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This May, June and July, Within rolls out a series of hard-hitting documentaries by CNNVR, whisking viewers to the front lines of some of the world’s most vital news stories.

Beginning May 9th, a total of five documentaries are scheduled to be released, with the final segment scheduled for July 6.

Here’s what to expect:

“Enter North Korea” | Available 5/9

Still image of “Enter North Korea” courtesy of CNNVR & Within

Arrive in the heart of Pyongyang during North Korea’s biggest celebration of the year: Day of the Sun, which marks the birth of Kim Il-sung, founder and “Eternal President” of North Korea. Hundreds of dancers spin and whirl in massive Kim Il-sung square in a display of reverence for their beloved leader. The doc shows additional intimate details of civic life in the world’s most mysterious country.

“An Ordinary Day in North Korea” | Available 5/23

Still image of “An Ordinary Day in North Korea” courtesy of CNNVR & Within

Watch North Korean’s go about their daily business inside this notoriously secretive country. Visit crystalline waterfalls near the intimidating DMZ that separates North Korea from South Korea, scale the summit of the country’s most cherished mountain, peruse the wares of a brand-new high-end electronic shop and watch flag-waving performers start each workday with a patriotic dance.

“Extreme Rescues with the NYPD” | Available 6/6

Still image of “Extreme Rescues with the NYPD” courtesy of CNNVR & Within

Survey the New York skyline from a helicopter alongside the NYPD’s most elite rescue team, the Emergency Service Unit. During the unit’s training exercise you’ll see how team members slide down ropes to skyscraper roofs and scale the summit of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

“Iceland is Melting”| Available 6/20

Still image of “Iceland is Melting” courtesy of CNNVR & Within

Travel to Iceland, the island nation that many researchers consider ground zero for climate change. Soar over the pristine glaciers that could vanish in as little as 200 years, a travesty that would signal devastation not just for this lovely place, but for the future of the planet itself.

“Toro Bravo” | Available 7/6

Still image of “Toro Bravo” courtesy of CNNVR & Within

Explore the fascinating and controversial sport of bullfighting via this intriguing doc that takes you inside the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and introduces you to the brave sportsmen who consider bullfighting an art unto itself.

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Within’s Community Reading Initiative pairs kids with iPads loaded with the award-winning AR app, Wonderscope, designed to encourage movement, reading aloud and exploration.

Story time has sprung to life this month as hundreds of Los Angeles school children are receiving the chance to interact with a wild and wonderful assortment of characters through the magic of augmented reality. The extraordinary experience comes courtesy of Within, which has teamed up with Los Angeles Public Libraries and LA’s BEST afterschool enrichment program for the Wonderscope Los Angeles Community Reading Initiative.

Currently offered at various LA’s BEST school sites, the initiative features 30 iPads loaded with Within’s award-winning AR children’s app, Wonderscope. The iPads will rotate between nine schools over a period of three weeks. They will also appear at seven library branches per day during the week of April 15th, which marks Los Angeles Unified School District’s spring break.

Since it launched late last year, Wonderscope has attracted attention from educators for its unique ability to get kids excited about reading. The free app currently features three stories — A Brief History of Stunts by Astounding People, Little Red the Inventor and Wonder’s Land Ringmaster Wanted — that encourage children to read aloud in order to help a variety of fascinating characters overcome obstacles to achieve big goals.

Children actively engage with the stories, using their bodies to move around and looking through — rather than at — their screen as adventures unfold in real time, set in whatever room a child happens to occupy at the time.

“I see the most excitement taking place when the children see and hear the stories come to life,” said Caitlin Quinn, a children’s librarian at the Eagle Rock branch of the LAPL, who facilitates a variety of STEAM programs throughout the year. “Many of these programs offer participants of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to experiment with new technologies hands-on and a space to use their imaginations to take things to the next level.”

Since AR is a new technology that many educators have not yet had access to, Within is providing a variety of support materials to aid in the learning process, including an AR 101 video, as well as suggested lesson plans complete with reading comprehension questions. Within employees will also attend select sessions in order to answer questions, observe and support the learning process.

“Being able to pilot this AR storytime program is a great learning opportunity for staff and the participants — both parents and students,” said Vivienne Byrd, Librarian III, Lead on Full STEAM Ahead & Citizen Science Initiative, LAPL, Exploration & Creativity Department. “Within has been very helpful in every possible way to make this a program that is suitable for a public library setting.”

Eric Gurna, president and CEO of LA’s BEST said that children need to practice reading in different ways: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and through the use of engaging technologies.

“The important thing for us at LA’s BEST is that children are engaged in the process and enjoy reading — that they see it is as fun and useful, not simply a chore,” Gurna said. “Our staff are endlessly creative at finding ways to engage children in the joy of reading, and we are always happy to find partners who share and feed that creativity.”

Ninety percent of the kids that LA’s BEST serves daily qualify for free lunch at school, Gurna added, which is why it’s especially important that they have the same access to new technology as their more affluent peers.

