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/ 02.03.2018

A Chat With Sol Rogers and Bay Raitt – Part 2

Note: This is the second part of a 2-part series. Did you miss part one? Read it here!

Sol Rogers is CEO and Founder of REWIND. Sol is also a BAFTA VR Advisory Group Executive and an advisor to globally recognised conferences. Sol’s passion for VR has led him to set up VRLO; the UK’s most popular VR meetup, and VR Together; a platform to help create VR for good. Prior to founding REWIND, Sol was a university lecturer for 15 years in Digital Animation, VFX & Emerging Technology.

Bay Leaf Raitt is an American digital modeler and animator. He has worked for Image Comics, providing computer-image modeling for Steve Oliff to use with “Spawn”, “The Pitt”, and “The Maxx”. He later worked at Protozoa, providing 3D animation computer effects. In 1999 Raitt emigrated to New Zealand to work for Weta Digital where he was responsible for creating the computer-generated face for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Bay is now CEO of the Spiraloid Workshop making VR comics.

Sol and Bay have become good friends over the years; their regular chats offer interesting insights and perspectives on technology and immersive content creation…

Part 2

Sol: Some of the best VR at the moment is on the artistic side, where people can create. Tilt Brush still gets everyone super excited, it’s a blank canvas until you step into it. Oculus Medium too. That idea of making your own universe, with a tool you’ve never used before is really cool. What you’re doing with the comic book stuff couldn’t be done any other way. It works on flat devices, but it’s really something special when you have a headset on. You’ve made it so that you can generate content and make these stories really lightweight, anyone can do it. We’re so used to huge amounts of technical prowess, creating assets in Maya, rendering and animating them in Unity, adding sound design and editing to create a thing to watch. Now, you can get 3D assets off the stores. Google’s Poly came out recently, a free asset store. You can put assets together, place your cameras and then you’re good to go! Write a few speech bubbles and then you’re telling a story. Anyone can do that. You don’t have to learn how to write a script.

Bay: Exactly. It doesn’t matter that you’re not a good composer, not an actor. You’re asking the audience to do the work to make it good, so the production values can be really minimal if you’re borrowing assets and using them. Suddenly it comes down to ‘what do you have to say?’ Most people aren’t great writers, but everyone likes to think they are. Most people aren’t great artists either. 3D artists in particular deserve a little more appreciation.

Sol: I like that, it’s spot on – 3D artists have learned how to adapt every time new software comes out, embracing the things that make their lives faster, better, easier; that’s problem solving. There might be eight ways to do something in a software package to get a good end result, it’s about choosing the right option to get there. There’s always ways to problem solve, that’s really what REWIND has been about. For example, how do you make something pretty? How do you get people to pay attention to it? How do you make people cry? There are all sorts of problems to be solved, and we can get there in loads of different ways, we just try and find the best way.

Previously we were very much about the PR-able bang, one event for one night only. The sad thing about that is for us to be able to iterate, we have to take all the learnings from said project and apply them to a brand new thing next time. We don’t get to iterate on the current thing. We iterate in the design process, but what I hope we do with our next set of projects is to iterate the design with the consumer. Making their lives better by changing it on the fly.

Bay: There’s the saying that ‘the reader does half the work’, and that’s the exciting thing about collaborating with your audience. You write the thing, but the audience pictures their own version of it. I think that’s why for me, from a business point of view, I know that I want to give away the property that I’m working on in a way that I can be like ‘hey I’ve made this comic, I’ve made these characters, it has my thumbprint. It has a unique Bay universe feel.’ Then I can hand that universe over to my audience, they can download the assets and then import them into their scene. They can suddenly start making their own fan art, push out the boundaries of the world that I’ve made. If one of them happens to make something cool, then the fans of that universe can latch onto it and expand the universe.

I think that REWIND are in this state where you’re moving so fast and in a way that’s like a closed thing with that REWIND secret sauce. The public only sees the output. I’m like ‘how much of that do you wanna do?’ I think you need to make it really fun, have that making/playing part of it. You have to give them that crayon.

I think that with AR, letting people look through the machine and populate stuff on the table and take pictures of it, it’s remarkably similar to a comic book panel. Think about how kids used to draw mazes on graph paper – those kids are now level designers at various video game houses. You’re giving a hobby to those people, but you’re skinning that hobby in a way that touches back to the thing you’re making. As REWIND goes forward, you need to think about having a deeper relationship with your audience. Ultimately, that bang that you’re making is attracting attention, that drum beat gets people dancing. Good conversation, a good party, and a good piece of entertainment have a lot in common with each other!

Sol: I thought you were about to start talking about living in Yurts, buses and hippy alternative parents! There’s a lot of cool tech on the horizon, a whole bunch of it moving past the worlds of VR and AR. I believe that Apple is doing it very well, giving everyone a dev kit… which is their iPhone. Allowing people to create content for whatever the future may hold.

