• Published: Oct 23rd, 2017

Developing the courage to follow your creative voice

My summer of creativity started as an experiment: what if I unwaveringly pursued a flash of creative inspiration? Where would it take me?

At 2 am one morning, I was seized by an idea: What if I took viewers back in time, to Marie Antoinette’s 18th century France, in virtual reality? I must admit, at the time, I was rather dismissive of the idea. I had a perfectly reasonable, low budget VR documentary I had been developing. It made no sense to follow this crazy, expensive idea.

Well, shame on me. I had recently lectured to hundreds of students about protecting and respecting one’s creative voice at Shanghai American School. 

image

I need to be accountable to the students who attended my presentation on creativity

There were other barriers though. My tenuous creative muse had been silent for a long time. Years of caregiving for a beloved family member and trying to battle off the heavy metal and bacterial pollutants in my body from a long stint of living in China meant I was gripped by an unrelenting brain fog and fatigue. I would often search for words and draw mental blanks, where I once had a rich vocabulary at my disposal. Worse, I was chronically exhausted, experiencing nervous system disorders and had developed intolerances to a host of foods. Some days, it was enough to accomplish only one thing the whole day. I avoided meeting friends and some professional contacts–I felt like a shadow of my former self, even tactless with inappropriate word choices in my conversations. Not to mention the physical toll was causing a state of nervous exasperation and depression.

So, this summer when I arrived in Paris with access to a VR camera from Google, I didn’t expect to accomplish much. Maybe a few tests, write up a research proposal by the end of my stay. I was finally on the right course of treatment and the adverse bacteria was leaving my system. As I got up to do my daily meditation, I noticed a new clarity dawning upon me. Inspiration, long gone, was returning. And with it, my inner voice came rearing back.

And oh, the audacious things she’d dictate to me! Cold contact the chief makeup designer of the Netflix series Versailles. Walk into a government bureau and secure, with your poor French, a national monument for shooting. Haven’t heard back yet? Be patient, X will contact you. I obliged and waited patiently to receive the right contact which came at exactly the right moment. Partner with a leading French VR studio, DVMobile, to co-produce a demo. Did I mention, this was the first time I had ever worked in France professionally?

When a project needs to manifest itself, it will find a way, something Elizabeth Gilbert spoke to in her book on inspiration, Big Magic. I am in awe of this process.

Today, I have something to show for that summer experiment. The “I” has budded into a team of “we.” Advised by a team of art historians from the Ecole du Louvre, we completed a 4 minute demo, shot with authentic period costumes, makeup and wigs designed by leading artisans. A VFX mastermind behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy is exploring positional interactivity for our feature project. VR sound pioneer, Headspace Studio, is leading our spatial audio design. And we shot at a historic chateau frequented by Louis XIV and Napoleon. I presented the demo for the first time at the Oculus Connect 4 conference recently, at which someone told me this was the best VR cinematic film they had ever seen. We are now finding ways to work together. 

image

Presenting Marie Antoinette VR at OC4

I still experience health setbacks. And like every creative person, I struggle to get myself out of the way of what my muse wants me to do each day.

I start the day by meditating, which helps me to see the bigger picture of what my purpose is as a creator and push it forward just a little. For example, I never knew when I began this project that –

Marie Antoinette was a victim of fake news. In fact, most of what we know about her is entirely fabricated. If this reminds you of our current political and media landscape, it should. This is why we are traveling back in time, to show you how history is written by the victors, and what those dangerous implications can contribute to–human divisiveness, revolution, war.

The journey of ten thousand miles starts with the first step. I am thankful I took that step to follow my creative voice, but now there are more:

VR filmmaking is a collaborative effort and our current focus is finding the right community of partners to collaborate with. If you are interested in getting involved as a business partner, invest in our episodic series (1 hr runtime, 6 episodes of 10 minutes each), or join us with your sales, marketing, and financing expertise, please get in touch at carol[at]uma-studios[dot]com or visit marieantoinettevr.com.

image
  • Published: Aug 3rd, 2017

Marie Antoinette VR!

