SPHERES Creator Eliza McNitt on Virtual Reality Filmmaking

At this year's Tribeca Film Festival, the experiential director becomes the subject

For the last few years, filmmaker and technologist Eliza McNitt‘s virtual reality experience SPHERES charted in several of our lists of favorites from film festival’s around the world. The three-part exploration of hidden songs among the cosmos brought new attention to the capabilities of VR as it set records for the medium and took up residence in NYC‘s Rockefeller Center. There, guests could experience each 15-minute episode—narrated by Jessica Chastain, Millie Bobby Brown and Patti Smith respectively—through Oculus Rift headsets. It was a milestone moment as the work shifted from critical accolades (like the Grand Jury Prize for Best Virtual Reality Immersive Story at the 2018 Venice Film Festival) to public availability.

At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the 2018 Emmy finalist McNitt switched roles—becoming the subject of a new work by director Ro Haber. A collaboration between Haber, Bulgari and Tribeca Studios, Celestial addresses McNitt’s pursuit of the burgeoning medium—and how she draws inspiration from the teachings of her grandfather, who was a scientist. The short film successfully inspires—and it is one piece in a larger initiative from Bulgari to highlight women filmmakers and their groundbreaking work.

McNitt has guided developments in the industry, but she also hopes for many more. “I’m captivated by establishing presence in VR,” she explains to us. “Entering an experience as a character is an exciting challenge. Untethered headsets are going to provide us with a deeper sense of freedom and immersion. I want to see how much further we can push bringing the outside world inside the headset.” This, McNitt for-sees, will allow us “to become more immersed with less boundaries.”

SPHERES does have many connections to traditional cinema—from its cast of narrators to executive producer and Hollywood visionary Darren Aronofsky and, perhaps most importantly, the frequent appearances each segment made at film festivals. “It’s essential film festivals embrace these emerging mediums because they open our eyes to an entire new way of looking at the universe,” she says.

Her work is transportive. The medium enables it. “In SPHERES you get to step inside the heart of a star, surf on Saturn’s rings, and become a black hole. These are places we can’t access as humans. And not only do you see these worlds, you become them. You can inhabit a celestial being and move through the cosmos.” This “storytelling evolution” enables the user and informs the experience.

“Right now SPHERES is on display at the Galerie Cinema in Paris. It’s a beautifully curated show by Anne-Dominique Toussaint including the stunning piece Vestige by Aaron Bradbury,” McNitt adds, acknowledging that it will continue to expand to more platforms and LBEs (location based entertainment systems) worldwide. All the while, she’s pushing her imagination in another expansive direction. “I’m dreaming up my first feature film,” she says. “It’s a sci-fi about the universe and our place amongst the stars.”

Videos courtesy of Protozoa Pictures