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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Fiction a Reality at Silicon Valley Comic Con

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - The inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con unfolded as an homage to the imagination, fitting given its setting in what is arguably the world's capital of innovation.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and a man at the forefront of the personal computer revolution, sponsored the event in his native city of San Jose.

"This event is based on visual imagery, super heroes, unbelievable powers, things that don't exist for humans," the man known colloquially as "The Woz" said. "We have been working all our lives with our computer products to give humans more power than they have ever had in the world, so that's we're all about it and it just fits that all of this belongs right here in San Jose."

In his opening speech, Wozniak said that while imagination is so clearly paramount to the creation of the comic books, movies, TV shows, video games and science fiction books that fans celebrate at Comic Cons, imagination is also the engine that drives innovation in the technology sector.

The technological breakthroughs for which the Silicon Valley is famed not only rely on the creativity of the product engineer, but those engineers draw inspiration from the creativity of the writers that initially dreamed up a world where such products were possible, Wozniak said.

"We see a lot of the science fiction from decades ago turning into real products by those of us who learn and study how to manufacture such things," Wozniak said during his opening remarks on Saturday.

This intersection and overlap between fiction and technology - how fiction drove innovation in technology and how technology continues to drive innovation in fiction - played out continually over the three-day event at the San Jose Convention Center.

For instance, Virtual Reality, a concept discussed in various science fiction productions such as "The Matrix" and "Avatar," had a bit of coming-out party at the convention.

VR companies Oculus and HTC displayed their virtual-reality systems which allow viewers to plunge into a completely immersive virtual world.

"We are on the cusp of the opening round of the VR revolution," Jon Oakes, a member of the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality trade organization that has sprouted up around the emergent technology, said.

At least seven booths dedicated to virtual reality occupied space at the Silicon Valley Comic Con. At the VR Monster booth, two people donned VR glasses and competed to complete an obstacle course in a virtual world.

And proving that VR isn't only about video games, film director Eric Darnell used the convention to present a glimpse of Baobab Studios, a virtual-reality content company he co-founded with former Zynga executive Maureen Fan.

Darnell, who wrote and directed the Dreamworks animated feature "Madagascar" and its sequels, has created a 7 ½-minute narrative feature that takes place in the immersive world of virtual reality.

"In the 80s I worked in computer programming, which was the Wild West," Darnell said. "Virtual reality is the wild west right now. You can do anything you can dream."

Virtual reality proved to be a major attraction for the throngs of convention-goers, many of whom waited in line for more than an hour for their turn at experiencing a 3-minute plunge into a separate reality.

"It feels really immersive," attendee Damien Siu said after his first foray into virtual reality. "You find yourself reaching to touch things you know are not there. You can really suspend your disbelief."

Oculus, HTC and Sony all have virtual-reality headsets set to hit the market in the coming year but they will be expensive, ranging from $400 to $700.

Aside from VR, the convention also explored other ways technology is altering the traditional way people consume media, particularly comic books.

Comic book company Madefire claims to be the vanguard of a seismic shift in the genre's storytelling. The company still uses the traditional storyboard format of the comic book, but in transferring it to a digital platform it uses a motion tool to make the experience more dynamic.

Bent on preserving the reading experience, the company doesn't use voiceovers. But it believes the viewer's ability to use digital platforms to explore the intricacies of each panel will revolutionize the comic book reading experience.

"Comic books are going digital," Madefire engineer Diego Medina said.

But for all the hullabaloo surrounding the industry's look toward the future, the booths hawking the old-fashioned paper comic books remained busy.

"I don't read a lot of the digital comics," Alan Bahr, owner of Heroes Comics, said. "I'm an old-school paper guy."

He said there will always be the impulse among collectors to retain the physical copy of their favorite works.

"You have a newspaper and comic book, you read them both on the same day, but you throw away the newspaper and keep the comic book," he said. "I have always been of the belief that comic books are worthy of something that is collectible."

The Silicon Valley Comic Con strove to be different, but also kept the events of more tried and true conventions. The cosplayers - cosplay being the act of dressing up as a character from a movie, book or video game - showed out and took pictures with each other.

Among cosplayers, Marvel comic character Deadpool and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" character Kylo Ren were the most represented, but more than a handful of Jedi Knights roamed the precincts. R2D2 wandered the convention floor, beeping indecipherable communiques. Stormtroopers marched around menacingly, Scorpion from "Mortal Combat" took a break from fighting to wolf down a donut, and Barf from "Spaceballs" texted while waiting in line for lunch.

And the Silicon Valley Comic Con was not above indulging in nostalgia.

Nearly 30 years after "Back to the Future" took theaters by storm, it was abundantly clear on Saturday that the movie has lost none of its cultural resonance.

The film's stars - Michael J. Fox, Leah Thompson and Christopher Lloyd - discussed shooting the film and how its popularity has affected their lives and careers before a packed and cheering audience in the grand ballroom of the convention center.

In the sequel, "Back to the Future II," Marty McFly and his girlfriend Jennifer Parker travel forward in time to 2015 to rescue their future children. As it happens, many of the technological predictions depicted in the 1989 film have become realities.

True, there are no hoverboards. But the big-screen televisions, video conferencing, drones delivering the news, hands-free video games and video glasses that appeared in the movie have since shown up in the modern marketplace.

Which bolsters Wozniak's theory that science fiction does not merely predict the future, it inspires it.

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