Of all the live events that were based on online experiences in the COVID era, Burning Man was not the most obvious candidate. The 35-year-old Desert Reunion thrives on chaotic community interactions under the scorching Nevada sun, where stunned euphoric wanderers explore vast outdoor sculptures and utopian camps while adhering to an earthly set of principles. established by the founders. Burning Man is the kind of dizzying phenomenon that would never translate into Zoom, but virtual reality is a different story.
In 2020, when Burning Man canceled its physical edition, a longtime Burners team built BRCvr, an extensive virtual reality interpretation of Burning Man’s “beach” that included both virtual art depictions presented in years as new exclusive offers for the environment. Virtual “camps” allowed longtime Burners to revisit their old sites, DJs played virtual stages, and of course there was the virtual burning of man.
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Now, the physical Burning Man has been canceled again, but BRCvr is back in the 2021 edition, and you don’t even need a fancy headset to experience it (though it certainly helps). The gathering creates an opportunity to glimpse the future of virtual creativity in action: an immersive medium for showcasing art and the community on a large scale without a physical impact meal.
The 2020 event, based on Microsoft’s Altspace virtual reality social platform, exceeded even the most generous expectations, with more than 14,000 people worldwide exploring the vast multiverse, including many users who used headphones. of virtual reality for the first time. There are over 200 worlds to explore and over 1,500 hours of live events over the course of a week. It was a striking illustration of the potential of RV to provide social experiences that could be fully rewarding on their own terms, even when they filled the void of a socially distant age.
After winning the PGA Award for Innovation last year and raising awareness for Altspace, Microsoft has launched additional resources behind the event and has quickly followed a Mac-accessible 2D version to the PC version. This means that anyone with a reasonably competent team can create an Altspace account and teleport to the only Burning Man event available this year.
Meanwhile, the launch, last fall, of consumer Oculus Quest 2 has brought VR technology to even more homes than last year, suggesting that this year’s BRCvr could welcome an even more robust share of Burners and newcomers.
“We learned a lot about taking a culture and bringing it to a virtual space,” said Doug Jacobson, BRCvr designer and filmmaker, as I toured a few worlds earlier this month. Over the course of forty minutes, I followed Jacobson and co-founder Athena Demos, the former Burning Man regional contact person and executive director of the LA League of Arts, as our avatars floated through giant sculptures in the deep void of space, He tested the Daft Punk helmets against the backdrop of an imposing screen full of lasers and grabbed the neon signage from the main beach. “We brought this whole community with us, and now Microsoft is pouring money into Altspace to turn it into a premiere event platform,” Demos said. “But for us it’s a love job.”
BRCvr’s roots go back to 2014, when VR developer Greg Edwards imported photographs of Burning Man Playa to create it in 3D. This research became the basis for the virtual city of Black Rock built six years later.
Jacobson was attracted to the project through his film work. Twenty years ago, he directed the Burning Man documentary “Journey to the Flames,” but has devoted much of his career to post-production and had been experimenting with 180-degree cameras to learn more about building virtual environments. Now, he is constantly playing with the design of the event and sees its potential as a new phase of cinematic language. “It won’t replace 2D narration or passive narration, but it’s a whole new branch,” he said.
The latest edition should have pleased Burners for a long time, but it also offers an opportunity to show the story of the event, which was previously impossible as Burning Man’s ethos of “leaving no trace” means that the its large structures are demolished at the end of each edition. Now, visitors can examine the Museum of 20 Temples and the Museum of Man, which capture previous live editions. Designers also leverage Microsoft’s mixed reality technologies, shoot live artists on the green screens of a Los Angeles studio, and stream them to virtual space. And they’ve teamed up with the Two Bit Circus arcade in Los Angeles to host a physical room full of Burning Man art and headphones for Burners in Los Angeles, who might want to experiment with fusing physical and virtual experiences.
Once again, the beach will showcase a wide range of art submitted by creators and user-generated worlds, meaning BRCvr visitors can roam freely for hours at a time and continue to come across new creations and environments with little to no guide. them, an experience the Burners have long said is quite similar to physical editing. On September 5, before the Lotus Temple burns down, William Close and the Earth Harp Collective will perform at the Holokey Transition Temple, the same location in the physical world, where Close preformed Burning Man in 2011. performance is 360-degree green screen recording that will be teleported to the virtual environment.
Jacobson said he has been developing hubs to group similar works of art to allow for a greater sense of care, but the discovery process is crucial: whether you come to BRCvr with headphones or on your PC, you’ll want to walk around. “It’s a little unpredictable,” Jacobson said. “We live in a turbulent world.”
While the experiences of virtual environments may seem unpleasant to people who do not normally experiment with open-world video games or work in emerging media, they have continued to find their place among COVID as a means to showcase the exclusive creativity of digital space. . The Venice Film Festival begins this week in person, with its VR edition once again welcoming an international audience, many of whom will not be able to attend the Italian meeting in person; next January, Sundance will once again include a virtual environment for audiences who may or may not be willing to attend the Park City event.
BRCvr is already looking at the potential to combine virtual and live events in 2022. “Hybrid events really are the future,” Jacobson said. “I think we can make this transition. People will come in here, they will feel that they are there and everyone will feel connected ”.
BRCvr runs on Altspace from August 29 to September 7. To respond to assistance, go here. To create an Altspace account, go here.
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