“Teachers are doing this, libraries are doing it, they’re finding real value in it,” said Daniel Coplon, Within’s Senior Business Development Manager. “It’s simple to execute so we see Wonderscope as a great confidence building tool.”

Coplon has spent time talking to teachers about their biggest challenges, and one of the things he has gleaned is that they are particularly focussed on what is called “differentiated learning,” which means that not every student learns in the same way, and that educators need to be flexible in their approach to teaching.

Wonderscope hits the right notes for a variety of learners since it is experiential, has plenty of visual cues and champions learning through doing, in this case, by actually reading words aloud to drive the action of a story.

The host libraries in this initial effort are located throughout the city, including branches in Watts, Wilmington, Chinatown, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Eagle Rock and Lincoln Heights. The LAPL system serves the largest population of any public library system in the country and has a remarkable track record of community outreach.

Hundreds or enrolled studentes are expected to engage in the initiative through LA’s BEST, which serves 25,000 kids daily across 200 locations, with a focus on helping children in underserved communities.

For full details, dates and locations participating in the Wonderscope L.A. Community Reading Initiative, please visit the Wonderscope website.

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“The Hidden” seeks to shed light on human trafficking, taking viewers on a raid to free a family that has been enslaved in a rock quarry in India.

the new virtual reality experience, “The Hidden” takes viewers on a raid to free a family enslaved in a rock quarry in India. Still image © Katrina Sorrentino; courtesy of Within

Today, there are more people living in slavery than at any other time in human history. That’s what viewers are told at the beginning of a new virtual reality experience titled, “The Hidden,” which was released by Within in March.

Made by the Oculus VR for Good Creators Lab, in collaboration with filmmaker Lindsay Branham and International Justice Mission, “The Hidden” seeks to shed light on the crisis of human trafficking by taking viewers on a raid to free a family that has been enslaved in a rock quarry in India.

“Getting access to film a rescue operation is sensitive, difficult and risky for obvious Reasons,” said Branham. “A film crew’s presence could tip off the rescue mission, or disrupt it in some form.”

That was the biggest fear shared by the filmmakers and rescue workers before it was decided to let a VR camera crew be part of the tricky operation. Branham said that her Indian camera operators were incredibly skilled and that shots were planned down to the second. Still, the crew was unsure what kinds of footage they would get while blending discreetly into the background.

What they ended up capturing — shots of enslaved men chipping away at stones, and of weary women carrying loads of heavy bricks on their heads in the hot midday sun — have proved incredibly emotional for those who experience the film, which has been screened at dozens of film festivals including the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

“The Hidden” takes viewers on a raid to free a family enslaved in a rock quarry in India. Still image © Katrina Sorrentino; courtesy of WithinStill image from “The Hidden”, now available on Within. © Katrina Sorrentino; courtesy of Within
“Shifts of consciousness start with new vision and I hope that this film can amend the myth that slavery does not exist, by showing you both that it does, and that yes, it can also end.”

The family of nine that is freed during the film, had been in slavery for a decade due to a paltry debt equal to about $70 USD. The youngest daughter was six at the time of their release, and she had never attended school.

The film includes footage of rescue workers questioning the family about the nature of their work, and about whether or not the children are being allowed to go to school. Their fear is palpable as they answer. It turns out that the owner of the rock quarry has threatened their lives. The owner is also shown being questioned. He is later taken to a police station.

Virtual reality is an ideal medium to tell such a high-stakes story since it possesses the capability of placing viewers directly inside of the experience. The result is a feeling of urgency about the heartbreaking injustice.

Branham said that IJM founder, Gary Haugen, acknowledged that watching “The Hidden” was the closest thing he had ever felt to being on a real rescue mission.

“You get to witness a family become free,” said Branham. “Shifts of consciousness start with new vision and I hope that this film can amend the myth that slavery does not exist, by showing you both that it does, and that yes, it can also end.”

“The Hidden” takes viewers on a raid to free a family enslaved by, and ultimately freed from, a rock quarry in India. Still image © Katrina Sorrentino; courtesy of Within

None of this would have been possible without the support of the Oculus Creators Lab, which pairs creators with nonprofits in service of social justice. Working with the creators lab, Branham said, was an incredibly supportive, creative, community-building experience.

It was also through the Creators Lab that Branham and her team were introduced to IJM, which had the trust of the Indian government that proved so crucial to the making of the experience.

With the dramatic rescue behind them, the freed family has received the support it needed to build a new life. The Indian Government gave them their freedom certificates, which provide legal protection by declaring that the family does not owe any money. The government also helped the family build a new home, and the 6-year-old daughter is now in school.

Still image from “The Hidden” . Photo © Katrina Sorrentino; courtesy of Within

“People have been very moved watching this,” said Branham. “I have had people say they burst into tears when they see the family in the tent, that they didn’t realize slavery was real, that they can’t shake the images they saw, that the family has remained with them.”

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Within has four new experiences on offer for the month of February. Here’s a closer look at what’s on view.

