62nd THESSALONIKI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Together Apart - VR Cinema Experience: screening of the film Afterimage in a virtual environment
The presentation "Together Apart: VR Cinema Experience" took place, within the framework of the 62nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival at Pavlos Zannas Theatre, on Friday November 12, unveiling a unique experience of interaction using virtual reality (VR) headsets. Viewers, in different locations wearing the special headsets, are transferred to a virtual cinematic environment, where they watch a cinema projection together as avatars. The film taking part in this special screening, held with the collaboration of Arx.net, was no other than the short film Afterimage by director Antonis Doussias
Antonis Doussias, director of the film, Christos Mitsis, journalist and film reviewer, Panos Zournatzidis, theatrologist and actor with disabilities, all located in Athens, as well as Orestis Andreadakis, artistic director of the Thessaloniki Film Festival, located in the Pavlos Zannas theatre, watched the film as avatars in a virtual environment.
Mr. Andreadakis prefaced the presentation. "In collaboration with Arx.net we present you an innovative viewing experience, VR Cinema Experience. We will then have a live demonstration of the technology," he noted. Following, Chrysostomos Bourlis, General Manager of Operations in Arx.net, who initially informed the audience of the company’s action, took the floor.
"Art.net is an IT company, based in Thessaloniki. We have developed partnerships all over the world. Since 2001 we have been developing innovative digital services and applications with COSMOTE TV, Vodafone, Elisa, the largest telecommunications provider in Finland, Cyta, the largest provider in Cyprus, Huawei, Samsung, the National Bank of Greece, OPAP and many others. Our company is continuously developing, with a workforce of almost 100 people in Thessaloniki, the crème de la crème of IT professionals in the country. Especially in the field of streaming services and video streaming technologies, the company has great experience and projects under its belt, as we develop the entire new platform and applications of COSMOTE TV. We are doing the same for Cytavision in Cyprus, for Novaflix and Nova Go applications, with Forthnet and several others", he noted.
Mr. Bourlis talked about the Cine.gr, the platform where the technology was developed and where the audience would watch the presentation. "Cine.gr is the central platform where the technologies you will see live in the presentation were developed. It is a complete video streaming platform created as part of a large research project that our company has been elaborating in recent years. It disposes of all the necessary tools, capabilities and functionalities of online video services, a film festival, theatrical productions and anyone in need of a modern platform. Briefly, it includes a content management system, which enables the processing and management of video-related content, offers support for many commercial models, of rich analytics, but also advanced accessibility features, to facilitate people with low visual or acoustic acuity. In addition, it has applications for all screens, so that the user has a single viewing experience on any platform and any channel he wishes to watch, at any time. Finally, it supports advertising capabilities with advanced image recognition mechanisms and the use of artificial intelligence," he explained.
Mr. Bourlis then spoke to the audience about the technology of the Co-Watching VR Cinema Experience. "We are very glad to present you the global innovation of the remote co-watching experience with a VR cinema experience. It is the match made in heaven of cinematic experience and virtual reality technology. Virtual reality allows the user to live new experiences by travelling to virtual three-dimensional worlds," he pointed out. Mr. Bourlis gave an example of the possibilities offered by this technology. "Let me give you an example of the experience we have developed. Imagine that I can enter Cine.gr, choose the movie and the room I wish, wear the headset and enter a virtual room, while next to me someone from China with his headset on or or two friends of mine from Athens can sit next to me. We can watch the film together in the virtual environment, interact using the avatars, but also chat during the break, as we would in a film theatre. All this is possible. What we are trying to achieve and we haven't managed yet, but we are making steps of progress, is the hot popcorn!" he pointed out.
Mr. Bourlis also shared his thoughts on the possible future use of technology in the context of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. "We are very happy because this innovation begins here in the theatres of the Festival. I believe that we are too close, perhaps next year, to make use of relevant virtual cinemas that people from different parts of the world will be able to watch. We are here to plan this experience in the best possible way", he pointed out.
Finally, Mr. Bourlis explained the process of the upcoming promotion. "As we are going to see in the next few minutes, we will be able, with the use of technology, to bring close to a virtual theatre the 4 participants, from 4 different locations," he explained. At the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Bourlis invited Orestis Andreadakis to take his place, wear his headset and enter the virtual theatre. Antonis Doussias, the creator of the film Afterimage, took the floor and explained what the film is about, before the beginning of the screening. "I don't know if it exactly falls into the genre of classical cinema. It is more of a filming in a world created as a collage of sets from visual works of the Teloglion Foundation for the Arts collection," he explained.
The screening of the short film followed during which the audience had the opportunity to watch live on the screen of the cinema what the participants see. The screening for the audience was carried out in two shots, a general one, showing the entire theatre and a close up showing exactly what Orestis Andreadakis was watching with his headset. The film had a total duration of about 10 minutes.
At the end of the film, the participants chatted with each other and expressed their joy at participating in the experience. Mr. Andreadakis then addressed a question to the actor with disabilities, Mr. Panos Zournatzidis, about his thoughts on the use of this technology for mobility-impaired people.
As Mr. Zournatzidis explained, technology offers many possibilities to people with disabilities, but it should not, however, be a reason for the state to rest on its obligations towards people with disabilities. "It was a very nice experience that I had as a person with moving disabilities. New horizons are opening up in terms of accessibility, a new world for people who have great difficulty in moving. I could also comfortably see a theatrical performance with this technology; especially at a time when in Greece theatres are inaccessible for people with disabilities. However, this technology should not be used as an excuse by the state to prevent theatres from being accessible or not to meet its obligations towards people with disabilities. It should not be used as a pretext to pretend that we are in the right direction," he noted, wrapping up the presentation.