It’s been a long while since I’ve updated my blog. It’s been an ongoing struggle with my health, including a recent trip to the ER in Paris, but I am looking forward to greener pastures in the coming weeks and months.

I arrived in Paris in the middle of June to push forward my virtual reality project, MARIE ANTOINETTE VR. I am thrilled to say we successfully completed shooting our demo on Aug 1! I feel truly blessed with our incredible team and thank all the people who said yes to me – we came together in less than one month even though it was my first time working in France. I had the fortune of collaborating with the talented theater actors from Ecole Jacques Lecoq, the expert technical co-producers at Digital Rise - DVMobile Paris, the incredible hair, makeup, production design and costume artists, some of whom have worked on the series Versailles and big-budget films like Lucy with Scarlett Johansson. With our small but inimitable crew as well as the knowledge of art historians from the Ecole du Louvre and historical reenactment experts who consulted on our project, we were able to realize this VR demo of historical significance.

Why Marie Antoinette as a topic of interest, people ask? Isn’t she that frivolous woman who said “Let them eat cake?” Well, history is written by the victors and Marie Antoinette VR is about reclaiming the representation of one of the biggest female scapegoats in history, that “Austrian woman” who was blamed for everything from incest, debauchery to the ruin of the nation and subsequently guillotined. How did she live with such public hatred? How did she survive in the days of the French Revolution, losing her family, her son and ultimately paying for the so-called liberty of a nation with her life? These are all questions we want to answer in 360 virtual reality, so that you can reenter history, participate as a witness in the same historic locations in which Marie Antoinette lived and died. If VR is an empathy machine, how can it reshape our assumptions of this controversial woman?

I want to thank Google’s Jump Start Program and Youtube Paris for enabling us to make our demo happen as well as the Oculus Launchpad program where I first incubated these ideas. I look forward to sharing with you the further development of this project.

For further updates and a first look at our behind the scenes photos, make sure to like our project’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pg/marieantoinettevr/ !

  • Published: May 5th, 2017

Creativity and Storytelling in Shanghai and an unresolved health problem

(This is a rather delayed update of my recent trip to Shanghai where VPN unreliability can cause some internet access problems).

This past week I was in Shanghai to screen Restoring the Light and speak about Creativity and Storytelling to the Shanghai American School. I am grateful to have made many new friends and supporters among the parents, teachers and students of SAS. I feel very blessed that my film has taken me to meet many people around the world over the years, but this trip was especially meaningful, as teachers and parents met with me privately to share some of their own personal family histories after hearing my lecture. Thank you to Peggy Moh for your very kind invitation and Emily Sargent-Beasley for organizing all the details of my visit. I was also thrilled to meet the incredible Will Foundation, focusing on the needs of children who are left behind because of their disabilities.

image

For my talk with the SAS students, I revisited for them my memories from the time I was a middle-schooler traveling back to China. I shared with them how influential those summers were for me. My diary entries from that time and the subsequent first short film I made, have inspired me to follow the path I’ve taken to work on subject matter related to China, including Restoring the Light, Leftover Woman and other upcoming projects I am working on. I was very impressed with the diverse international backgrounds of the students, who are sure to go on to contribute to dialogue between China and the West one day, something that will always be sorely needed. Several penned poems about Restoring the Light, which is one of the best gifts I’ve received from an audience!

image

Thanks to Philip Young for assembling the collage above.

This trip was also a crucial visit to reconnect with my mother and maternal grandparents in Shanghai, a side of my family I have not known for the entirety of my life. My family history is a convoluted and incredible one, and it is something I plan to dive into in time for a future creative work that will surely bring me back to Shanghai for further visits.

