Adelaide’s reality studio shines around the world

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Having won a major award for their work on a groundbreaking virtual reality documentary, Monkeystack helps put the local virtual reality industry on the international stage.

Monkeystack, an Adelaide game design, experience and animation studio, picked up a win in the Best Virtual Reality category at the monthly Los Angeles Film Awards last month.

Based in Glenside, the studio was awarded for its work on Thin Ice VR, a 23-minute documentary. The short film follows Tim Jarvis as he traces the coast-to-coast journey of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The documentary, which also landed a gong at the Cannes World Film Festival, shows the viewer the impact of climate change on the region following Shackleton’s journey 100 years ago.

Monkeystack’s commercial director, Rhys Sandery, said the award not only validates the project, but also puts the VR industry in South Australia on the map.

“This journey started in 2018 around a kitchen chat and we put a whole bunch of equipment and a lot of people on a boat to Antarctica,” Sandery said.

“In documentary cinema, you send the production team out, then they come back with a bunch of flashcards, and you figure out what movie you’re going to make. There is a lot of hope in documentary cinema, the price validates it.

“It also helps us open doors and start conversations and, from a future production perspective, it puts South Australia on the map as a place capable of producing world-class work.”

Once relegated to game arcades, virtual reality is becoming a booming industry in South Australia, which now has a string of companies developing immersive experiences.

Local studios aren’t just developing VR for games and movies, but businesses and sports clubs are looking for a new way to engage with staff and fans.

“I think we have a great and growing screen industry here,” Sandery said.

“What we have in South Australia is a very supportive and supported screen-based industry, and as a studio that’s been around for a long time, like Rising Sun Pictures and KOJO, we’ve tried to shape that industry.

“Rather than being a group of disparate companies competing for the same resources, as an industry we have tried to be a bit more generalist and therefore offer a lot more job opportunities. to South Australians so they can stay in South Australia.”

The studio started in 2004 with a staff of around three people. Monkeystack now employs over 20 people, with that number rising to around 60 depending on current projects.

Upcoming projects include hosting the new “Koala Man” series, hosting Disney’s 20th Television for Hulu and a training module for Australian Electoral Commission staff.

The studio will also wrap production on its three-minute 3D animated film “Hike,” which was named a finalist in the Unreal Engine Short Film Challenge.

The short film addresses grief and growing up by telling the story of a hiker who retraces a path he and his mother used to follow to scatter his ashes.

Sandery called virtual reality an “empathy machine” that allows the user to have a first-person experience.

“By placing the audience member as a participant in the story, you get so much connection and engagement and empathy because they feel like they’ve been through it, not just watching it,” said he declared.

“VR movies are a whole new medium for people and shared VR experiences, in terms of something you can go to a museum or a cultural institution with a group of people and share an experience is something which is another evolution of cinema.

“You had a standard cinema screen, then everyone went big with IMAX, which was immersive, and now they’ve taken an IMAX screen and wrapped it all around you in a VR headset.

“I think for the audience there’s a certain novelty, and there’s this appeal of technology – it’s just a cool thing to do.”

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