UDEN #15 - AR/VR Deep Dive: Work In Progress

UDEN #15 took place on June 7th 2017.  Access Salt Lake once again generously hosted UDEN for this membership meeting and the Utah Film Commission sponsored the food and drinks!  

As part of UDEN's focus on virtual reality technologies this year, UDEN #15 gathered together some of the various virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality initiatives happening in our sector in our state. We planned it to be a great opportunity for our members to network, learn and find collaborators to help engage in this vital emerging technology.

No panels, no keynotes, but hands-on!

  • showcase of work in progress of yet-to-be-released products!
  • new software offerings
  • different types of hardware
  • opportunity to meet service providers

...and as always the opportunity to network with the best and brightest of Utah's digital entertainment community!

Here is a video recap of the evening: 

Who was there?

Among the individuals and companies that were showing their wares were:

NOORDA TECHNOLOGIES

 

iSLAYER

    • CJ Pollock and his team announced the public beta for their VR FPS for mobile, called iSlayer, and allowed some early hands-on at UDEN #15
    • www.projectportara.com/get-islayer
 

SIGHTSCAPERS

  • Using state-of-the-art VR and AR technology, Sightscapers teach museum visitors of all ages to don not just a set of VR goggles, but new, curious eyes that will stay with them long after they leave the museum exhibit
  • At UDEN #15, they showed VR exhibits using their Vive setup, AR exhibits through smartphones
  • Sightscapers see the world through a child's eyes. Everything is something to be discovered anew for the first time. Sightcapers are passionate about working with museums and higher education to create pre-packaged supportive content as well as specific custom-made life experiences, that all works in tandem with existing exhibits
  • Thanks to AR/VR technologies, a personal interaction with lives and places previously thought gone forever is finally at hand
  • www.sightscapers.com

BULLFROG SPAS and FRINGE CONTENT

  • For over 20 years the name Bullfrog Spas has been synonymous with innovation in the world of well-engineered hot tubs
  • Now Bullfrog Spas is pioneering another first by bringing virtual reality to the spa retail space
  • This was the “can’t miss exhibition” at the Pool & Spa Show and we are making it so you can get a little piece of the experience with our VR viewer and your smartphone
  • www.bullfrogspas.com/vr-view
  • @bullfrogspas

THE GApp LAB

  • The GApp Lab (therapeutic games and apps) is a collaboration between the Center for Medical Innovation and the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program at the University of Utah
  • They showed some of their latest VR medical applications
  • www.thegapp.eae.utah.edu
 

MONKEYTIME SOFTWARE

 

SPY HOP

  • Students in the intro virtual reality class at Spy Hop utilized the programs Cinema 4D and Unity to create 3D worlds that can be explored in Google Cardboard
  • The students in this class range from 13 - 16 years old and they shared their first attempt at creating this type of project!
  • Spy Hop is a nonprofit youth media arts organization located in Salt Lake City, Utah whose mission is to mentor young people in the digital media arts to help them find their voice, tell their stories and be empowered to affect positive change in their lives, their communities, and the world. Spy Hop is considered one of the leading youth media organizations in the country. In 2015, they won the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and were named one of seven global Adobe Creative Catalysts
  • www.spyhop.org
  • @spy_hop

SOLITON REACH

  • I represented start-up company Soliton Reach at UDEN #15 and gave live demos of their prototype real-time, drift-free motion sensors for VR, AR and MR
  • The sensors allow you to interact with the virtual world the same way you do in the real world ...with your hands and body. It's only natural!
  • www.solitonreach.com
  • @solitonreach
 

COSMIC PICTURES

  • Cosmic VR is a full service production company creating immersive experiences using virtual reality. We focus on providing cinematic stereoscopic 360° video and VR experiences. Partnering with agencies, brands, venues and artists, we work with our forward-thinking clients to make a real impression at events, exhibitions or anywhere else people get excited for the future of storytelling
  • www.cosmicpictures.com/vr.html
  • @Cosmic_Pictures
 

