In our industry – drone photography & video media production – we enjoy being part of futuristic technologies. So when the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF 41) asked us to be a part of the Perspectives exhibit, we were excited to join in on all of the displays of emerging technologies utilized in storytelling.

Stepping into Tower City's M2-level Perspectives exhibit is like walking into a futuristic movie. It has Virtual Reality, Interactive Media, and Hologram technology. Setting the stage, or in essence “framing”  this high-tech storytelling exhibition, are two giant 40' screens, that feature Aerial Agents' footage of Cleveland, from our drones' perspectives. Tom Wasinski, Founder/CEO of Aerial Agents, said that he is “honored to have my content shared in such an interactive way.”

In the center of the room is a podium where you can select which footage you want to see on those giant screens: there's a sweep of many areas of Cleveland, and there are images around Terminal Tower. This controller also gives you options to watch other videos... including one about Microsoft's HoloLens.

At the RazorEdge booth, you can put on the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headset that has live 3D holograms in 3D sound; these are programmed to respond to voice or motion gestures.

After strapping on the headset, I went through a training session that taught me how to convey commands to the computer. Inside the hologram, I selected a ballerina and placed her in the “holo-air” around me; once placed, the ballerina began doing beautiful pirouettes. As I walked all around her, I got close enough to her to see her muscles flex as she spun around in circles. I saw her from the front, side, and back, as I moved around in the space. It was quite an experience getting to walk around “inside” an image!

“How does a film festival transform burying your face in a computer screen, at the mall, into [a] deeply social and empathetic experience?” Ross Bochnek, a volunteer at HoloLens, asked rhetorically. He went on to say, “The Perspectives exhibition is full of interactive multimedia stations, immersive narratives, New Media experiences and demonstrations. As a volunteer, I have witnessed for hours, how, despite the very solitary experience of people filling their senses with often nothing but the screens and headphones strapped exclusively to their own heads, the Perspectives exhibition creates an intimate, while permissive, space for feeling and sharing a wide range of emotions.”

Sarah Kurland, a volunteer at the Perspectives Virtual Reality/Interactive Media area, concurred: “This is a [place] to interact with film in a different way... [and] we have such a range of films, so some people walk away feeling really touched and moved by some documentary they saw; and then there's the horror films and [viewers] sometimes scream; we've had some people who can't hold it in... they're really expressive.”

The Interactive Media area has desktop computers where you can click a mouse and immediately begin interacting with a story. There are 8 different projects to choose from. In some, you tell the story where to go next; in others, you select what the character should do next; some even ask you to answer a question about what you're watching, and then you get to see how your beliefs and feelings match up with others who've watched the same story. Thus, the viewer becomes part of the experience. 

 

Before moving on to the Virtual Reality section of the exhibit, you glance toward the giant screens to catch dramatic aerial video shot by drones flying over Cleveland. As you walk by, you see amazing birds-eye views of Terminal Tower, Public Square, the Cuyahoga River, and more. We even take you on a quick flight right through the “C” in the giant “Cleveland” script sign.

“Patrick Shepherd, the Associate Director of the Film Festival, thought that [the drone footage] would be a great complement to the... new creative storytelling [exhibit]; he thought [these images] would be a great fit, and I agreed.” stated Tom Wasinski. The spectacular aerial views surrounding you really do frame, and set the stage for this futuristic space with innovative collaboration of storytelling and tech.

As you enter the Virtual Reality section of Perspectives, you see many people sitting in “eggs.” These are seats that surround you and allow you to spin all the way around as you look up, and down, and all around your VR film. The people in the eggs, with the help of a volunteer, strap on the HTC Vive wearable headsets, and experience fully immersive, virtual reality films. In all but one, the viewer is seated. One story has the viewer stand up to watch, which presents a very different virtual experience.

Colleen Reid, Volunteer at Clevr Community's booth that features, “Out of Exile: Daniel's Story,” the “standing” VR film, said, “This is Virtual Reality, so you have a headset and ear phones that get you totally immersed in the [film's] world... [you get] 360 degree viewpoints to the story. The special thing about “Daniel's Story”, is that you can walk around in it, so you can approach the [characters] that are talking... and when [a viewer comes] out of the VR experience...they feel like they experienced [it] themselves, as well. Not just something that they watched on a screen, it was something that they were inside of, and next to, and around... you don't remember it like you were watching a movie, you remember it like it happened to you.”

