The average concert is a tour de force for one’s sense of sound (and, if the bass is decent, one’s sense of their bones vibrating). But Anne McKinnon from The Boolean isn’t interested in “average” concerts. She wants to use XR to make concerts a sensation for all the senses.
Alan: Welcome to the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today’s guest is Anne McKinnon from The Boolean. Anne is a VR and AR consultant and writer. She is an editor and contributor to Charlie Fink’s book “Convergence.” Charlie, as you may remember, was one of the very first episodes we had. Her consulting bridges the gap between entertainment and technology. As an advisor, Anne grows and curates a community of digital artists to leverage new and emerging technologies. Anne is actively engaged in the entertainment industry at the intersection of music, arts, gaming, and tech. You can learn more about the great work that Anne and her team are doing at theboolean.io. Anne, welcome to the show.
Anne: Thank you, Alan. I’m really excited to speak with you today, and also cannot wait to speak to a lot of the listeners.
Alan: Yes, it’s been a while. We’ve known each other quite some time, and you do some work with VR Days and they’ve been on the show as well. And it feels like a family, like a network of people that are all just kind of coming together. So how did you get into this crazy world of technology?
Anne: Actually, VR Days was one of the major events I went to and I started working in tech. And it was as a blogger and just kind of looking at how can we solve problems in VR, what can we use it for, and how can we make improvements to every aspect of our lives? And VR Days was one of the best conferences that bridged the gap between technology and arts, and also brought together everyone from military to education to healthcare, and also the creatives to drive that innovation. So that way, I guess I met some of the teams that I work with now and we’re looking at how to solve all these problems and to bring it to audiences around the world.
Alan: Let’s unpack that. What are some of the problems that you’re working on solving?
Anne: I want you talk a lot today about one of the projects we’re working on for almost two years, and that’s with Miro Shot. So Miro Shot is a band and we’re touring a virtual reality live concert around the world. So to kind of put in detail about what that looks like, is that the audience is physically present and the band as also physically present. And when the audience enters, they have VR headsets on and they are immersed in dreamscape visuals, and the pass-through camera’s a big part of what we do to connect the realities, and to experience music in a new way. And one of the problems that a lot of VR experiences have is how do you reach audiences around the world with live performance, and also how do you reach a large scale audience? A lot of what we’re focusing in business is how do you grow experiences from live to at home. And this is something we’re doing with the band, with up to 30 people at a time for live concert.
Alan: People simultaneously in VR?
Anne: Simultaneously in VR. So a lot of it is based around the concepts of gaming. So we’re really looking at VR as something that’s not contained, taking from classical genres, from theater and cinema and gaming. So everything starts in a gaming lobby. And they start the experience together and depending on where they look, they’ll be able to experience different parts of the world of the music. And they’re also because of the live performance, they’re really tied to the real world, experiencing it in a new way.
Alan: Are they at home when– or is this at a physical location?
Anne: Completely live. One of the recent ones we did was, we were at VRHAM! festival in Germany. So we did 18 live immersive concerts over four days. And what it looks like is we have up to 30 people every time. We do six to eight shows per day, and they last about 30 minutes from start to finish. So the audience is coming into– we were at a warehouse on the outskirts of Hamburg. And what’s so amazing is that this experience we can take to– we’ve performed at churches at the Institute of Art in Amsterdam Baptist Cinema. We did an underground music venue in London, New Blush in Paris and Gaité Lyrique. And yeah, the audiences there, they put the headsets on, the band comes in and plays a couple of sets, and they see these amazing visuals and they feel haptics and temperature and scent. Whole new way to explore music.
Alan: So they’re live. They’ve got a headset on. So when they walk in, there’s a bunch of chairs or is it standing?
Anne: Seated. So because again, a lot of people are experiencing VR for the first time, I can be a lot to take in, especially when you have the powerful music, a band, and you have all these different scents and feelings and also voice-over that’s talking about world-building. Because a lot of this in a way is building the future of how we’re going to experience our world.
Alan: It’s incredible. So I was at the FIVARS Festival, which is the Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Storytelling, and they had a band there and the band was playing in a small room and everybody kind of came in to watch. But the band was playing to 3D mapped visuals. So somebody had projected it on a wall and had a couple of pieces, and one guy had a drum and the 3D projection was on the drum. So this is like that only times eleven.