UTAH VALLEY UNIVERSITY

  • UVU's Digital Media Program is blazing new trails in teaching VR development technology in its classes. This includes web applications, 360 photos and Cinema
  • UVU will be announcing a new course on Cinematic Storytelling for VR, VR cameras, techniques
  • www.virtual.uvu.edu
  • @DigitalMediaUVU
 

HOLO DEFENDER

  • This AR game was created by a team of four students who are about to graduate from the Software and Game Development program at Neumont University
  • Holo Defender is an arcade tower defense game for the Microsoft Hololens. The goal of this project was to create a simple grid-based tower defense that can be projected into the physical world. It plays as a standard tower defense, with robot foes moving through a predetermined path while trying to reach an end goal, and damage the player’s home base. Players must use their wits to strategically place a variety of towers onto the map to stop waves of enemies from progressing. However, once the player’s base has taken too much damage, it will all be over!

UDEN #14 - Post Production

UDEN #14 took place on April 19th 2017.  Access Salt Lake generously hosted UDEN for this membership meeting and VR/AR startup Soliton Reach once again sponsored the food and drinks!  

Tonight’s keynote discussion centered around post-production, a critical phase of the film making process.  An expert panel kicked-off this topic off for us and then it was opened to the floor for questions and opinions.  Later in the networking hour, there was a VIP tour of HUGEsound a few blocks away for those who wanted to see a world-class post-production facility.

To begin, Joel Smith spoke a few words about the Access Salt Lake facility and I talked a little about Soliton Reach and their products.  Our huge thanks to our sponsors!

 

Then we moved into Hive Ignite, our regular spotlight on interesting people, products or companies in digital entertainment in Utah.

 

 First up tonight was Spencer Viernes who talked us through the InPerson networking app.  InPerson was created to help professionals connect face-to-face in a meaningful way that galvanizes the relationship.  LinkedIn is great and an InPerson connection helps strengthen the bond beyond a virtual connection. With InPerson, you can engage with professionals that are located at the same event you are attending.   You can invite and connect with people in real-time and carry those forward both those new relationships and the ability to have ongoing correspondence.  UDEN14 was already live as an event that people were using to connect with live using InPerson!  As Spencer said, "Online is okay, InPerson is better!"

Next up should have been Bryce Hansen,  Assistant Director at the Salt Lake Small Business Development Center, Salt Lake Community College.  However, he was taken ill earlier in the day and so his colleague Peter Callister stood in and walked us through the details about the upcoming Utah Crowdfunding Summit.  Taking place on May 4th, it is Utah's largest training and networking event for crowdfunding, created for tech and social entrepreneurs, as well as for non-profits who are raising money.  They will have some of the country's best crowdfunders, experts in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Regulation Crowdfunding (Investment-Equity), and much more!  There will also be a competition, Crowdfund Hero, an online crowd voting competition where the Top Six contestants at 11:59 on April 30th are automatically selected to pitch for cash and prizes at the Utah Crowdfunding Summit on May 4, 2017.  On the online platform, contestants receive one point for each vote, social share, or dollar donated. For example, if your entry receives 10 votes, 20 social shares on Twitter and/or Facebook, and $100 in donations, your point total will equal 130. UDEN members get a 20% discount for the Summit - go to our website event page for details.

For our final Hive Ignite, we were delighted to share the time with Microsoft.  Patrick, Corbett and Steve from the downtown SLC Microsoft store shared the community initiatives that they are engaged in, offering future partnerships and collaborations with the UDEN community, which was gratefully received.  This included details about the upcoming Gaming as a Career event, that UDEN and the Utah Games Guild are co-sponsoring.  Joel from a local high school also spoke as an example of a group very happy with their Microsoft partnership.

