Mixed-reality VR painting with Tilt (Brush) will be featured at XR:WA. Photo: Stewart Campbell

It’s reality, but not as you know it

Friday, 5 July, 2019 - 10:51

The upcoming XR:WA immersive reality festival gives the broader public an opportunity to connect with some of the cutting-edge tech being developed in the state.

Western Australia will host its first immersive reality (XR) festival this coming week, with XR:WA to run alongside the Revelation Perth International Film Festival from July 6 to 14.

XR:WA will encompass virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, video games and playfulness and feature a wide variety of panels, talks workshops and expos showcasing some of the cutting-edge work being done locally and across the country.

And it’s being done with a uniquely WA flair.

Festival director Richard Sowada said XR:WA came about as a response to a changing screen industry, with a growing audience appetite for immersive experiences as well as government appetite to support local XR creators. It’s also about creating new career and employment opportunities.

Accordingly, the festival has a three-year funding commitment from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

 

Australian-first

XR:WA is also an Australian first, according to Mr Sowada, who said the festival was about being and doing something entirely new, rather than just the usual VR add-on to a film festival. 

“We invented this thing from a pure, authentic organic beginning,” Mr Sowada said, adding that a big part of that was to build connections between creatives and the business world.

“It brings together the audience, the industrial, the academic, and of course art and entertainment as well.”

He said the festival also showcased new employment opportunities for WA creatives, as well as injecting creativity and innovation into the corporate world.

 

XR for enterprise

Highlights for those curious about XR and the future of their business include a panel on how XR is being deployed in enterprise settings.

There will also be an introductory workshop on Unity (an industry standard tool for making interactive VR experiences), and a talk from local VR entrepreneur Lucie Hammond on her recent trip to Silicon Valley, during which she checked out the cutting edge of XR, including Facebook’s VR division.

Microsoft’s HoloLens evangelist Lawrence Crumpton will also be delivering one of the keynotes on mixed reality for enterprise. The launch of HoloLens 2 in Australia is highly anticipated, offering a number of novel solutions for business including remote collaboration and assistance.

XR – emerging medium

Melbourne-based VR and game audio expert Maize Wallin, who will be speaking at XR:WA told Business News the festival was one of the first to really showcase XR as its own medium, rather than a port from something else, such as film.

“It’s really well curated and boundary pushing,” Maize said.

Maize will also provide a demonstration of ‘Noise Drawers’, which serves as a great example of something that would only work in VR. Noise Drawers is a VR-based instrument that is played by opening virtual drawers.

Just like the medium of VR itself, is brand new and so free from a lot of the baggage that prevents experimentation and innovation.

Maize also sees the potential for the work to be used as a new, more accessible way for filmmakers to edit sound.

Playup Perth*

XR:WA will also feature locally created games, which will be featured at a special three-day version of Playup Perth, an event series founded for designers to get feedback on their work in development from the public.

Community game activator and Playup Perth organiser, Sofie Mather, will curate the Playup Perth Games Zone.

“The games zone one will be a smorgasbord of some of the amazing videogame development happening in Perth,” Ms Mather said.

“From environmentally focused student games to award-winning love stories. I think people unfamiliar with our game community will be blown away by what’s being created in this state.”

Perth-based Sentient Computing, which works across a variety of industries and sectors, is sponsoring the Playup Perth Games Zone.

 

XR as WA’s future

The presence of XR:WA, West Tech Fest and TEDxPerth in the state will only enhance Perth’s emerging stature as an attractive destination to live and work.

A study conducted for the Committee for Perth by Ipsos found the WA capital was as appealing as Sydney or Melbourne in terms of lifestyle and future work opportunities, and more so than Brisbane, Auckland and Singapore.

There is a firm belief among those in the sector that XR:WA will position Perth to be a leader in the XR and innovation space.

But it will require playing and thinking big, or “staking our claim and being ourselves,” Mr Sowada said.

“It’s time for WA to grab hold of this sector and make it their own. The technology and talent are here. This is WA’s chance to own a good slice of it right now.”

* Kate Raynes-Goldie is founder of Playup Perth, and a producer of XR:WA.