Using VR for Marketing

Vince Lynch Discussing AI at Promax.jpg

Bowdy here from the ST team. I am a member of our creative team and Director of Sales. I attended Promax DBA's "The Conference" this summer and spoke on a panel regarding the use of VR for marketing, sitting aside other media professionals. The discussion mainly focused on marketing, but Vince Lynch (left) also touched on how A.I. will impact marketing and be utilized within virtual reality in the future.

The crowd was not new to virtual reality. Almost 100% of them had tried VR, but not many raised their hands when asked if they had done a VR experience that was really compelling and got them excited. Why the long faces? The lack of enthusiasm? I couldn't fully blame them. When I went to CES, there were a slew of VR experiences used for marketing purposes. All-in-all, they were lack-luster. It pains me to say that, because the collective success and excellence of all creators in the industry is one component that is key for its growth. But it is not easy to create a compelling experience that has AAA artistry, a fluid storyline, intuitive interaction, and a clear message. If CES, of all conferences, was lacking in impressive experiences, of course people are wary.

So what's going on?

What are the factors that have marketing executives trigger shy?

1: SCALE - VR is emerging and has not scaled. There is concern around achieving scale to justify the spend. How do we get it to enough people? So few people have headsets at this juncture.

2: COST - The spend is not cheap. Even our lean and resilient team comes with a minimum cost. We can develop an amazing experience for cheaper than most, but that cost is still outside of the comfort zone of a lot of brand professionals. Those in control of marketing budgets have traditional media outlets that will certainly be much less, and they have done it before. VR seems risky. Traditional avenues seem safe.

3: EFFECT - This technology is new, so there is apprehension around how to make a compelling experience. It would be seen as a failure to make an experience that doesn't bring KPIs (key performance indicators) that justify the cost.

The Argument to Pull the Trigger

1: SCALE - VR has not been widely adopted. Yes! Fortunately, each major hardware manufacturer is working on headsets that have new benefits—for instance—cheaper, mobile, stand-alone (w/o cell phone needed).

In the meantime, experiential activations can draw huge PR value and convert an epic experience attended by relatively few, to be seen and heard by many.  Porting the experience to video format for users to be able to access on the internet and scroll around can let the masses see the experience, albeit without the full immersion. For business to business purposes, what better way to impart your vision unto your customers and partners than to put them into that world?

2: COST - Introducing IMPACTWith virtual reality, begging for a person to look, click through, and buy the service or goods you are selling by using rectangular ad space that is but a fraction of a person's full range of sight, will be made inferior. Virtual Reality lives as a memory. If you team up with the right studio to make it epic, lasting, and impactful, the users will be changed similarly to the way they feel after viewing a quality film.  They'll have a whole new understanding of what your product or service stands for and how it can benefit them. If conversion and true impact is reached, cost is well worth it. 

3: EFFECT - Re-creating reality. Not a simple thing to do. We have seen countless VR experiences that fall short of utilizing the medium in a meaningful way.  Every little thing matters. To take the user into your vision, the interactive or passive element has to be well defined. It needs to live in VR deliberately. If it can be done better in 2D, don't do it in VR. Our team has mastered a stereoscopic video technique to embed actors into a CGI environment. Make that actor a brand affiliated celebrity or cultural icon, and users will have a lived memory with that person, as if they met him in real life.

That's one value add. What about the literal feeling and vision of your brand? What fuels the fire in the soul of your CEO and your team? When ideating on how to put that vision into 2D, it is coming from imagination, and imagination is 3D. So we can now eliminate that paring down step and simply think in 3D, then adapt that to the constraints of VR. Take users into the world of your brand and don't hold back. There are no limits. Add an exceptional development team that can incorporate stunning 360 sound-design, and you are well on your way.

We happen to be such a team that can help make your brand be felt by a person in a way that has never been done before. Don't test virtual reality out. Do it deliberately and make it effective and long-lasting. If you yourself happen to be in need, send me a friendly email.

We are committed to making premium virtual reality experiences that help people understand themselves and the world better. As part of that mission, we can affect people's senses with your brand vision.

Co-Founder Aaron Nicholson speaks on IBM THINK Leaders Panel

Co-Founder Aaron Nicholson speaks on IBM THINK Leaders Panel

In October of 2016, Co-Founder Aaron Nicholson was invited to participate in an IBM THINK Leaders panel consisting of several digital media founders.  IBM’s Robert Schwartz leads a lively discussion about entrepreneurship, creativity, marketing, and finding talent.

