One of the most amazing and impressive things leading into the 2023 Tribeca Festival is how much it continues to grow! Tribeca Film Festival — as it was originally named — was founded by Academy Award winning actor Robert De Niro along with Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff, as a way for New Yorkers and our country to heal and come together after the tragic events of 9-11.
The healing effect of the festival in the early years of its inception is still felt by many today, myself included. Fast forward to this year’s edition of the Tribeca Festival, which might go down as one of the biggest and brightest ever.
The 2023 version of Tribeca Festival featured over 250 feature films, documentaries, and shorts along with some real red carpet star power. Add in amazing television episodics, an incredible 42 talks and panels, and 13 Immersive and 8 gaming experiences, and you’ve got yourself one powerhouse of a show. And rounding out that experience? The Awards for Best of Festival, along with emerging filmmakers, special presentations, storytellers, podcasts, and even live music events! Curious who took home big wins at the festival? You can view a complete list of winners and more information here.
The Start of a Fascinating Journey
With that much going on at 2023 Tribeca, it was way too easy to get overwhelmed with all the art and technology concentrated in such a short amount of time. It was honestly very hard to pick one path of “cool” but it had to happen. The bonus of course was seeing so much and then trying to sort it all out! Eventually I decided to focus on immersive technology and some post production workflows. Turns out, my instincts were right. Let’s dive in!
The Immersive Back Story
This year, the festival kicked off its first-ever exclusive Games & Immersive Showcase. The Showcase was a deep dive experience set in the Tribeca Spring Studio. The Games and Immersive exhibits included the emergence of new forms of entertainment such as games that can be played at home, on the street, or in modern-day galleries, along with the latest 3D works. This immersive experience presented a wide array of storytelling including groundbreaking experiences that explored different types of Ai, AR, and VR technology and also included XR games pioneering a new generation of interactive entertainment.
“The range of immersive experiences is a much broader landscape than when we started 11 years ago,” said Tribeca Vice President of Games & Immersive Casey Baltes. “Tribeca Festival’s immersive program reflects the widest range of methods — from AI, AR, MR, and VR to live performance — we have ever showcased. All of the experiences bring to life stories that will resonate deeply with audiences in unexpected ways.”
“This year's selection focuses on two key areas: the coalescence of XR and games, and the rise of a new genre of immersive games that users can play on their phones or through next-gen mixed reality devices," said Tribeca Immersive Curator Ana Brzezińska. “Secondly, we celebrate artists and activists who choose AI and immersive technology to convey important social messages or introduce unexpected new qualities to fine arts, theater, and film. I'm also proud to share that most of our selections are written, directed, or produced by women, which shows that female leadership in immersive is becoming a reality.”
Creating the Immersive Experience and Film Post Production
As I visited with the creators of the immersive experiences and filmmakers, it was readily apparent just how much passion each person had when talking about their project. If you could just imagine new parents with their baby or let’s say a child with a new puppy — that was the vibe. Dare I say we should be that passionate about the things we work on.
That said, I am going to start with a few of many cool immersive projects then work my way over to some of those great films that happened at the 2023 Tribeca Festival. Let’s Go!
New Powerful and Creative Women Lead Immersive Projects
When I look at projects I tend to lean on content, not the artists. But this Tribeca Festival was different. Why? I noticed that many of the projects I chose to look at and participate in were developed and produced by women. Some projects had deep meaning and spoke of social and ethical issues facing women and society today. Others were both a lot of fun and quite educational at the same time. I decided that this was an important enough trend to really pay attention to, as it marks a decided shift in an area of creative and technical that was - until recently - male centric. Hence the focus on these particular projects.
In partnership with Meta, co-creators Julie Cavaliere and Michaela Ternasky-Holland bring to life Re-Imagined, a virtual reality (VR) animation series marking the next step in truly vivid immersive storytelling. This was a deep dive kind of experience that left me with a deep spiritual and emotional experience. This female led, directed, and produced anthology series takes the audience into a new kind of storybook by showcasing lesser-known fables, mythology, and folklore in a gender-inclusive experience. I just had to ask the creators what kind of tools were used to make such a deep story. I learned a lot about some new software called Quill that was designed and built by Smoothstep. Quill supports various animation approaches such as frame-by-frame, keyframe, anim brush and puppeteering techniques.
