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Sundance 2017 New Frontiers: Tyler Hurd’s Happy World In “Chocolate VR”

A peak into the candy-colored world of “Chocolate VR.”

By: Marjorie Galas

In the avalanche of Sundance 2017 related events, one project’s press release was so peculiar I had to re-read it.  It began with a question: “Are colorful cats jumping out of cannons in a liquid-mountain dreamscape on your must see list?”  Truth be told, they weren’t.  But after reading about Tyler Hurd’s New Frontiers selection presented by Viacom NEXT entitled “Chocolate VR” and gazing at the project’s trippy key art, I had to go visit the VR Palace and experience it for myself.

It is tricky to give the experience a well-rounded write up, but I’ll try. Once you dawn your headgear, ear piece and handgrips, you take on the persona of a chrome robot.  Your arms become flexible cylinders with tiny pincers.   Looking down at your torso, you see a swiveling mass of chrome legs floating in the darkness of the universe.  As the music begins, you find yourself in a desert-esque, landscape shrouded in a candy-colored sunset.  You’ve now a god to a group of tribal dancers with large, gold cat heads that circle you.  They dance to the beat, waiting for you to spray a confetti mixture of sparkles and big-headed, bulging-eyed, balloon-like cats who smile gratefully as they are blasted from your cannon hands (the controllers you are holding vibrate slightly, giving you a head’s up it’s time to release the cats).   The joy you experience along with your enamored followers beckons a massive and rotund feline that sprinkles the landscape with a giant bottle of champagne.  Everything about the experience leaves you beaming, from Giraffage’s bubbly electronic beats, to the interactive experience Hurd created.

“It’s an overwhelming barrage of non-sensical joy,” said Hurd.  “I just like creating things that make people happy.”

“Chocolate VR” marks Hurd’s third VR experience. He creates his environments by pulling from his background working in advertising and video game production, and is particularly interested in exploring the powerful emotional response a viewer has to a VR world, particularly those filled with animated characters the viewer both interacts with and becomes themselves.  His 2014 project, “Butts”, regarded as one of the first animated short films to be presented in VR, featured individuals who projected rainbows out of their backsides.  His sophomore endeavor, “Old Friend”, presented by Wevr, premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.  This room-scale, music video VR experience transforms the user into a “wiggly puppet” as they become transported into the center of a joyful, psychedelic dance party.

Hurd’s vision for “Chocolate VR” rapidly took place after hearing electronic music producer Giraffage’s song of the same name. He imagined cats “flying and meowing” to the music, and began to spontaneously add elements.   Inspired by a recent trip he took to the deserts of Arizona, he created an open, reflective environment dotted with cacti and drenched with animation-quality colors of the skyline at dusk.

“The enjoyment of bright colors is relatable to all ages,” said Hurd.

Having witnessed his girlfriend’s physical therapy work with autistic children, Hurd developed an interest in the human need for tactile stimulation. It was important to him that controllers be added to “Chocolate VR” enabling participants to not only see their hands moving before them, but also to enable them to have full participation in spreading the cat-infused confetti in an area of their choosing.  Working with Oculus gear and the support of Viacom NEXT, a VR production company focusing on making room-scale interactive music experiences, narrative worlds, games, and exploring live-action capture techniques, Hurd was able to fully realize his vision.

Prior to creating his VR world, Hurd contacted Charlie Yin, aka Giraffage, requesting permission to use his recording of “Chocolate.”  Although Yin fully embraced Hurd’s vision and gave his blessing, Yin’s managers weren’t quick to come on board.

“It was hard for them to conceive, but I fought to push (the concept) forward,” said Hurd. “I stayed true to my vision.  Viacom NEXT were very supportive, they understood and shared my sentiment, and it all worked out.”

Due to the addition of the hand-held controllers, “Chocolate VR” won’t easily translate to a mobile VR viewing platform. Hurd is currently submitting “Chocolate VR” to other film festivals and venue based VR arcades with the hopes of giving larger crowds the opportunity to experience his creation, and feels confident devises with hand sensors will become available to the market in the near future.

To get a sense of the “Chocolate VR” experience, visit:

www.thechocolatevr.com