Ita Ekpoudom, Founder and CEO, Tigress Ventures
Josie Hines, COO and co-founder, Art Frankly
Aaron Nicholson, co-founder, Studio Transcendent

0:55 Panelist introductions
3:55 Aaron: AR/VR tech adoption “won’t be as viral” as mobile and social
9:03 What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
13:13 How do you build a cohesive plan over the next year or two?
15:51 Aaron on competition in the VR space
16:33 How do you think about talent and partnerships?
20:39 Who influenced your desire for entrepreneurship?
23:39 How do you deal with the constant learning process of entrepreneurship?
27:47 How would you define the discipline of marketing?
31:53 What role does creativity play in your organization?
37:25 What advice do you have on pursuing your passion?

Audience questions
41:35 What are you failing at today that you need to be succeeding at tomorrow?
43:33 Aaron: Do you think VR will get to the level of Disney theme park rides?
44:28 Once you get someone’s attention, how do you close a sale?
46:47 What are your thoughts on competition?
50:02 How do you think about scale, and how has that changed?
52:31 How will Watson affect the longterm survival of your business?
54:41 When you think of IBM, what do you think of?

Writing for VR - Part 2

Writing for VR - Part 2

When your viewer wanders onto set

In film and TV, the screen creates a natural barrier between you and the action. Even when the content is in 3D, it’s only toying with the fourth wall; the viewer is never transported into the world that she is watching and she certainly never feels present in the situations that are taking place. Even in live theater, the roles of observer and observed are clearly defined. The actors are putting on a show; the audience is watching.

The boundary between the viewer and the action is so solid that most stories contain an audience surrogate, a character that represents the audience within the narrative. This character is the one that other characters can explain things to so the viewer stays in the loop.

Narrative virtual reality is different.

The nature of VR puts the viewer into a scene in a way that is new and unique. The sense of presence created by these amazing new devices, one of their great selling points, forces the user to be aware of his own role in the events that are unfolding. If he is ignored, he tends to feel invisible. This sensation can be distracting and even off-putting.

On the other hand, current technology doesn’t allow the viewer to freely interact with events. We aren’t at a place yet where a viewer can interrupt Hamlet’s soliloquy and strike up a conversation. “You know, Hamlet, I think ‘tis nobler to take arms against a sea of troubles, and let me tell you why.…”

We are, therefore, left with an interesting problem: how to acknowledge the intimacy of the VR viewer’s perspective within the confines of the technology available to us.


Embracing the second person

I like to write my screenplays with as little distracting content as possible. I come from the school of thought that you should avoid technical phrases and other elements that would remind the reader that they are reading a screenplay. I never write “We see…” or phrases like “The camera pans to…” unless it is absolutely essential to the moment. When you look at the motivation behind writing phrases like that, aren’t you almost always directing? Directing isn’t your job. Let the director do that!

So, within the accepted rules of the format, I like to make my scripts read like books. This makes the script itself a compelling experience and not just the blueprint for something yet to be created. I’ve found that, in writing VR, the rarely-used second person perspective can be really helpful.

Second person perspective is so rare that I once earned extra credit in my high school English class for even knowing what it was.

First person -- “I battled the monster.” -- has a powerful intimacy to it.

Third person -- “She crept into the room.” -- has a wonderful voyeuristic quality.

Second person? “You knock on the door and wait, your heart pounding.” It’s just... weird. No, I didn’t knock on the door. I’m sitting here reading, and my heart is just fine--thank you very much.

Second person has never really caught on except, famously, in Choose Your Own Adventure books. So, it’s fascinating to me that as I write for various Virtual Reality projects, I find myself in the second person mode a lot by simply using “you” in the script, or by constantly saying either the “user” or the “viewer”. When creating a story in which your audience inhabits or is the main character, it makes good sense to write this way. It places those people reading the screenplay more accurately into the headspace the final audience member will enjoy. Though second person is distracting at first, it actually creates the most accurate mental image for the reader when writing these types of stories.


Moving Past The Ghosts

There’s been a lot of effort made to explain the user's presence in early VR. The user is often cast as a ghost or a robot, something that makes narrative sense to be in the scene but that can’t interact with the story. We’re early in the medium and many people view these experiences immediately after putting on a headset for the first time, so these types of storytelling devices make sense. They answer questions that many first time VR users instinctively ask. “Wait, who am I?” “Can they see me?” Etc.