The Reimagined series was completely hand-painted and animated in VR using Quill by Smoothstep; a VR illustration and animation tool was designed to let artists be expressive and precise by allowing creators to use their hands to paint in 3D, virtual space, and then animate those paintings without the technical complexity of traditional animation workflows. You can create fully animated self-contained VR films ready for release or use it to produce traditional 3D or 2D artwork, or assets for a game engine. It's designed to be expressive, precise and to let the artist's "hand" come through clearly - whether that's a watercolor style, pencil style, oil painting style or other. Reimagined used Quill to break open the possibilities of VR animation in visual effects, narrative storytelling and worldbuilding.
The Pirate Queen
The Pirate Queen: A Forgotten Legend, (United Kingdom) is the forgotten story of Cheng Shih - a woman in 19th-century China who became one of the most powerful pirates in history - is directed by Eloise Singer and narrated by Hollywood superstar Lucy Liu, who was also an Executive Producer. Our story starts when the leader of the fleet dies suddenly, a widowed Cheng Shih faces the possibility of losing her status, security, and even her life. Players take on the identity of Cheng Shih to complete a series of puzzle-based tasks, outsmart enemies and become the Pirate Queen.
The Pirate Queen started development in 2019 and the full game is being released in early 2024. The Pirate Queen main creation and editing platform is Unreal 5.1 with the release as a VR game top of next year, and the ultimate goal is for Pirate Queen to take over the world - expanding the story into a TV series, podcast as well as the game with more to be announced. It’s also worth mentioning that Meteor Pixel, Unreal Engine specialists for 3D Art & Programming, also played a part in making this project happen.
Pixel Ripped 1978 (Brazil)
Director: Ana Ribeiro
PIXEL RIPPED 1978 is the newest game in the Pixel Ripped series currently on the Steam Platform. The Pixel Ripped franchise is the love-child of pioneering game designer Ana Ribeiro’s interest in video games and futurism. The franchise has explored pivotal moments in the evolution of the video game industry using leading edge technology – blending the past with the future. Pixel Ripped 1989 explored the era of 8-bit portable gaming. Pixel Ripped 1995 was set during the heyday of 16 and 32-bit games. Now Pixel Ripped 1978 goes back to the very genesis of gaming, when creative software and hardware design launched what has become a quarter billion dollar industry.
I had to include this game because it was just so much fun and yes - full disclosure - I still own an Atari Console. Our hero, Dot, has to fight against the evil Cyblin Lord once again, who has a nefarious plan to hack into the game creator’s past and to make himself the protagonist! Dot isn’t alone in this crazy endeavor through time - she has the help of Bug, Pixel Ripped creator herself, as they join forces to dispel the Cyblin Lord and launch the game.
Fortune, (France) - World Premiere Immersive
Directors: Claire Meinhard, Nicolas Bourniquel
Producers: Atlas V, ARTE France
It’s all about money! FORTUNE is a series of true stories in augmented reality for Instagram & Snapchat. 7 people tell how money dictates their lives, how they have to rely on it to survive, or how they think it will bring them happiness or freedom. From counterfeiting to dumpster diving, from selling everything for bitcoin to retiring at age 30, what are we willing to do and give to earn a little more money?
Two Immersive Films
Aside from the Immersive Gaming experience, I chose these two films in particular because these two projects represent both the future of filmmaking through text-based Ai and in a nod to the past, they celebrated the meticulous artform of stop motion. Both films were to put it in my best non technical terms - way cool.
In Search of Time (France, United States)
Director: Pierre Zandrowicz, and Matthew Tiernay
“The connected circles of our memory are like the rings of a tree stump. An intricate and delicate record of time…” This project utilizes AI and Stabile Diffusion along with traditional film techniques.
Zandrowicz and Tiernay used Stable Diffusion which is a deep learning, text-to-image model released in 2022, and is primarily used to generate detailed images conditioned on text descriptions, though it can also be applied to other tasks such as inpainting, outpainting, and generating image-to-image translations guided by a text prompt.
Another absolutely mind blowing project, IN SEARCH OF TIME follows the journey of Father and Son. Along the way, they navigate Memory’s intricate labyrinth, and explore its relationship to identity and time. The filmmakers wanted audiences to reflect upon the power of experience and confront the elusive nature of memory itself.
