HTC expands VR to movies and art with Ready Player One and Art Basel

Nurture and stimulate innovative thinking in the fields of creativity and culture.

This is the development goal that HTC has set forth in Vive Arts, its global VR program for advancing creation and appreciation of the arts. Once a mobile phone giant, HTC has been shrinking its mobile phone business for years. Now, HTC is maximizing efforts in its VR business to prove that VR has unlimited possibilities and value.

The recently released movie “Ready Player One” and the biannual Shanghai Fashion Week event are examples of how HTC Vive is reaching out to movies, fashion and other entertainment areas for expanding VR content. For instance, abstract and realistic art can be presented in unique ways with VR.

A recent art fair called Art Basel held in Hong Kong was HTC Vive’s first attempt in the art field. In this exhibition, Vive used VR to present the latest works of Marina Abramović, the “godmother of performance art”, and Anish Kapoor, a contemporary sculpture master.

More than simply using VR to view artwork, these two works fully invoked features of VR hardware. Guests could view and feel the artworks in panorama for an immersive artistic experience that also involves hearing and interacting.

“Rising”, a VR artwork that appeals to proponents of environmental protectionism

“Rising” is an interactive VR work that calls on the viewer to protect the environment. It was created by Marina Abramović with the assistance of the Acute Art VR development team. The team used facial capture techniques to create a virtual character in the image of Marina Abramović that will come face-to-face with the viewer in the virtual space.

In “Rising”, a virtual character in the image of Marina Abramović is trapped in a glass tank. She beckons the viewer in desperation as water fills the glass tank, rising slowly from her ankles to her neck.

Viewers are invited to save her by pledging to protect the environment. With this selection, the rising waters will reverse and the viewer is then transported to a dramatic scene with melting ice sheets.

“Rising” is more like an interactive VR game than a traditional work of art. According to Marina Abramović, this VR artwork can provoke human compassion to reflect on current global climate change. In particular, she wishes to know whether the feelings and perceptions of viewers are affected after immersing in the virtual experience.

Into Yourself, Fall”, a surreal sensory experience

In contrast to “Rising”, the sculpture master Anish Kapoor and the Acute Art team created “Into Yourself, Fall”, a VR artwork without interactive features.

In “Into Yourself, Fall”, the viewer starts in a virtual forest and encounters a black void in the ground. As the ground collapses, the viewer will fall through a series of tunnels that appear to be made of flesh and blood. The surreal journey is assisted with a 360° VR screen.

According to HTC Vive, Kapoor hopes to explore the so-called tangible matter in the virtual world. Kapoor uses his sculpting skills to depict a lifelike, abstract virtual world. Kapoor believes that the immersive experience brought by VR could evoke powerful feelings.

VR as a tool for artistic creation and appreciation

The two works mentioned are only a small part of Vive Arts’ VR plan. Zhongwei Zhang, the Vive Arts project director, said that Vive Arts will work with more artists and galleries to create more VR-based artwork.

VR has been regarded as an art medium for more than 20 years. However, it was not until recently that groundbreaking work such as “Rising” and “Into Yourself, Fall” were created.

Zhang stated that as a long-term multi-million dollar global VR program, Vive Arts aims to promote artistic creation and appreciation, and to facilitate the use of innovative technology for artistic creation and diverse appreciation.

According to Yongzhe Bao, the HTC North Asia general manager, cultural relic protection illustrates the advantage of VR art over traditional art.

Cultural relics have their own particularities. Moving cultural relics subjects them to oxidation, transport turbulence and other factors risking damage. A better alternative is to present them using VR.

In this interview, Bao revealed that VR-based art has always been a project valued by HTC Chairman Cher Wang, who has hoped to use VR to do something meaningful. For example, VR could be used to change existing art and culture, and to bring immersive viewing experience to people in remote areas. Also, as an innovative technology, VR could display cultural relics while protecting them.

Today, HTC shifted from a legendary OEM company to a desperate gambler betting it all on VR. However, unlike most gamblers, HTC is still struggling to win after betting for three years.

This article originally appeared in ifanr and was translated by Pandaily.