The day I left Shanghai I would have headed for Beijing, were it not for the poor state of health I’ve been in for the past 8 years, starting from the time I lived in Beijing. Among some physical symptoms, including the inability to process gluten or dairy as well as some others not easily discussed publicly, the worst is managing an unpredictable onset of mental fogginess/brain inflammation and a heavy fatigue that can last for weeks, which has impacted my productivity for the past several years quite seriously. I feel I should share this given the people who have written to me in worry about their own time spent in heavily polluted Beijing (I would say, if you are symptomless, don’t worry) and the importance of protecting our environment. For further details, I recommend reading Dr. Mark Hyman’s Ultramind Solution; genetically unable to detox the one year he spent under Beijing’s coal-filled skies, his symptoms were much worse than mine, including forgetting whole sentences he just spoke. By changing my diet and starting various medical protocols, I am hoping I will get all this under control this year in order to carry out the important work that is awaiting me in China and France!

image

Beijing, on the day I would have been there. Really glad I did not visit this time. 

  • Published: Mar 24th, 2017

Creative Lab Hawaii, Chinese-American Identity and Film!

image

Today I am heading to Los Angeles for the Writer’s Guild Festival Screenwriting Conference. My flight at rainy SFO has been delayed by almost 3 hours (eek), which gives me some extra time to reflect on the sunny days I spent at the Creative Lab Hawaii Financing Ideation Workshop.

It was chock full of great practical advice to say the least. A huge thanks to Michael Palmieri for having vetted us into this friendly and supportive program to teach independent filmmakers how to navigate the various gauntlets (and gauntlets they are) in getting our work out there. I’d always believed I needed to have a script as close to production-readiness as possible, which does mean a very long period of spec development, but Michael introduced us to the power of selling a complete concept and packaging, which engages a very different workflow. During the Ideation program, we met with veteran sales agents, lawyers and producing entities keen to be of help and were given very useful assignments each day to best package ourselves for the next steps in our development process. One assignment saw me staying up late to create my key art, which I plan to finesse with a professional designer. And now that I have my completed script, I’ll be diving into my look book, the process I enjoy the most as a director.

It was also fantastic to reconnect with my old compatriot and fellow female filmmaker in the workshop, Connie Florez, who helped with publicity for Restoring the Light when we first premiered in Hawaii. I am so proud of her latest documentary, The Glades Project, about the fascinating lives of the Glade Show performers and their triumph over bigotry, hate and murder in the 1960s. Check it out!

In short, Hawaii has always been a very welcoming place for me and I look forward to returning in the near future with additional project updates. You know you are embraced somewhere especially when the locals think you’re a local :)

Next stop is Los Angeles for the #WGFestival. 2017 was the year Moonlight won the Oscars and I remain positive that the mainstream tides are shifting in favor of #diversity and #womenfilmmakers. In the year 2017, I still struggle a lot with my own creative identity. As a woman of Chinese-American descent, who also speaks and writes in Chinese and has lived in China for many years, I feel I am always living with two perspectives in my creative work, a Chinese sensibility grounded in American structure which I hope will find appreciation and understanding in the increasingly globalized marketplace. I think the world of virtual reality is handling this well, cultivating many resources for underrepresented voices to paint a fuller picture of our world. Let’s hope that film follows!

  • Published: Mar 6th, 2017

Game Developer’s Conference!

Thanks to the generosity of Oculus, I attended my first Game Developer’s Conference last week, or GDC. It was inspiring and creatively invigorating to meet top developers from around the world at one location. I constantly felt pulled between the rich networking opportunities and making sure to save time continue my own project developments. The surplus of creative energy in the air definitely helped with the latter!

A major highlight was definitely catching up with my fellow talented cohorts from Oculus Launchpad; Jewel Lim, above, has successfully shipped her VR experience FOUND to great reviews, and others like Evie Powell, are attracting long lines at test sessions of her newest game, Snowball Fight VR, soon to be released. Congratulations, ladies!

Dinner with Launchpaddians

Conferences are great places to take the temperature of the industry. From my conversations, it seems that expectations around the world for VR have been running high, that hardware and software is going through its grand shakeout, but that content has been disappointingly slow to follow. For example, the big question of “how do we create narrative VR content?” continues to plague developers and VCs, as evidenced in my discussions with folks as far ranging as an innovative fund from China looking to the US in their search.