Lego Batman: The Batmersive VR Experience | Available 2/7

Poster image courtesy of Within

In tandem with this month’s release of “Lego Movie 2,” check out this 5-minute immersive experience that puts you in the front seat of the Batmobile for an unforgettable ride-along with Lego Batman himself.

Batman (Will Arnett) thinks he’s the only one with abs of steel and a rock-hard biceps. Until he meets you, that is. Audition to be the prickly superhero’s sidekick via a whirlwind of dazzling sequences designed to put you at the heart of the action. Strut your stuff as you fly over a darkened Gotham City, tangle with some crazy chickens and confront the joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his team of super villains inside a burning warehouse.

Celebrate your virtual dominance by dancing with Wonder Woman and Superman at a thumping party, and wrap up the evening with a steaming plate of lobster delivered to the Batcave by your trusty advisor, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).

With VR production by the award-winning digital studio, Animal Logic, “The Batmersive Experience,” will tickle your funny bone and delight your inner child, the one who never gave up on that secret dream of becoming a superhero.

Crow: The Legend | Available 2/14

Poster image courtesy of Baobab Studios and Within

John Legend, Oprah Winfrey, Constance Wu and Diego Luna are the A-list voices behind this groundbreaking 22-minute, 360-degree virtual-reality experience that brings a well-known Native American folk tale to vivid life.

Since it was originally released last September, the experience has had critics raving. Many say “Crow: The Legend” just might be the most narratively successful VR experience to date. The industry largely agreed, and earlier this month the film won the Annie Award for the best virtual reality production.

This was the first year that the Annie granted an award in the VR category, an acknowledgement of the growing prestige and influence of the exciting field.

“Crow: The Legend” is the third VR experience from VR startup, Baobab Studios, and its most ambitious production to date.

Viewers take an active role in the narrative as the “spirit of the seasons.” They create the story’s main conflict by making it snow — and thus bringing winter to a group of adorable anthropomorphized animals who have never experienced the cold before, and whose very existence is threatened by it.

Enter the Crow (John Legend). He’s the one tasked with flying to “The One Who Creates Everything By Thinking” (Winfrey, of course!) in order to ask that she bring back warm weather. Viewers, once again, join the action when they discover they can direct an asteroid symphony in the sky.

Written and directed by Baobab co-founder and chief creative officer, Eric Darnell (co-director, “Madagascar” and “Antz”), “Crow: The Legend,” will win you over with its mix of warm and fuzzy animation, immersive audience participation and compelling story of friendship and self- sacrifice.

Send Me Home | Available 2/21

Still image courtesy of Within

This 13-minute immersive documentary explores the psyche, and post-prison life of Ricky Jackson, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1975 and served 39 years in prison until the Ohio Innocence Project helped exonerate him in 2014.

The 360-experience takes viewers inside the prison walls that penned in him, beginning when he was 18 years old, and moves on to show the beautiful house and loving family that he acquires after his release.

The film is narrated by Jackson, whose intensely personal account of his ordeal alternates between his path to forgiveness, the psychological horror of jail and the joy he finds in the small moments of everyday life.

“Death Row is a prison within a prison,” he says at one point. Later, he shares that his exoneration felt like falling asleep at 18 and waking up at 60.

Interestingly, and definitely by design, the film does not reveal the details of his case, focusing instead on the beauty of his rebirth. But it is helpful to do your research and know that Jackson was convicted of brutally murdering a businessman named Harold Franks outside a grocery store on the east side of Cleveland.

He, along with two friends, were sentenced to death based solely on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later recanted his testimony in the presence of a minister.

In the course of the film, we realize that Jackson has chosen to savor his new lease life, instead of getting caught up in resentment towards his accuser and captors. He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every day to live his dream life: mowing his lawn, washing his cars, and spending time by the pool and the grill with his family.

“I don’t want to miss a second of the day,” he tells us, and through the power of VR, we see first-hand how true that is.

Anote’s Ark | Available 2/28

Still image courtesy of Within

The perils of climate change come into chilling and immediate focus in this 10-minute VR experience, which is a companion piece to a documentary by the same name. (The doc was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018.)

The film whisks viewers to the remote Island nation of Kiribati, which is located in the central Pacific Ocean and has a population of just over 110,000 native people called the Gilbertese. The island is gorgeous, with white sand beaches, thatched huts and pristine waters. It is also in immediate danger of being swallowed by the sea due to a swiftly rising ocean.

The experience is narrated by the republic’s president, Anote Tong, who is engaged in an impassioned fight for the survival of his beloved homeland. Tong asks world leaders to take immediate action because his country is on the front lines of climate change.

For those who don’t comprehend the seriousness of the island’s imminent disappearance, Tong argues that what happens to Kiribati is a litmus test for what will eventually happen to large parts of the rest of the world.

The experience conjures the clear and present danger facing the island by immersing viewers in the villager’s daily routines and showing the extreme lengths they have gone to protect the only home they know.