Anne: One other thing is we learned very early on is that if we want to make it the best we possibly can, we have to collaborate with people who are from different backgrounds. So we have a collective about 700 people from all over the world who contribute to the visuals of the band, like the one who saw at FIVARS Festival But also, too, we have two master students who are working with us in the band, and they create a lot of these virtual scenes and virtual worlds. We use everything from haptics. So it’s not just VR. Again, we can’t– I don’t think think– let’s look at immersion, we have to look at something beyond VR and how can we create an atmosphere and how can we create an experience. And one of the posts I wrote recently on my blog at theboolean.io was about Sleep No More and how it’s everything that VR should be. And it created a lot of good debate on Twitter. So I’d love for people to join that conversation.
Alan: An amazing article. So explain how the haptics are working. Are you using something like a SUBPAC or…?
Anne: Yeah, SUBPAC has partnered with us for a lot of events and we use their– the one that’s like a backpack, we put them on the chairs. We also use wind, so people can feel– it’s funny, because a lot of the times we do a bit of an intro into the experience and sometimes I’ll forget to say, “Oh, you’ll be scented, we’ll use wind.” And then afterwards, when we’re talking to our audience, they’ll say “Did I smell the desert?” or “Did I smell the ocean?” because we have Timothy Hand, who does scents for us and he’s at Somerset House in London. So we do have a custom scents for shows.
Alan: Oh my God. I’ve got to come and try this. This sounds amazing. First of all, what kind of VR headsets are they?
Anne: This is a great question for artists, because I think a lot of the struggle is how do you find the right hardware and how do you talk with the right teams? Because we’re a super, super low budget, like the label has been incredibly supportive. But a lot of it is independent. So HTC has given us some Vive Focus and we love them, because being untethered is a huge important part of having audience come in and not feeling like it’s a hassle, but really having this like ritualistic atmospheric experience without breaking that sense of immersion. But we don’t have funds to port. So that’s something that we’re looking for. But otherwise we’re using the Samsung Gear VR. And those have been absolutely amazing. Again, they’re tetherless. They’re easy to put on and off. We can pack them up and take them in boxes around the world. They’re super easy for production. The pass-through cameras are great. So we’re really keen on using those. But again, it can be really difficult to talk to big companies, or we rent the headsets out for every event.
Alan: Yeah, I think device management with VR is a bit of a pain in the butt, because you have to keep them charged, especially with the Samsung Gear VR’s great, because you can just swap out the phones.
Anne: Yeah, it’s really–
Alan: Stack of phones charging while you’re swapping it out, whereas if you’re using something like an Oculus Go, you’ve got to take the whole machine away. So there is pros and cons, but the only problem that is Samsung in the future is not going to be supporting Gear VR, looks like.
Anne: Yeah. So definitely in the process of transferring over. The Quest would be absolutely amazing for what we’re doing because again, it’s super high powered.
Alan: And if you think about the Quest on a price point, it’s actually way cheaper than a Gear VR because a Gear VR is, let’s say $200 for the headset or 100, but then the phone is like a thousand bucks.
Anne: Yeah, but we rent for every single show. So at the moment we’ve been working on this for two years. They’ve received some grants from the Dutch government. A lot of personal support. And we have– I’m going to be in a meeting in Vancouver International Film Festival, then I fly straight from London at the show — at the International Festival Forum — to pitch in Vancouver for funding at the film festival. And then we’re also representing to Creative XR Art Council of England for opportunities to bring this to its full potential.
Alan: Now, you mentioned funding and I think this is an important segue, because I talk to a lot of companies on the show and a lot of founders, and most of them are funded that have been on the show funded of some sort anyway, whether it’s seed funding or venture funding. But funding is a key element, especially when you’re experimenting with technology. We’re pushing the limits. You guys are pushing the limits of what’s possible with this technology. And sometimes it doesn’t work. And if you’re looking at it from a strictly monetary standpoint, you would never take any risks. If that was the case, if you were only looking at it from the business standpoint, where you would never take any risks because the risks are high. So how do you convince funders and who are the sources of funding that you guys have tapped into to allow you the creative freedom to do what you want to do and bring this really incredible show to life? But also, are they expecting return, or is this government grants, or what does that look like?
