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Spheres, VR series hits paydirt at Sundance

CityLights buys Eliza McNitt's VR exploration of black holes in space

Posted: Kathleen Maher 01.28.18
Spheres describes what happens when black holes collide, as it turns out it’s an amazingly beautiful shredding of matter, according to director McNitt. (Source: CityLights)

Spheres describes what happens when black holes collide, as it turns out it’s an amazingly beautiful shredding of matter, according to director McNitt. (Source: CityLights)

The VR community has been blown away by the latest news coming out of the Sundance film festival. The three-part VR series Spheres; Songs of Spacetime has sold for a reported “seven figures” to CityLights The film was directed by Eliza McNitt, a 26-year-old VR director whose first VR experience, A Fistful of Stars, showed at SXSW. Darren Aronofsky's Protozoa picture picked up Spheres and Aronofsky has an executive producer credit as does Protozoa partner Ari Handel. The piece includes narration by  Jessica Chastain and Patty Smith. The music was overseen by Craig Hennigan (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, Mother!, and Stranger Things) and created by Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon. Their band Survive created the music for Stranger Things.

In an interview on the Oculus site, McNitt said she thinks of the soundscape as a character in the film that stays with the viewer through the experience. She also said her work with Aronofsky helped her shape the story and find her hero. The hero, she says, is the viewer.

The film was funded with crowdfunding resource Kaleidoscope, Intel, and Oculus. Intel also funded McNitt’s Fistful of Stars, which is based on the Hubble’s voyage to the Orion Nebula.

Spheres will be distributed on Oculus Rift first and CityLights says they will then take the piece to other platforms. CityLights, by-the-by was founded by Joel Newton and financier David Ganek with the Spheres deal. “The ambition and generative nature of the vision for Spheres perfectly fits with our mission to bring content to broader audiences and showcase the types of experiences only VR can deliver,” said Newton in an announcement at Sundance.

As news coverage progresses, the figure is getting pinned down to something like $1.5 million. While it is one of the highest prices paid for a VR project, it’s not necessarily all that great a deal for a three-part series. I quibble, of course. I have no intention of feeding the VR is a doomed line of reasonably ill-informed critical thought. VR has crossed an important milestone with this million-plus-dollar deal, and it’s a good deal for a medium that doesn’t scale so easily. The big boom for VR will start with many small pops. Right now, there are only so many headsets, so many dollars for VR content.

An intriguing part of this story is McNitt’s first work, Fistful of Stars, which started life as part of the Hubble Cantata, a live performance performed around the world with orchestras and cardboard headsets. It promises new forms of performance and immersion coming as a result of new technology.