In early cinema, there’s the story (almost certainly apocryphal, but still) of audiences diving out of the way of a train as it races toward the camera. We are still in those days in VR. The entire idea is so novel that we have to hold the viewers’ hands as we usher them into these worlds.

As the medium matures and we try to tell deeper, more compelling stories, we’ll need to work to get past these devices. Not every story allows the presence of a mute robot or a disembodied soul. What other options are there?

We can ignore the user, but, as discussed in the first part of this article, that’s often quite off-putting. I think in time users will adjust to this feeling, but that time isn’t here yet. So, maybe we lean in on that. Maybe we force the user to somehow incorporate his feeling of awkward presence into the experience. For example, a story where a reluctant prostitute goes to bed with a john may create powerful feelings of discomfort and helplessness in the viewer, feelings that would be much less powerful in another medium.

Some other options I’ve been playing with include simply breaking the fourth wall, Deadpool style. I can imagine powerful VR stories that feature characters turning to the camera and saying how they feel. Maybe VR is the medium that brings back the soliloquy?

There are so many great concepts and conceits that come to play when we stop trying to explain away the user’s presence and begin to embrace it as a story tool. Put users closer to the action than is comfortable; force them to look or look away and make either choice reinforce your story. Or put the user further from the action than they’d want to be and make them strain to get back the feeling of presence to which they have become accustomed.


Writing for VR

VR is currently the Wild West of storytelling. There’s so much unexplored territory. There are amazing techniques waiting to be found and there are terrible ideas waiting just as impatiently. I’m eager to try, and to see others try the techniques that will become the language of narrative VR. So much of what’s been done to date has been an effort to bend the will of VR to the traditions of the existing mediums, but VR will only sing when it finds its own voice. Those of us who write out on this fun new frontier have a unique ability to help sculpt that new language.

Right now, the low hanging fruit is plentiful and delicious. Soon, we’ll need to start putting in the effort of climbing higher into the tree, and I, for one, can’t wait to see the view from up there.


—Greg Sullivan

Trojan CEO Network:  Panel on using Virtual Reality in Health, Wellness, & Medicine

Trojan CEO Network: Panel on using Virtual Reality in Health, Wellness, & Medicine

This past October, Elizabeth Amini of the Trojan CEO Network and ACTA hosted a virtual reality showcase and panel at the USC Marshall School of Business, focusing on VR in the wellness space. The panel included Studio Transcendent’s Co-Founder, John Dewar; Director of the Brain Mapping Society, Vicky Yamamoto; Cosmo Scharf of VRLA & Visionary VR; as well as Alex Marchetti of AppliedVR, Studio Transcendent’s partner in the field of VR for healthcare.

The article below contains audio clips as well as transcripts from the panel.


Alex: “We use our products a lot with kids---chemo, shot, I.V..  [There is a] large body of research [regarding] VR as a tool for pain, anxiety management. Now the technology is accessible.”

Cosmo described how Visionary VR is letting people create, storytell, act, improv, and share within the world of VR using their Mindshow platform.

John spoke about the unique approach to authentically relieving anxiety for patients by surrounding patients with environments and phenomena that naturally make people feel safe, including the soundtrack for Guided Relaxation composed by James Hopkins, a sound healer who uses pythagorean monochords. These large instruments are one of a kind and cost several hundreds of the thousands of dollars to commission through a cello maker in Germany. The perfect fifths used in these instruments correlates to human relaxation, James found, through his extensive study of Pythagoras. This type of specificity, John describes, is why the experience has been so effective, finding not only unique, but powerful new ways to augment an experience like Guided Meditation in this new medium.

John joked, but with sincerity, that VR experiences, like anything else, can be stressful with timelines and budget restrictions. The punchline being that he could never get too stressed out when he was working on the project because he was testing Guided Relaxation so often, which has achieved up to a 60% reduction in patient’s anxiety.

John described the relationship between suspension of disbelief and the concept of presence in VR, where people allow themselves to be convinced that they are actually part of the virtual world.

Studio Transcendent Co-Founder John Dewar 

Studio Transcendent Co-Founder John Dewar 

VR in 2020/2030

Alex Marchetti described how VR’s main benefit to society may not just be in entertainment, but could very well be found within the wellness space.

Cosmo Scharf: “Hardware will be much different---like iPhone looks nothing like the original cell phones. It’s kind of impossible to imagine the experiences, however. Experiences are very hard to forecast for 20 years forward. They will likely be way, way, way different than what we can imagine today. VR will be way more main street. We’re only 3-4 years into modern consumer reality for VR. Developers are very much still figuring out what VR is good for. In 20 years, we will have a variety of applications that people will come back to, to do work, and find value. Right now, it is very much a novelty with very few applications that will warrant repeat use today. In 20 years that will certainly change.”