Anne: This is a great question for how we’re approaching this project as creative based. A huge important part is that we have the freedom to be really innovative and that we’re not meeting certain deadlines and goals. And we’re also bringing together a lot of collaborators who are working with us on a project as open source band, if you could say. So, making it open source, making it accessible, making it somewhere where everyone can be a part of it has been something we’ve moved towards to make it– to bring it to where it is today with a very, very small budget. In terms of an XR project that’s touring the entire globe — and we’ve sold out every ticket to date — the amount of money that’s found to it is very, very little. But the potential is– and we’re presenting in Texco actually. Our partners are presenting for us and that’s in Singapore. So when we have access to corporate events and author galleries and institutions, where we bring those types of budgets, that’s what’s really allowing us to build it out. In terms of investors, it’s something we thought about very carefully. Do we want to have an influx of cash immediately? Do we want to grow and scale this right now? Or are we going to let it grow in scale organically? Are we going to retain that freedom to build it independently without meeting business deadlines? I think this is something a lot of companies–
Alan: Tell me you guys kept the autonomy and freedom.
Anne: We did. Yes.
Anne: It’s been worth it every step of the way.
Alan: Absolutely. Because let’s be honest, when you get pigeonholed into venture capital, there’s a boss leaning over your shoulder saying, “Do this, do this, do this.” And right or wrong, you are beholden to a board.
Anne: Yeah. And I think I’ve heard some people say, too, that once you get your first drive in venture capital, you’re always gonna be raising your next. So it’s a huge demand, I think, to scale that at a rate that can take a bit of time, especially as we’re all learning industry now. And what you plan for in one year might completely change as we learn new things and discover new applications.
Alan: It’s exactly why we haven’t raised as a company until now, because we had a little bit of seed capital. We found some clients that were very interested in doing great new stuff. So we actually used our clients budgets — typically in the marketing sector — to do our R&D, because as you exactly just said, this industry is moving and it’s fluid and it’s changing every day. One day Apple will come out and say a new feature. And then Google came out with a new feature. And those two features alone will wipe out 100 startups. So being able to be nimble and look at the big picture in the long term is really, I think, the key to long-term success of this whole industry. I think there’s gonna be a lot of companies that are building, building, building, and they’re raising capital. And while there’s– who went out of business? DAQRI!
Alan: DAQRI, the augmented reality helmet, they raised enormous sums of capital. But one, they were too early. They were doing this for 10 years. And the market for that, what they were doing is just starting to kick off now. They just raised too much money too early in it. It can set up companies for failure more than its success. And I think this is a lesson for people who are listening, who are startups, who have a great idea. But just be very careful where you get your funding from. And the best form of funding — in my opinion — is customers.
Anne: Yeah. I mean, when we’re booking out the show to something– because we have to be very nimble and also we are growing and scaling at — I think — a great pace where we’re also at the right timing, and also for consumer adoption it’s not what everyone expected it would be this year. And I think a big part of that is having accessible and very innovative and creative arts pieces, and there are lots of them out there. But when you go to VR, a lot of VR studios — or I should say arcades — a lot of them, it can be very difficult for someone to get to, buy a ticket and then you have to sign up and you wait 30 minutes and you try one thing, but you don’t really understand how it’s used. So I think a lot of times it’s like when people first started watching theater, they would go out and see theater. And then it was on TV, and they’d go to the movies, and they understood the concept, and there was a show, then it came into the house. And it slowly expanded to where people were comfortable with it in the home as well, and also interacting with it in many ways and shared it with their friends. I think we’re slowly, slowly building up to the same rate as what we see with other mediums that we’re drawing from.
Alan: The FIVARS Festival does a great job. They kind of have these little areas where it’s just walled off by curtains and you can sit there and you can– you load an experience so they have it all synchronized to a tablet. I was going to ask you about this. How do you synchronize all the headsets? What program do you use, or what do you use to synchronize the headsets so that everyone is getting– or are they getting the same experience?
