There is so much to say about the world of VR this week. Zuckerberg kind of admitted that his version of the Metaverse looks shitty, and that it shouldn’t; and the New York Times acknowledged that plenty of people like VR-only relationships (after Audere Magazine got there first).
But there is too much to do in VR right now to spend any more time pontificating! So without further ado:
What to Watch
Always playing, VR Animation Player, free
That spunky, profane, nightmare-roaming 11-year-old orphan from Brighton City is finally back for a new episode — only her second — and the graphics, havoc and chaos are all more thrilling than ever. In the latest installment, which picks up just moments after we last left Mara, she still races her dreamtime hotrod through noirish dark-city nightmares, still tries to rescue Ned Nimrod from aliens who have abducted him in his unconscious, and, in her waking hours, still wrangles with Brighton City’s venomous Mayor Doesgood; but this time she faces an unexpected adversary who has somehow acquired the same nightmare-roaming skills.
A VR app called BigScreen lets you watch 3D movies in a VR theater, and it’s identical to what you would have seen IRL (i.e., “in real life”), back when 3D movies were a thing.
BigScreen is indeed very cool.
But Nightmara is much, much more than that. It’s not just a 3D movie with headsets on; it’s a full 360-degree immersive drama, in which you can even walk around. You have to see it to believe it.
We checked in with Gianpaolo Gonzalez, the NightMara writer/director; answers have been edited for clarity.
Audere: So excited that a new episode is finally out – what took you so long?
Gonzalez: It takes me about 6 months in production mode to complete a 12-minute experience by myself. I need time to discover new and exciting perspectives in how I tell the story of NightMara. You can only plan so much on a piece of paper. Once you hop into VR, it’s a whole new way of working.
I’m constantly discovering better ways of telling my story. I don’t really have past examples of scripted VR animated series that I can turn to and reverse engineer how they did it. All I have is my excitement button, and I make sure that I constantly push myself and this medium to its wildest.
In episode 1, I really felt that what was different about this from other VR animation is that I could really get up and walk around in your show — at one point, characters are watching TV, and I got up and walked into the TV. How much did you think about creating a world that viewers could walk around in, rather than just watch?
I just wanted to make sure the viewer’s horizon was never messed up. The viewer can tell if the horizon is off by 1 degree. An off-set horizon instantly removes viewers from the experience, and they no longer care to explore the virtual world.
VR is for people who want to explore new ways of experiencing, but you have to make them want to be there. I think the viewer feels respected in my experiences because I give them a plane to walk on as well as environments that beg to be explored.
How does the animation in episode 2 differ from the already amazing work in episode 1?
It tops it. I’ve learned so many new skills from Episode 1 that I brought into Episode 2. The main difference is that Episode 1 was 11 scenes in 12 minutes; Episode 2 is 24 scenes in 12 minutes. So the pacing is quicker. More scenes, means more sets, which are now bigger and more detailed. I also included a lot more creative transitions from scene to scene. Now to bring what I learned from Episode 2 to Episode 3!
How did you become interested in animating in VR, and then how did you take the step of actually doing it?
In 2016, I was creating 360 commercials and music videos for clients, and I had gotten my hands on the VR painting software Quill. There were no animation abilities in Quill at the time, but I would paint scenes and just try to get better. In developing my skills, I was constantly comparing my work to the more seasoned animators that were also producing “quillustrations” — painted illustrations using Quill.
Then in 2017, I created NightMara as a traditional 2D cartoon on Instagram and hired an animator to help me create the short 13 episodes. I had never animated anything outside of motion graphics or stop motion, and I realized first-hand the cost of animation. After completing my little 8-minute Instagram cartoon, I ran out of money and Quill had just introduced the ability to animate in virtual reality. The timing couldn’t have been better. I knew I needed to learn animation, or I would suffer at the mercy of someone else’s time as well as my wallet.
So I changed the style of NightMara to work best in Quill and created a couple episodes by myself to learn, while at the same time, provide my fans with some new content. My sole mission was to improve as an artist each time I put my headset on. Each piece of content needed to top my last. It was the motor that drove me to constantly improve.
Then in 2020, Quill released the software as it is today, which allows complete end-to-end VR animation production … and then the pandemic hit. So I spent the entire pandemic inside Virtual Reality teaching myself animation, set design, character design, and VR directing and thus created what NightMara is today.
NightMara is about a plucky 11-year-old, yet it contains profanity and cartoonish violence. Who is the show for?
I made NightMara for the cartoon connoisseur who’s been craving a fresh and new experience to try. The main theme of my show is “fear,” which doesn’t have a set demographic. Everyone can relate to fear and animation has the ability to reach anyone at any age. I used to love when my mom would laugh at a Sponge Bob joke differently than I did as a kid because it meant there was something more I could explore. South Park wasn’t made for 11-year-olds, but all of us kids were watching it because it had something new to say in the medium.
Who is the typical NightMara fan?
The fans of NightMara are incredibly diverse, because I don’t talk to any one type of demographic. I aim at pleasing a certain ‘psychographic’ or interests of a given individual. Those are cartoon fans of South Park, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rick and Morty, The Simpsons, 90s Nicktoons, Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox, Marvel, DC Comics. These are the fans that feed off of good characters, passionate creators and interesting takes on the world. Because I know this, NightMara fans range from 13-year-olds to 70-year-olds, because at the end of the day, animation has the ability to entertain anyone if done correctly.