Vicky Yamamoto: “By 2020, VR will be a 30-40 Billion dollar business or more. It is clearly a game changer. I see that VR’s main use is in entertainment and gaming industry, but it’s great that it’s being used in medicine, psychology, and social work. Surgeons are more and more interested in using VR to train themselves, especially in brain surgery. Technology can also be used for the patients as we see. They can also be used for diabetes studies to encourage people to follow good eating habits and live an active lifestyle.”

John Dewar: “From Oculus Connect, the chief science officer laid out a future projection where in 2020, we will see double the resolution, and more will be wireless. I think we’ll be able to work full time in VR, which is very interesting. There is a program called Big Screen which is a co-working space in VR. I saw someone on Twitter who had logged 900 hours on there already.  You have to deal with a great deal of discomfort if you want to deal with that right now, but some people do. I think that’s a good prediction. In AR, Magic Leap is promising amazing things; so is Hololens. These could potentially replace our smart phones and smart watches. Things could end up being merged between VR & AR, so we’ll see. Once VR comes on-line there is a lot outside of entertainment. For brain surgery, you could be doing brain surgery and looking at a 3d brain map at the same time, so there is a lot of potential there. In 10 years, no one really knows, but my prediction is that we’ll all have them in our houses. Maybe it’s an utopia, maybe a dystopia. We’ll find out.”

Elizabeth Amini: “Two demos blew my mind:  For diabetes, the patient gets to talk to themselves with their disease five years progressed, and they get to talk to themselves. That kind of thing. The person says what they wish they had known five years earlier. Eight out of ten people that did this interaction ended up becoming more compassionate towards their future selves and changed their lifestyles much quicker. The other is where an engineer in one city could guide a lower skilled worker to fix something like a plane, where the lower skilled person is pretty much the hands for the expert in a different city. They’re saying VR is going to be incorporated into all aspects of life.”

Where do you think the opportunities for students are today, and what areas are oversaturated?

Cosmo Scharf: “Most people are making games. I would say that’s already saturated. If you’re looking to get into VR, there are tons of low hanging fruit, useful applications, things that people want to come back to. That’s what we’re doing with MindShare---something people want to come back to over and over again. Come to VRLA, of course, and there are a lot of other meet ups. There are meetups for VR on Also visit Oculus Reddit and Vive Reddit.”

John Dewar: “I think this is true with any industry. Don’t wait and depend on school to start you out. Just start. The truth is, in my experience, they don’t pay too much attention to your experience; they want to know what you can’s very hard to tell how people are going to perform before you work with them. Get out there and do some projects and build a portfolio. You have to have enough intrinsic enthusiasm about it to go out there and build stuff. Otherwise, maybe you’re better off finding another field.”

Where is the money coming from in VR right now?

Cosmo: “Venture capital. The market right now is still pretty small, so making solid revenue to sustain a company is challenging.  The real trick is figuring out how to sustain yourself until the market shows up---a year or two or three.”

John: “VRLA has doubled every time it happens, and that’s amazing.  We’re right on the cusp. But, you have to find your way through this. Our company is unique in that we have survived purely on revenue. It really is about applications. With Applied VR, we have worked with a company that is doing research applications. It is kind of still in this corporate application world, not exactly consumer focused right now. Some are doing architecture, which is extremely valuable. Also, design. Faraday Future is doing VR instead of making the actual car. SpaceX is using it. There are tons of applications. Now that the technology is cheaper and more accessible, many architects can afford it.”

Alex: “It has been challenging at times to get a health care system to adopt a VR get it into their workflow. But once you communicate the benefit, that’s where the opportunity is. There are a lot of companies and brands that are eager to use the technology for marketing and advertising. There are also grants, which we are applying for---addiction treatment focused, for example...we participated [in the Techstars accelerator] with 10 other companies in the digital health space, and we have a core team coming from a business background. The Healthcare system is very complex to understand, and through the Techstars accelerator, we knew much more about the space. I can’t begin to say how much we learned during that period. It was helpful to get an understanding and resources for raising money to grow our business.”

Student Questions

What are your perspectives on the potential moral issues with virtual reality? More immersive? Drawing people in too much? Thoughts?