Anne: Yeah, they are. So we have our own app on the Oculus store. And we invite everyone into a gaming lobby, and we use a networking system. We can’t rely always on the Wi-Fi of the places we are, so we always bring our own routers. And this is we can connect. I mean, as we do more testing– when we first started in 2017, we had 10 people going through an experience at once. And now we’re doing live shows at 30, just because the restrictions for renting. That was we did more tests and we kept accessing our budgets. We can do 60 people in the live experience and the connectivity is so important for that, because the show only happens once those people of the show is sold out. So we have to have a stable network and a stable experience in hardware.
Alan: But I would think that the entire experience is probably preloaded onto the devices and you’re just using the network to trigger them, right?
Anne: That’s right.
Alan: Yeah, because I think pushing the content would be too onerous.
Anne: Yes. We actually have a live system. So as we’re performing different songs or different experiences or two different audiences, we customize what people see and change in tune with the music. So everything from the haptics, the temperature, airflow, the scent is all controlled through the app we’ve created, controlled through an iPod or any laptops we’re using on stage.
Alan: Wow, that’s so cool. Now, can people experience this *not* at a live show? Is there any way that they can download the app on the Oculus store and enjoy one of these concerts at home?
Anne: It’s something we’re building up to. We’re going to find out in the next couple weeks. We’re extending it. A lot of that what we’re looking at is how do we make it accessible, and community building, and user generated content. I’ve been exploring a few partnerships with Science Space and also Synth Riders with Kluge Interactive, and also building out our own experience that hopefully will be available in 2020.
Alan: So cool. It’s amazing being able to crowdsource the graphics, and everything will be amazing. It’s never-ending at that point. I think the ability to create this technology, to create 360 and VR and AR is dropping dramatically. Five years ago, the cost was in the millions and now it’s in the tens of thousands and soon it will be free, like everything else. Making a video on your phone and posting it to YouTube is pretty much effectively free. Except for your selling your rights to advertise. But that’s a whole different story.
Anne: That’s something we’ve explored, too. So how can we commercialize this, how can we make a successful business beyond ticket sales. And doing activations so we can import any Unity scene. So if we’re talking to gaming companies we can import them and do live activations. L’Oreal does a lot of really neat work innovations on how we can incorporate an experience or activate a new game. If Fortnite comes out with a new– how do we do avatar integrations. So it’s very, very flexible in how he present this, what content we present in it.
Alan: So cool. And I think one of the missing elements to live events in VR — for example, if you’re watching a basketball game or a live concert — is the social aspect. And one company — Big Screen VR — has done a really good job at one thing, they allow you to watch a big screen. So you sit on a couch or on a space — wherever you pick your room — and you can watch a movie on a big screen. And one of the key things that struck me about their business model is that they allow you to sit on the couch with a friend and have a conversation while watching the movie. For movie purists, it would be terrible. You can– I’m assuming you can mute the person. But just being able to have that conversation with somebody, maybe your girlfriend’s across the world and you just want to sit and watch a movie together. I think that bonding time is really important. And with live events, live events by yourself aren’t– turns out not that much fun! But being in an event where you can share with other people, is that something that you guys are looking into as well?
Anne: Yeah. Well, I mean, based on our live performances, the entire dynamic of it is that we wanted to focus on something that was social, so rather than having it as a passive experience, ownership of the experience was also something we thought was very important. So as you have people contribute to the visuals the show we feature them around the world. Because we’re working — again — in the music industry, a lot of this off that base we’re also working with fans, and fans love to be a part of what we’re doing. And for us, it’s also a huge honor to have them being involved and growing a project with us. So Kent Buy also talks a lot about this feeling as if you’re actually there as well. So how when you’re in the scene and when you use the pass-through camera, you see people wave to each other while they’re in VR sitting next to each other, even though they have the headset on or smelling each other or spinning each other’s chairs during this concert or pointing at the band, trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. And these are things I don’t see in a lot of demos, and people almost want to get up. And you can tell that they’re really excited and they’re looking at the visuals and and trying to understand it, and they’re talking to their friends after– we almost always talk with everyone after the concert, and we get a lot of feedback from our audience. And that’s something also that’s allowed us to really get a lot of the ideas was from speaking together, speaking with our users and people who are on the fence who liked being a part of it.
