Compete Like Artists, Not Like Businesses

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These guys. How I love them.

One of my favorite stories about the Beatles is about how John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” It was right before the band recorded the monument to the mundane and sublime that is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Having established themselves as the world’s greatest pop song writing duo, Lennon and McCartney kept pushing each other to go further. Paul delivered “Penny Lane,” which vividly imagines a neighborhood from his childhood, teeming with absurd characters and inside jokes. The song is both epic and buoyant, grand in scope and quotidian in detail, a  masterpiece. John must have felt both impressed and challenged, as he turned around and delivered “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a song equally rooted in the past, but committed to the interior landscapes of childhood, shot through with quantum states of self-doubt and moments of salubrious transcendence. The music itself is the result of much studio wizardry, including backwards tracks and the distinctive sounds of a new instrument called the Mellotron, whose cooing, tape-loop notes open the track.

In a Beatles biography I read a long time ago and whose title escapes me (sorry), it was observed that Lennon and McCartney competed with each other like someone climbing the rungs of a ladder. First one would advance, then the other. They spent their career being inspired by each other and then besting each other. This, to me, seems like a good metaphor for what’s happening in Seattle’s virtual and augmented reality industry. Continue reading “Compete Like Artists, Not Like Businesses”

2016: The Year Seattle Embraced Virtual and Augmented Reality

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Trond Nilsen addressing the September VR Hackathon

Ed: This post was made possible by the mad compiling and organization skills of Eva Hoerth and Kayla Didier.

As we pull the curtains on 2016, we’re coming to a consensus that this was a horrible, no-good, rotten, very bad year. We lost cherished icons and elevated a reality star bigot to the office of President of the United States. Terrorism, refugee crises, Brexit, and other calamities flowed through our news feeds amid fake news concocted by Russian spies, climate change deniers, and white supremacists. And yet a bright spot appeared this year, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, with the emergence of the virtual and augmented reality industry. Continue reading “2016: The Year Seattle Embraced Virtual and Augmented Reality”

VRStudios and the Real World

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VRStudios’ custom-made experience for Muckleshoot Casino.

In America, we tend to think of VR as an at-home experience. We’re imagine being tethered to a Vive or sitting on a couch with a PSVR HMD strapped to our face. Reports from other areas of the world, especially Asia, suggest a more social, public interface with virtual reality in the form of arcades and other sorts of installations. One Bellevue-based company, VRStudios, takes public VR seriously. They’ve established a track record of delivering impressive experiences that suggest where the future of arcade-style immersive tech might take us. Continue reading “VRStudios and the Real World”

Ugly Sweaters, Beautiful People

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Last night at HBO’s downtown digital team offices, Seattle’s VR community gathered for one last 2016 meetup, with ugly holiday sweaters in abundance. Organizers Eva Hoerth and Kayla Didier read a list of community milestones and accomplishments, from Pixvana releasing their Spin Studio VR creation tool to Axon VR‘s $5.8 million round of financing. Beyond the successes of individual companies, however, the most striking accomplishment had to be that Seattle, without a doubt, has become the world’s center of virtual and augmented reality.

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The Christmas tree on Eva Hoerth’s sweater could be converted into a slice of pizza. How virtual!

Judging by the eleventh-hour frenzy of Facebook chatter, many more people wanted to attend last night’s gathering than were allowed by the 150-person limit. I chatted with Dave Thek, a tech and advertising professional from Nashville who is considering relocating to Seattle, and Lucian Copeland, founder of Nullspace VR, a haptics company that moved from Rochester, New York to downtown Seattle in order to be closer to where the VR action is. When you talk to recent transplants, you start to realize that what we have in Seattle is rare and growing. And it’s near impossible to overstate how directly the camaraderie and inclusiveness of this self-organized community of VR pioneers translates into more companies, more jobs, and more opportunities for all.

AxonVR treated revelers to their big metal box full of haptic surprises. I covered their September open house and gave them some gentle ribbing for keeping their product so close to the vest, so it was gratifying to see them close out the year celebrating the biggest round of financing ever for a haptics company and showing off their technology, which creates sensations of pressure, heat, and cold as you place virtual objects in your hand.

I’ll be posting Eva and Kayla’s list of 2016 Seattle VR/AR community milestones before the new year. As we gathered for one last 360 group photo, the mood was amply celebratory, with an abundance of hope and optimism for the wonders to come in 2017. In a very unreal year, virtual reality in Seattle feels like the most genuine thing going.

More pictures after the jump… Continue reading “Ugly Sweaters, Beautiful People”

SIXR’s Holiday Cinematic Challenge and Other Learning Opportunities

14344245_1736422249943575_7151852877872171384_nSIXR is one of the most tenacious, friendly, and creative teams working in cinematic VR in Seattle, period. I freaking love them. This band of VR pioneers is all about spreading and sharing knowledge via intensive weekend jams. I attended one of them last summer and got to see a 360 movie filmed inside a hot tub. This weekend they’re hosting their Holiday 2016 Cinematic VR Challenge. If your holiday shopping is done and you’re itching to create some immersive video art with some of the most inventive artists working in the medium, you’re well advised to sign up. According to the Facebook page, there will be opportunities to experiment with binaural sound and attempts to create Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). I’m too lazy to consult Wikipedia to learn exactly what that is, but I imagine it involves tripping out while wearing a HMD and listening to Dark Side of the Moon.

Continue reading “SIXR’s Holiday Cinematic Challenge and Other Learning Opportunities”

1500 Strong

Yesterday the Seattle VR/AR Facebook group grew to 1500 members. That’s almost enough people to fill the Moore Theater. That’s a lot of brains. If you were to connect all those brains together in a massive super brain you’d get–give or take–1,500,000,000,000 neurons. Who are all these people interested in VR/AR in Seattle? I’ve been fortunate to have met a number of them, and what … Continue reading 1500 Strong

Learning to Write Sentences to Write Novels

“I wrote poetry for seven years to learn how to write a sentence because I really wanted to write novels and I figured that I couldn’t write a novel until I could write a sentence.” –Richard Brautigan  I was just thinking about this quote from one of my favorite American writers as it relates to VR. I got into this nutty industry in part because … Continue reading Learning to Write Sentences to Write Novels

Seattle Under Snow

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Last night around 11:00 I left my apartment and walked down John Street in the snow. A bus coming up the hill was spinning its rear tires, inching back and forth as it struggled to find purchase on the snow-dusted pavement. In the snow the colors of street lights pop more brilliantly and the white overlayer mutes the visual noise. The world simultaneously appears more obscured and more present.

For almost five years now I’ve maintained a sort of bohemian-bachelor-dad lifestyle. My children are in my care every other week, and I typically spend a few nights a week with my girlfriend who lives in another part of the city. In the gaps between these periods when I share my life with other people, I’m alone in a vibrant part of America’s fastest growing city. I venture out on late night walks, navigating reeling drunks and weather systems of cannabis smoke, overhearing conversations about the vagaries of courtships, amid faces lit by the rectangular glow of touchscreens. Continue reading “Seattle Under Snow”