR] is a powerful medium that can be used for a lot of different purposes. Where I stand, or where the people I work with stand, is the technology is inevitable, so it’s about how do we steer it. What we are trying to do is set a path of how this could be used for good. It’s up to us to set the example of what it should be early on.”

Social Media and Bad VR

“There will be VR communication,” declared Milk. “That advantage of which will be that you can be present with another person, while not sharing the same space. Milk believes the biggest hurdle to this will be shaky, handheld images that are poorly shot.

“Bad VR makes you throw up in your headset,” said Milk. “There’s going to have to be training so people will learn to shoot [properly].” 

Spike Jonze and His Plans for 2016

Milk informed Kohn that this year Vrse’s focus will be largely on further experimentation with character and narrative in VR. He is particularly excited about a project he is collaborating on with Spike Jonze because the idea for the piece is something that would only really work in VR.
“The first step [when working in a new medium] is copying an existing medium,” explained Milk. “Second step [is a project] that could still exist in previous medium, but works better in new medium. Third step, make something that can’t exist in previous medium. We have a few ideas of what that can be and we’re going to try that out this year.” 

What is the Future of VR?

“We’re basically broadcasting human senses to your conscientiousness,” declared Milk. “In other mediums, your conscientiousness is interpreting, meaning you are looking, hearing or seeing it; you’re thinking about it as you are taking it in… [With] VR, there is no gap there. You aren’t internalizing, you’re internal within it,” Milk said.
In other words, VR is feeding our senses a stimuli that is similar to our own senses, so that you start interpreting what you see in VR as reality. According to Milk, eventually the medium will disappear and your conscientiousness becomes the medium.

“We are duplicating perception,” added Milk. “If you keep scaling that out, you can kind figure out where the medium is going. Once the technology allows for it, I think we are talking about stories where you are the character and the stories are happening to you. I think the story will be about us.” 

You can learn more about Vrse here, where can also download a their app to view some of their recent work.

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