You know it’s a sign of the times when augmented reality (AR) comes to the Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the United States. Founded in 1978, the film festival has helped launch many directors, such as Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky, into the Hollywood stratosphere.
While Sundance is more known for showcasing critically-acclaimed and groundbreaking films like Whiplash and The Stanford Prison Experiment, it also features up-and-coming artists (especially those whose work blends art, technology, film, and live performance in order to tell fantastic stories) as part of its New Frontier Initiative. As you may have surmised, virtual reality (VR) and AR are a part of the New Frontier.
While VR made its debut at the Sundance 2012 festival, it continues to remain one of the most exhilarating experiences at the festival. And now that AR is at the festival, you can see how the technology will change the way we tell stories and interact with one another through sight, sound, and amazement, similar to how VR has changed the way we expand our imaginations, sight, and hearing to other digital worlds. Arguably for the first time in the festival's history, both technologies will be used to show how storytelling is done in the medium that will supplant our smartphones and computer monitors.
We wanted to share what AR-powered storytelling will look like in the future and what it takes behind the scenes to create that experience – from the ideating to the storyboarding to the creation of scenes in Unity. In this new mini-series that sits down with different members of the Meta team behind The Journey to the Center of the Natural Machine, the first AR installation debuting at Sundance that allows people to be a part of the brain's evolution to the complex machine it is today, we chat with Eran and Daniel, the critically-acclaimed team behind Sight, a short 2012 film showing the sinister side of AR in our day-to-day lives.
Some of the Meta team who made Journey (from L to R): Eran, Daniella, Charles & Daniel
An Interview with Robot Geniuses Eran and Daniel
Victor: Gentlemen, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to sit down with me. So the million dollar question that I've been wanting to ask is "How did you guys get into filmmaking?".
Daniel: No problem. It's a different question for each of us because we're into different things. I'm more of a gamer and Eran is a film buff. We both went to the same design school in Israel. For my part, I fell in love with motion graphics. We studied four years of traditional graphic design, but once I discovered motion design, I couldn't go back.
Eran: I always wanted to be a filmmaker, I was always drawn to film. It's always been a dream of mine to be able to tell stories through film. During our school years, I tried to push it, and did some music videos for famous rock bands in Israel. The first time that both of us got a sign from above that this [being filmmakers] is what we were meant to do was when Sight came to be. It was a graduation project we did together.
I was more behind the camera, and more responsible to edit the video, and Daniel was more responsible for the graphic [effects] in the video. Both of us did both of the jobs, but it was clear that Daniel did 80% of the graphics and I did 80% of the filming. That was how we started. Right away we knew we were onto something.
The fact that we could do so much with so little with technology today is amazing. What we could do today, we couldn’t do 10 years ago with the same money and skill. And 10 years from today, people will be able to do this stuff with AR and do even more with less. As time goes on, the tools will become more accessible. Even now, people create YouTube videos in seconds. It’s very interesting for us that even now, AR will be used in a way that changes video production.
Wow. Talk about serendipity and a trip down memory lane! So what did you guys do after Sight went big?
Daniel: After we made Sight, we had no idea how much of an impact it would have. We just showed it to our professor and uploaded it online. And it went semi-viral [they are being modest here: across Vimeo and YouTube, Sight has been viewed 4.5 million times!], and it hit a nerve at the right time. We got tons of offers to shoot corporate videos and commercials, so we opened our own production studio which we named “Robot Genius”. Then we made FX [visual film effects] for different companies, more short films, and wrote more scripts. Our main passion is to break into the film industry, and to become true filmmakers. Our main goal is to take Sight and turn it into a feature film.
Eran: And it’s going to happen.
Sight, like Keichi Matsuda's Hyper-Reality, does an excellent job showing us how AR could go wrong and become the computing platform we regret
The full-length version of The Journey to the Center of the Natural Machine, the first collaborative AR installation shown at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival
Let me know when that is being made so I can be sure to torrent it (laughs). After watching the teaser trailer, I was curious to know what inspired and shaped your filmmaking process during Journey.
Eran: One point of reference for us was Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey [documentary series continuing Carl Sagan's iconic Cosmos series and hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson] and Planet Earth [the award-winning BBC documentary series]. That's why we also used our long-time co-worker Hanan Revivo [a composer] to create that magical atmosphere.
Daniel: Even though our main focus is not entertainment, AR is still a compelling platform to tell a story in, and share experiences with multiple people, especially since people will be able to share and see the same holograms simultaneously. Our driving force was to create and try to imagine how people will look at AR in the future, how it will be used to educate others, and how we will consume info through AR.
Eran: And for those film buffs out there, there's [a reference] to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially since Journey talks about how the brain evolved.
I can't wait to watch Journey! I have to ask the other million dollar question: what has it been like working on a Sundance-worthy piece?
Eran: A huge honor, a really big deal for us.
Daniel: I just want to see the reactions. You don’t know how people will react.
Eran: I mean you can never know. You usually don’t know because when you work on a project for over two months, you don't really know what will come out and how it will be received. If that's people's first time trying AR [at Sundance], we want to blow their minds.
I'll keep my fingers and toes crossed that people will be wowed at Sundance! Knowing your guys' work, I think Journey will be a hit. Speaking of producing hits, what advice would you give to people looking to become filmmakers?
Daniel: If you’re a young filmmaker trying to start your career, go for it because its going ti be hard and you're going to fail. Even if you succeed once, you're going to go through the process [of striving to create another successful film] all over again.
Eran: You gotta work hard, gotta develop thick skin, and you need to know who to take criticism from – a lot of people are going to have criticism about your work. You need to pick the ones you really trust, put your ego aside, and just listen.
Truer words have never been spoken! Thank you for sharing your story, guys!