We are finally out of the technology demo phase for virtual reality. Dear Angelica is pure art that gracefully leverages the transporting, first-person perspective of a headset to immerse you in a heartfelt story that couldn’t be told on a movie screen. It never hits you over the head with novelty and gimmicks.
That’s why Oculus’ new short film is an absolute must-see, worthy of dropping by a VR enthusiast friend’s place for a viewing. After premiering as part of Sundance Film Festival’s outstanding New Frontier exhibit, Dear Angelica is now freely available to watch on the Oculus Rift.
There has been pretty VR, like Chris Milk‘s Evolution Of Verse, with its train that bursts into a billion birds drifting through the sunset.
There has been emotionally moving VR, like Gabo Arora’s Clouds Over Sidra, that places you amongst the resilient residents of a refugee camp in Jordan and turns VR into an empathy machine.
There has been great storytelling in VR, like Penrose Studios’ The Rose & I, in which a lonely boy and a spunky flower develop an unlikely friendship in outer space.
But Dear Angelica combines them all into a 12-minute film that will still be worth watching in 20 years.
The story sees a girl reminiscing about her mother, an actress, who taught her to be brave in a world that seems unfair. The emotions of grief and nostalgia envelop you as the mother’s movies spring to life around you. And the beauty of its distinctly fluid art style is undeniable, as the daughter’s words and memories are painted brushstroke-by-brushstroke with you at the center.
Dear Angelica feels right for VR because that’s where it was created. Oculus built a virtual illustration tool called Quill so artist Wesley Allsbrook could draw the scenes from the same perspective as the audience.
Instead of solely showing the output, Dear Angelica lends a new dimension of time to painting, with each colorful flourish revealed in proper order to construct heroic knights and scary dragons. And since you can only look one way while each scene unfolds in every direction simultaneously, the film captures the ungraspable nature of dreams while giving you more to see with additional viewings.
VR creators take note. Oculus director Saschka Unseld has produced a work worthy of reference. It’s fine to experiment with new gadgetry, or build prototypes that show the future promise of VR more than its present value. But the technology has firmly arrived to teleport audiences into the imagination. Now it’s a matter of expressing the human potential for beauty, emotion, and storytelling.