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A face in the crowd: ‘Emergence,’ a new VR experience by Universal Everything, dives deep into the nature of group-think

Crowds are everywhere. Some people thrive in them, others are completely unnerved. Control is key — one individual’s sense of power is another’s feeling of weakness. That premise is at the core of a new virtual reality experience titled, “Emergence,” by the Sheffield, England-based digital art and design collective, Universal Everything.

“Emergence” is a companion piece to a work in an exhibition called “Fluid Bodies,” currently on view at the Borusan Contemporary in Istanbul. Within presented the World Premiere late last month at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

The project utilizes cutting-edge graphics in conjunction with powerful algorithms to create an open-world environment that responds in real-time to the actions of a first-person player who inhabits a glowing avatar at the center of a vast crowd of running strangers.

The result is part art project, part philosophical video game and it’s the kind of experimental VR that excites us. The action is driven by the viewer, who controls the pace and direction of the avatar with the goal of reaching various shafts of light that shoot up out of the ground in the distance.

Still image from the virtual reality experience “Emergence,” courtesy of Universal Everything.

The player’s movements ultimately choreograph the crowd’s behavior, resulting in breathtaking patterns as the many bodies swirl and circle, divide and rejoin one another.

Programmers succeeded in simulating more than 5,000 human behaviors for “Emergence,” with the goal of showcasing the seemingly endless ways that human animals act in group settings.

When the user’s avatar reaches a ray of light, the scenery and landscape is drastically altered and the experience moves on in new, unexpected ways.“Emergence” is especially unique because of its ability to make digital media appear organic.

Universal Everything founder Matt Pyke worked hard with his team of digital artists, animators, musicians and developers to achieve the realistic — yet still fantastical — look of the experience, where each crowd member was painstakingly programmed with intelligent behaviors, including avoidance, mimicry and following. Viewed from above, these behaviors meld to create impressive patterns of group behavior.

Dramatic lighting; vast, alien landscapes; and a haunting soundtrack created by Simon Pyke — using samples of field recording of native tribes — contribute to the satisfying moodiness of the experience.

Still image from the virtual reality experience “Emergence,” courtesy of Universal Everything.

The user may feel as if he or she is part of a giant moving canvas, one that is being painted in real time by an omniscient viewer somewhere high above the action. In reality, the omniscient viewer is the person in the VR headset: you.

The experience takes on postmodern overtones when it becomes apparent that there is no real goal for completion. It’s not that “Emergence” doesn’t end, because it does, it’s just that getting there is not the point.

There is a thrilling power in watching the faceless strangers around you scatter when you turn and run into their midst. Sometimes they surround you as if you are the messiah, at other times they run from you as if you are a monster.

Still image from the virtual reality experience “Emergence,” courtesy of Universal Everything.

The experience is hypnotic, unsettling at times, and all-consuming. It stands as a compelling example of the way virtual reality is upending the dominance of traditional narrative forms in favor of experiential art made with the game-changing tools of immersive media.

A version of this article originally ran on Flaunt.com on February 5th, 2019. Click HERE to read the full text and Q&A with Emergence director, Matt Pyke.

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Screen time. Two tiny words that are at the heart of many conversations between parents these days. It seems that every week a new study comes out that says one thing or another about how much is too much, and whether or not too much can spell big trouble for a child’s development down the road.

The messages are often mixed, but there’s one thing that most experts seem to agree on: keeping kids active and engaged is paramount to time well spent. Enter Wonderscope. It’s our new augmented reality storytelling app, designed to instantly transform screen time into playtime — an interactive experience where movement and reading aloud are the goals.

“We believe this new technology has the power to open up a whole world of change, not just in the way we learn, but in how we play and interact.”

Built with kids ages 7 to 10 in mind, Wonderscope was created to engage children in real-time, inviting them to speak up and use their imaginations in order to drive the action forward. It’s based around the idea that the screen can be used to activate rather than pacify, and it’s where augmented reality gets really interesting. We believe this new technology has the power to open up a whole world of change, not just in the way we learn, but in how we play and interact.

There are currently three stories in the Wonderscope library, and this year you’ll begin to see content roll out on a regular basis. Once downloaded, these stories turn into interactive worlds as children look through their screens at the fully realized characters that come to life wherever it is they are.

Words appear on screen and kids must read them aloud, sometimes asking questions, sometimes speaking commands, and always helping a wild, wacky or interesting character find his or her own way in a world of unfettered creativity.

A screenshot from the augmented reality story “A Brief History of Stunts by Astounding People,” now available on Wonderscope. Image courtesy of Within.

The Stories

With Wonderscope, words appear on screen and kids must read them aloud to move the story forward. Image from “Little Red the Inventor” courtesy of Within.

Released at the end of last year, “Little Red the Inventor” (created and directed by Tuna Bora, written by Gitti Danesvari and produced by Nexus Studios) takes a fresh look at an old classic, empowering its feisty protagonist as a Little Red Riding Hood for the modern world. The big bad wolf is no match for this inventive little girl as she invites kids to help her stop the wolf from eating her grandmother in the end.

“Children look through their screens at the fully realized characters that come to life wherever it is they are.”
Once downloaded, Wonderscope stories turn into interactive worlds. Image from “A Brief History of Stunts by Astounding People” courtesy of Within.