Alan: It’s wonderful. So have you built in the interaction for the user into the headset? So maybe gaze control, where they look at something and it triggers something else, or even like a survey at the end saying, “How was your experience? Rate it from 1 to 5.” or have you’ve done that?
Anne: Yeah. So we’ve done the gaze control work when looking in the scene. People are flying through it, they can control the direction that they’re travelling. However, we do surveys at the end because it really is concert in a live production. So people line up, let’s say the warehouse in Germany, people would line up on this like beautiful industrial space and they’d have one of those classical red ropes. People are all waiting to have their tickets for a certain timespots. And no one had to wait. They all come at the time when their show is going to begin, and they come in and it’s very ritualistic. So even before people put the headset on, the performance has already started. It’s very much like when you walk into a dark room and you’re expecting to see an amazing theatrical performance. And there is kind of soundscapes and we have voiceover and they’re talking about their childhood, talking about adventure. And they get the headsets on, we explain a bit for what they’re going to experience. And then we had to experiment so much, too, about when does the band come on. Because if the band comes on after they put the headsets on and leaves before they take it off, sometimes people don’t even realize the band was real. So when they’re seeing them through the pass-through camera, they just think that the technology is so amazing, because the band looks so real. [chuckles]
Alan: Oh, wow. So you guys are using the pass-through camera with visuals?
Anne: Yeah. So we use added visuals. We also use lots of dry ice and smoke, with lots of lighting. Our entire team, like our– we have a tour manager. He also went off and does lots of work with Grace Jones. The label is Believe, and they do DJ Shadow and Björk, and the management is East City with alt-J and Wolf Alice. So the team is incredible. Our booking agents are AEG, Live Nation, CODA, Paradigm. So in terms of ability to take this all around the world, it’s absolutely amazing.
Alan: No kidding. That’s so cool. When are you coming to Toronto?
Anne: Oh, we hope to come to Toronto next year. Right now, we’re speaking with our partners in Singapore, about doing Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo. And we’d love to do– we’re looking at the West Coast tour from San Francisco to Los Angeles for early 2020.
Alan: That sounds amazing.
Anne: It’s great, too, for companies. In a way, it’s as a showcase of the technology, since we’re having the headset, and we have haptics, and we have all these different technologies coming together. It’s such a good way to show the capabilities of this technology to a new audience.
Alan: Yeah. You know, it’s crazy. SUBPAC just partnered with Beat Saber to make a custom Beat Saber SUBPAC.
Anne: Yeah, I know. It’s really amazing to have the collaborations and something that people — whether or not they feel like they’re a part of it — can also take it home and and have the gear, and in a way, be a part of the team.
Alan: Well, I guess they can be part of the team because you’re crowdsourcing content, which is if you look at the history of human presentations — from concerts, and music, and theater, and TV, and movies — the user wasn’t really part of that process, ever. They were just consumers. And now we’re moving into a world where anybody can be a creator, like the number one social media platform in the world right now — well, growing — is TikTok. It’s enabled kids to be creators again and given them an easy way to make really cool stuff. VR and AR have this unlimited untapped potential to let the crowd design and run wild with their imaginations.
Anne: Yeah, we have a 16 year old, who is part of our collective in Virginia, who’s taken some amazing drone footage that we used in our music videos. So not only are we doing VR, but we’re also [researching] integrations into gaming. How do we– what’s [unclear] me about ScienceBase and some of the partners we’re working with is you can access their– it’s like a massive multiplayer online game with user generated content. So we have our own area and you can access it in VR, you can access it on desktop. And also our game designers are building out this experience. So it’s an experience, you can activate different music videos, see different artwork from the collective, and also be a part of it. So we always encourage everyone to be part of growing the industry, because now is the time when you can really become involved in it.
