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  • 1440 N Topanga Canyon Blvd
  • Topanga, CA, 90290
  • United States
Topanga Film Institute

Topanga Film Institute presents:
New Horizons - Exploring Storytelling in Virtual Reality

Matthew Gratzner - New Deal Studios
Zachary Richter - Vrse / Vrse.works
Nancy Bennet - Two Bit Circus
Eric Hanson - XRez Studio
Anders Hjemdahl - Hypnosis / Fractal Frontiers

Moderated by Camilla Andersson - Executive Director, Topanga Film Institute
with an introduction by Urs Baur - Founder of the Topanga Film Institute

Virtual Reality has been called the dawn of a completely new form of storytelling.
The new medium has a unique ability to make us feel like we’re present in another place - as passive spectators, or as part of the story.

While storytelling in VR is still largely unexplored territory, what is genuinely new, and what is relevant from other forms of storytelling? What are the challenges and possibilities for storytelling in VR, and how does this shape the stories we tell with it?

By enabling us to immersively experience other places and to share the experiences of other people, does VR have a potential to change how we understand the world and the human condition?

To address these questions, the Topanga Film Institute presents a TFI Talk round table discussion featuring a group of exceptional, award winning creative directors, film makers and producers, each with unique, hands-on experience from exploring the Virtual Reality medium.


Matthew Gratzner - Writer/Director/Producer, New Deal Studios

Matthew Gratzner is Co-Founder, Director and Creative Supervisor for New Deal Studios whose feature credit list include award winning independent films along with billion dollar franchises: Hugo, The Aviator, Shutter Island, The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight, Inception, Iron Man, Alien Resurrection, Live Free or Die Hard, X-Men, Avengers, Terminator 3, Pirates of The Caribbean, Spiderman, Inception, I Am Legend and Interstellar. 

Matthew Gratzner was writer, director and producer of the groundbreaking cinematic virtual reality short film The Mission.

He was nominated for a BAFTA for his work on The Aviator and received a Primetime Emmy nomination for the visual effects on From The Earth to The Moon. He has won numerous VES awards as well as a Clio and Cannes Grand Lion for his work on the historic Halo3 “Believe” Campaign. Matthew is currently finishing post on the Western film “Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink” and it’s sequel that he directed, co-wrote and produced.

Zachary Richter - Creative Director, Vrse / Director, Vrse.works

Zach is an award-winning Director, Creative Director and Graphic Designer. Combining interactive media and technology, his work looks for new ways to tell stories.

Since 2012, he has collaborated closely with Chris Milk and in 2014, Zach worked with Milk and Beck to create, 'Sound & Vision' the world's first 360-degree live action virtual reality film, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival. This year they worked together on Evolution of Verse, which was produced by Megan Ellison (Annapurna Pictures) and they co-directed The New York Times Magazine VR documentary, 'Walking New York' with French artist, JR.

Zach's work has been honored with all of the top industry awards including 16x Cannes Lions, 5x Webby Awards, 5x One Show Awards, and 13x FWA's. His work has been officially selected at Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, SXSW and Future of Storytelling.Zach lives in Los Angeles and leads the creative department at Vrse. He is represented by Vrse.works for virtual reality and digital work. 

Nancy Bennett - Chief Content Officer, Two Bit Circus

Nancy is a former senior television and music executive, producer, and director. She has created TV shows and award winning music videos, and currently leads Two Bit Circus’ Virtual Reality production specializing in 3D 360 immersive experiences.

Nancy Bennett is a virtual-reality marketing veteran who does not deal in hyperbole when it comes to the impact the much-hyped virtual reality will have on marketing. Rather, Bennett leans on data. One-third of her agency's new business in 2014 was powered by the Oculus Rift developer's kit, helping grow her 2-year-old Los Angeles digital shop from 15 to 35 employees. Two Bit Circus lives at the intersection of technology and spectacle, engineering entertainment that is imaginative and interactive, blurring the line between physical and digital playgrounds to create a new world of social amusement.