Cosmo: “People creating the experiences have an unprecedented responsibility for people’s mental health. You are putting their consciousness into an experience, in a completely new way that has never existed before. There are horror applications that will freak people out, but as the tech improves, developers need to be conscious about the kinds of experiences they are making.”

John: “[Consumer VR] hasn’t been studied and [violence in video games] has been a controversy…it’s very expensive to [create] these experiences and study them. It means we have to be responsible and work our way [through these issues] down the road and not go whole hog.”

What was the VR experience that made you want to pursue VR?

Cosmo: “I was interested in VR before I tried it. Half Life 2, but it made me pretty nauseous. It was probably when I started reading someone’s blog post about what ended up becoming the Vive. In that moment, I knew I needed to figure out how to get myself involved with this.”

John: “I just imagined what it would be like. I saw the first rift prototype, and I called my friend Ian who writes our VR Digest and works for Upload VR, and asked him to try it out [Oculus was on his beat as the Orange County Register tech reporter, and he was blown away].  I was excited to put in an order for the first Oculus dev kit. The rest is history. You start building stuff and keep going.”

I don’t have any experience in coding. What is the best way to for me to meet people to work on an idea with me?

Cosmo: “There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube.”

John: “If you’re looking for people to collaborate with, that’s a problem we all have. There are very talented students at USC, find them. Community forums, Unreal Engine forums. I would start there. And start at USC.”

In the medical space, who has accepted VR the most?

Alex: “Kids love it. Kids that have grown up with the technology. In general, it has been more difficult on older patients. But we’ve actually seen good results with older patients. For specific procedures or areas, we’re using it for chemotherapy. They have to be there for a long time and it’s uncomfortable. Pain management, patients recovering from painful procedures, like spine patients.”

Vicky, regarding lack of resources in surgical training. What is the adoption look like for surgical training in VR?

Vicky: “I am not a surgeon but a scientist. But we can create experiences to help this. Since we are in the research and medical field, VR is more constricted towards training. When it comes to using it in the OR, surgery room, it appears AR is more useful there.  I think AR will be bigger than VR for this setting.”

John: “There are a lot of different terms like ___ reality. Virtual reality, augmented [reality], digital [reality], mixed [reality], augmented virtual reality. Basically, augmented reality and mixed reality are two very similar terms. Mixed reality is overlaying the information over the real world [as if it is part of the world]”

John went on to explain that people are still debating the correct terminology and that Michael Abrash had just tried to coin “augmented virtual reality” to describe a headset that covers your eyes but brings the world in via cameras.

Rehab - can you comment on any available projects in the world of rehabilitation, physically and cognitively and if there is room for partnership?

Alex: “One area we have looked into is how can we use it for certain rehab exercises, stroke rehab.  Also for sports.”

Addiction - how far along is that in this technology?

Alex: “We are applying for a grant there, it is extremely new and we believe that’s an area where VR could add value. Therapy, group therapy, or allow someone to access an AA meeting. But it’s extremely new for us and an area that we just started exploring.  There are exposure and phobia experiences out there. For addiction it does not currently exist.”

Parents used to say ‘don’t sit too close to the tv’, with VR, there is a huge tv screen right in front of your eyes. Is it going to be damaging?

Cosmo: “Could be. No idea really. The problem with current VR screen technology, it is a fixed distance that your eyes are looking at, which is not how it looks in reality. There will be technology that will make it more comfortable. We could be frying our brains right now but who knows.”

John: “That’s the secret sauce that Magic Leap has is they have a technology that helps with that.”

Elizabeth: “I asked an ophthalmologist and he said it depends on frequency of use and how long each use it. He thought in acute care, it’s not going to be harmful. If you’re there playing video games for hours at a time it could be harmful. He was more concerned about the light from the screens screwing up your circadian rhythms and screwing up your sleep. Sleep is when you repair your body. The main worry is someone playing for hours at a time and not being able to repair themselves. Very very few people have an answer to this. We will see what happens.”

John: “Some people have been trying to break records. Chris Miranda did it for 100 hours straight.”

Cosmo: “I personally spend most of my day staring at a computer screen or phone, and most of you guys do as well. Whatever damage is done, is done there. I’m not more concerned about what VR will do for us.”

John: “It can actually help with certain conditions. Helping children that need to [strengthen their ability to focus their vision]. They have to stare at 3D images for a certain amount of time and you can strengthen eye muscles.”

Cosmo: “There is a guy who is legally blind who was able to use VR to see again. There are certain use cases where it could be a positive thing.”

