New XR Experiences Shine At SXSW


SXSW 22 bravely soldiered on in the face of the Omicron surge to plan this year’s festival. Attendance at the first IRL SXSW since 2019 seemed anemic. Local media is saying sales are down 20%, but Hypebot’s sources say the venerable gathering could be more than a third from pre-pandemic levels. Where festival goers could expect to be shoulder to shoulder just about anywhere.

To be honest, except for the thin creative convention floor, I liked it. There were enough people to keep it social, but the usual crowd problems, like not getting into restaurants, were gone. For all that, XR was exceptionally well represented. The only place you had to stand in line was for the VR Experiences. We did not allow enough time for that and only saw about a third of the experiences. Blogger and XR developer based in Turin, Italy, Tony Vitillo also built virtual SXSW with VRrooms. This was his first SXSW and even under uncertain circumstances, you can feel the excitement he experienced.

“For me the real magic of SXSW is the unexpected,” writes Vitillo in his popular tech blog. “One day I headed to a dinner and I found myself doing the rodeo on a mechanical bull. You plan parts of your day, but the other parts will be organized for you by the magic of SXSW.”


At the convention center where the famous SXSW creative expo and many of the conference keynotes and panels take place was half its usual size. Mark Zuckerberg appeared remotely and doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on the Metaverse. Scott Galloway is betting on Apple to dominate the next generation of mobile computing, though Apple has yet to play its hand in XR. Former Nintendo CEO turned VC Reggie Fils-Amie thinks the Metaverse is another way of talking about Roblox. He’s also a big Fortnite fan. Second Life creator and advisor talked about the first virtual world, or metaverse, on a panel that included Raffaella Camera of Epic Games and Timmu Toke, founder of Ready Player Me, whose avatar system is used by over 1600 games.

XR was exceptionally represented at SXSW 22, and the community turned out in force, too. VR director and producer Nonny de la Pena, Kent Bye, host of the venerable Voices of VR podcast and Loren Hammonds, Producer, Co-head of Documentary, TIME Studios, and co-founder of Tribeca’s Immersive Festival, judged the competition. De la Pena was also inducted into the SXSW hall of fame.

It’s been three years since the festival was live and since then a lot has happened in XR. The creators of these experiences are no longer practitioners of other time arts experimenting with a new medium. They are now experienced XR content creators with hard won experience and the confidence to wield this new medium in unique and dramatic ways..

The jury prize went to On the Morning you Wake To The End of the World which was produced by two of the most accomplished VR studios, Archer’s Mark (Notes on Blindness) and Atlas V (Battlescar). It was directed by Dr. Jamaica Heolomeleikalani Osorio, Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Pierre Zandrowicz, and Arnaud Colinart.

The experience begins on the beach with a kayaker whose phone buzzes with an unthinkable SMS message: Emergency Management Agency: Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill. What follows is an evocative documentary of how people reacted. As we know, the missile warning was a false alarm, but millions of people had now experienced what it was like the last twenty minutes of the world.

The Special Jury Recognition for Immersive Storytelling went to (Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow. This experience uses the medium of VR to transport us into history, revealing the story of a lesser known female baroque artist, her resistance to the patriarchy and determination in the face of adversity.” The experience was directed by Quentin Darras, Gaëlle Mourre, and produced by Charlotte Mikkelborg and Gaëlle Mourre.

Breonna’s Garden, the award winning AR experience created by Lady Phoenix (Executive Producer and Director), Ju’Niyah Palmer (Sister of Breonna Taylor and co-producer), Kenneth Walker (Partner of Breonna Taylor) and Sutu (Artistic and Technical Director) was a hit at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Since then the creators have taken the next step, and turned into a longer, even more immersive experience that honors her life and memory. Adding their talents to the transition to VR were Doug Jacobson and Athena Demos of BRCVR, creator of Black Rock City (Burning Man in VR), and recipient of the Producer’s Guild Innovation Award.

Gumball Dreams is a new live performance from the Ferryman Collective, another veteran producer whose Welcome to Respite was invited to Cannes, Sundance and Tribeca last year. In Gumball Dreams you are called by an alien creature named Onyx to a mythical planet on which they are living out their final days in something that looks like an old-fashioned gumball machine. Gumball Dreams is performed live with one actor playing multiple roles and three audience members in Virtual Reality. We are given beautiful alien avatars and asked to help Onyx transition from this reality to the next. Among the rewards of this extraordinary production is an intimate one-on-one moment with Onyx, which is as real and sincere as any interaction you have with a friend in real life.

Persuasion Machines takes us inside of a fully “wired” apartment, the many devices in our lives are revealed as data mining machines that seek to control us. Using a virtual smart living room, the project helps individuals visualize the pervasiveness of data collection in our private homes. With the help of collaborator,, the audience learns how major corporations are using and profiting from our data. Producers Karim Amer, and Guvenc Ozel are veterans of previous XR productions. Karim Amer produced Terminal 3 at Tribeca in 2018.

Future Rites is an immersive and collaborative performance experience based on the seminal ballet ‘The Rite Of Spring.’ A co-production between choreographer Alexander Whitley, director Sandra Rodriguez and Normal Studio, Future Rites combines real-time animation and AI, to enable anyone to join in the dance. As users interact with a constantly evolving natural world, their movements and gestures decide a crucial outcome, guiding a narrative through this celebrated work of classical music around themes of ritual, nature and sacrifice.

Enter The Hottieverse, starring Megan Three Stallion is the first ever VR concert tour. In AMC movie theaters starting in Los Angeles April 5 and wrapping in New York City between June 30-July 3. Megan’s devoted fanbase – affectionately known as “Hotties” – will be able to put on the provided “Hottie Mounted Displays” (VR headsets), settle in, and hang out in the VR Hottieverse lobby before watching Megan. The VR concert performance will feature a multi-song set that moves through a series of environments as well as hot custom wardrobes designed just for the show. AmazeVR used proprietary high-definition, live-action capture with sophisticated computer-generated AI, effects and graphics. Tickets are on sale at

Composition is a multimedia experience that uses table top projects and AI to generate musical patterns using blocks which the users place on the tabletop. If you place the blocks together, you can make it play a chord. Director Vincent Morisset is known for his artful use of technology and interactivity. His studio AATOAA (pronounced à toi, meaning ‘yours’) is recasting how we experience the Internet, games, public spaces and films.

Miro Shot, the London art rock collective led by Roman Rappak, brought a small sample of their incredible multi-media performance to the Hideout Theater for several nights. Audience members are given an old Samsung Gear Headset. During the show, it appears to be synced to the music and everyone is seeing the same thing in their HMD. But, maybe not. At times you don’t know if you’re seeing VR, MR or you’re in some kind of avante-garde film from the 70s, which features video and distortion effects we see today in Snap camera filters. I had an epiphany after the show. Location Based XR experiences, integrated with live performances, are the future of music, and perhaps theater as well. Coachella was also experimenting with this before the pandemic.

Interestingly, Snap just launched Landmarkers, which would allow the band to fill a venue with AR experiences that could be explored via Snapcode in the venue. Likewise, the Niantic new LightShip AR game engine is built to gamify reality by mixing AR experiences with the real world. They just bought 8th Wall to do this with WebXR – no app download required. Founder Erik Murphy-Chutorian was in town with his team, speaking and taking a victory lap.

Gone were the crushing crowds and the elaborate media activations in the past that cost millions of dollars. In 2018, to promote Westworld, HBO bussed members of the press and VIPs to a real Western town they created. In 2019, Amazon built a catered haunted environment featuring live actors to promote Good Omens. In 2022, what we had were the people, the excellent XR experiences they have been making the past three years