Head Trip: Six Mil Antennas

Local filmmaker Johnny Ranger talks about his new immersive film experience, Six Mil Antennas, screening this month at the SAT.

If Philip K. Dick spent an hour lying in a sensory deprivation tank, he very well might experience something akin to Johnny Ranger’s Six Mil Antennas. In this 360-degree immersive film, viewers lie back on couches and let a kaleidoscope of animated and natural visual environments surround them. The effect is a visceral, almost tactile experience of being inside the haunted mind of another. “You go into the mind of a character, and then you go out of it and enter the vision of another,” Ranger says, “entering their virtual dreams, their thoughts, their meditations. You’re going into everyone’s fantasies.”

The characters, though, are not always obvious, nor are they necessarily human. They range from protozoa to evolutionary mash-up, mixing animals, machines, and humans. When humans appear, they are flashed through surreal situations – a man belted with dynamite by a seductive dancer, a god-like opera singer whose voice is drowned out by gadgets, a girl that wakes to find tumorous black globules hanging from her underwear.

These non-narrative vignettes are further combined with a fugue of animated themes that are constantly reinterpreted. Ranger calls them “moving abstractions” and “paintings in motion.” Ranger intended to keep the meaning open-ended. “In the end it doesn’t matter what character’s mind we go into,” he says. “We don’t own the unconsciousness. The symbols and codes are already there and we share them, but interpret them differently. It’s the same thing with this. At the end of the day, it is a subjective experience.”

Seeing the work in the SAT’s domed theater, the Satosphère, is ideal. “Six Mil Antennas is one of the first films the SAT funded. Based on our previous experience in film, the [SAT] trusted us that we could deliver. They gave us carte blanche to explore whatever we wanted. So Six Mil Antennas is very, very much created for this space.”

Ranger notes that making Six Mil Antennas posed its own set of challenges. He says the technology to make the film requires nothing more than “a big strong Mac” and the right software for rendering large files. “Sure, I learned things on the way and had to know what I was doing, but I didn’t see that as a challenge. I saw that as an opportunity for learning something new.” His biggest concern was that the first version of the film and the Satosphère were completed concurrently in late 2011. “The first time the public saw [the film] was the first time we saw it. We didn’t have time to modify it.”

This version – the “Final Cut” – is slightly shorter. “We are very happy with it. There is a refined marriage of music and the visual. Before it was quieter; now, there is a stronger build-up.”

The future glows with promise for Ranger. “This is a dream come true for a videographer. I feel the potential of going further with 3D and interactivity. We can create impressions in a way that is more integrated. It’s hard to have a better presentation space than this.”

Six Mil Antennas: The Final Cut screens Tuesday-Friday through Aug 31 at the SAT (1201 St-Laurent), 8 p.m., $14



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