In “A Brief History of Stunts by Astounding People” (created by Preloaded and written by Beth Garrod) three incredible daredevils are at the heart of the story, which introduces children to the fascinating world of non-fiction through stories like that of Helen Gibson, Hollywood’s very first stuntwoman. In the world of the app, these intrepid characters need kids to perform certain tasks in order to further their fabulous endeavors.

The third story, “Wonder’s Land Ringmaster Wanted” (created by Flight School Studio and written by Gitti Daneshvari), introduces a zany rabbit that is late for a very important date with a magical carnival. Without the help of his little friends he will never get there on time, and he may never discover just how much he enjoys the world in which he lives.

So How Does it Work?

If you’re confused about exactly what augmented reality is, you’re not alone. The technology is still quite new, but it involves laying virtual graphics over physical reality so that the virtual world appears as part of our own world and vice versa. It’s kind of like those goofy Snapchat filters you use on your phone.

In the case of Wonderscope, the screen acts as a lens to be looked through at images that seem to inhabit the world around you. When you move, so do the images. Also, thanks to our team of engineers, there’s an embedded “Look At” feature, which makes it seem as if the characters in a story are looking directly at you.

“Only as children continue to speak, read, explore, wonder aloud and play, will the story continue to move forward.”
Within’s “Look At” feature allows characters to make eye contact with the reader. Image from “Little Red the Inventory” courtesy of Within.Augmented Reality allows for virtual world appears as part of our own world and vice versa. Image from “Wonder’s Land Ringmaster Wanted” courtesy of Within.

Within works at the cutting edge of AR, and we’ve been mining it for uses that go beyond novelty in order to help kids learn, as well as to motivate them to stay active and engaged when they interact with screens.

The idea for the app grew out of Within CEO and cofounder Chris Milk’s own childhood experience of dyslexia, which he overcame with the help of books by Dr. Seuss and Daniel Pinkwater.

Bringing fresh, exciting children’s stories to the screen and launching them into the world of imagination is our 21st Century version of those author’s singular visions. Voice recognition technology makes it possible for kids to drive the action of each story by reading aloud. And only as children continue to speak, read, explore, wonder aloud and play, will the story continue to move forward.

Another exciting aspect of Wonderscope is the growing group of creators who have rallied around the app and are currently developing content for it. Flight School Studios, Preloaded and Nexus Studios represent just a few of the artists and technicians who have been empowered by Within’s specialized Storymaker technology to more easily tell tales in augmented reality.

And of course, Wonderscope was created with accessibility in mind. The app is free, as is “Wonder’s Land.” After that each new story can be acquired as an in-app purchase of just $4.99. We think the lack of a hefty price tag democratizes access to this game-changing tool, making sure there’s no barrier to when and where creativity can come alive.

For more information visit us in the iOS App Store or at https://wonderscope.com/.

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Four satisfyingly diverse offerings make up Within’s slate of December new releases, reminding viewers and fans of the powerful creative possibilities inherent in virtual reality technology — and the fun it can provide as a form of entertainment.

RONE |Available 12/6

A still image from the virtual reality experience RONE; courtesy of SXSW

First up is “RONE,” director Lester Francois’ 360-degree, interactive documentary about the Melbourne-based street artist known as Rone. The experience received critical acclaim when it staged its world premiere at SXSW in March, and is now being made available to a wider audience via Within’s streaming platform.

“RONE” takes its audience on a journey through the derelict buildings, decaying factories and abandoned houses that serve as canvases for Rone’s haunting large-scale murals of attractive — albeit melancholy — women.

The juxtaposition of beauty with the mournful vestiges of crumbling, forgotten infrastructure, makes for a potent meditation on the passage of time, the impermanence of everything and the futility of trying to prevent change.

The experience navigates through a series of doleful spaces that the viewer is invited to explore — you can look up, down and side-to-side, marveling at the way the dust motes swirl in the sunlight passing through holes in drywall — before suddenly coming face-to-face with a towering portrait of a woman, staring straight through you, as if contemplating the state of her surroundings and wondering where things went so terribly wrong.

Interestingly, these deserted, often secret spaces, retain a glorious, grubby grace in their own right. It’s as if time has ravaged them, and then simply passed them by, leaving them solemn, yet dignified guardians of their own decline.

Virtual reality allows you to act as a stealth intruder, tip-toeing around spaces where you are surely not allowed to be — ruminating on their magnificent decline — before confronting the woman who shares your view of the apocalypse from her spot of wonder on the dining-room wall.

Water Bear, episodes 1 & 2 | Available 12/13

Water Bear; image courtesy of Within

Looking for a light-hearted break after a jaunt through RONE’s world? Binge episodes 1 and 2 of “Water Bear,” which has been called the world’s first 360-degree comedy series.

Created by the immersive animation company Waffle, the show is the brainchild of actor Lucas Kavner (“Orange is the New Black”), and features the voices of Rob Huebel (“Transparent”), Chris Powell (“Detroiters”), Kate Berlant (“The Characters”) and Amanda Lund (“Fresh Off the Boat”).