Where will VR go with distributors and portals. And if you have read Ready Player One, do you think that’s what VR could turn into?

Cosmo: “Well Oculus home and Steam are pretty centralized places to go get VR content today. But with metaverses, hopefully something like that will take off. I have read Ready Player One. I think the future that it presents is certainly impossible; it’s somewhat dystopic. The physical world is kind of falling apart and then there is this utopian metaverse that people can access in VR. These portrayals of VR in fiction and sci-fi. They’re often dystopias because they are made for entertainment and you need to have a negative or evil force to make it an interesting story. That’s an argument for the implausibility for VR becoming a zombifying thing. But honestly no one has any idea as to where it will be in 10 or 50 years.”

In Hong Kong they have a cycling class in VR. Do you know of anything like that for fitness?

John: “There is a sub-reddit dedicated to VR fitness where they have developed an exercise regime that is centered around various Vive games like with Fruit Ninja.  I think it’s a huge area; it will probably make a ton of money. Someone on reddit said in a few years gamers are going to be the fittest people on earth, and I agree with that.  All the stuff at Oculus connect was touch based. Like frisbee, ultimate frisbee in space. It will become a much more physical activity.”

Cyan’s Team discusses Studio Transcendent’s help with Obduction


From the team at Cyan:

Due to Cyan's 2013 Kickstarter stretch goal to support the Oculus Rift, we knew from the start that Obduction would be playable in VR (in addition to standard desktop).  We then decided a bit later in development to use FMV (full motion video) for our three main characters.  Since our game was supporting desktop and VR, we knew this FMV content would need to be properly viewable in both 2D and 3D.  The Kickstarter funding, while successful, was relatively small for a project of this scope and left little opportunity for much R&D.  To help us meet our goals on time and at the quality level we desired, we reached out to John Dewar of Studio Transcendent (I had met John the previous year at PAX, through his involvement with Kite and Lightning's Senza Peso).  Studio Transcendent was instrumental in allowing us to essentially hit the ground running as we began our 2D/3D FMV work and not lose precious development time reinventing any wheels.

The biggest challenge we faced when embedding the LAV (live action video) into Obduction’s 3D world was simply ensuring that the LAV in VR didn’t “flatten” the experience. The worst scenario would have been for us to simply embed 2D video in VR. That would have been terrible for the VR experience - any chance of the characters being convincing would have vanished. But the alternative of building the characters in full 3D had its own set of problems - time, budget, realism, performance capture, etc. Capturing the live action characters in 3D was right in our sweet spot - we designed Obduction with that in mind, and, with Studio Transcendent’s experience, we were able to make it fall into place.

Our games are all about places - places that feel real. Players may feel lost at first, but that’s a very natural feeling when you’re in a new place for the first time. As players explore they find that the places start to make sense - with a history and continuity. Characters are a large part of that. They give us a way to relay story and emotion, as well as provide short and long term goals as the story unfolds.  Using live characters helped further Obduction’s storylines and gameplay.   

The biggest challenges we faced embedding full motion video content into a 3D environment in VR were:

1) having proper stereo disparity in the source video footage

2) processing the footage (green-screen removal, lighting adjustments, correcting for convergence, assembly/layout of alpha and RGB channels for left and right eyes)

3) implementing those assets to be displayed correctly in the game engine.  

Early on, Studio Transcendent provided us with info such as a proven pipeline/workflow, best practices, and numerous tech specifications, a custom stereo camera rig designed for two GoPro cameras, and even hands-on assistance in the three key areas of filming, post-processing, and asset implementation in Unreal Engine 4.  They enabled us to get up and running with our FMV character development for both our 2D and 3D needs quickly and effectively.

Studio Transcendent has the advantage of being out in front - they’ve been engaged in providing VR specific solutions for years now. That means that instead of re-inventing the wheel, it allows a studio to take advantage of Studio Transcendent's experience and get a head start in the fast moving VR industry.

Humans & How They React to Virtual Reality

When I first tried VR, I was elated. I was in the Venice Beach Cadillac hotel with one of our co-founders, Aaron Nicholson, transported far and away by the Oculus DK2 headset. But was I the only one to go absolutely bonkers over this new technology?

“Virtual Reality? Yea I get it. They were doing that back in the 80’s and 90’s with those enormous headsets. Yeah, I get it; it’s like fake reality. Great.”

That was partially my impression before doing VR, and it is the impression of most people that have not tried virtual reality.  This will diminish as public understanding of this technology grows.

