February 10, 2012

Immersing in Sundance

Hunger in LA makes strong presence at Sundance

In Nonny De La Pena’s new immersive journalism piece Hunger in Los Angeles, the participants experience a dramatic incident at a local food bank where a man collapses in line while waiting his turn. Hunger in LA marks a major push forward in the field of Immersion, which the USC School of Cinematic Arts has been on the forefront of for years.

“Cinema technology has progressed from black and white to color to widescreen now to stereo and so on,” said Mark Bolas, Associate Professor in the Interactive Media Division of the School of Cinematic Arts, and Director of the Mixed Reality (MxR) Lab at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. “In our quest for more sensory immersion I’ve long pondered the question: what happens when we finally get there?”

In Hunger in LA, recently on display at the Sundance Film Festival, participants wore a head mounted display, enabling the user to place him or herself inside the scene. The sounds they heard were recorded on location when the actual incident took place. The response was visceral, people felt embodied in the scene, and some participants were brought to tears when they went to help the person who had just collapsed and found they were powerless.

Bolas considers, “We’ve pushed Immersion to the point where users expect or assume a certain amount of agency. The feeling participants had when they turn to help the victim and found they could not is profound.” He continued, “ Immersion has a stigma in the world of cinema because it can be seen as technology driven and not story driven; with Hunger in LA, the people were immersed because of the story, the technology put them inside with no way out and I believe that their desire for agency can motivate them beyond the confines of the story itself - the fact that Immersion will be used for social causes in the future is inevitable.” Bolas added, “The piece really turned a corner for my research and for everybody in the lab.”

Hunger in LA was a collaboration between SCA, The Annenberg School of Journalism, USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies and the MxR Lab.

The project is part of a bigger initiative for virtual journalism at USC. To read the Huffington Post’s coverage, please visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/hunger-in-los-angeles_n_1241468.html?ref=slidepollajax - s648681