DeepDream and Space Dancers at TFI Interactive

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Last week, we saw how the Famous Deaths exhibit at the 2016 TFI Interactive Playground took the concept of immersion one step too far. This week, we turn our attention to a few of the installations that earned a rightful spot on the gallery floor.

Last summer, Google DeepDream broke the Internet when it revealed to us for the first time the fantasia of its dog-headed, fish-eyed, furry humanoid perspective. If your jaw dropped when you watched the algorithm populate fractals through your computer screen, imagine how hard your brain thinks you’re tripping when someone straps Google Cardboard to your face and plays a 360 degree recursive loop of the DeepDream’s take on a Yosemite scene.

Look up, and you see a sky full of psychedelic clouds with nondescript animal faces. Ahead of you, a waterfall tumbles over cliffs into a river below. Look down, and you’ll find that you are a bodiless entity, hovering above a plinth that emanates sharp spears of increasingly complex prismatic rainbows.

Google Cardboard may not qualify as true virtual reality, but as an immersive experience, DeepDream is an absolute joy. Strap on a pair of headphones, and you’re set up for one hell of a time.

On the other end of the VR spectrum was FORMA, the only installation in the showroom that enabled multiple people to immerse themselves in the same virtual landscape simultaneously. Masked in an Oculus and crowned with enormous padded headphones, each person stands on one of four corners, centered around sensor that tracks the movements of the participants’ bodies.

Once the experience begins, players are transported to a vast desert under alien stars. Ancient temples and obelisks lie in ruin, cast against the backdrop of distant mountains. Participants can see each other in the form of shimmering, spirit-like figures, each separated by hundreds of yards. When all players have clasped their hands in front of them, a colossal stone ballerina rises from the desert sands and performs a sweeping dance before collapsing back into the ground.

On the whole, the program was somewhat glitchy, and because each participant appeared so far in the distance, it was difficult to tell when the group was interacting with each other in the way that the developers had imagined. In terms of sheer scope, however, FORMA blew the other installations out of the water.

The first time you wear an Oculus with noise-canceling headphones, you will understandably feel disoriented. But within several minutes of being immersed in a landscape of such immense scale, where the dome of the sky looks leagues deep and the nearest mountain miles away, your body accepts the cues it receives from your eyes and ears, and it actually begins to believe that it inhabits this new, boundless space. Experiences like FORMA offer the very first glimpse into what the future of VR may hold. And if it’s any indication, the future looks good.

Check back in next week, when we’ll travel to Pluto and swim with whales at the Tribeca 2016 Experiential Storytelling Hub.

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