Two viewers, Brad and Christie, talked about their experience. “I loved the technology – it was very cool to experience the technology and feel like you're somewhere else,” Christie said. “I'm excited to see a few more [films].”

Seated in the eggs, viewers watch any one of a dozen short films done in VR. They select one, and a volunteer guides them to an egg, for their very own immersive experience. Volunteer Sara Kurland said, “This is my first year doing anything like this and I've thoroughly enjoyed every moment. It's really fun to watch people come in and they have no idea what to expect. You give them a taste with a couple of [film] descriptions – it's not something you can understand until you do it. It's fun to see that experience unfold, and watch the jaws drop as you're taking the headset off of them.”

Next to “Daniel's Story,” is the Games Done Legit booth featuring the Oscar-nominated VR film, “Pearl.” In this short, the viewer is actually sitting in the car in the story. From this vantage point, you can look forward through the windshield, or back at “your” daughter in the backseat, or you can watch the scenery slide past your passenger side window, just as you do when you ride in a car. 

Chris Hatala, owner of Games Done Legit said, “We use video games and virtual reality for corporate team building, special events, and education, and at Perspectives last year, [it] was the first time that I realized Virtual Reality's capacity for empathy... its ability to convey empathy for social causes, or just to get you more invested in the story, [it does so] in a way that no other medium can.”

Cory Boyle, an attendee who owns Deep Field VR, said, “I just tried out 'Pearl,' on [the] HTC Vive [headset]... you can look all around you; you have stereoscopic 3D so you can see things pop out at you; you're driving down the road in a car so you get the sense of adventure... [The film is] very charming, [it's] about life, and growing up... I can see why people are drawn to [it]; it's a powerful experience. The technology is so cool... Experiences like 'Pearl' do a great job of selling what VR can do... allowing people to experience a story in an empathetic way. More so than just watching something on a flat screen; you're surrounded by the story, you can reach out and touch it, you can look around, you are the camera so you can choose where to look... you can direct your own film in a way. It's really a powerful experience when you have good storytelling mixed with that technology.”

Chris Hatala added, “'Pearl ' is the first Oscar-nominated film done in Virtual Reality; so it's a huge showcase for the technology. VR is just a tool, the content is what matters... having this piece of content that shows people the impact it can have as an art form, is really a privilege for us to be able to showcase [this] for the festival.”

 

You can catch Perspectives now through Sunday, April 9th in Tower City, downtown Cleveland. In Tower City Center, go to Level M2 (near the top of the Grand Staircase), from 11am to 7pm on Friday and Saturday, and 11am to 5pm on Sunday. Perspectives is Free and open to the public; you don't need a CIFF film ticket to enter; curated interactive media & virtual reality is available on a first-come, first-served basis. No one under the age of 13 will be admitted. There is also a Perspectives Panel which will be held in the Chat Room just across from the Perspectives exhibit. This will be a panel discussion about this new world of interactive media and virtual reality, featuring artists, creators, and industry professionals, on Friday, April 7, at 5:50pm.

 

You'll want to see this exhibit, if you can... and not just because of our giant, 40' aerial images...

Colleen Reid concluded that this is “definitely something to not miss – we all are familiar with the experience of watching something on a screen...here, you are with the movie – you've gone into the film. That's something that is an experience you can't get anywhere else. You can't say, 'Well, I'll just see that at home,' you have to come here to experience this.” And, Ross Bochnek, astutely added, “Although the esoteric appeal of Perspectives has been opportunities for the public to experience emerging technologies, the ability to get behind the content-creators eyes and walk a mile in their shoes, all within a simultaneously intimate and interpersonal installation space, suggest Perspectives' higher contributions to Cleveland and this truly world-class media and culture festival.”

 

We hope that you'll get to experience Perspectives... and check out how immersive storytelling continues to evolve.

About Aerial Agents

Aerial Agents is a Cleveland, Ohio-based, FAA Approved, commercial drone aerial photography & videography media production company. In the birthplace of aviation, Aerial Agents is established as the foremost experienced, professional, and licensed expert in UAS (unmanned aerial systems) or "drone" piloting. Drone aerial imagery has multiple applications in a wide variety of areas including sales, marketing, education, entertainment, real estate, travel, hospitality, building, development, architecture, information, instruction, insurance, news, TV/Film and even court cases.