About this project
Thank you for helping to meet our goal!
Blackout is about understanding those that surround us - and one of the biggest barriers is language. While each language is a beautiful reflection of the culture that created it, the ability to bridge between them is essential. In this spirit, we're adding a new stretch goal in the final hours of our campaign: Translate and subtitle Blackout into other languages!
Continue reading about the Blackout campaign below:
Hear the Inner Thoughts of The Strangers That Surround You
A virtual reality commute on the New York City subway is interrupted by a sudden power outage. Gifted with telepathy, you discover the inner worlds of your fellow passengers.
Imagine a World Without Missed Connections
Everyday we brush past crowds of people, many of whom we will never meet. We think to ourselves: What are their stories and how would it change me if I knew what they were thinking? Inspired by this curiosity, we’re creating an interactive film featuring a subway car filled with a diverse group of real-life New Yorkers during a fictional power outage. Blackout transports you into a hyper-real world where you can hear their stories intertwine.
It's Urgent To Go Beyond Understanding, to Empathy
Today more than half of the world's population lives in cities. As the world’s cultures are displaced and newcomers flood urban centers, it is urgent that we not just educate ourselves, but empathize with the lives of strangers that surround us. Through immersive technology and raw documentary stories, Blackout shows how one stranded group of city commuters has more in common than they ever imagined.
A Story That Can Only Be Told Through The Lens of Virtual Reality
To deepen the relationship between you, the viewer, and the strangers on the train, we've chosen virtual reality as our medium. Part video game, part live action documentary - Blackout takes advantage of a new filmmaking technology that we are inventing to immerse you into the story.
Only through your support will we be able to to finish Blackout. In return, you will get exclusive rewards: be the first to see the film, join our beta testing program or even begin making VR films like this yourself!
People Are Talking About Blackout
VR Distribution Platform EEVO will provide match funding if we make our goal!
If we fund this project, EEVO will become the exclusive distributor of the Google Cardboard and Gear VR editions of the film. This will guarantee Blackout gets to as many people around the world as possible, in higher quality than any other VR mobile platform can provide to date.
A Documentary Set In a Fictional Environment
Who are these strangers?
The people in Blackout represent a snapshot of a single subway car in New York. Since this is NYC, our group includes an illustrious international cast of underground performers, artists, educators and scientists.
The project began with in-depth interviews with a group of 27 people for our virtual train. Their stories and observations interweave to create a beautiful documentary portrait of a crowd of strangers struggling to find their place in the city.
Sneak peak from a playable demo:
Our passengers loved speculating about their fellow commuters – making up stories and creating snap judgements. By the end it’s painfully honest, hilariously raw and revealing.
Blackout’s narrator Liam Finn tells his coming of age story as an ambitious young musician growing up in a small town in New Zealand to move to NYC. Liam transports us from the intoxicating thrill of his first show to the ever-present doubts of a mid-career performer.
Oneika Mays recounts the subtle personality and perspective shifts that have become a fundamental part of her volunteer work teaching yoga to incarcerated women on New York’s Rikers Island.
British-Yemeni paleoanthropologist Ella Al-Shamahi discusses her recent appointment as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Meanwhile members of her family are living in a conflict zone. Her life gives her plenty of material to entertain the London stand up comedy scene – even if she does occasionally lose the crowd with her science humor.
Pioneers of the urban hip-hop dance style Litefeet W.A.F.F.L.E Life (We Are Family For Life Entertainment) describe how they make ends meet and keep NYC vibrant. Using the subway as a stage to perform 2-3 min live shows.
And many others…. If we introduced them all, they wouldn’t be strangers anymore!
Wait – What is Virtual Reality, anyway?
So glad you asked! Virtual reality – VR for short – is a technique that uses a pair of head-tracking video goggles allowing the viewer to look around inside a virtual space. VR experiences give viewers the feeling of being there - a sense of presence - that transcends what can be seen on flat screens.
By moving your gaze and position through our virtual train car, you will be able to selectively listen to the inner thoughts of your fellow passengers. Your gaze will shape the narrative – protagonists will emerge, themes will expand around you as you navigate your way through the interconnected stories. This type of film is only possible through the viewer driven interaction that VR enables.
