If you’ve been jonesing for a reason to get your dance on to sci-fi Lisa Frank vibes, look no further: Chocolate just made its official debut at Sundance.
Tyler Hurd, director of the immersive video, has emerged as one of the most idiosyncratic and compelling voices in VR, embracing the frontier spirit of the medium in a way few others have. With Butts and Old Friend he introduced us to his unique brand of phantasmagoric tones, expressive characters, and gleeful goofballery. Chocolate, produced by Viacom NEXT, gives us everything we’ve come to love about Hurd’s style with a few key additions. Namely: cannon hands.
…And champagne. But you’ll have to try it yourself to actually witness the cat gods poppin’ bubbly.
Like Old Friend, Chocolate is an immersive video set to a song, in this case by electronic artist Giraffage. Where Old Friend channeled a carnivalesque romp, Chocolate is smooth velvet. As you can see from the clip above, the song’s glossy grooves take visual shape as chromatic pops and shimmering surfaces. When audiences begin the experience in blank space, we’re “introduced” to our new selves: a three-legged robot god. From there, we’re ushered into a chrome world of kitten delights, where the people of the cat cult offer up a spiritual dance. What are they dancing for? Your kittehs. At key moments during the song, a buzz in the controllers alerts you that it’s time to reward your supplicants for their prayers.
Fortunately for us, the cats are blasted away in bullet time amid a shower of twinkling glitter, so we have plenty of time to gorge our eyes on their gleaming glory.
Like its spiritual predecessor, Chocolate facilitates participation via roomscale interactivity for total dance-ability, putting users at the center of an environment that uses every one of its 360 degrees. To boot, Hurd takes cues from the success of Old Friend by literally arming users; even when you’re not in blast-mode, witnessing your robot arms serves to ground you in the sleek alternate reality. The additional touch of the third leg lets your mind see its “new” body in continuous movement, encouraging your real body to boogie.
This video is unabashedly silly, but that doesn’t mean it’s rhetorically or thematically light. Chocolate positions you as a god, and underneath all the zany fun is a choice is to gift a tribe of worshippers with their precious resource. Who’s to say what the tribe does with the wide-eyed kittens once they have them in their clutches? Capping off what emerges as an unexpectedly complex narrative, you are celebrated by fellow cat gods for your catributions. Clearly these titans benefit from the arrangement—is there something sinister at play? Interrogating this interrelation might detract from the ultimate thrust of the video (Dance, baby!), but since the question of identity is such a key differentiator between immersive and “flattie” storytelling, it’s important to note when and how it is posed. In this case, the underlying narrative hints at the nuances of resource consumption and allocation, casting it as especially relevant for 2017 audiences. Even if none of these artistic choices were conscious on the part of Hurd, the dreamlike ecosystem he generates speaks to an innate knack for creating powerful and intuitive VR content.
If you’re not out in Park City for Sundance, keep an eye out for Chocolate on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift by mid-year.