Alan: I started in VR in 2014, but one of the things that stuck with me I was listening to– actually it was Kent Bye’s Voices of VR podcast. And one of the things he said was, “At this point, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Hollywood producer or you’re in your basement. Everybody’s equal, because nobody knows how to do this stuff.” And it almost feels like– we’ve come a little bit of ways, because we know how to make 360 films. We know how to make VR and AR, and there’s tutorials online. But four years ago, there was no tutorials online. You just had to try it. And it feels like we’re still at that kind of beginning time, where anything’s possible and anybody can do it.
Anne: Definitely. One of the challenges we faced was the idea that we had to be ready before we released into the world. And we started in 2017 like underground performance at the Institute of Art Amsterdam. And then it took until actually this year, when the first single was released with the band, Miro Shot, that we started doing public performances with press. And one thing that our team would encourage people, looking back, is to put it out in the world and work with other people and get feedback, because it’s never gonna be perfect. Art is never perfect. But innovation is always amazing and people appreciate it.
Alan: I wish we could tell that to our corporate customers, who are– you’re like–
Alan: “Hey, we want to be the first in the world to do this!” And when things go sideways — as they often do when you’re pushing the limits of technology — they’re like “Why doesn’t this work?” and you’re like, “Well, because it’s the first in the world. And we told you it might not work, and it doesn’t work.” [chuckles] But thankfully, we have customers that are willing to take those risks with us, because you really do have to push the limits.
Anne: Or working directly with the creative team, because then they won’t necessarily understand the restrictions of the technology, and they’ll come up with really cool solutions. And then also the company will find more innovative ways of exploring their potential of what they want to communicate.
Alan: Absolutely. I mean, if you leave it to people that are in the technical realm to develop everything, they will only do what’s technically possible. But if you leave it to an artist and say, “Here’s the technology, what do you think?” and then you go, “Hey, can we do this, and this, and this?” And the technical people are shaking their head going, “No. No, we can’t. No, we can’t.” And then somewhere in the middle, somebody goes, “Well, we’re going to, whether it works or not.” But there’s always that that adventurous feeling with artists. I don’t know if you know my last company, Emulator, we developed a big, huge see-through touchscreen DJ controller. And we got to work with Linkin Park. We gave Mike Shinoda a big touch screen in the program. It was a MIDI controller. So he could do whatever he wanted. He came back and he showed us a video that he had made. It was like just a bunch of octagons on the page and it looked like nothing. It looked like a bunch of things thrown on a page. And he started to play it like a piano. He was playing a touch screen like a piano that he had designed from scratch himself.
Anne: That’s amazing.
Alan: These are the kind of genius brains that you get with musicians and artists. And I think the marriage of technology and art is one that will never get divorced.
Anne: Yeah, I mean, one thing that’s so [unclear] about any narrative and any story, is that that’s what people are going to remember — so when we’re releasing all these new products, so like Quests and headsets, Hololens, augmented reality, haptics, so even SUBPAC is a great example — is people aren’t going to remember as well, without a story or a context. And a lot of that comes from the creatives, because they can fill a part of that story or connect to that story by making something and working very hard for something, and then using an amazing way of sharing it with the world.
Alan: I agree. So what’s next, then? So you’re going on tour. You’re going to Vancouver. You’re raising some capital from grants and in different things, you’re selling tickets to this thing. What is the 2020 schedule look like? It must be getting crazy.
Anne: Yeah. So for 2020, we have huge plans. And definitely right now is the time when we’re confirming all the technology we’re using, all the marketing we’re doing. We’re speaking with Razer as well. Doing some amazing stuff because the equipment we use, it’s in a live show and we have to use the best that there is. And we share that with our audience. We talk about it, we put it to the test. So all of that now and our next few shows that we’re working on towards the end of this year, that’s going to lead into global tours in 2020.
Alan: It’s going to be amazing. I’m definitely going to catch one of the shows next year, for sure.
Anne: Yeah. No, I cannot wait for everyone to be a part of it. And also, as we build out the at-home experience, we’re going to invite a lot of the community to experiment with us for the first time.
Alan: I can’t wait. This is going to be incredible. You made a custom scent. In your opinion, what does it smell like?
Anne: Well, I think a lot of it is going to be about the context. So when you walk outside in the day, you experience the light in different ways, because how you feel and what your experience is. So when you smell something, if you’re flying over an ocean or a desert, I think a lot of that will have all the senses coming together to make a new impression. That it is whatever you make it to be. We relate from your experiences.
