“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.” – Guy Maupassant
When Lisa Elin unexpectedly lost her husband Erik in May of 2016 she also lost part of herself. In Lisa’s own words, Erik was a better person, a mischievous one, but a thoughtful, more enlightened one as well. The relationship the two shared wasn’t exactly conventional, but it was built on the purest of foundations: two individuals who found complete content in each others company.
Lisa genuinely loved Erik, still loves Erik and will continue to love Erik until her own time comes. I know this because I was actually able to take a peek into Lisa’s mind myself and learn more about her amazing journey with Erik in a one-of-a-kind multi-narrative VR experience.
Premiered earlier this week at the Tribeca Immersive Virtual Arcade, Vestige is a nonfiction room-scale VR journey through the memories of Lisa Elin as she recalls both the best and worst moments of her time with Erik.
Starting my experience in a pitch black void, Lisa’s narration began to illuminate my surrounding as fragments of her past memories were manifested as moving images via colorful volumetric capture. As the multi-narrative journey continues, more memories are unlocked, activating new pathways through Lisa’s memory as she recalls her defining moments with Erik.
“Initially, when I got to speaking with Lisa, it was really research for a fictional piece,” spoke the project’s director Aaron Bradbury in an interview with VRScout. “It was probably the third interview in, and our interviews were really quite long (between 3-5 hours), and I had cut together bits of each interview and had started building a narrative and started to kind of understand how a multi-narrative would work within it. And I remember we played it back (Lisa’s interview) and it was heartbreaking. It was so powerful that there was just no way I could write anything that would stand up to the power of her story.”
Through a Matrix-esque filter we witness some of the couple’s most intimate moments from first meeting in NYC directly after the events of September 11th, to a particularly eventful Halloween party involving a certain someone “rocking out with his c*** out.” Each moment provided a closer look into the couple’s lives as their volumetric representations went about their business, walking straight through me like ghosts.
They also served as virtual guides of sorts, directing my line of sight to the location of the next scene.
Eventually however the good times end and we’re lead to the sobering conclusion of the experience that culminates in Erik’s tragic death. All of this visualized, thanks to some impressive use of Depthkit volumetric capture and a whole bunch of green screen.
“It is the intimacy between space and story that has the power to transform,” continues Bradbury in a press release. “The tangible nature of VR is what creates a special kind of empathy. Volumetric capture allows me to create intimacy between the viewer and Lisa to connect them with her story in a way which is more visceral than any other medium. Vestige is an exploration of memory, through an intimate story of love and loss.”
“As Lisa tells me stories of Erik she seamlessly traverses space and time through complex connections between memories. This is the case of most people i’ve interviewed. Memory closely resembles hyperlinks on a web page, where certain words allow branching to other memories. It’s this branching that has led me to pursue the challenge of creating a multi-narrative experience for Vestige.”
Vestige is much more than just a VR experience. The full installation presented on the Tribeca show floor consists of three main areas designed to keep the user immersed before and after they put on the headset.
Composed of two layers of projection mapped semi-transparent surfaces using 4 different HD projectors, the “pre-experience” surrounds the user in a colorful LED sphere capable of casting their shadow onto the screens depending on their physical position. This gives the user an external connection to the art piece as well as a visual spectacle for spectators on the show floor. Most interestingly however are the conventional telephones dangling from the installation by their cords. Each of which are playing an audio recording of a previous user recalling their own memories of lost loved ones.
As explained above, the VR experience itself is an emotional true story of love and loss between two cosmic soul mates destined for one another. As the memories progress and we eventually arrive at the somber moment of Erik’s untimely passing, the experience shatters into a cloud of fragmented shards, much like the physical installation the users find themselves in. This continues the experience even after the headset is removed.
Finally there’s the “post-experience.” A powerful look into the passionate recollections of Lisa’s fondest memories, Vestige was a real tear-jerker on the show floor. However impressive as that may be, becoming emotional while immersed in such an intimate experience and then immediately returning to a giant crowd can be less than ideal.
As a result, Vestige offers an isolated space adjacent to the main installation which users can utilize to collect themselves before returning to the chaos. Also included in the booth is a conventional rotary phone in which users can contribute their own memories for future attendees to listen to prior to their own journey.
“It’s really been amazing seeing how people have reacted to it at Tribeca. Some people really do connect with it and they take it home with them. I’ve had people come to me, even from the prototype that we’ve been using, and they got in touch with me afterwards and told me they were still thinking about the piece and about what it meant to their lives.”
The full Vestige experience will be available for public viewing at the Tribeca Immersive Virtual Arcade from now until Saturday, April 28th. No word yet on whether or not you can expect a downloadable version of the emotional VR experience.
Vestige was acquired by newly-formed XR and immersive content sale and distribution company Other Set just a few days before its premiere at Tribeca. This signifies the third major VR sale at a film festival.