Regular listeners know that folks like Alan and his guests attend a number of XR-related conventions, events, and symposia. Well, one — VR Days in Amsterdam — is right around the corner! Festival director Benjamin de Wit drops in to talk a little bit about what there will be to see — and what attendees can expect to take away — from this year’s lustrum shindig.
Alan: My name’s Alan Smithson. In today’s show, we speak with the one and only Benjamin De Wit, founder and co-producer of VR Days Amsterdam, celebrating their fifth anniversary. All this and more on the XR for Business Podcast. VR Days is a three-day conference and exhibition on virtual, augmented, and mixed reality content, creativity, and innovation, running from November 13th to 15th in Amsterdam. Today, we discuss the speakers, exhibitors, and festival that make up the most incredible event known as VR Days.
Benjamin, welcome to the show, my friend.
Benjamin: Well, thanks for having me, Alan.
Alan: It’s my absolute pleasure to have you and I’m super excited. VR Days is less than a month away. And let’s get into it. What can people expect from VR Days 2019?
Benjamin: So much, man. It’s gonna be an explosion of great things to do, great things to see, great things to learn about, and great people to meet. We have so many sessions where you can learn about business, you can learn about art, about science. So let’s just dive into it, right? We kick off the first day, November 13, with the Vision and Impact Conference, where we have a couple of amazing speakers like Ricardo Laganaro, who was the creator of The Line, that won the prize for “best immersive experience” in Venice. We have Brandon Harper, he’s a designer at Hololens at Microsoft, with an amazing story to tell. Michel van der Aa, who’s a Dutch composer, and now also great VR maker. And we’re gonna do a throwback panel, because we’re five years old now. It’s also time to reflect a little bit on what happened over the past couple of years, because it’s been a hell of a ride — you know, ups and downs — and to figure out where the hell we’re going.
Alan: When you figure that out, let me know, my friend.
Benjamin: [laughs] Yes!
Alan: So who’s going to be on the throwback panel?
Benjamin: Well… for sure, Albert “Skip” Rizzo will be there, because he’s been there from year one. And I still recall the first day I– first time I ever met him via Skype, which was an amazing experience. And he has been such a dedicated supporter of VR Days with his thought, with his vision, and also with his presence. So he will be one, that’s for sure on that.
Alan: That’s super exciting, I’m looking through the program highlights, you’ve got the Vision and Impact Conference on the first day, you’ve got the exhibition hall. How many exhibitors do you have this year?
Benjamin: Well, we think we’re about a hundred exhibitors. Plus we have– within these, we have the startup zone, where we have a couple of cool startups. We have what we call the Revolution Pavilion, and this is for projects that aren’t really commercial yet, projects that aren’t purely artistic, but they are super exciting, technology or content-wise. So they may come from universities, they may come from artists, they may come from startups. But it’s–
Benjamin: Yeah. That I’m really excited about–
Alan: That part’s the exciting part. That’s like the– if anybody’s been to CES, that’s kind of like Eureka Park, where all the cool hidden stuff is.
Benjamin: Yes, exactly. Exactly. And then we have the Church, where we show our selection–
Alan: What is it? Okay, hold on, what is the Church of VR? I’m excited here. What’s this?
Benjamin: Well, the Church of VR is our handpicked selection of best content. You know, we go to Sundance, we go to Tribeca, we go to Venice, we go to other great places, where they show creative VR content and then we pick the best of the best. And this is what we show at the Church.
Alan: That’s so exciting. It’s not to do with religion, but it’s the religion of VR. Correct?
Benjamin: Exactly. You know, it was like the holiest of holies of great content.
Alan: I love it. I actually– when I was in the DJ world, I got to play in Amsterdam in a giant church. And it was really beautiful. And I’ll never forget that experience.
Benjamin: Nice, nice.
Alan: Amsterdam Dance Event.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah. It was just last week. Call me up when you’re back, man.
Alan: It’s a super fun party if anybody’s in the house music. It’s like basically the house music takes over all of Amsterdam for a week. So…
Alan: The next part that I’m looking at is your Training and Simulation Summit. This is really interesting. Talk us through that.