Alan: Interesting. So true, because it really comes down to your own perception. That’s why I was asking that, because what smells like summer to me may smell like something else to you. And smell is one of those senses that is really, really underrated. We’re working on training, and scent can add an element to it that may be very subtle and people maybe don’t even notice it. But let’s say, for example — and this is not something we’re working on — but you’re training somebody in a mine and you want to give them that understanding of what it’s like to be in a mine. You can either turn up the heat, if it’s hot underneath or cold and give them that that smell, maybe it’s iron or sulfur. These are things that you can prepare people for. And subliminally, they really resonate with that. And it enhances training, enhances the experience overall. So I think just adding the scent and the wind and the haptics. You guys sound like you’ve really got the whole package there.
Anne: Well, I mean, does it really have that wow factor anymore in the sense that you can’t put on a Google Cardboard and show a cool video of somebody going down a rollercoaster? We have people who are really experts in VR and AR right now and immersive technology. And we really have to be making cutting edge experiences.
Alan: I couldn’t agree more. I was at FIVARS and I’m a little jaded, I’ve seen a lot of cool things. And the ones I saw were really great. I looked at one called The Life In 2049 and it was looking at what is life going to look like in the year 2049. And it was all CG, and it was OK, it was good. But there was another one going to Mars, and the quality was just incredible. I couldn’t believe how great the quality was from the Gear VR. I had kind of in my brain said “OK, well, the Gear VR is not very good,” I’ve kind of turned it off in my brain. But having tried it this weekend, I was like, “Wow, this thing is really still great.”
Anne: Yeah, the way– a lot of it, too, as we work with the creative teams and developers, it’s about making it initiate the file in a certain way. So it’s not too dense. So in terms of layers, is there any movement and motion? It’s how can you compress the motion, so that when we’re streaming it through headsets live, it comes out as the best visual quality.
Alan: You can take it right away all the polygons, and just apply a video overlay. And it looks really photo-real, but there’s no depth or texture to it, so.
Anne: Yeah, there’s been some amazing video games that use really low poly visuals and it’s just stunning, stunning. And a lot of it is just about setting the mood and setting the atmosphere and going on an adventure in this new space.
Alan: Yeah. You know, the one thing that you mentioned that I think is really important — especially for location based entertainment, including live concert — is setting up the atmosphere before you put the headset on. I think it’s very important. And the one place that does this really well is a place called– what is it called? VR– Oh, I can’t remember what it’s called. It’s the huge VR arcade in Dubai, in the mall. I can picture– they have– when you first walk up to it in the mall, the entire cityscape of Dubai is hanging from the ceiling upside down in three dimensions.
Alan: And everything around it is video screen. So you get these buildings kind of coming down from the sky. At one second it’s daytime, the other time it’s nighttime. That’s even before you walk in. And you walk in and do a Vive experience. It was one where you’re bank robbing or whatever, which you go in a bank vault and it’s all littered, there’s newspapers on the ground. It’s like you went in a bank vault that was just robbed, and then you put on the VR headset.
Anne: Yeah. I mean, those are such good escape room things too, where you actually physically in a cool area.
Anne: I was at Dreamscape Immersive with Carter [Hulings] giving me and my colleague from Miro Shot, taking us through the experience. And it was awesome. Very [unclear] doing from the moment you walk in there, it’s like going into a theater. And we have all these, I guess, relics and books about travel, and I think it was Ron McJunkin — who’s based in Switzerland with Dreamscape — he said they’re like a travel agency. And when you go in, you put the gear on, you step in, and you’re waiting in anticipation. And they did also so cleverly, the redirected walking. So even though you’re in such a small space, you feel as if you have just gone on a one mile adventure. And it’s exciting, because you actually feel like you’re in open worlds. So doing really clever things like that in the physical space and having it, like I said, during that you’re participating in and there’s interactive features, it’s hugely impressive.