It seems like science fiction but, it works on the smartphone already in your pocket through just a simple pair of of cardboard goggles (available with Blackout - see the $40 reward tier). There are also very high end virtual reality technologies like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive - we’ll make sure the experience works for both so the most people possible can experience it!
By supporting Blackout you are helping us develop a new accessible tool for virtual reality filmmaking, DepthKit.
In order to make this virtual experience possible, we’re using an innovative approach to virtual reality filmmaking we’ve invented here at Specular. It’s called DepthKit - a technology to capture live-action 3D models of real people that can be placed into our subway train. When a virtual reality film is made with DepthKit, it's like a movie colliding with a video game.
DepthKit is powered with depth sensors like the Microsoft Kinect. Originally brought to market as game controllers, these affordable consumer electronics contain 3D cameras that when combined with cinematic video cameras create a new medium of filmmaking: a 3D volumetric video. Like holograms, they can be seen from any angle and placed into virtual space.
DepthKit began as a prototype to imagine a science fiction future of filmmaking where people and virtual space coexist. That fiction became reality faster than we ever could have imagined! Now we are rising to the occasion to combine DepthKit with the latest virtual reality technology.
This Kickstarter is your chance to join us on this journey - a significant portion of the funds will go to improving the quality and usability of DepthKit, getting it one step closer to releasing it to the virtual reality filmmaking community.
This isn't our first time at the VRodeo
Creating VR experiences is challenging, but we are uniquely suited to do it - and we’ve done it before! Specular Technical Director James George co-directed the interactive documentary CLOUDS, which won the category for Transmedia at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
While interactive films like CLOUDS and Blackout are Specular’s raison d'etre, we also work professionally creating world class interactive projects both inside and outside of virtual reality. Check out our online portfolio to see more.
Get Exclusive Access Through Kickstarter
$20 - SMARTPHONE DIGITAL DOWNLOAD
iOS & Android + Cardboard compatible download (no cardboard viewer included.)
$25 - TAG THE TRAIN
Be a graffiti artist without getting busted. Create your own personal tag and we'll slap it into the Blackout subway car.
$40 BLACKOUT BRANDED GOOGLE CARDBOARD
New to VR? Get started here! Everything you need to see Blackout – a custom full color printed Blackout branded Google Cardboard adaptor that turns your smartphone into a VR viewer!
$60 - COLLECTABLE "METRO CARD" OCULUS APP INSTALLER
Your ticket to a ride on the Blackout train delivered on a custom laser etched and full color print USB media installer modeled after a subway entrance card.
$85 - THE EXPRESS LINE PACKAGE: ALL ABOARD!
Diehard straphangers at this tier will receive all the physical rewards: Blackout Branded Google Cardboard Smartphone Digital Download with digital download; Collectable USB card in the same package.
$125 - HARDHAT ZONE: BE A BETA TESTER
Grab your flashlight and venture into the dark tunnels with exclusive access to early builds of the Blackout Oculus Rift experience. We'll rely on you for creative feedback and technical debugging as we refine the experience.
$240 - +| YOUR AD HERE |+
Make Dr. Z proud – put your art or advertisement in the genuine ad spaces on our virtual train. Be careful though - local hipsters love to deface underground ads.
$290 - DEPTHKIT VR - *DO IT YOURSELF* Package!
Exclusive access to the next release of DepthKit hardware & software including support for Microsoft Kinect V2, accompanying camera mount, and Unity 3D Plug-In. (video camera and Kinect not included)
$480 - TICKET TO DEPTHKIT WORKSHOP
A ticket to attend an exclusive one day DepthKit Kinect V2 workshop in the NYC area.
Check the rewards panel for even more rewards: exclusive meet ups, opportunities to become a stranger on the train and even host a workshop.
It’s not a Kickstarter, it’s a Kick-finish!
We’ve come far with Blackout – but this Kickstarter marks a critical point. Without it, we can’t go further. We need your support to expand the team and cast. Here's what we've done, and what we still have ahead:
Expanding the Cast
With principal photography and initial interviews complete, we're working with our editor Hannah Jayanti to build the story, to discover and refine how they fit together.
We used this project as an opportunity to listen carefully to the thoughts of the strangers on our train. It is rare to get the opportunity to sit down, speak your mind and have someone listen carefully. In doing this with our subjects, what emerged were stories of global importance: dealing with conflicts, learning how to coexist with strangers, and the challenges of dealing with the unknown.