There are those who have tried a roller coaster or the Space X experience on the Google Cardboard, or perhaps they’ve actually used the Samsung Gear VR.  Some have used both but have only experienced Live 360, which, technically, is not true virtual reality--cool as it is.

Whether or not they have previously tried VR, after demonstrating Studio Transcendent’s experiences to hundreds upon hundreds of people over the past year, I would say that about 90% of people are blown away. There is certainly a variance in reactions within the headset, as people are different in nature. But after an experience, it is pretty much unanimous. They dig it. They very much dig it.

The other 10% are usually programmers that are desensitized to the technology, much like a theater director might find it very difficult to suspend their disbelief while watching a play.  But for the audience, the results are amazing.

Time and time again I get reactions within the headset like “Oh My God!”, which is by far the most frequent phrase uttered. Other reactions:  “This is going to change the world.”  “This is amazing for education.”  “That is INSANE!”

These sound like stereotypical exclamations, yet they are pure and authentic reactions from people blown away by the realization that the technology and artistry are rising to a high-level within the VR medium. One can be truly fooled that they are someplace else.

In one of our experiences, The Ledge, people’s minds are constantly pitted up against their fight or flight instincts, their pure subconscious need for survival. In these moments, especially to those virgin to the technology, it is incredibly difficult to just sit back and relax by thinking “I’m in a hotel right now” or “This is just a conference room, chill out.”  This is the point at which many have to take off the headset - their only means of retrieving the feeling of safety in knowing that they are not in this virtual space.

It is also fun for others to watch. With a well-built and well-written experience, the entertainment can be had, not just by the user in the headset, but by those observing them from the monitor, tracking what they are going through and watching their reactions.

The best part about virtual reality is that even though those of the Baby Boomer generation generally have a lower propensity of enthusiasm and quick willingness to jump into an experience, they end up enjoying it as much as millenials and younger. Moderation in everything, they say, especially when it comes to curse words, for instance. The “F” word’s ever-growing popularity has definitely found its way into my world as people’s adulation towards our experiences have provided sound evidence that the word is alive and well, induced by satisfying VR experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, not every virtual reality piece is guaranteed to warrant reactions of amazement. I have been a fortunate witness of enthusiastic responses, brought to life by the work of our amazing team here at Studio Transcendent. And that is why we stick by our mission statement - to create top quality virtual reality experiences that allow people to understand themselves and the world better, with a glimmer of fun all the while.

In our piece, Rapid Fire: A Brief History of Flight, there is a consistent moment where the user is seen in a state of awe. This is when they can see above them all of the planes that were shot down in the Battle of Britain, promoting a visceral understanding of what was previously merely abstract facts and figures. The 360 sound design helps court this feeling of chills even further up and down the spine.

VR deserves deliberate execution and creative thinking into why an experience should exist. If there is not a specific reason why it should be in VR instead of on a 2D rectangular screen, then perhaps it should be made in another medium. There is a whole new realm of creative experiences coming to life with the existence of this new paradigm, which, I should note, is vastly different from augmented reality. Not only will VR blossom in the fields of education, entertainment, and the medical field, but it will also serve as an amazing marketing and sales tool for businesses around the world that are able to see that, if done properly, VR can create immense value.

VR can help people to understand themselves and the world better. And that’s why we’re here. :)


Join us for a panel on VR's use in health, wellness and medicine

Join us for a panel on VR's use in health, wellness and medicine

Thursday, October 13th, 6:30 - 8:30 PM

Studio Transcendent Co-Founders, Aaron Nicholson and John Dewar, will be participating in a panel in conjunction with ACTA and the Trojan CEO network. They will address the future of VR, with a focus on the health, wellness, & clinical space. AppliedVR, our partner in creating anxiety and pain management VR experiences, will also take part in the panel. In addition, a neurosurgeon who has been using VR to practice on tumors before he goes into surgery will speak about his methods.

6:30 Networking

7:00 Studio Transcendent Demo

7:15 Panel (no entry after start of the panel)

Taper Hall (THH) 301 on the University of Southern California campus

The panel is free.  Parking is $12 at the gate; the nearest lot is Parking Structure D.

