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Advance Program »

Brett Leonard - Director


As a visual storyteller, I have been interested in the concept of Virtual Reality primarily as it relates to the “mythos” of the evolution of the human soul – and in how a “cyber-aesthetic” can be depicted in cinematic terms.

The term “Virtual Reality” also represents for me an overall trend in world culture – A trend where the illusionary/cinematic world of ever-present digital images, delivered with ever-greater display power and dimension, creates an overarching perception of the world that is becoming more pervasive and powerful than “real” reality.

This creation and reflection of culture by increasingly sophisticated visual/auditory media leads me to answer the question posed by the title of this panel- “Yes, VR is here.”- We are already living in a “virtual” world of manipulated perception, fueled by the explosion of digital media technologies that create conferences just like this one. 

I will explore these concepts with the other panelists and conference attendees, asking the question: How can we as entertainers, technologists, artists and storytellers, most effectively imbue our work with truly interactive, creative empowerment for an “audience” that will increasingly become “creators” of their own virtual worlds?

About the Speaker

photo: michael zyda


Brett Leonard is considered one of Hollywood's most innovative film directors, and is known as one of the entertainment industry's digital media visionaries.

Mr. Leonard directed and co-wrote the hit motion picture The Lawnmower Man, starring Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey. The film is considered a cult classic, way ahead of its time in the use of groundbreaking computer graphics and the portrayal of a networked data culture.

The Lawnmower Man is one of the true progenitors of the "cyber genre" and was the number one commercially successful independent film of 1992, costing under $6 million and earning over $150 million worldwide.

In 1993 Mr. Leonard was a key participant of the Sony 2000 think tank, a small group of media visionaries assembled to discuss the future of media. He also directed Peter Gabriel's Kiss That Frog, the first all computer graphic music video/ride film. Kiss That Frog toured the world as a wildly popular theme park attraction, and won Mr. Leonard a 1994 MTV Music Video Award.

In the ensuing years, Mr. Leonard has continued to push the envelope in his feature film work, establishing himself as a pioneer of digital visual effects. He stepped into the third dimension with his IMAX 3D work, and directed T-Rex in IMAX 3D, which is the No.#1 hit 3D movie in history, having grossed over $100 million worldwide on IMAX screens alone.

Mr. Leonard is also known for having a keen eye for new talent. He was instrumental in bringing Russell Crowe to American film audiences, giving Russell his first lead in a Hollywood film, Virtuosity. He did the same for Alicia Silverstone in his film for Tri-Star, Hideaway. Rising star, Alex O’Loughlin (lead in the CBS series Moonlight), was given his first break by Brett, and has appeared in two of Mr. Leonard’s films.


While continually directing feature films over the last fifteen years, Mr. Leonard also produced numerous interactive projects that were well ahead of their time – many at the forefront of defining what is now called “user-created interactive entertainment” - He created a sensation when he took his “Swarm Cam-Fusion Station” onto the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Billy Idol, and implemented one of the first live web-casts ever, from the House of Blues, LA.

Consequently, Mr. Leonard was approached by the Creative Artists Agency and Intel Corporation to direct a state-of-the-art "interactive show" for the CAA/Intel Media Lab, with his team at L-Squared Entertainment doing the technical implementation. The "show," IS?TV®: The Virtual Studio Tour, was to introduce the Hollywood community to the "future of entertainment." As Director of this ambitious and pioneering project, Mr. Leonard digitized his star Danny DeVito, creating an interactive animated character named "Mr. Head", who guided the audience/participants through the experience.

Looking at this presentation now, over ten years later, the volcanically changing media landscape we inhabit today is incredibly similar to what Brett and his team predicted back then: Brett was one of the first to envision the “YouTube”, “Facebook” cyber-world of our new millennium, and continues to develop ground-breaking projects for enabling truly interactive user-created media experiences, for both the internet, and location-based immersive media venues. Brett’s philosophy, born out in all his interactive work, is to empower people to create story, character, and emotion in any new media experience, no matter what the technology being used to create it.