While Covid was busy ravaging the Arts industry, a dancer, a composer, a choreographer and a VR film director walked into an iconic Western Australian building. Repeated four times, this unique collaboration resulted in four, four minute 360 degree Virtual Reality films. The films will have their world premiere this weekend at the XR:WA Conference and Expo.

World Launch FourbyFour VR Short Films at XR:WA Expo

Let’s be honest I’m a complete novice when it comes to virtual reality. I’ve also been known to avoid movies that employ realistic “shaky cam” technology, due to my proclivity for intense motion sickness. As friends have joked, I could get seasick in the bath. And so it was with some trepidation that I meet some of the creative guys behind the initiative.

FourbyFour is a collaboration between Revelation Perth International Film Festival, in association with Tura New MusicCo3 Contemporary Dance, and FrameVR.

The collaboration took dancers, choreographers, musicians and film makers into iconic WA venues and asked them to interpret to the space. According to Gareth Lockett at FrameVR, it’s thanks to a cute 360 camera called Tony we get to experience it in virtual reality. (Okay I added the cute bit, but don’t you reckon?)

World Launch FourbyFour VR Short Films at XR:WA Expo

I met the guys at FrameVR on the eve of the XR:WA Conference and Expo, and as any creative would know, this is when the last minute magic happens. The last thing you need is a reviewer coming to take up precious seconds. I’m pleased to just say I received a very warm welcome complete with a high back chair being swivelled in my general direction. Not time for hesitation, it was time to get down to business. Taking the hint I sat down and was soon fitted up with the headset, very nice!

World Launch FourbyFour VR Short Films at XR:WA Expo

While being fitted up (with the headset), I learnt that the idea came from Revelation Festival Director and project Executive Producer, Richard Sowada.

“More than any film festival or screen event in the country, we’re grabbing hold of converging art forms to explore the range and depth of local talent and create new forms,” Sowada says. 

“More importantly though, this project provides employment and opportunity across the broader arts sector for up to 50 filmmakers, musicians, composers, dancers and choreographers, so it’s very satisfying to plough this grant straight back into WA arts and culture,” Sowada continues. 

In front of me was a screen showing images of each of the four short films. All I had to do was look in the general direction of the film that I wanted to watch and it would magically start to play, which it did. I soon found myself fully immersed in each of the new worlds before me.

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First up was Public Reading II which took me into the State Library to find a dancer walking up the main stairs. Weirdly, if I looked down and to the right she was also walking around on the ground floor. Having often dreamt of splitting myself in two to cover my ever growing workload, this was weirdly satisfying. Also interesting were the people sitting around in the library. They looked like porcelain models trapped in time, not moving or looking around, and yet they weren’t models or extras, simply members of the public who happened to be going about their day. The whole sequence was quite dreamy and a nice introduction to this new way of viewing moving images.

World Launch FourbyFour VR Short Films at XR:WA Expo

Four minutes over and I was onto the second film, Prospecting for Concrete, at the Art Gallery. Not only was I able to look at the well known art works on the wall, but also try to keep up with the male dancer as he appeared, disappeared, then reappeared in different parts of the gallery. It was like a highbrow, sleek game of cat and mouse. Knowing how difficult it is to film in a gallery due to the copyright of various images, I could appreciate the amount of planning that must have gone into this piece.

World Launch FourbyFour VR Short Films at XR:WA Expo

Stagecraft was the third piece, this time in the lush State Theatre. The action began on the gold enveloped main steps, with the dancer ascending towards me. I’m not sure which was the more concerning, whether he was going to walk right into me, or whether I was going to topple down the stairs from my perch on the top step. Even more intriguing was watching the performer stand in the warm cocoon of the main theatre, and hold my attention by performing a series of origami-like moves with his fingers. The accompanying sound of a breath, making me more aware of my own.

World Launch FourbyFour VR Short Films at XR:WA Expo

Last but not least was Fleeting, staged at the wooden heritage site of PICA. There I met a woman in a school uniform sitting on the ground in front of me shuffling through some papers. At first it felt quite voyeuristic being up so close to her, but that soon morphed into feeling like we were good friends thumbing through old family photos. She too then moved around the venue from gorgeous sun filled areas, to dark staircases, which again had me holding onto the side of my chair.

World Launch FourbyFour VR Short Films at XR:WA Expo

It’s a weird feeling sitting in a chair and being submerged in a whole other world. I soon forgot about the other people around me, along with any sense of time. I’m pleased to report I experienced no feelings of nausea. I did learn however that I have a slight aversion to heights. Whenever I found myself looking down a set of high steps I felt myself being drawn to jump. Handy to have learnt this in a virtual world, don’t you think?

“The collaboration, exploring physical expression alongside sound and screen technology, has great synergy with our drive in utilising tech in performance,” said CO3 Contemporary Dance Artistic Director, Raewyn Hill. 

“This cross-organisational immersive 360° VR project is taking the opportunity of such collaborations into new realms of possibility and experience. We are delighted to be working with Co3 Contemporary Dance and Revelation on a project that celebrates Western Australian place and artists,” added Tura New Music Artistic Director, Tos Mahoney.

Overall it was a fascinating experience and I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to not only experience FourbyFour

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, but also gain a few insights from the crew at FrameVR. It was interesting to hear that by and large the collaborations ran smoothly, which is not always the case with creative pursuits. According to FrameVR CEO Justin McArdle, a large part of that was due to the executives not interfering, allowing the creatives “the freedom and trust to get on with it”. Technical Director, Gareth Lockett agreed adding that “educating everyone about how things worked” also helped.

As I ventured back into the real world I kept thinking how dancers are as always mesmerising. The older I get the more appreciative I am of their athleticism. The music and sounds which bounced all around me, helped remove me from anything happening near by. Particular mention goes to the simple captivity of breath.

I can see amazing applications for the technology and future collaborations, especially in the world of disability. I’ve heard that VR may be employed so people with disabilities can “experience” the new zip line. It would also be great for nursing home so people can travel without going anywhere (although it probably already is and I’m just late to the party).

At only four minutes each, the pieces are a perfect bit size introduction to the world of VCR if you haven’t done it before. Thanks got all who made me feel welcome and didn’t giggle at me while I was strapped in, at least I don’t think you did. Thanks to Richard Sowada for coming up with the idea and a big thank you to Tony for all his hard work, he must surely get dizzy, all that spinning around.

To experience FourbyFour get along to the World Premiere at the Conference and Expo this weekend. The films will be able to be viewed online without the VR in the XRWA website and other outlets.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

For more information about the Conference go to XRWA Conference and Expo