Benjamin: Training and simulation is one of the forces now that’s driving VR to the next level. It’s generating business and it’s really because VR is really being put to use. It’s that there’s real development there, real concrete development. So what’s exciting is that we have Michael Kaldenbach there, he’s–
Alan: Oh, from Shell. He’s one of our mentors.
Benjamin: From Shell?
Benjamin: Well, there you go. So he’s there and he’s rolling out this VR/AR strategy for Shell out across the world. We have Jack McCauley, I like that. You know, Jack McCauley, he was one of the founders of Oculus.
Alan: Yeah, I just connected with him. He’s a really great guy.
Benjamin: Yeah. And now he’s in Berkeley. He has a sort of workshop there, working with universities and also working on tools for training and simulation in VR. So he will be there. People from ASML will be there. We have Martin Liboska of Deutsche Telekom, more talking about the impact of 5G–
Benjamin: –on all these developments.
Alan: Then you have also– you’ve got so– we talked about the Vision and Impact Conference, so talking about how real-world revolutions, we’ve got the exhibition hall with over 100 leaders, you’ve got the Church of VR with the best of the best of storytelling in VR, Training and Simulation Summit. And then you’ve also got the Location-Based Entertainment Summit. LBE is just really taking off right now. What can we expect at the Location-Based Entertainment Summit?
Benjamin: What we will do there. And I do everything within location-based together with my friend to Bob Cooney. So we will talk about how indie developers are generating money in LBVR. We will talk about what is it, what types of content are really giving good results. So arena space, fuzzily.
Alan: Can you give us a teaser? What are some of the things that are getting good results? I know like the obvious one is shooting stuff, people love shooting stuff. I don’t know why, but it’s a thing.
Benjamin: So, well, the guys from Hologate–
Alan: Hologate. Oh, that’s really cool.
Benjamin: They are doing amazing. So that’s– I saw live last week at AWE. So they’re doing super well. And let me see what we have there. Alex Moretti of Fallen Planet Studios. We will talk about how the impact of influencers. So Nathie — Nathie VR, he has 500,000 followers — he will be there, talking about how they play a role in the success of certain titles. And we will kick off with a pilot version of the XR gaming and location-based VR content market. Because if there’s one thing we at VR Days like to do is to connect projects, connect startups with investors, with the money. Because we have to drive this industry, we have to drive projects, we have to drive content creation. So we want to make the connection. So we’ve been doing the XR based investor event for startups for three years now. We do content market. We’re also doing it for three years now. More an artsy space, artistic space with the International Film Festival Rotterdam. And this year we kick off with a pilot version of an XR gaming and location-based VR content market. We’re on the lookout for projects in development that have not been published yet, that are still looking for distribution or publishers or funding.
Alan: Getting excited. Oh my goodness, so much great stuff. You know, one thing that stood out to me this year that you guys haven’t done in the past is the something that’s a little bit different is the Pain and Suffering Reduction Summit.
Alan: How virtual reality is addressing the universal challenge of pain and suffering, and also showing great results in medical, in the reduction of opioid usage. And that’s really important right now. Talk us through that.
Benjamin: VR is a wonderful, meaningful medium for a lot of crazy stuff, but it’s also a wonderful medium for stuff that’s really– I said it’s a great– it can be used for great positive causes. And we’ve always had a focus on the healthcare part, and we saw that within the pain domain, VR can really mean a lot. And you have the– there’s pain, there’s the physical pain, there’s the mental pain, there’s acute pain. So there’s different types of pains. But pain relief is a big part of what medicine is about. And VR can be a great tool to relieve pain or at least reduce it, to a certain extent. And we have some top-notch speakers there, like JoAnn Difede, director of the Virtual Reality Lab in New York. We have Louis Derungs, a great speaker who works with Mindmaze. Charles Nduka, a surgeon and technologist. Skip Rizzo is speaking here also. And this will be moderated by Bob Fine of the International Virtual Reality Healthcare Association. It’s a tough topic, but I think it’s important that we give it a good enough attention.