Of course no GDC would be complete without test-driving some new demos and experiences! I tried out VVR and Battle Planet, though I was really hankering for some 360 video experiences. Unfortunately, Youtube was down when I visited the Google Daydream booth. I also made sure to try the much talked about and scary Paranormal, though found it difficult to navigate the tight spaces in Vive and therefore did not find the experience as affecting as I was expecting it to be. 

Attending Oculus’ Game Day, there were quite a few shoot-em-up VR experiences that had long lines, but one simple but very effective game that impressed me was TERMINAL, created for Gear VR. It’s a game in which you need to infiltrate offices and hack terminals. What was most unique was its use of shifting POVs from 1st person to 3rd person (you watch yourself over CCTV during certain moments). Though this was a game, I thought this shift was used to great effect to create a sense of drama and tension as you dodge security robots and infrared sensors ready to swoop in on you and catch you red-handed at any moment.

The last day, I made sure to visit with some audio solutions, like WWise and OSSIC. I’d been big fans of OSSIC since previous VR meetups and this time they have created a new and very impressive audio demo, where you literally pick up audio objects in space and sense them aurally change as you manipulate their position around your ears. Sound hard to believe? Find them at their next VR demo to hear it for yourself!

The only woman on this panel is also a former Launchpad member!

  • Published: Jan 14th, 2017

TV Broadcast, Best Documentary and Acting

image

In December, Restoring the Light broadcast in Ireland on Channel TG4. I was surprised to find in my inbox a message from the station. Apparently, many viewers wrote in to learn more about the story. I’m really grateful the film is getting seen. As a filmmaker, creating greater awareness has been the goal all along.

image

Restoring the Light also received a Best Documentary Award at the Sanford Meisner Film Festival. It was a wonderful opportunity to share this project with an audience of so many talented performers and imaginative minds. As the digital landscape for film distribution changes, I am still looking for the best way to bring this film to more audiences. It’s currently available on vimeo, which I have not been satisfied with, so stay tuned for more updates.

As an invited filmmaker at the festival, I was also able to learn from the Guest of Honor, Jon Labrie, CTO of Weda and Lord of the Ring’s renown, who discussed at length the technological developments in motion-capture and photogrammetry as they relate to the future of dramatic performance in virtual reality. It’s exciting what will be happening in the next few years, as the technological toolset becomes more accessible to content creators.

This fall/winter season also marked an engrossing few months of deep diving into acting, something I very much wanted to return to since one summer I had spent at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and a handful of experiences on sets since then. This process of embracing the creative process both in front of and behind the camera has helped me better find my dramatic voice. It’s enriching my writing process too as I complete my screenplay Leftover Woman.

Revisiting my blog, I see the need to consolidate my online presence into a more unified social media platform, which I look forward to doing and unveiling soon.

  • Published: Nov 4th, 2016

See Restoring the Light, San Francisco!

My documentary, Restoring the Light, is screening in theaters again.

Restoring the Light plays at the San Francisco Film Center as part of the 2016 Sanford Meisner Film Festival Dec 2-3.

I’ll post ticket details as they become available.

image
  • Published: Nov 1st, 2016

The Art of Dying VR – Review of an Enriching Experience

Saturday I made my way to the Art of Dying VR experience. I decided to volunteer for a six hour shift and left feeling very personally enriched as a VR viewer and creator. In my review below, I’ll detail the positive takeaways of the experiences I had a chance to sample.

First, the SPACE!

I applaud curator-creators Kelly, Lindsay and Sean for having put together such a compelling physical and virtual experience. I haven’t yet come across such thoughtful physical UX design in the time I’ve gone to VR events. Usually, VR demos are held in very “techie” spaces, plain offices or impersonal large conference halls. This felt more like a museum-quality experience, topped off with personal edgy touches in the dying themed decor that coincided nicely with Halloween. In fact, I would say the VR event felt more like an avant-garde Halloween party thrown at an off-hours exclusive museum or loft than an expo of VR content. I think Kelly herself referenced Sleep No More during my orientation.

