Leading Minds Explore Tech’s Future in Coded Documentary
CLOUDS is a virtual reality documentary that tests Microsoft Kinect’s depth sensor as an open-source platform for filmmaking
Whatever you think of the future potential for Virtual Reality, the be-all and end-all for the medium is videogames. No, that doesn’t mean non-gamers will be forced to experience and interact in ultra-violent fantasy worlds or risk ostracization. What it means is that VR allows non-interactive forms of media to become more interactive or, to put it another way, more like videogames. That’s what I took away from my experience last month with CLOUDS, the recently released interactive documentary.
In simple terms, CLOUDS is a documentary that makes use of futuristic technology to interview new media artists, curators, designers, and critics on the future of technology and how it will affect their fields.
The project itself started as an experiment to test the capabilities of the Microsoft Kinect’s depth sensor as an open-source platform for filmmaking. This germ of an idea grew when the two progenitors of CLOUDS, James George and Jonathan Minard, combined forces at the Art&&Code conferences to film interviews with other creative coders in attendance. As they further fleshed out their platform, so they did as well with their documentary, with the end result of having two finished products upon the release of this project: CLOUDS, of course, and the RGBDToolkit, “an open-source software library developed for 3D filmmaking with the Kinect.”
By combining the Kinect with an HD camera, Jonathan and James were able to come up with the fascinating visualizations featured in the documentary.
This project is a bit like a rabbit hole of technological wizardry. The more one learns about CLOUDS and the process by which it was made, the more facets worth reporting on are uncovered. Take the visuals, for instance, these were created by a core team of designers and artists—some of them are pure illustrations of computational ideas, others are themselves data visualizations, which re-work information into the mesmerizing end product. One such example would be the arresting theme constructed from the hundreds of thousands of Twitter interactions among the creative coding community. The visuals, once tagged according to specific themes, are then paired with the interviews by CLOUDS’ StoryEngine, which decides what visual experience the user will have.
There isn’t a correct sequence in which to watch the documentary, and with over 10 hours of content to go through, one would hope that’s the case. Instead, with the Rift on, you’re presented with prompts at the corner of your eyes at certain times during a presenter’s talk, prompts like “What does it feel like to think with code?”, which you can look at to explore further. You can sit back and watch it all unfold, or you can learn according to your preferences at your own tempo. This lack of linearity is even something that most videogames refuse to incorporate.
CLOUDS will be available offline for people who buy the collector’s edition thumbdrive, in and of itself an interesting piece of design meant to instill permanence and gravitas into something as ephemeral as 11 gigabytes of data.
Those who prefer the digital route can stream it for a rental price; that’s right, 11 streamable gigs. Having partnered up with video distribution company VHX, the team is able to have the CLOUDS code live on your hard drive via the app, and then stream the interview content from VHX’s server. Essentially, while the software is running locally, the assets are remote. This could be huge for any content creator whose material tends to be a little data-intensive.
If you haven’t already, take a look at the trailer above for a taste of the full experience. If you’re a VR aficionado like we are, strap on a headset and lose yourself among the infinite potential of this space.