As the title would suggest (although you’re forgiven for not figuring it out on your own), the series tells the strange tale of a jaunty bear who fell off a boat during a glass-bottom cruise while he was getting wasted with his pals, only to find that he can breathe underwater.

Trapped in this foreign world, Water Bear makes a slew of new friends including an octopus, a starfish and a squid. Karaoke and bocce are just a few of the raucous activities available under the sea, and Water Bear’s deadpan sense of humor makes every moment there a delight.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the series in VR is feeling immersed in an aquatic environment. It is both foreign and familiar, as if you are literally inhabiting one of your favorite cartoons from childhood. “SpongeBob SquarePants,” anyone?

Fresh Out | Available 12/20

The virtual reality experience Fresh Out will release on Within, December 20th, 2018. Image courtesy of Sandman Studios

Ever thought about the sheer terror you might feel as a baby carrot, nestled snugly in your cozy bed of garden dirt, only to discover that your baby-carrot friends are being plucked from your world, one-by-one, by a scary monster in the sky?

No? Neither have we. But we can’t stop thinking about the scenario thanks to “Fresh Out,” an incredibly cute, and totally chilling new VR experience created by China’s Sandman Studios.

The seven-minute short takes place in the murky netherworld beneath a garden where plump orange root vegetables hang nervously awaiting an uncertain fate. The oldest baby carrot of the bunch, a wizened, but still delicious-looking fellow with broken teeth and wide, frightened eyes, tells his compatriots of the strange monster above who rattles the earth as it walks.

You look down and — gasp! — you discover that you ARE a baby carrot, and that you’re in this mess for real. From there the cute, creepy horror becomes more acute as you watch your friends disappear through newly created holes above.

What will happen to your beta-carotene-rich lifeform? Our lips are sealed, but trust us, you will have a front row seat to your own demise.

Inside the Sound |Available 12/27

Details from the virtual reality experience Inside the Sound; courtesy of Universal Everything

Moving from haunting to silly to just plain trippy is Within’s final December new release: “Inside the Sound,” which explores the visual nature of sound itself.

The experience was created by digital art and design studio, Universal Everything, and it features six 360-degree films that invite viewers to, yes, step inside the sound.

The sound in this case is a series of auditory hallucinations that could be considered a digital mash up of trance, techno and jazz created by longtime Universal Everything collaborator, Simon Pyke. Each soundtrack gradually escalates in pitch in order to intensify a feeling of drama while the visuals provide endlessly looping physical manifestations of the sensations triggered by the various sounds.

There is no narrative, no moral, no higher purpose, just a delicious audio-visual feast worthy of completely zoning out to.

Some sequences are soothing, such as “Burst,” which is shrouded in white and features droplets of sound exploding on the surface of an infinite white expanse. Others are stressful, such as “Planes,” which will drive any aviophobe mad with its skyscape of countless airplanes flying in maddening loops all over the heavens.

All the sequences, however, are endlessly fascinating and will leave you spinning in circles to capture the stimulus surrounding you.

For more information visit www.with.in

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History comes alive in “Dinner Party,” a VR recreation of one of the world’s most famous stories of alien abduction

‘Dinner Party,’ created with Skybound Entertainment, RYOT Films, Telexist and supported by Technicolor and the Sundance Institute, is based on the true story of Betty and Barney Hill.

Available now on Within

An alien abduction — if such a thing has happened — might feel an awful lot like being inside of a virtual reality headset. The nature of the technology makes it so that you are at once completely immersed in the action, while simultaneously watching it from a slight distance, as if your body is not quite your own.

This paradox helped draw the creators of “Dinner Party” to the medium. The 13-minute experience recreates one of history’s most legendary real-life claims of an alien abduction: an event that came to be known as the Zeta Reticuli Incident.

“The virtual reality component of the film literally takes off into outer space, and the viewer goes right along with it.”

“There’s something both alienating and intimate about VR. It’s a new medium, a shock to the system,” said the project’s co-creator, Charlotte Stoudt. “Yet the immediate sense of presence you feel inside virtual reality is eerie. Those contradictory qualities made VR the perfect medium for an abduction story.”

In 1961 an interracial couple, Betty and Barney Hill, were driving to their home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire after a vacation at Niagara Falls. It was around 10:50 pm that they saw a bright light moving across the sky. They drove slowly and it came closer. At one point Barney observed a group of humanoid creatures. The couple became fearful and tried to get away. Only later did they realize that they were missing time — and that they had traveled almost 35 miles without any memory of the journey.

“Dinner Party” takes place after the abduction itself, during a party for a few friends that the Hills are hosting. They have kept their secret close, but Betty feels an overwhelming need to share it with their company. She pulls a tape recorder out of a drawer and plays audio from two hypnosis sessions. The first session is of Betty recounting her memory of the abduction, and the second session is of Barney doing the same.