Meneath: The Mirrors of Ethics (Canada) - World Premiere
Director: Terril Calder
Producer: National Film Board of Canada
MENEATH: THE MIRRORS OF ETHICS was the winner of New Voices Award during its world premiere at the prestigious Tribeca Festival. This award is given to a first or second time XR creator. The stop action movie charts the challenging journey of a precocious Métis Baby Girl. Using interfering screens in an object reminiscent of a puppet theater, this stop-motion installation unearths hidden Indigenous values while illuminating the bias of our colonial systems. Created by Terril Calder, one of the foremost Métis media artists practicing in Canada today.
Back to Our Roots: Looking at Some More Traditional Film Works
As much as I love technology and all the things it can help you do to produce meaningful projects , there is still nothing more compelling than a good story. Yes, the technology gives us storytellers a big lift, but the story along with the technology makes for a great project.
Here are a few cool projects in the film category that are socially relevant and fun.
Editor: Sarah Taylor
Unapologetic and unafraid to milk sacred cows, Hey Viktor! is an irreverent comedy that’s smart and raunchy and marks the arrival of a major comedic voice in Native cinema. Editor Sarah Taylor weighed in on a very efficient way of getting the work done for Hey Viktor!
“We used Adobe Premiere Pro for the whole process of editing Hey Viktor! - from proxies to picturelock! Post production was happening during COVID so I worked with the director and producers remotely via a virtual system called Source-Live. Source-Live offered a great service where playback was very smooth for the people tuning in online. My part of the post on Hey Viktor! started in August 2022 and then I took the film to fine cut. From there I handed it off to Curt Lobb and Thomas Hackett who finished the film! It was such a pleasure working on this film and I still laugh at the jokes. I hope everyone enjoys this riot of a film!!”
Your Fat Friend
Editor: Alice Powell
In February 2016, an anonymous blogger known as @yrfatfriend penned a post entitled “A Request from Your Fat Friend: What I Need When We Talk About Bodies'' that discussed the realities of what it’s like to go through life as a self-described “very fat person” with candor and vulnerability. The piece struck a chord and quickly went viral. For the next five years, “Your Fat Friend” published numerous popular essays addressing society’s obsession with fatphobia and aggressive anti-fatness. When the writer, Aubrey Gordon, publishes her first book, she boldly decides to shed her anonymity and enter the public spotlight to face her supporters, trolls, and critics for the first time. Editor Alice Powell had this to say about the post production process.
“We used Adobe Premiere Pro for our post-production workflow. Once we had backed up and organized the rushes on the drives, we brought the rushes into Premiere Pro as raw camera files. Then we batch exported using the proxy feature so we could toggle between full res and proxy files. The file structure for the Proxies was identical to the master files so everything stayed organized. We did a combination of on-site and remote editing during the process. The post-production timeline spanned approximately two and a half years because we had a few breaks. Additionally, Adobe After Effects was used for creating the film’s graphics.
Rule of Two Walls (Documentary Competition)
Director & Editor: David Gutnik
Rule of Two Walls presents a raw, atmospheric portrait of today’s Ukraine through the lens of the artists who have chosen to stay. The film’s subjects are Gutnik’s intimate collaborators in exploring what it means to navigate the jarring rhythms and surreal juxtapositions of life under the shadow of war. A young couple wakes to air raid sirens and has tea on their balcony. Neighborhoods lie in ruins, and the community comes together to sweep up broken glass and rubble. Scenes of utter devastation provoke insomnia and numbness — yet friends gather to relax in a bar, an art center pushes ahead with a new exhibition, and artists redouble their commitment to their craft.
The 2023 Tribeca Festival wrapped up after days of meeting so many talented people along with the many days filled with incredible new projects and insights into what the future might hold in the immersive and gaming space. Of course, the Tribeca Festival is by its very nature a film festival at heart, but it’s also a celebration of our craft and of life - both fun and hard work at the same time. I would encourage you to sign up and follow up with all of the cool offerings from the Tribeca Festival including watching content online, or even better yet go make a film or project and jump into the fray! There’s no better way to be creative. Go for it!
Immersive gaming is just one of the many ways that virtual production is on the rise in the industry today. If you're interested in learning more about how virtual production is continuing to make an impact, check out our latest post - and stay tuned to the blog for even more coverage.