With Lost Horizon Festival, Ollie Rankin Offers Us A Portal Into The Future of Live Events

Caption: Legendary DJ duo Coldcut perform as CG avatars on the virtual Freedom Stage at Lost Horizon

As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. The Lost Horizon Festival that took place on July  3rd and 4th of this year is proof that humans have a way of coming up with inventive solutions that make the world a better place and solve any problems we face. This event was the world’s 1st multi-day, multi-stage, entirely virtual music and art festival. 

VR Pioneer Ollie Rankin worked with the crew that organized the anti-establishment Shangri-La portion of Glastonbury for the last decade and the team at Sansar Studios. The virtual Shangri-La off-shoot was much more than just a festival. It was a celebration of modern ideals, art, and a radical mindset. It was a festival that stimulated the senses, motivated people in politics and play, expanded thoughts, and opened hearts. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic sent us into lockdown for our own health and safety, sadly this meant we also had to give up many things, such as the chance for coming together in the same physical space. This means that gathering in large groups is practically impossible. But, thanks to brilliant minds such as Ollie Rankin, the virtual space has now become a platform where we can inspire, educate, and connect.

A Bit About Ollie Rankin

Ollie Rankin is a New Zealand born virtual reality storyteller and visual effects supervisor. He has a background in programming, specifically in the field of artificial intelligence. This skill led him to work at Weta Digital in 1999, as one of the first users of Massive, building virtual orc and elf brains. He went on to choreograph battle sequences for the Lord of Rings Trilogy. His skills in the emerging field of crowd and battle simulation were sought after by studios in Japan, the UK, Canada, and California. 

In a career that spans 20 years, Rankin has worked on dozens of films and television productions. He has also been involved in several startups in the fields of virtual and mixed reality. In addition to creating original interactive VR films through his own company, Pansensory Interactive, Rankin has also made contributions to volumetric capture technology and the application of VR to education and mental health therapy. 

Lost Horizon Festival 

Ollie and his colleagues at VRJAM have been working on solutions for live VR events for three years. In the space of just ten weeks, he oversaw the building of four virtual stages and two other virtual worlds. The team recorded and processed over 75 DJs (including Carl Cox, Fatboy Slim, Sasha, Pete Tong, Seth Troxler) and bands (including Alabama 3, Nova Twins, Voodoo Black, My Bad Sister) as well as dozens of other performers and hundreds of artworks (including from Shepard Fairey and Mark Tichenor) to create an event like none ever before.

The Lost Horizon Festival was a universally accessible and radically inclusive free event. The event had an activist message of social, racial, and climate justice, and raised money for Amnesty International and The Big Issue (a UK newspaper by and for the homeless). Using CG, gaming and VFX techniques, Ollie and his team gave people the experience of a large-scale immersive social event, complete with all the random interactions and life-changing conversations you might expect, without exposing anyone to the risk of COVID-19.

The Lost Horizon Festival introduced its audience to the new frontier for live events. The experience was beyond thrilling and scary and amazing all at the same time. People who attended the festival got the chance to meet up with friends and create new ones, as well as customizing or creating their own avatar. The audience got to pull animated dance moves that they could never pull off in real life. You could hear conversations, marvel at the beautiful crowd, and move between stages, just like you would in a real live in-person festival. 

Lost Horizon gave people a chance to experience the power of virtual reality and game engines to connect people, in complete safety.  With hundreds attending in VR, thousands on the PC and smartphone apps, and nearly 4.5 million streams across various platforms, the event was a resounding success! We can look forward to many such events going forward from Ollie Rankin and his team.