Based in Los Angeles, Two Bit Circus’ interdisciplinary team of artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs develop spectacular productions with the goal to inspire, engage, and reinvent the way people play.

Eric Hanson - Visual effects designer & Founder, xRez Studio

Eric Hanson is a visual effects designer specializing in the creation of digital environments. Having worked with leading visual effects houses such as Digital Domain, Sony Imageworks, Dream Quest Images and Walt Disney Feature Animation, his work can be seen in “The Day After Tomorrow”, “Cast Away”, “Mission to Mars”, “Fantasia 2000”, and “The Fifth Element”, Björk’s special venue film “Black Lake” and many others. 

Eric Hanson is the founder of xRez Studio, a creative imaging and visual effects production house which explores and applies emerging techniques in computer graphics and computational photography. Beginning with pioneering the production of extreme resolution gigapixel photography in 2006, xRez Studio continues to innovate with new technologies such as 3d photogrammetry, laser scanning, terrain modeling, and multi-spectral imaging. 

Eric Hanson specializes in applying computer graphics to meaningful projects in entertainment, natural history, museums, and immersive fulldome theatre, and has extensive experience in recreating historic events in film, revealing complex processes in scientific visualization, or illustrating environmental change, offering powerful media solutions for filmmakers, companies, researchers, or activists. 
Eric is also an Associate Professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, leading their curriculum in visual effects, and a member of the VES, IVRPA, PMA and ACM/Siggraph. He has authored four educational DVDs on digital environment creation for The Gnomon Workshop, as well as having published two books on Maya technique. 

Anders Hjemdahl - Creative Technologist, Hypnosis / artist, Fractal Frontiers

is a creative technologist, artist and communication strategist who has worked with creative direction and interactive media development since the early 1990s, with a special interest in innovative technology, visualization and immersive experiences.
Anders Hjemdahl was co-founder of the world’s first Internet-based music company Hypermusic.net in 1999, whose BootlegTV service was the world's first online video service for live concerts. Anders has developed several ground-breaking web based services for short films and live concerts, and was co-founder of Hypermovies, the first online movie service, promoting independent films and music videos in cooperation with artists, music labels and fiber operators. 

As an artist, Anders has explored generative, algorithm-based 2D and 3D art for over 25 years, holding numerous exhibitions and presentations on the subject, most recently about fractals and visualization at Interstellar And The Science of Entertainment at MindShare LA.

He is represented in the “Swedish Design - 100 Years” encyclopedia, and was awarded the Templeton Freedom Awards in 2009 by the Atlas Foundation for his international Human Rights related work, and in 2011 was awarded the Order of Terra Mariana by Estonian President Toomas Ilves. Anders is currently working on a VR film exploring 3D fractal worlds and virtual reality experience about the history of Downtown Los Angeles.

Camilla Andersson - Executive Director, Topanga Film Institute

Camilla Andersson is the Director of the Topanga Film Institute. She has worked with brand development and strategic communications for 25 years with a special interest in storytelling, interactive media and innovative technologies such as virtual reality, and has worked with a diverse range of clients spanning from governments and NGOs to international brands such as Sony, BMG, Virgin Music, Ericsson and Nokia.
Camilla is also founder and developer of several influential ventures such as electronic music pioneer Ohm Records and online music and film distribution platforms Hypermedia and BootlegTV.

With a strong interest in democracy and human rights, Camilla is co-founder of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, and has been instrumental in several international initiatives in the European Union parliament in cooperation with embassies, NGOs and cultural and historical institutions. She has been awarded The Templeton Freedom Award for international public relations and educational change, and the Order of Terra Mariana by the President of Estonia for long term strategic communications relating to democracy, history and culture.

Paid parking is available at the venue. If parking on Topanga Canyon Blvd., make sure all tires are inside the white lines. Flashlights are advised for walking to your car after dark. Carpooling is encouraged.

Food and drinks available for purchase at the event.