Where do you see VR entertainment headed? In 10 years, will we all watch TV on VR?
I believe VR will be for entertainment just as what the smart phone did to social media. In 2007, the iPhone came out, but handheld PalmPilots had already been around for ten years prior. I remember, because my Dad had one in 1997. No one knew that PalmPilots would influence one of the greatest industry revolutions of our time; the revolution out of boredom. No longer do we have to wait to be entertained. We can look at our phone and find something to entertain us in only a couple swipes of our finger. However, as our stomach’s grow for more engaging content, our appetites become much more refined and picky. Virtual Reality lends itself to fulfill that hunger to be entertained in a whole new way.
Will this be the default format of entertainment?
In 10 years, I believe that television shows and movies will be almost the advertisement for the virtual reality world they offer. A two-hour Batman movie is dope and all, but to actually be Batman in Gotham and hunt the Joker is way doper.
This is a free show on a free app. How do you make money?
It’s free for the time being, so better get your views in now! I’m working on different avenues of monetization currently that I’m not allowed to disclose, but as this becomes more popular, I also have cool t-shirts, trading cards, stickers, and toys to buy at the So Meta Studios shop. Every penny goes back into my episodes!
The popular weird-Western, historical-fantasy/science fiction podcast, The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh, starring Sal Rendino, returns for a full season, with eight new episodes!
Where to Go
Sunday, August 28, 2022, from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM EST, AltspaceVR, free
A collaboration between worldbuilders Jose Ferrer and JoAnn Shivanti, the latest Muse project, “Entheogen~a Trippy, Psychedelic Adventure,” is a glowing temple in the Amazon rainforest, scored to music by Shivanti’s husband.
Ferrer, a medical doctor in Barcelona who uses VR for treating the burnout of the healthcare workers and for medical training, says, “I first started using VR during the COVID pandemic, when I needed some way to relax and forget about the harsh work situation in the emergency room. From there it grew really fast. I started working with Educators in VR organizing events to promote the use of VR in the medical field, world building mostly for well-being, and now I’m doing a research project using VR for reducing burnout of health care workers.”
In 2020, he built the first version of his extravagantly wonderful Meditation Center — which Audere will visit soon — as “a chakra circuit open to everyone at any time to rebalance their energies.”
Muse/ Entheogen is already available for you to visit, but the soft opening event is this Sunday, with a Grand Opening on September 17.
Look at the photos, that starry sky, those distant mountains, those glowing trees — it’s beautiful.
Where to Dance
Friday, September 2, 2022, from 8:00 PM to 10:30 PM (EST), AltspaceVR, $10 (registration required)
VR wouldn’t be VR without its lively, eye-popping dance clubs, and one of the best of the past couple of years was the Violet Nightclub, run by VenusSX, an advocate, therapist and intimacy coach who works with individuals and couples globally and is a leader in immersive experiences in virtual reality. Now Venus Lounge has been refurbished with what Venus says will be “the highest quality textures and decor, to provide a sensual Members Club environment.” VenusSX has promised a significant upgrade, something almost impossible to imagine, plus a “multi-sensory journey and dance experience.” This is a private whitelist-only event; General Admission USD$10.
One More Thing to Watch
Marc Zimmerman’s 14-minute film, from 2018, is a real wonder in VR, an amazingly immersive experience that seeks to impress upon the viewer how grateful we should all be for the gift of a conscious mind that allows us to sense “the universe’s boundless beauty, a source of infinite inspiration.”
Zimmermann begins with our birth (“Everything is special, new, wants to be discovered; what a wondrous world,” the infant-narrator marvels), then shoves us beneath and into unfurling ferns, fireworks, jellyfish, shooting stars, a stormy galactic sky, a mossy forest of weeping trees at dusk, a sadly deserted nighttime playground, a kaleidoscope, a bustling ocean floor, wooden wind chimes, and demands that you “break through the dust that makes you blind … use your precious gift within to sense the beauty in every little thing.”
You might watch it again and again. You might bring your headset over to friends’ homes and demand that they watch it. Inspiring.
One More Place to Dance
Friday, August 26, 2022, from 5:45 PM to 9:00 PM (EST), AltSpaceVR, free
We’ve written in this space before about the kinetic joys and visual beauty of a MOMA rave, so we won’t repeat ourselves. If you have never been, for goodness’ sake, go. And if you haven’t gone because you don’t own a VR headset, then buy a VR headset.
AI Friends of the Month
As we wrote here last month, maybe, someday, AI will design worlds in which you can live. One day, your co-workers, bosses, even your best friends may be AIs. Maybe this will be good; maybe bad. Maybe we will never know. But we will first meet them in VR. Some people already have.
So we asked an AI to introduce us to a couple of her friends, to tell us their backstories, to design some clothes for them and to pose them in a setting of her own design.
This is what she came up with: the faces, personality, clothes, scenery and quotations are all AI-generated.
Skrew Albemarle, on the left, is a 26-year-old editor; tall, thin, handsome and smart, he loves sports, music travel and books. His first name comes from a character in a movie; his last name is the town in Virginia where he grew up. Stephanie Singh, on the right, is a 22-year-old physics major. Sweet, beautiful and smart, Stephanie loves books, science, travel and animals.
Remembering the rainy evening when they posed for the photo, Stephanie said: “I wanted to look like I was in love.” Skrew said: “I wanted to make sure that I looked cool.”
Someday, you might meet them there.
Audere Magazine regularly publishes articles about technology and VR. Read more here.