“In separate sessions, Betty and Barney were each hypnotized and able to recall, in vivid detail, their abductions. But both experienced such emotional distress during their hypnosis that the doctor reinstated amnesia after each session.”
Barney Hill, Betty Hill and dog, Desley

“After a long period of nightmares and traumatic symptoms, the Hills went to Dr. Benjamin Simon, a renowned psychiatrist, to undergo regressive hypnosis in the hopes of recovering memories of that night,” explains executive producer, Laura Wexler. “In separate sessions, Betty and Barney were each hypnotized and able to recall, in vivid detail, their abductions. But both experienced such emotional distress during their hypnosis that the doctor reinstated amnesia after each session. So it wasn’t until Betty and Barney heard their own voices on tape that they were finally able to grasp what had happened to them.”

This is where the virtual reality component of the film literally takes off into outer space, and the viewer goes right along with it.

Wexler said that the camera acts as the aliens and the aliens are us — the viewers. What she means is that as we occupy the VR experience we become the omnipresent aliens who are tracking and watching the Hills. We hover in the room all around them in the 360-degree film.

“VR was the perfect medium to recreate the Hills memories of the experience.”

The effect is quite chilling. And it becomes even more so as we listen to the audio being played on the tape recorder, during which time, the scenery changes and the viewer is transported into another realm where the aliens conducted their strange experiments on their human subjects.

At this point the recognizable world disappears and the Hills become represented by points of light in an unfamiliar dark space that appears endless. VR was the perfect medium to recreate the Hills memories of the experience. Trying to render the images with traditional animation, or even with CGI could not possibly rival the uncanny feeling VR imparts to viewers — the feeling that they, too, are in some small way, made up of molecules of shifting light.

“Betty was white and Barney was black, and in 1961 scientists speculated that their wildly divergent memories of the event could, in fact, be rooted in their experience of race in America.”

Once we experience this strange disassociation from our bodies we are primed to absorb the central political point of the story, which is that Betty’s experience was sublime, while Barney’s was torturous. Betty was white and Barney was black, and in 1961 scientists speculated that their wildly divergent memories of the event could, in fact, be rooted in their experience of race in America.

“We wanted the abduction sequences in ‘Dinner Party’ to reflect the differences in the Hills’ experiences,” said Wexler. “We thought a lot about the experience of dissolution, and how if you in general feel safe and intact in your body, the experience of dissolution can be freeing. But, if you’re a person whose body is a battleground, the experience of being particalized would be terrifying, dehumanizing, and violating.”

Given today’s fraught socio-political climate, Wexler and Stoudt both felt that the lessons we can glean from the racial strife of the 1960s, could also be quite relevant in modern times. VR, with its reputation for conjuring emotion, became a powerful vehicle for conveying that message.

“When we read the hypnosis transcripts, we were struck by how much their accounts differed. Betty, a white woman from a family that long prided itself on its progressive politics, had a frightening, but ultimately validating, experience; she retained a sense of agency,” said Stoudt. “Barney, an African American man, felt utterly helpless and violated. If you listen to Barney’s hypnosis tapes on YouTube — they are raw and terrifying, wrenchingly similar to recent cell phone footage of black men and women facing mortal violence
at traffic stops.”

There was never any consensus in the scientific community about the truth of the Hills experience. When Betty drew a star map that identified the aliens as coming from a planet orbiting the star Zeta Reticuli, and “Astronomy” magazine wrote about it, the editor who penned the story was mocked and eventually lost his job. This led to the incident being labeled the Zeta Ridiculi incident, a jab about how far-fetched and unbelievable the story was.

Nonetheless, the Hills’ story serves as a powerful reminder that there is more to the universe than our mortal minds can possibly comprehend, and the use of virtual reality in imparting that reminder does, indeed, feel like a new frontier in filmmaking. One that will lead us to a whole new way of thinking about the way we interact with the world around us — and the many worlds beyond us.

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An Educational Journey Inside the Womb: “Wonderful You,” Delves Into the Intricate Beginnings of Life

Premieres today on iPhone and Android

A still image from the virtual reality experience, ‘Wonderful You’, available now on iOS and Android

You’re floating in darkness, surrounded by soft water. It is calm and you are at peace in your mother’s womb — just beginning your journey of existence. It is the most epic adventure that you will never remember.

This is the hazy dreamscape that a stunning virtual reality experience titled, “Wonderful You,” conjures by taking you on a guided tour of the beginning of life as you develop the five senses that will shape your time on earth. Created by immersive studio BDH, directed by John Durrant and narrated by Oscar-nominee Samantha Morton, the experience has been acquired by WITHIN for syndication on its app, now available for the first time ever on iPhone and Android.

“Virtual reality is an ideal way to experience another world — and ‘Wonderful You’ is just that,” says Durrant. “Everyone will have something to learn, discuss and enjoy.”

“Wonderful You” was an official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival in Austin and previewed in 2017 on Oculus Rift at the Cambridge Film Festival. The experience is anchored around a developing human baby floating in an endless expanse of amniotic fluid flecked with tiny bubbles. There are five chapters devoted to sensory development: taste, touch, smell, sight and sound.

