The World Building Media Lab’s Leviathan Project, supported by Intel and Unity, was featured prominently in the New Frontier section of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. In addition to a collection of augmented reality experiences powered by Intel’s RealSense cameras, the WbML’s exhibit featured an experimental virtual reality experience paired with a physical interface.

When users slip on the modified Oculus Rift headset they find themselves flying into a lab strapped to a giant flying whale, straight out of author Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy. They are then guided through the process of bioengineering a huxley, a small flying creature resembling a jellyfish. As users are instructed to move a vial from one part of the lab to another, they are amazed to discover that they can actually touch and interact with the vials. Using a motion capture rig, the WbML mapped real-world physical objects onto their digital counterparts inside of the VR experience, collapsing the distance between the real and the virtual and yielding deep insights into audience engagement.

The response was overwhelming – in addition to three-hour lines at the Festival, numerous press outlets raved about the experience. Engadget called it “visionary”; The Guardian called it representative of “the bleeding edge”; Yahoo! Movies called it “fascinating”; and Screen Anarchy wrote “it’s a blast to play around in this world and points to the excitement that awaits us in the future of site-specific VR experiences”. Additional coverage was also received from Paste, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Motherboard, Thrillist, TechCrunch, Fortune, and more, with My Life in Style and IndieWire citing it among the “must-see” experiences at Sundance.