Then we moved into the keynote discussion for the evening - sustainable post production; it's that phase of making a movie which happens after the actors and camera people have done their bit; it’s where CG gets added, special effects, audio dubbing, soundtrack, editing and so much more. It’s really important and can make or break a movie.  While movies may be the best known example of post, it also applies to TV, gaming, VR and just about all facets of digital entertainment.

Here in Utah, we don’t get much post production work, despite quite a few movies being shot here, so it would be good to figure out how to get more of it as part of building our digital film industry here.  Why now?  In these days of cloud connectivity we can offer more efficient workflows and remote access – so, for example, a director doesn’t need to fly in from Hollywood to review work in progress.

To give us some deeper insights into these and related post production issues, we asked a panel of experts to give us their thoughts.  Chance Thomas, one of Utah’s most famous composers was our moderator.  He's won an Oscar and an Emmy for his work, with a repertoire spanning film, TV, games and even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; including Marvel, Lord of the Rings, James Cameron’s Avatar, and DOTA 2! Chance founded HUGEsound, the world-class post production facility that could be toured right after UDEN 14. Chance then introduced the panelists.

uden-michael.png

Michael Fox is a storyteller and picture editor with over twenty years of experience in film and television.  He began his editing career on the CBS family drama Touched by an Angel. That set him on a path that would eventually see him working with JJ Abrams (Almost Human, Believe), Michael Bay (The Last Ship), Stephen King (11.22.63., Mr. Mercedes) and many others. Michael is fiercely talented, lightning fast and a consummate perfectionist.  After years of living and cutting in LA, he returned to his Utah home and love of all things outdoors.

Brittani Goodman is a VFX Supervisor who described herself as a full-time Mom that also works at the LDS Motion Picture Studio.  At weekends she also runs a healthy freelance business.  Her innovative design work over more than 15 years has helped HP, Deseret Book, General Electric, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hitachi, and many more. 

Jeff Meacham is a sound designer.  He graduated from Full Sail University in their Recording Arts program in 2005.  He went on to work with Electronic Arts for 7½ years, working on everything audio before making a switch to film for 4 years.  He has experience in both production and post production audio. He is now incredibly fortunate to be re-united with many of his former EA Salt Lake team members directing audio and helping pioneer virtual reality experiences at THE VOID in Lindon, Utah.

The panel discussed the scope of post production, the challenges it faces and some ideas as to how it might be grown as an industry sector in Utah.  Michael made the point that it is highly competitive and it's tough to compete against locations that offer big incentives to go there, so instead we have to think about how to add enough value that it's not a race to the bottom of costs.  Chance noted that most people in the field are freelance and Brittani shared that the key to success for freelancers was networking: don't be afraid to go meet, introduce yourself and your services.  These days she doesn't need to chase work; thanks to her reputation, clients finds her and she says it pays well. But that didn't happen overnight, so be patient and keep networking.  Jeff talked through his career path and talked about how working in virtual reality experiences at the VOID presented new opportunities and challenges, both of which you need to be prepared to embrace if you want to progress in your career.  The panel concluded that the only way post can be healthy and viable in Utah is if those involved come together, share and collaborate for mutual benefit, suggesting that UDEN is a great starting place for this.

I concluded the formal part of the evening with some closing comments, and for the next hour we networked before going to checkout the HUGEsound post production facility.

Huge thanks to:

  • Our panelists
  • ("ESPN's") AJ Dimick for setting up the mics, filming and setup
  • Lisa Matsukawa and Antonio for help setting up
  • Jeff Peters for helping organize UDEN meetings, fiming and setup!
  • Utah Valley University and Bryan Kessinger for loan of the extra mics! 

UDEN #13 - VR or Bust

The meeting opened with a HUGE thank you to our sponsors: Access Salt Lake, who have offered their space as a home for UDEN, and Soliton Reach, a startup that is developing wireless motion controllers for VR applications.

 

Opening Remarks

In addition to networking meetings with all of you, we meet with lots of different groups about how to build a better ecosystem for the creators of digitalentertainment in Utah.  Among the big events UDEN has been a major collaborator for include the UCDA Digital Summit last December and also the Lightspark Media Summit last week.  