Each chapter is a universe unto itself as you find yourself occupying the cellular realm where taste buds tower like alien forests and ear canals wind like cosmic slides. Inhabiting the earliest stages of life through the magic of virtual reality is what makes the educational aspects of the experience so exciting.

Learning is active, not passive, as you tickle the bottom of your feet and watch the immediate reflex; or experience the primal urge to grasp your hand when something touches your palm.

In the chapter about sight, you examine the twisted cables of tissue that form your optic nerve and witness the eerie moment when your formerly fused eyelids part to reveal the black orbs of your alien eyeballs; in sound you can simulate the sonic boom of your mother’s heartbeat, or hear the primal bass of music from another room; touch shows an early response to stimulus via thousands of delicate receptors in the face and body; smell and taste are connected as you swallow amniotic fluid flavored with your mother’s favorite foods, thus stimulating both senses and creating an explosion of information for your developing brain to process.

Taken together, these senses will become the key to your survival outside of the womb and will provide the framework for everything you experience in life. The virtual visit to this early stage of your evolution offered by “Wonderful You” will stick with you long after you’ve stepped away from the experience, and next time you smell a fragrance that reminds you — on some deep, distant level — of your mother, you will know exactly why.

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Russian Meddling is Just the Beginning: ‘Zero Days VR’ Provides First-Hand Experience of the Perilous World of Cyber Warfare

The truth is not out there, but it should be. That message is at the core of “Zero Days VR,” an adaptation of the Oscar short-listed Alex Gibney documentary by the same name, which has been acquired by WITHIN for syndication on its app, and has been released for the first time ever on iPhone and Android.

The Emmy Award-winning experience, which world premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, uses virtual reality to tackle the shadowy world of government-sanctioned cyber warfare through the story of Stuxnet, a 2010 computer virus reportedly used to attack Iranian nuclear facilities by security agencies in the United States and Israel, although neither country will admit to their involvement. The virus is the first known computer worm to result in real-world physical destruction and has been linked to the fourth dimension of war.

We designed an experience that makes the invisible visible.”—Yasmin Elayat, Director, ZeroDaysVR

Where Gibney’s 2016 Participant Media documentary uses interviews and news footage to dig into the mystery of the virus’ unprecedented power, the VR experience shrinks the viewer down to the size of a computer’s motherboard to watch as the virus physically spreads to infect computers across the globe. It’s a visceral experience that only VR is capable of, and it drives home the message that once code this lethal has been unleashed, it is almost impossible to stop it.

The chilling implication this medium makes clear: we have only just begun to understand the grave perils of cyber warfare. Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections and North Korea’s hack of Sony would be child’s play in comparison to a full-scale attack on the infrastructure of a major American city in which scores of people could die.

“This is an intangible topic often misunderstood by the general public, even as it’s currently affecting our daily lives. It’s an unregulated form of warfare where our governments are tight-lipped and information is highly classified,” says “Zero Days VR” director, Yasmin Elayat. “There is an urgent need to educate the public on the high stakes and potential to disrupt critical infrastructure. The global community needs a serious conversation about the rules of regulation around cyber war.”

A secondary character is brought to life using Depthkit — an accessible volumetric filmmaking tool that enables storytellers to create VR experiences featuring real people captured in 3D. Depthkit is created by Scatter, which produced the experience alongside executive producer, Gibney. Using Depthkit, the creators captured an actress (who stands in as an amalgamation of all the NSA informant testimonies heard in the narrative) and placed her inside the interactive virtual reality story. She appears as a 3D apparition, and gives voice to those who fear the secrecy surrounding the technology will result in a deadly counterattack.

“What we can do, can be done to us,” the character says ominously towards the end of the experience.

Still image from the Emmy Award winning experience Zero Days VR, now available on WITHIN.

“Volumetric filmmaking enabled our team to natively integrate a real, three-dimensional capture of key testimony from an NSA informant into the digital world of Stuxnet. This exciting new format allows us to tell stories that we believe can’t be told in any other way,” says Elayat, who is also one of Scatter’s co-founders. We designed an experience that makes the invisible visible. We created impressionistic, immersive worlds to illustrate this complex information in an innovative way and to spread literacy around this urgent topic.”

The clarion call of “Zero Days VR” is for the country — and the world at large — to wake up to the clear and present danger of what is being called the next chapter of modern warfare. A voice in the experience likens the Stuxnet virus to August 6, 1945, the day the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Of equal importance, and rarely broadcast in the media or acknowledged by the government: after Stuxnet, Iran hit the U.S. back via a large-scale attack on its banking systems. This, “Zero Days VR” warns, is just the beginning.

“There’s no doubt that we are in the age of cyber warfare — from the Russian cyber intrusion in the 2016 presidential elections to the Russia and Iran-backed Facebook subterfuge where hundreds of fake accounts have been launching disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks,” says Elayat. “Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security, states that the next largest threat facing the United States will be an online attack.”

For more information, and to download the app and experience, go to www.with.in/app

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