Alan: I completely agree. Switching from healthcare to your awards, you have a Halo Awards ceremony, where you kind of celebrate the best of the best. So what goes on at the Halo Awards?
Benjamin: So the Halo Awards, we’ll combine it this year with the Lustrum dinner, because the lustrum in the Netherlands is a period of five years, and this is the fifth edition of VR Days, so we’re celebrating that. So the first night after the Vision and Impact Conference, we go with boats to this beautiful restaurant, where we have the Lustrum dinner and Halo Awards. People keep sending us applications for Halo Awards, but we cannot say anything about that at this moment. We will have seven categories of Halo Awards: for content, best applied, best student project, best use of tech. There’s seven Halo Awards for great pieces and it’s gonna be a fun and celebratory night.
Alan: Wonderful. It sounds like a beautiful night. So what haven’t we covered here? One other thing that I noticed that you guys are covering is virtual worlds and digital twins. What does that mean?
Benjamin: So we’re seeing that the whole normal world is being, you know, people making virtual worlds for all kinds of use cases. One is that you have a virtual world in which you can maybe also sell land and sell real estate and where you populate that virtual world. And another use of the virtual world is the digital twin world, where we’re just copying our normal world into the digital world, where we develop and where we meet. So this is a big development in this space. So we thought we’d have to make some time for that as well. And what haven’t we covered? Well…
Alan: Oh, matchmaking! The other thing.
Benjamin: Oh, yeah, matchmaking. So matchmaking, we have this tool where we– before the event, you log on and you can already start making appointments with people that are also coming to VR Days, so it makes your time more worthwhile. First year we’re doing it. I’m really excited that we’re doing it because the reason we’re throwing this party is because we want people to meet and to connect. That’s also why we organized roundtables. Roundtables is where you sit with about 10 people and discuss on a specific topic. We will release our roundtable topics next week. You can apply for that and just create some more conversation, some more intense networking. And then, oh, what’s so exciting is we’re all about content creation. So we give space to a couple of creative projects that workshop during the event and they are being mentored by VR Days speakers. So two years ago, Tupac Martir, great artist, was at VRD, workshopping his piece, “Cosmos Within Us.” It was released at Venice VR this year, and it’s a piece with live musicians, live narrator, live dancers, being live directed. And there’s one person going through the VR space, but it’s also a show to watch because it’s great to see what’s going on and to look into what the person is experiencing in a headset. But if you look at it from the outside, you see the directed musicians, the narrator. It’s an amazing show. And the night of– Tuesday night, twelfth of November at the EYE Film Museum — beautiful location in Amsterdam — this will be performed for about 120 people a time. So I’m super excited that two years after creators left, after Tupac workshopped on this piece during VR Days, we can now show it to the audience.
Alan: Incredible. That’s so exciting.
Alan: Well, my friend, I’m so excited. VR Days is coming up November 13, 14, 15 in Amsterdam. And is there anything else that we missed?
Benjamin: Well, yeah, so much, man. We missed the museum morning. We missed the future storytelling session. We missed a session on brain-computer interface. We missed the session that we’re doing for students here, because all the higher educations here have created the VR Academy. We missed that we organized a session for universities, because we see in a lot of universities across the world, scientists are getting together to start these VR/AR groups, either to study what’s happening in the space, or how they’re going to use VR and AR to conduct research. So we said, “OK, we’re gonna make a space for you, as well.” And then I’m probably forgetting another.
Alan: Well, here’s the thing.
Alan: You– I don’t know what we’ve missed here, talking about it, but I know the people listening, if you don’t get your tickets to VR Days 2019, you’re going to miss all of it. So…
Alan: VRdays.co, you can go get your tickets now, and get your flight over to Amsterdam. And let’s have a wonderful time together, celebrating VR, celebrating your fifth anniversary.
Benjamin: Yes, definitely. And I’m sure, Alan, that if you come to VR Days, you will see experiences you’ve never had before. You will meet companies that will blow your mind. But I’m definite that you’ve got to meet there people you want to work with and be friends with.
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