Bay: Yeah, that miniaturisation of tech is making it more mobile. As the factories get optimised they take less power, and as the power systems get more efficient you start to get to this place where you can have tiny devices that never turn off and are always connected. They can do some incredible things – you can put them in robots, glasses, you can make them ubiquitous in a way that will make smartphones sort of be like a T.Rex trying to tie a shoe –  it just won’t be applicable anymore.

Sol: I still think they’re going to be offered as a computer, they’ve done an amazing job miniaturising everything, so all the memory that’s on the CPU and GPU is on this little chip at the moment, which should be scalable and cloud-based.

Bay: A fat pipe and a thin client.

Sol: Yeah, just a little 5G connection to something that can scale to anything. It will give me my emails, and then it can scale so I can play Call of Duty 58, or whatever, in the highest resolution. When that tech moves, it’ll hit all of us. It’ll change the way we live and commute. We’re going to have a load of time on our hands, cars are going to be autonomous.

Bay: They’ll move into cars, planes, trains, automobiles and the world. Everywhere. I think that sudden moving stages that are social are one of those obvious global connections. When you travel, you tend to travel to meet friends and when you do gaming or interactive experiences, you play multiplayer games together to meet other people or go on a date with your friends. I think that as those things become part of transport, it’ll create a super interesting space where you’re like ‘oh what kind of ways could we create a really compelling journey for people.’ If you really really embellish it in the right way, it’ll become ‘hey kids let’s go on a zeppelin ride to the store’, what could be cooler than that?! Suddenly, meeting up with people, that feeling you get when you go to a big festival or concert and you hear the roar of the crowd, that feeling will appear in more places.

Sol: I spend 80% of my day tapping on a laptop and that laptop could be anywhere in the world, it doesn’t matter, it will not change what I’m doing. But 20% of the time I want to be able to sit down and have a conversation. Or I have to go to a meeting, so we have to physically be in the same space because we don’t have a way of doing this yet in any other medium. We have Skype, which is OK, we have video chat, but they don’t let us be in the same room in the way that we feel we are present.

I think that we’re very close to getting tech lining up and giving us the feeling of being in each other’s presence. Photogrammetry, volumetric capture, using a headset so there’s five of us in the room and the sixth seat is actually someone in Seattle, but they’re there with us. That one small use of the tech that we have will mean that we don’t have to congregate around central London. We can be anywhere in the planet and still be together.

Bay: I thought about that a lot when I was travelling, I had this little spaceship pod and I travelled around the country for a while. I ended up mounting a cellular modem antenna on the roof and I had a lot of conversations. I was in the middle of the desert, next to a cactus forest, doing Skype calls and being in VR. These things are decentralising which is really compelling.

I think what I like though is the intersection between the physical and the digital world, that analog/digital collision. How people view drones, robotics, driverless cars, how those things collide with the virtual ephemeral world. I agree with you about the decentralisation of it, but I think that once you start to move around, you start to get into the space that you go ‘oh, there’s things we can’t imagine right now’, a mix between the hardware robot world and the software world. They’re really awesome.

Sol: We had that with Pokemon Go for a moment, and the next one from them is Harry Potter. But that’s through a phone, where the tech is now. The adventures we will go on will be in realities you haven’t seen before.

Bay: Have you seen Zombies, Run!? It uses a GPS and motivates you to run. You’re basically just jogging and avoiding the zombies.  I think about the existing experiences that make you feel like you’re swimming with a shark, they’re kinda just reinterpreting what already exists, in a less dangerous way. I think from a content point of view the things that grab people aren’t going to be that…it’ll be more fantastical, more amazing.

Sol: You want to drive a robot dune buggy on the moon.

Bay: I wanna put something in space, something I can’t do in life. I want zero gravity ping pong with a robot arm. Telepresence.

Sol: A virtual version wouldn’t be good enough for you.

Bay: A virtual version would be good, you can have great simulation of it, but there’s something about knowing that it’s really there…Part of the reason I love the Nanite Fulcrum is because I wanted to make a story about real science. To make the actual science of our time aspirational instead of some idiot with a gun. That’s why the bad guys in my story are the one’s who won’t stop shooting bullets. My heroes are using drones at the collision of technologies to save the world. My story might be science fiction today, but i think with the right amount of excitement, we can lose the fiction part. Maybe turn the frontiers of chemistry and mortality into a new playground. That’s the kind of entertainment I want to be lending my heartbeats to.

Sol: It’s all there, all the tech we have at the minute can be used for creative artistic entertainment. We have so many available tools to use and put forward, entertainment seems to be what everyone’s excited about, but we can use this stuff everywhere. One day you can be a 3D artist, the next day an engineer, you can always be working anywhere. History has proven that.

Bay: If you get human beings excited in a big mass, the things they’re excited about tend to come true. Cellphones on Star Trek. The idea that any time we present things, get those bangs, and get people excited, I always try to think ‘to what end?’ What could we get them excited about that will actually shuffle things up a little bit? What’s next? That’s why I like tech and why I love the technology that we’re playing with.

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