Marc Stephens from UCDA spoke about the progress that had been made to progress the Summit outcomes; he told the meeting that Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams was fully supportive of the 'collective impact' plan and would be assigning some of his staff to help oversee it.  This is huge as it means funds are being set aside to help get a plan moving for economic growth in digital entertainment, which will have public sector support. Joel Smith added that progress had also been made with the STEM Action Center who were also going to be supportive of our efforts.

Many insights and ideas came up during the summit – here are a few:

•    We can’t build a sustainable industry based on handouts.  Instead let’s figure out how we build an industry sector that is not built on incentives but meeting commercial demands. 

•    I think of incentives like gasoline: it you put gasoline on a fire, it will go boom!  But if you put them on a dry pile of sticks, you just end up with a damp pile of sticks.  We, industry, have to create the flames of business before we can really justify the gasoline of incentives

•    We know we need investment and at UDEN meetings last year, we discussed the difficulties of doing this.  One of the ideas that came up was a sector investment fund, which will help fund initiatives that help us meet our collective impact goals

•    We create great talent for this sector through our educational establishments – but there aren’t enough jobs here to keep our annual graduates.  So we need to figure out better career pathing to create maximum opportunity for the students as well as better ways to help those students find jobs in the industry we have here already

One idea proposed at the Summit that could help focus all of these insights and to provide those ‘flames’ would be a common platform for our entertainment industry -- ideally one that has a future and that could leverage all of the creativity and technical talent we have here already.  The proposal was that VR and AR could be that platform.  And that’s why we’ll be discussing it here tonight.  The idea is not be to stop you from doing anything else – but investment would be focused in the areas of the common platform.

•    Imagine if we all became expert in this field?  The film makers could help us understand story telling in this medium.  The game makers could help us understand interactivity and user interface.  The artists could help us use the tools of visual effects and audio.

•    Once proficient, we could lend these skills to the wider tech and medical community in Utah, all of whom will be looking to VR and AR in the coming years

•    And so through our educational programs we could deliver the ideal workforce through career pathing, such that skilled students would have the option of a vast array of jobs locally, not just in entertainment

•    Thus we build business and jobs.  We can then brand our collective skills to the global audience.  And so we achieve economic growth.

Crazy?  Perhaps?  Worth trying?  We would love to hear your thoughts.  We’re discussing this topic here tonight. It’s a direct follow-up from the UCDA summit.

Call for Volunteers

Whatever we choose to do, it’s going to take effort.  While Marc and the UCDA continue to set the ground work for long-term collective impact, UDEN plans to continue pushing to make progress in the short term. 

If you’re interested in being part of a volunteer team to work on areas you feel strongly about and collaborate with the other UDEN teams, please let us know. info@utahden.org

Communication for Community

How best can you stay connected with this community?  There is the website, social media, slack channel – sure.   But here is another option, created by a local developer Spencer Viernes - an app called InPerson - why not go to your app store right now and download it?  Great way to stay connected with this community!  It uses your LinkedIn account, so if you have one, then this is a great connection tool for us.

Hive Ignite

It’s now time for Hive Ignite, our regular spotlight on interesting people, products or companies in digital entertainment in Utah.  To keep it simple we do it like a speed date – 3 minutes to give us all the elevator pitch.

Before we begin, let me say that we always have Hive Ignite spaces open in our future meetings, so if you have something you would like to share, or perhaps you would like to ask for help – just come see me after the meeting (or email) and we’ll get you signed up.  First come, first served.

Entrepreneur Learning Pad - Krista Groll

Aurora Awards - Krista Groll

Soliton Reach - Jon Dean

Panel: VR or Bust

On to tonight’s keynote discussion!  As mentioned earlier, one of the ideas that came up during the UCDA summit was that – perhaps – the best way to build future economic impact would be for us all to specialize in the same area.  The area suggested was virtual reality.  

