Inspiration, Trends

Inside Kaleidoscope VR: A Community for Virtual-Reality Creators


The virtual-reality industry is expanding in myriad ways, with technologies and ideas converging and diverging as creators learn about the possibilities and limitations of the new discipline. With the only certainty being uncertainty, creators need to continue to discover, learn, and adapt to new techniques that exist on the edge of the unknown. That learning process is one of the touchstones of the collective known as Kaleidoscope — a community that champions innovation and creation in the VR space, hosting a touring festival of progressive and experimental VR projects. We recently spoke with the co-founder and CEO of Kaleidoscope, René Pinnell, about his vision and where he sees the industry heading.

Kaleidoscope VR event
Viewers immersed in a VR experience at a Kaleidoscope event

Creating a VR community

“Our mission is to help virtual-reality creators get exposure for themselves and their work,” explains Pinnell, “to get funding for the projects they have in development, and to meet collaborators they can create new work with.” He goes on to lay out the main tenets of the collective. “There are three pillars of what we try to do for creators: exposure, funding, and networking, where you find the missing piece for whatever creative project you’re working on. When you really need that animator or developer — whatever it is you’re looking for — you can find it through our community.”

Trailer for Kaleidoscope VR short film “Tana Pura”

From filmmaking to virtual reality

“I was a filmmaker for about ten years, and then I got into design and did startups for about six years,” recalls Pinnell. “When I saw virtual reality start to blossom in 2014, I realized that this was not just a piece of technology, but a new artistic medium. This was really before people were doing much with virtual reality besides tech demos.” He recognized a potential there that was largely unseen in the early days of VR. “I saw a few people early on who were creating something that you could look at and say, ‘That’s a piece of art.’ I got excited by that, and I was hopeful that more artists would start adopting it. Then I decided that I didn’t want to just hope for it — I wanted to actively participate in bringing that about.”

Event attendees wait for VR experience
Crowds line up to view short films at a Kaleidoscope VR event

At first, Pinnell decided to see what he could accomplish locally. “We started to do events in San Francisco, and were really the first organization to coalesce around this idea of virtual reality as an art form, as a medium of expressing stories, ideas, and concepts. We try to find people who are making interesting work with this mentality and showcase them, to share them with the community and encourage other people to transition from being a filmmaker or game developer or creative coder into being a virtual-reality creator.”

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VR as an artistic medium

“After doing a handful of events in SF, we realized this was a movement that was much larger than just one city, or just one country for that matter, and we decided to do a traveling virtual-reality festival,” says Pinnell. “We went to ten different cities in North America, then we followed that up with a world tour of ten cities in Europe and Asia.”

This all led to the thinking that compelled him to start Kaleidoscope. “After meeting with thousands of creators all around the world, I’m convinced more than ever that this is going to be the dominant art form moving forward,” says Pinnell. “Cinema has been the dominant art form for the last 100 years, and I think virtual reality is going to be the next one, the main medium by which we have cultural exchange and ideas are shared. No art form dies. Film will always be there — I love film, the way I love novels and I the way I love plays — but I think virtual reality is so powerful and so compelling that I’m convinced it’s going to become a larger and larger part of the media landscape until it’s far and away the major way people are consuming media.”

Trailer for Kaleidoscope VR short film “Irrational Exuberance”

The future is… soon

“I think we’re in a high cycle right now, around the technology and around its potential. People are very interested in it, but it’s still rough around the edges,” Pinnell says. “I think 2016 and 2017 are going to be a bit bumpy in terms of adaptation. General consumers are going to go start to buy these headsets and they’re going to realize that the technology is amazing, but you still have to put something that weighs a pound-and-a-half on your face. After about 30 minutes, it can get sweaty and foggy on the inside. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot of money pouring into it, so I think that’s going to get better really fast.”

“The technology is really going to hit another tipping point,” he continues. “We hit a tipping point with the DK2 (Oculus Rift Development Kit 2), where it’s like, ‘Okay, you can do VR without getting nauseous. Great.’ I think we’re going to hit another point by around 2018 where the content and the technology is really engaging and you can spend hours of time inside VR comfortably — not just as an enthusiast, not just as a niche, but as ‘ordinary people.’ I think 2018 is really going to be when we see the steady trajectory of growth. As Americans, we spend hours a day watching television, and that’s going to shift to VR as the predominant entertainment channel. I’m not sure when that will happen, but I’m convinced it will happen, and I think it will happen sometime in the next five to ten years.”

Behind the scenes of VR short film “La Péri”

Augmented reality vs. virtual reality

“I think all tethering is going to go away,” predicts Pinnell. “I don’t think it’s a sustainable practice. They’re going to figure out how to spit enough information into your headset without a cord. That’s just a necessity. The difference between augmented reality and virtual reality, I think, is going to be more about context than the hardware, and I think it will blend together.”

“It will be based on what type of content you’re watching,” he adds. “I think the hardware will converge at some point to be essentially the same thing. AR is a trickier technology problem to solve, so we’re going to see that take a little longer to mature, but for me, there’s not a big distinction between the two. It’s less interesting for me to have a debate about what’s going to be better or worse, because it’s going to be the same thing. It’s really just about what the experience is that someone’s trying to make for you, and the degree to which you allow your surroundings to enter into that world with you.”

Visit the Kaleidoscope website for more info, including updates on their Summer 2016 world tour.