By Jean Criss
In February 2023 I participated in a VR/AR webinar discussing new levels of storytelling and engagement that transform the in-person experience for virtual audiences. Best known for their BRCvr virtual Burning Man experience, which delivers a stunning virtual rendition of the playa, Big Rock Creative bridges the worlds of in-person gatherings with virtual and remote participants.
I was so engaged, I followed up with Co-Founders Athena Demos and Doug Jacobson of Big Rock Creative (BRC), in an interview about their vision for XR creation in real-time, an exploration of storytelling with all facets of production, creation, ideation, and distribution or original VR and AR content, knowledge about live events and next gen technology, and their award-winning success. Here’s what they had to share.
Big Rock Creative produced the award-winning BRCvr, an official virtual Burning Man experience. This global phenomenon provides the Burner community a place to flourish creatively in virtual reality and share those experiences in a week-long festival, Virtual Burn Week, which serves as an alternative experience to the canceled in-person week-long event in Black Rock City for 2020 and 2021 (since Covid).
Since the in-person event was canceled, BRC gathered the community and told the story of what happens at Burning Man but now virtually. This led them to dig deeper into “immersive storytelling” – The goal of immersive storytelling is to give the audience a feeling as though they are participating in the story, rather than simply observing it from a distance. By immersing the audience in the story, the hope is they will feel a deeper connection to the narrative, and perhaps even be moved to take action in the real world.
Their journey into this emerging storytelling format continued with “Breonna’s Garden” – the intention of this project is to honor the life of Breonna Taylor while cultivating a safe space online to process complex emotions caused by trauma. BRC produced the experience with YESUNIVERSE. It Premiered at SXSW in 2022.
Next, they were tasked with creating Microsoft Pride has no borders. Participants start their journey in a virtual version of the Christopher Street Park outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City. There, they explore archival video and photos, audio interviews, and a historical timeline that conveys the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights through the decades. Finally, descending the stairs of the Christopher Street subway will transport you to the most fabulous and festive Pride World featuring curated music events, lectures, and hangouts for anyone to enjoy.
“What we learned is that bringing people to a time and place in an explorable world is a powerful way to tell a story. We circled back to our original project, BRCvr, and decided to create a fully immersive documentary that combines the in-person event with the virtual one”, Co-Founder Doug Jacobson said.
“With Covid receding, Burning Man was back in the desert for 2022. BRC received permission to film an immersive documentary at the week-long event. The BRCvr Immersive Documentary Experience tells the story of the community, art, culture, and ethos of Burning Man in an engaging and participatory way”, Co-Founder Athena Demos said.
The XR Industry has been an amazingly open place to experiment with projects like this. There are a large number of women in every facet of the XR industry. XR Women highlights accomplishments by women in the industry during weekly events. Several founders and industry leaders are women and the leadership of the XR Association is also all women. You normally don’t think of the tech industry having a lot of women, but XR does. It’s an exciting time for film and TV industry people to start thinking about where this immersive storytelling format will expand the horizon of what is possible.
Big Rock Creative has produced virtual worlds and events for internationally recognized communities, brands, and companies for several years such as those shown above.
Award Highlights and More: Producers Guild of America’s Innovation Award, the Aurea Award for Creativity, No Proscenium Audience Choice Award for Best VR Experience 2020, Hermes Creativity Award, the Auggie Best Society Impact, and are FINALISTS: VR Awards Best VR Experience, Auggies: Indie Creative Award. Selection XR Expo SXSW for Breonna’s Garden.
BRC has brought expertise and rich experiences to events of all sizes with partners and clients including:
Event Moderation Experience:
“Our community facilitates public safety and navigates at the edge of chaos”, states Athena Demos. “Our team successfully moderated events including Baobab’s red carpet high-profile film premiere of Baba Yaga; BRCvr’s Virtual Burn Week for Burning Man Project, Bridging the Gap’s Closing event for Younga UN Youth Delegates, Ben Erwin’s The Polys Awards and DreamlandXR’s #ActNow for the United Nations, and more.”
Featured Project: Microsoft Pride Has No Borders
Welcome to a visual and aural immersion into the global history of the LGBTQIA+ Pride movement. BRC was engaged by Microsoft to create this groundbreaking virtual experience. Participants begin in a virtual version of the Christopher Street Park outside the Stonewall Inn, New York City. There, they explore archival video and photos, audio interviews, and a historical timeline that conveys the fight for LGBTQIA+ equality through the decades. Finally, descending the stairs of the Christopher Street subway will transport you to the most fabulous and festive Pride World featuring curated music events, lectures, and hangouts for anyone to enjoy. The Pride World features interlaced images symbolic of over 20 cities that celebrate Pride annually. On June 17th, 2022, the inaugural global pride event was hosted by Microsoft with over 7,500 participants.
Learn how to participate at BRCvr.org
- Big Rock Creative, a Los Angeles, California based company
- Burning Man, a Las Vegas, Nevada annual in-person experience
About the Co-Founders:
Athena Demos is co-founder and CEO of Big Rock Creative (BRC), an award-winning XR experience company creating groundbreaking experiences for global clients. Big Rock Creative won the Producer’s Guild Award for Innovation, the Aurea Award for creativity, the No Proscenium award for Best VR experience of 2020, the Hermes’ Platinum Award, and the Auggie Award for Best Societal Impact of 2022. With over 20 years of experience producing iconic events, like the LA Burning Man Decompression Arts and Music Celebration, as well as the Art of Change Inaugural Ball for President Obama in LA, she transitioned to the metaverse to produce BRCvr (Black Rock City Virtual Reality). BRCvr is an official virtual Burning Man Experience whose scope is unprecedented in the VR space. Athena produced internationally recognized social impact projects such as Breonna’s Garden which premiered at SXSW 2022 and Pride has no borders which was a finalist in the VR Awards. She has developed a philosophical approach to guiding humanity to build a foundational fabric for creative collaboration in the metaverse. As a result, she has been quoted in leading books, articles, delivered key notes, and spoken at leading industry events and universities across the globe.
In August of 2022, Athena and the BRCvr team went to Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert to film the community, art, event, and ethos in 360 and 180 3D formats to combine with the VR worlds and models they cultivated the past two years. Currently in post-production, she plans to deliver a new format for storytelling that brings them all together into one participatory experience. She spent 8+ years as the PM of two-time Academy Award-winning documentary film company, Moriah Films.
Doug Jacobson is a co-founder of Big Rock Creative, a XR company producing large scale events in VR. Big Rock’s first large project, BRCvr, created a fully immersive Burning Man festival in social VR starting in 2020 which generated much positive PR including an article in Wired Magazine. Big Rock won the Producer’s Guild Innovation Award and the Aurea Award. They have since worked on projects ranging from directing an XR music video featuring Pitbull, facilitating a Hollywood red carpet premiere in VR or creative directing the VR version of “Breonna’s Garden” that premiered in SXSW 2022 and won the Auggie that same year for Best Societal Impact. Most recently they teamed up with Microsoft to launch “Pride has no borders” – an interactive event space and exhibit in virtual reality. Currently, they are working on a new BRCvr project – a fully immersive documentary shot at last year’s Burning Man.
Doug’s background is in the film industry, he graduated from USC film school in the 90s with honors. Over the course of his career, he has written, directed, produced, and edited several festival award-winning narratives and documentaries. He is also a member of the Television academy (Emmys) and the Producers Guild of America. A lover of technology and new ways of storytelling, Doug has been spending time in VR – shooting 3D video, building worlds, guiding new users through Alternative realities in digital space.
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