Alan: Yeah, I think the first time that I ever engaged with physical objects in a virtual world blew my mind. We were passing around a ball and the ball looked like a basketball. I grabbed it and we were passing it around and just the act of passing a physical object around was cool. And then the ball turned to a fireball. And then he passed it back to me, I was like, “I don’t want to touch it, because it’s on fire.”
Alan: But then being able to play catch in VR with a physical ball… like, that’s so meta.
Anne: One thing with that, too, is like avatars. I think a lot of people are aiming for total realistic. But we forget that there is gamers all over the world who prefer animated characters, and they seem like you can– even just when I’m in a VR experience with colleagues or friends, you can tell just from like, let’s say a very basic robot figure, just by their movements you can really identify who they are. And that’s something that’s quite amazing.
Alan: I actually– I got to speak with Philip Rosedale from High Fidelity. And one of the things that we’re talking about security in VR and we’re talking about retinal scanning and this and he said, “Well, to be honest, one of the easiest ways is gait analysis, because you are a certain height and you hold yourself a certain way, and the headset will rest, and you will move in a certain way that is unique to you. And it’s very, very hard for people to fake.”
Anne: Yeah, again, it’s a natural cadence and rhythm that becomes part of our identity, which is another huge question in VR.
Alan: Yeah, I think we’ve only scratched the surface of digging into our own identities within VR.
Anne: Yeah, but it’s a very exciting industry, in terms of innovation and creating new experiences and engagement, and having it as something that’s more than just an eyeball on the screen and a tick in the box, then I think this is really something that can make experiences and sharing stories and really creative and beautiful connecting medium.
Alan: I agree. The fact that we’ll wear glasses every day, probably within the next 10 years, probably in the next five years. And all the compute power will not be on the devices themselves, it will be in the cloud. So the computers themselves will be super cheap. The cloud streaming service will be super cheap. And then the content will be crowdsourced and user generated. And so it will just be this big hub of user generated content, that gets upvoted and downvoted based on people’s likes and dislikes. But also if you apply artificial intelligence algorithms to that, you can really then start to drive content to people in a meaningful way. We use a lot of incredible algorithms to sell people more crap that they don’t need. What if we sold them more learning, and used marketing techniques and algorithms to drive people to learn more with an altruistic outcome, rather than just try to sell people more stuff?
Anne: I think– I mean, it can democratize everything like collaboration, education, healthcare, access to education, even. I know travel comes up a lot on your podcast as a distance. And yeah, it’s one of the– I was so, so lucky I got to go present one of my short stories at this event called Virtual Futures in London the last two years. It’s just a speculative fiction and it’s exactly about that, is how can AR solve lot of the global problems and one of them is that need to be materialistic. So how can we we use overlaying data on the real world and light, and then solving that need for physical items. And also a lot of the physical gear that’s needed for communication systems. How can we make communication systems better with the cloud? There’s still a huge way to go. Globalization, I think, is very much in its early days and this technology will again decrease the distance. And in terms of every way that we can innovate AR and VR, I’m sure we’ll be a part of it.
Alan: Well, I don’t even know what to say to that. That’s amazing.
Anne: I guess when we’re talking about business, it’s a good time to invest.
Alan: Yeah, you think? This is why we waited. We actually sat on the sidelines and waited and did all our R&D and everything. We’re like, “Okay, we’ll wait until there’s real proven use cases so that we can go to our investors and say, this is where the money is made, and we’re going to go and get it.”
Anne: Yeah, that’s right.
Alan: Yeah, absolutely. What problem in the world do you want to see solved using XR technologies?
Anne: I think to say that, “the one problem,” I think is very, very difficult thing, After just saying that, I think can be a part of everything. But I think that what I can be a part of is just to facilitate learning, and learning from others, and also working together. And it’s something that everyone can be a part of. And, again, really education and healthcare and the arts and creativity and access to resources. As you say, tutorials. There’s so many ways to be a part of this. And I think we’re all working to make it the best it can be.
Alan: Well, I don’t know what else to say with that. Anne, thank you. And thank you, everybody, for listening. This has been the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. If you want to learn more about the work that Anne is doing, you can visit theboolean.io and make sure you check out Miro Shot live VR performance, coming to a festival near you. Thanks, Anne.
Anne: Thank you so much.
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