Tonight we would like to consider whether it makes sense for all sectors of Utah’s entertainment community to embrace VR – film, games, education etc.  The reason we might want to is that – perhaps – by all being great at the same thing, we are collectively better and can become known internationally (getting that respect we deserve!), so boosting our ability to bring jobs and economic growth.  That’s not to say people can’t do anything else – of course they could – but that we focus investment around this one area.  But perhaps it’s a bad idea too.

Tonight we want to know what you think. What ideas you might have as to how we go about doing something like this.  Or is it crazy?  To get some initial ideas surfaced, we have a panel here to give us their insights. We’ll hear from them first and then open the discussion to you on the floor.

Our panelists volunteered tonight in order that they could help others in this community and for that, we’re extremely grateful that they have given up their time to be with us tonight. 

Rich Reagan moderated the panel discussion and opened the conversation to the floor for comments and questions.

Overall, the panel and the room were in favor of adopting one core technology to be the unifying force.  VR seemed the obvious choice, no-one proposed an alternative that could achieve the same objective.

  • Lanie was concerned about whether the tech was really ready for mass market yet, especially with usability concerns - she mentioned motion sickness and the speed at which people became physically ill if the frame rate was not 120 or higher
  • Chris mentioned that the high-end systems such as Oculus Rift or Vive were performing at that high-end, believing that the social potential is huge for improving the quality of life for people
  • Price was mentioned as a concern: today you need a high-end PC as well as the head-mount display and some controllers, easily $3000 to begin.  This is a barrier.
  • Roger was very much in favor of VR as a unifying platform, mentioning how it is being adopted in a big way at the GApp Lab at the University of Utah for healthcare purposes, and that increasingly students on the Master Games Program are creating virtual and augmented reality applications.  He pointed out that you don't need high-end technology to use VR - Google Cardboard costs around $10, works with mobile phones and is more than adequate; indeed he believes mobile is where the future market is
  • Jarom talked about the potential VR has to bring innovation to film and marketing activities, noting that the creative and technical talent we already have in the state would be well suited to unify behind VR technologies

Networking

The meeting concluded with networking.  This is an important facet of our meetings

Maybe you want to ask more questions of our panelists 1:1? Perhaps most importantly, you can find other people here that are also interested in starting up, so you don’t have to do it alone.

If you’re wondering how you might go up to a stranger an start a conversation, I’m going to give you an ice breaker to use:

•     Approach that person and say: “No! This is not my VR avatar, I really look like this!”

Pictures from the event:

UDEN #12 - Sundance

UDEN's first meeting of 2017 was held during the Sundance Film Festival on January 25th.  We were graciously hosted by our terrific partners the Utah Film Commission at their event space in Park City, UT.  Despite the snow and the cold (well, Park City in January - it's what you expect!) , more than 200 people came to network, share ideas, share a beverage and partake in some delicious snacks, courtesy of our other sponsor, ChAIR Entertainment. KCPR  broadcast live during the event and interviewed many of the luminaries gathered, including UDEN co-founder Clark Stacey.  Plus we showed some of the new signage that was donated to us and some cool info cards demonstrating a more professional image for the group.

UCDA Digital Summit

UDEN was a sponsor of the UCDA Digital Summit held at the superb Park City Film Studios on Dec 1st and 2nd 2016; this is my recap of what happened there which I want to share with the wider community.  If anyone, attendees or otherwise has additional insights or comments, please do add them below.

The purpose of the summit was to invite a handful of leaders from the film, TV, media, gaming, educational, finance and government to come together and discuss digital entertainment in Utah.  I know, I know, feels like we’ve been here before, right?  What was different about this Summit was the focus:  how might we prepare ourselves for the future – to be ready for where the industry is going, as opposed to playing catch-up with where it is today?  Plus, the Summit was interactive, with the participants working together in groups to problem solve, as well as in the larger group for discussions.  Overall I came away re-energized about the potential of this sector and truly impressed by the quality and talent of the people we have here in the state.  Unfortunately, there was no time for my karaoke session!

