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Sundance Institute opens residency for virtual reality filmmakers

The Sundance Institute is collaborating with cinematic virtual reality company Jaunt to fund making VR art. The "New Frontier/Jaunt VR Residency" is part of Sundance's existing New Frontier program, which funds and showcases art that blends film, performance, and technology. Interactive artist Lynette Wallworth is the first person selected for the six-month residency, and she'll eventually be joined by three other artists.

In addition to an unspecified grant, participants will get access to Jaunt's VR camera hardware and software. That's a bigger deal than it would be in traditional cinema, since quality VR rigs — which can blend together video from over a dozen cameras — are still expensive and relatively rare. But Jaunt and other VR cinema companies are benefiting as well. They're working in a small field that hasn't yet settled into an industry, and residencies like these help normalize VR filmmaking.

Jaunt is still primarily known for its camera system, but it also operates an in-house VR movie studio, and it's produced experiences like a Paul McCartney concert recorded in 360-degree video. It's not the first company to partner with Sundance; the institute also collaborates with Skywalker Sound on a music and sound design workshop held at Skywalker Ranch.

Virtual reality has gotten a warm welcome at the Sundance Film Festival since its first appearance three years ago. It hosted the premiere of Lost, Oculus' first cinematic experience, and it's showcased a number of high-profile projects for the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR headsets. These range from simple video to elaborate installations like Birdly, seen above. Wallworth's residency will focus on a VR piece called Collisions, about an Australian Aboriginal elder who finds himself in "a collision with the extreme edge of Western science and technology."