As we looked closer at these issue we learned that we need more voices in our train, we need a broader group to participate in this dialogue. We’re turning to you to help us bring more voices into our conversation. We’re asking for your support to do another shoot, allowing us to involve more strangers and a broader diversity of passengers in our train.
DepthKit Reimagined for Virtual Reality
Through the first phase of Blackout we’ve rebuilt DepthKit from the ground up. For those of you familiar with the current version - we can’t wait to show you the DepthKit VR Prototype. It is entirely geared towards multi-camera capture and processing for volumetric playback in realtime VR & AR environments. We’re staying true to the original dream of DepthKit: to enable artists with an accessible way to explore the format of volumetric capture.
All of the development of Blackout is being folded into the tool - and we’ll work to refine the quality of the renders improving calibration and data refinement algorithms. But without this Kickstarter, continued work on DepthKit will be slow and we will have to do more installation work to make ends meet.
Along with the talented 3D artist Matt Wilson, we’ve meticulously measured and virtually reconstructed the R160A type train car to scale and we’ve begun adding our passengers to it in the game engine Unity. Right now we have the shape and scale of the train right but in order to really make it feel like you’re there we need to work on the lighting and the surface materials in our virtual train. Your support of Blackout will enable us to make a lush and believable R160A train car complete with the scratched graffiti on the window to the scuffs of thousands of feet on the rubber floor.
Immersive Sound Design
We believe that good quality, immersive audio is a vital and often overlooked ingredient for any compelling VR experience. We've recorded multi-naural sound in the train with the brilliant team at Antfood, who are working with us to design a 3D audio playback experience. What it means to you is that if you support this project, as you look around the train you hear all the nuanced sounds that the train makes, the low rumbling of the undercarriage punctuated by the hiss of the vapor door motors of the R160A.
We've made a playable scene from Blackout and had a party, er serious user test at our studio to validate the interactivity. We learned a lot from doing it and your support will allow us to take the time necessary to carefully build and test the experience until it really works for all of you.
Blackout is a labor of love and we’re very lucky to have the generous involvement of some incredibly talented collaborators who are inspired to create meaningful, immersive stories in this format.
Andrew Levine | Documentation + First Assistant Camera
Ansh Patel | PA + Lighting
BJ Allan | Lighting + Camera Assistant
Eli Mavros | Contributing Kickstarter Editor
Julia Irwin | Lighting + Camera Assistant
Marissa Adele | Makeup
Matt Sutton | Sound Recordist
Mike Tello | Designer
Miles Peyton | Development Intern
Christian Richardt | Research Advising
Alexandra Marvar | Community Relations
Kyle Kukshtel | Kickstarter Support
Your contribution to this Kickstarter means we can realize the dream of Blackout together. Thank you!
Special Thanks to Julia Kaganskiy and Sheiva Rezvani from NEW INC, Nora O'Murchu, Daan van Hasselt, Lisbeth Kauffman and Kristina Budelis at KitSplit and all the rest of our beautiful passengers and extras.
Risks and challenges
Virtual reality is an emerging medium with limited existing methods for content creation and distribution. We're a small team working in largely uncharted territory and setbacks can be difficult to predict. We believe deeply in a process of research and development driven through trial, error and open exploration - which means Blackout will take time.
Luckily we've got an incredible team of dedicated collaborators with the proven skills and artistic talent to successfully create this experience. We’re looking forward to this journey and excited to invite you along through this Kickstarter.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Blackout is best explored in VR, but the smartphone digital download application will also work in 2D as is. This takes advantage of what we like to call "Magic Window" mode, where your phone becomes an interactive window into the virtual world of Blackout. Just by holding the phone in front of you and moving it through space you can explore the interior of the train.
Yes, and no - Our mission with the next release of DepthKit will be to help support it much more actively than we have been able to so far. In order to do this, we will be introducing different levels of licensing and support for advance features. But there will always be a free version of DepthKit! While we are still waiting to release more details on this, we can promise that backers at the DIY Package level will be converted to the appropriate license when it is released.
Nope. This is an independent project describing life in this great city and isn't endorsed or supported by the city in any way.
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