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One of the best films at Sundance is a VR experience

Associated Press logo Associated Press 1/25/2017 By LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer
This image released by the Oculus Story Studio shows a scene from the virtual reality film, "Dear Angelica." The film is the first animated film experience created entirely in VR. (Oculus Story Studio via AP) © The Associated Press This image released by the Oculus Story Studio shows a scene from the virtual reality film, "Dear Angelica." The film is the first animated film experience created entirely in VR. (Oculus Story Studio via AP)

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — The Sundance Film Festival is all about the shared experience of the theater, so imagine the surprise of realizing that one of the most moving films at this year's fest most moving films is something that can only be seen inside of an Oculus Rift headset.

This image released by the Oculus Story Studio shows a scene from the virtual reality film, "Dear Angelica." The film is the first animated film experience created entirely in VR. (Oculus Story Studio via AP) © The Associated Press This image released by the Oculus Story Studio shows a scene from the virtual reality film, "Dear Angelica." The film is the first animated film experience created entirely in VR. (Oculus Story Studio via AP)

"Dear Angelica " is a 12-minute illustrated story about memory, movies and grief that premiered at the Festival last Friday. In the film, a girl, voiced by Mae Whitman, lies in bed writing a letter to Angelica (Geena Davis), a famous movie star who we also discover was her mother. We swirl around in her memories of Angelica, shifting between real life and images from movies she's been in and back again. The viewer spins around taking in all the environs with Angelica, whether she's in a shootout car chase or drifting into space. More than a few viewers shed some tears into the headset by the end.

Actress Geena Davis poses for a portrait to promote the film, "Marjorie Prime", at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press Actress Geena Davis poses for a portrait to promote the film, "Marjorie Prime", at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

It's the first animated experience created entirely in VR.

Actress Geena Davis poses at the premiere of the film "Marjorie Prime" at the Eccles Theatre during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press Actress Geena Davis poses at the premiere of the film "Marjorie Prime" at the Eccles Theatre during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

Writer and director Saschka Unseld, also the Oculus Story Studio Creative Director, wanted to tell a story about how both family and films help shape you as a person.

Unseld, who'd wanted to do illustrative VR for a long time, had always struggled with the coldness of computer animation.

"It's really hard to keep the human touch and texture in it," he said. "If something is directly illustrated, you feel more human touch, you feel more hand, you feel more character."

It's why he settled on illustrator Wesley Allsbrook to create the hand painted images. They had a coder develop a custom system so that she could draw directly into the program.

"In VR it's important to counter that tech coldness with artistry and the human touch," Unseld said.

"Dear Angelica" is already available for free for those who have Oculus headsets. For everyone else, it'll be a little more difficult to see, but not impossible.

"It's important to us to always be in places like Sundance or Tribeca or other place where we can show these things to people who haven't had interesting VR experiences yet," Unseld said. "It's still early times and there's a lot of preconceptions about what VR is and isn't."

"Dear Angelica" proves that VR is not just a cool immersive experience — it's also art form that's capable of pulling at your heartstrings.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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