SXSW, sessions on Experiential storytelling and VR/AR/MR

By Gregg Young

…a guide to the jungle of SxSW sessions for lovers of new ways of storytelling…


So I finally made it to South by South West (SxSW), often shortened and referred to by locals and regular visitors as ‘South by’. For years SxSW seemed to be the ultimate festival, a mix of music, movies and interactive content in the liberal city of Austin, Texas. It still is the place to be for storytellers of all ‘plumage’, but the festival also has grown into this ‘mastodon’: or how an 8 time German visitor put it to me in the elevator to another social meet up, he was referring to the animal and not the metal band…

I attended SxSW as a member of VRT Sandbox, literally a sandbox where we introduce new ideas and technology from start-ups (SME’s) to the Flemish (Belgian) public broadcaster VRT. We showcased two scale ups: Zender and Spott at the booth of FIT (Flemish Investment Trade) at the Trade Show area.
VRT Sandbox goes international through the Mediaroad program.
(product placement logo here :)).

Attending 7 social events in five days didn’t gave me much time to see the sessions I marked as ‘favourite’ in the btw excellent festival app..
DO: use the SxSW app.. It gives you a clear view of what is going on at what time and in what venue, a bot and recommendations are included, for free!

As (immersive) storytelling is my field of expertise, I marked mainly the sessions under the tracks ‘experiential storytelling’ and ‘VR/AR/MR’. Couldn’t found any article after the festival listing these sessions, so that’s why I write them down here for you (and myself) to give a brief overview of what I thought were interesting topics discussed. The sessions I could attend (or listened to afterwards), got some more thought process, feel free to disagree.

Lots of sessions had a sexy title and often they fulfilled the expectations, but that wasn’t always the case. DO: Check the panel, check the host, if they have a great track record, you can be sure that you don’t waste your time or miss another, more interesting, talk during the event.


Owlchemy labs, amazing talk, a VR cooking class. (Copyright: Adult Swim Games and Owlchemy Labs)

Here is the full list of my ‘favourite sessions’:

and here are some highlights from the sessions I managed to attend:

March 8:

March 9:

  • Immersive storytelling; breaking the 4th wall
    Intel Studios built an amazing volumetric studio and captured some full blown western scenes and a music video with Reggi Watts. So… Now you have enough keywords to find yourself all information online, talk also available via the session link in the title.

  • Reimagining the Cinema Experience
    Interesting tools for new cinema experiences, like branched storytelling in a cinema experience. But off course, the VR Birdly flight was what caught my eye as it is already a classic in the VR landscape. Listening via the title link.

  • Next Uncanny Valley: interactions in XR
    Loved this talk, a witty panel with MR experts, going from one topic to another, brain orgasm stuff! By now, you know, listen via the title link.

March 10:

no time to attend any sessions

March 11:

March 12:

  • Expeditions in the Uncanny Valley
    Great talk about volumetric capturing and different techniques (photogrammetry) to accomplish the best result for your storytelling.

So hope you have some food for thought for those cold winter evenings and warm summer breeze mornings or something like that, catch you in the multiverse!

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Niels Van DuyseComment