Words by Meritxell Rosell (Twitter @dancingmoog)
Affordable and easily available Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) are starting to become more than a plausible possibility, with reports estimating 56 million VR headsets to be sold by 2020. The technology is finding its way into all aspects of how we absorb culture, and it’s having a substantial impact on artists, design studios, brands and broadcasters, which find themselves pushing boundaries to create new formats and engage audiences in novel ways. For instance, Last year we saw the Icelandic singer Bjork put out a ground-breaking digital exhibition focused on immersive experiences. One of the most captivating VR sets was the one designed for The Notget (a track from her latest album Vulnicura). The VR experience was produced by REWIND, an award-winning London-based AR/VR studio that has created remarkable product launches for brands of the likes of Jaguar, BBC, Lexus and Red Bull.
Solomon Rogers is the exceptional mind behind REWIND. The CEO and founder started his professional career working in freelance VFX gigs and games design to then become a university lecturer for 15 years in Digital Animation, VFX and Emerging Technology at the University of Hertfordshire. In 2011 Rogers founded REWIND. Initially, it was created as a VFX studio but Rogers spotted the potential of VR and the studio was fast to adapt to the new media “when the first Oculus DK1 came out, we realised it was going to change entertainment and enterprise for ever”.
In this world of speculative fictions, for Solomon “both AR and VR offer new ways to communicate, inspire and educate. For our clients, it’s a powerful new engagement tool”. Pushing forward projects from car launches, like the new Jaguar I-PACE electric car presented at the LA motor show, which Solomon says has been one of their most ambitious projects, to the newly announced Red Bull Flight Deck experience or a real-time virtual reality experience for the release of Ghost in the Shell, available publicly for Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR and, as it says on their website: “an experience bringing the audience inside the virtual world of Ghost in the Shell”.
Home is another of REWIND’s most acclaimed projects which they will be presenting at Sonar Festival 2017. For this project, the REWIND team collaborated with the BBC Science, BBC Learning, and BBC Digital Storytelling to create a15-minute immersive virtual reality experience taking the viewer into a spacewalk, something only 215 people in the entire world have ever been able to do. The experience makes viewers feel what it’s like to be an astronaut floating 250 miles above earth with stunning and vast views of the spaceship, the space station, and the universe.
With a talented group of visual artists, producers, technologists, and programmers REWIND is bringing some of the most ground-breaking Virtual Reality, digital animation and creative technology installations – reimagining storytelling and designing new mindscapes to create worlds that are a reflection of our society but do not operate under the same parameters.
Virtual reality and immersive digital installations pose a framework for alternative space-time existence. When and how did the fascination with them come about?
Apple and Pixar are two companies that have defined my life, they have influenced my direction outlook and ambitions. I still marvel at how Steve Jobs managed to bring art and technology together in both companies. Part of my attraction to – and fascination with – VR comes from the fact that this new medium marries technology and art. When the first Oculus DK1 came out, we realised it was going to change entertainment and enterprise forever.
The power of ‘presence’ – the feeling of being physically present in a virtual world – is unique to VR.
We saw it’s potential and decided to shift our focus to VR… I’ve also always wanted to create the Holodeck!
What are the main/bigger aims behind your creations?
Most of our work is commissioned so we don’t have free creative reign over what we produce. However, we never let any work leave the studio that we wouldn’t be proud of and all our work has a purpose, whether that’s to educate, inspire or entertain. Home – a VR Spacewalk, is an example of a piece of content that does all three. Home is an award-winning epic 15-minute immersive virtual reality experience we created with BBC Digital Storytelling.
Its ambition as a piece of VR is to combine a strong narrative and sense of drama with the incredible impact possible in an immersive experience to encourage and enhance the public’s interest in space. It puts you at the center of the story, taking you on an emotional and personal journey whilst delivering beautiful, heart-stopping and memorable Moments. The experience has won six awards so far so we’re obviously doing something right!
What are the biggest challenges you face for the development of your projects? (For example in collaborative projects like the one you did with Bjork)? And what is your most challenging project so far?
Every project has challenges because we are working with a new media. There is no rule book, we are writing the rules as we go along. It’s exciting but incredibly hard work too. One of our latest projects, the reveal of Jaguar’s I-PACE concept car (working with Imagination) was our most ambitious to date. The amount of technical layers, the detail, and precision needed to pull this off had never been seen before. It was epic: 66 connected Vives delivering a multi-user social VR experience over two continents, three live-streamed presenters and one virtual electric concept car.
For the Stonemilker project with Bjork, there was a different challenge, at the time there were no high quality 360 VR video players available, so we had to create our own. We created a bespoke player that not only displays high resolution stereoscopic 360 video at 60 frames per second on all modern mobile devices but is also capable of simultaneously running a bespoke binaural audio system in real time. This combination of ultra high-resolution footage and audio content allows for a truly immersive viewing experience. The video was Directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, and the App co-collaborators included: Chris Pike (BBC) and Chris Elms, VRSE.works, Two Big Ears, Andrew Melchior and Digital Domain. It was fantastic to work with such a stellar lineup.
Virtual Reality and digital installations blur the boundaries between the physical and the digital. How people respond to multiple stimuli in a digital environment beyond the touch of a screen or button is one of the questions to answer in this 21st century in which people live in a hyper-connected society. What impact do you predict for them in a not-so-distant future?
Reports tell us that 56 million VR headsets will be sold by 2020 with the market itself projected to be worth $80 billion by 2025 (Goldman Sachs VR/AR Report). VR is here to stay and some people have voiced concerns about the impact these technologies will have on the social fabric of society.
Yes, some people will spend more time in a virtual world than the real world, just as some people lost their youth to World of Warcraft. But VR will not swallow us up and spit us out incapable of having meaningful interactions with others. In fact, many VR experiences are being designed to be enjoyed with others. The bigger vision is not singular experiences that cut you off from others but bring people together. Take Jaguar’s I-PACE launch, or example, we connected 66 people in LA and London in a social VR experience where everyone could see each other within the experience and interact, plus interact with presenters and 3D models.
Facebook and Oculus have announced a number of “social VR” features, from experiments to features headed to the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR soon. All this shows how central social interaction is to the firm’s plans for virtual reality.
What is your chief enemy of creativity?
The enemy of creativity is anxiety. If you are not happy or content with your past, your present and your future your brain is busy continuously worrying and working on thoughts of inadequacy. If you can free just 23% of your brain from these negative and limiting thoughts, creativity can flow. Not only from the logical and creative sides of your brain but from memories and past experiences allowing you to see opportunities in the now and imagine what the future may hold. That is where creativity lives and breathes…in the glorious chaos of our free minds.
You couldn’t live without…
Coffee and my cats.