Here are the outcomes:

·         The highest-level goal would be a sustainable community across the entire state of the creators of content and technology, known for the expertise of the people here, delivering industry-leading quality output for global audiences.

·         The community, along with external stakeholders, need to agree a road-map with some key objectives and commit to moving that plan forward; this is a way of working known as ‘collective impact’ and has been championed by organizations such as United Way of Utah (who we heard from at the Summit) and is being used to address the difficult homelessness challenges in the State (from which we gained insights into the steps and process of collective impact)

·         It was agreed that the outcomes of the Summit would be written up by the UCDA as a report for the Utah government to consider;

·         The collective impact process will take time to work through and deliver results, not least we – the community – will need to figure out the ‘how’ and the ‘who’ of managing the process;

·         Rather than be seen as an industry sector constantly with its hand out for tax dollars, we, as the industry, need to figure out a way to build a sector investment fund, which could help finance initiatives that help us meet our collective goals;

·         Potentially have all sectors align around one future technology and become renown for our expertise in this area; the idea is not to exclude other areas, but use it as a focus, branding and alignment tool.  VR/AR was discussed as such a possibility, as it applies not only to gaming or film, but also TV, simulation, education, medical etc – with a wider connection to the existing tech strengths here in Utah

·         Figure out how to make Utah a more attractive location for creative talent; it was recognized that the state is especially attractive for young families, but could be more vibrant for single people in the way that, say, Austin is

The Summit wrapped up with a list of the wins that we had already achieved during the two days, which we can use as a starting point while collective impact gets figured out:

·         We self-identified as creators of content and technology, which we should all begin to refer to ourselves as;

·         Connections have been made to the wider technology sector, including Silicon Slopes, which we need to now embrace as a stakeholder for mutual benefit;

·         UDEN offered itself as a possible foundation for the wider community to embrace now, open to reconstituting for success as may be required; www.utahden.org

·         Cosmic Pictures offered anyone that was interested to join with them in putting together compelling promotional material to help promote our collective efforts in digital entertainment chris@cosmicpictures.com

·         Access SLC offered the use of its premises downtown SLC to the community for meetings or gatherings as needed www.accesssaltlake.com

·         The VOID offered that, once it has its first virtual entertainment center live in Utah, they would make it available to educators for field trips during daytime hours

·         Shaleane Gee, Special Assistant to Mayor Ben McAdams, advised the Summit that the plans we had discussed made a good fit for collective impact

·         Joe Gabriel from the VOID setup a SLACK channel for discussion and communication about furthering the goals www.theutahcollective.slcak.com

·         There were several meeting opportunities offered by way of further networking, these included:

o   A meeting at Access Sale Lake on January 17th (with a party next day!).  Details from joel@accelerantbsp.com  

o   Invite to the 3rd Annual Innovation Summit on January 25th – details at http://www.innovationsummit2017.com

o   UDEN invited the entire community to network together and continue the conversation at its event during Sundance www.utahden.org/sundance17

Let me close by offering the services of the UDEN social channels to you as a means to share information to our fellow community of creators and technologists!  

I'm very excited.  I hope you can join with us to make the future of entertainment bright for us all!

Being “Let Go” – Part III: The Manager’s Perspective

However unpleasant, firing someone or letting people go is something that you, as a manager, need to be prepared to do.  The way you handle yourself at the time you tell someone it’s time to move on makes a big difference to them.  This blog helps you be prepared.

So You Want To Be A Game Designer / Programmer / Artist etc?

I'm frequently asked for the 'inside track' on how to break into the games industry.  Sometimes it's a parent whose teenage offspring wants to be a game designer and they want to know what to study; sometimes its a random person I meet at a party who loves (--insert name of mass market game here--) and thinks they could do better.  The following is a version of how I respond -- I hope you find it useful if you are pondering this also