It’s worth mentioning the notable number of AR, VR newbies who attended (props to the marketing!) as many did not know how to interact with the devices. There were even a few kids and folks in their 50s-70. That makes me fantasize about how VR exhibition and distribution might actually touch the larger public community one day beyond Silicon Valley, what the mainstream media keeps hoping will happen…

image

My map of the space

Onto the VR experiences and what I appreciated about each:

I personally manned the CG piece “CROSSOVER, a virtual grief ritual through three rooms” (Gear VR) and naturally, was dying (pun intended) to experience it after helping countless folks watch it. I loved how viewers had to sit together behind representational window frames and share a twin bed while going through the experience, which itself took place partially in a CG bedroom. I am sure the creator might have been influenced by or might like reading Journey of Souls…it was a profound topic to tackle in VR and I was surprised how transporting the good voice acting was.

AR Gallery - this was another station I manned, which consisted of several artist works that were viewable through three separate apps: Zenka, Blippar, and Aurasma. Paintings and drawings would be triggered to reveal more than meets the eye. The visitors were quite engaged, even though sometimes the apps were a bit finicky to activate. Several people I met commented on how much they loved the AR room.

Das Is (Vive)- I got to meet the artist Chelley Sherman and she graciously let me test-drive her piece at the very end of the night when my shift ended and when she was already packing up her equipment. The best way to approximate my experience: Walking through it felt like I was crossing and recrossing dimensional worlds of lines and planes, like I was finding my way through several alternate mathematical universes. She included her family tombstone “Das Is;” the quality of the stone carving and its realistic surface was an artful touchstone in the otherwise abstractly immersive world. I think the fact I could be mesmerized by the intricateness of the planes yet avoid feeling dizzy is testament to the careful, thoroughly three dimensional design. It was complemented nicely with a striking 360 audio soundtrack.

image

image credit: toshi anders hoo via dream logic’s facebook page

Transitions (a visual journey on the River styx after death) (Oculus)- This is an award-winning piece that I had to wait a long time for. The high-quality CG animation takes you on a journey down the River Styx behind a dog as faceless onlookers regard you from the banks. At one point, you flop upside down, which was a surprisingly fun jolt. At the end, you leave the boat and soar above into the sky with other flying dragon-fish. Quite spectacular, but one can tell a lot of manpower and resources went into this high-quality Oculus piece.

RoundRound (Gear VR)- As dancers twirl around you, the play of light, mirror reflections as well as the superimposing of images induce you to turn around and around in a (well-placed) swivel chair to take in the range of visuals.

Bardo (Gear VR)- Having read excerpts of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I was engaged by the choice of the subject matter. I also liked the requirement to lay down on the (comfy) floor to view the experience from a horizontal position. Lying down and experiencing perspectives of objects moving away from you was very powerful and I could see playing with different levels, perhaps in live action vs. animation, to be a very intriguing line of design to develop…

Imago (Gear VR) tried to employ first person POV in combination with CG. I really appreciated the use of a wheelchair as a haptic device. Sitting on the wheelchair, one is all the more ready to experience the VR as the disabled protagonist.

Ceremony for the Dead (Vive) - As it was wildly popular, I waited extra long after the end of the show to experience it. The interactivity was freeing and the colors and designs were pretty incredible; however, in this one I did experience a bit of vertigo, probably because I wanted to go through it in as short a time as possible so the co-volunteer could pack up and go home! Suffice to say, I need to give it another whirl.

Sadly, I wish I could provide more photographs in this post, but as I was technically working, I did not think to document at the same time. I also ran out of time at the end of the night as the stations broke down before I could experience a few others, including fellow Oculus Launchpadder Erica Layton’s piece, Recursion, that was situated in a comfy corner with two inviting chairs. 

I’m sure Dream Logic, the originators of this event, will publish some more photos in the coming days. Meanwhile, here’s a video Cameron Mark Lewis put together of the event:


© 2011 . All Rights Reserved.