For more information, please email


Time Inside Virtual Reality

Time Inside Virtual Reality

The sweat beading on his face after the first 24 consecutive hours in Virtual Reality should have been enough to send Chris Miranda into a fit of facial claustrophobia, but he kept on going, ultimately spending 100 hours in VR without a break! Chris can be a little intense. The idea of spending that long with a screen strapped to their face would make most people run screaming. But as the Head Mounted Displays become ever more comfortable and capable, maybe it won’t be so wild to think about spending all day in one a few years down the road. Right now, it begs the question, with the current HMD landscape and the wealth of options for content, is there an ideal length for a VR experience?

Before considering what types of experiences warrant shorter spans of immersion and which welcome a longer stay in VR, there are some technical points to examine. Most observers believe we are in the brick-phone and over-the-shoulder tape-based video camera phase of virtual reality — which makes the future of virtual reality hardware exciting to anticipate. The resolution and latency in VR will only improve in the future and there is still a lot of room for growth: NVIDIA showed off a monitor capable of refreshing 1,700 times per second. (You can see that 90 fps is insufficient on 1st generation headsets by walking around or clacking your teeth together; you'll observe the "world" bounce a little bit.)

Most experiences don't feature a virtual body for you to inhabit as “yourself” in VR, and of the minority that do, most don't give you much control over its appearance and relationship to your self-image. On top of that, most aren't fully capable of matching your actual movements. We will certainly see more body awareness in VR as avatar building and motion integration come into play.  But for now, you're mostly a ghost in the majority of VR experiences, which is fine for the time being, especially when the experience is passive and you're not supposed to actively participate in the scene. I believe that for physical comfort, you will retain balance better and be more comfortable when you have an avatar.

So how long can you stay in VR?

Personally, when it comes to highly stimulating and potentially discombobulating games like Eve:Valkyrie, I can't last more than fifteen minutes before having to return to the real world to check myself and re-focus my eyes and brain. It's an outstanding game that requires a lot of brainpower and eye movement on top of the interactive controller component. Additionally, the user is twisted every which way in zero gravity, accelerating forward at various speeds. It's awesome, but not for the faint-of-stomach.

In my opinion, VR probably isn't yet meant for long form content, like full length films. You can, but I wouldn't. It's just too long, especially with video content, since 360 video tends to be far less comfortable for your eyes and stomach compared to real-time rendered content. And how am I supposed to drink a refreshment or eat a snack during a movie if I have a headset on? I'm saying that somewhat facetiously, but it is a real issue.

With our partner Applied VR, we developed Guided Relaxation for hospital patients at Cedars Sinai Medical Group. Not only do we love making something in VR that truly helps people (and I've had countless healthy people outside of hospitals ask for it in their daily lives), but it really chills you out. It calms you down. In Guided Relaxation, a 30 minute accelerated day-night cycle re-orients the user and ends with a soft and comforting sunset. The user is guided through the experience by a wonderful female meditation guide while they gaze over an ocean cliffside inspired by Big Sur, California.

Ever hear about how getting out into wilderness is itself a curative endeavor? Well, that same type of effect occurs with users of Guided Relaxation, at least as far as the eyes and ears stimulate their senses. The users' imagination comes into play, with some reporting they feel cold when the sun goes down and hot when the campfire starts burning.

As a 30-minute experience, you can keep it going longer by taking breaks for however long you would like between the various guided meditation segments.  At 30 minutes, playing straight through, I first found myself wishing I could stay longer and linger in the beauty and calm of the sunset.

So, the desirable duration in VR is certainly subjective, but the biggest variables in my opinion are gauged by asking the following questions: Is the experience relaxing you? Does it beg for your attention? Is it stimulating, perhaps pushing the limits on viewer comfort? Interactive, or even addicting? By answering these questions for any experience, you'll have a pretty good idea of how long users are going to want to be in the headset.

Intense -> less time in VR

Relaxing -> more time in VR

For creators and developers, it is important for us to gauge how to ultimately deliver satisfaction, figuring out where the world really needs VR to help and/or entertain us.

For industry events like VRLA, I think it is vital for healthy turnover that companies aim for 3 minute experiences.  This will maximize eyeballs during these occasions for a company’s own promotion, allow enough time for immersion in a given experience, and allow users to try a myriad of different companies’ experiences to optimize their own time at the conference. People get restless when the line doesn't move every three minutes.

Creatively, VR is a limitless medium.  When it comes to making the user comfortable, it's important to match the length of the experience and its core objective with future users’ propensity for tolerating their stay inside VR, especially in the earlier stages of the technology.

—Bowdy Brown

Writing for VR

Writing for VR

Picking your medium

One of the first lessons young writers are taught is how to pick the format best suited for their story. Are they trying to explore a unique character as they navigate any number of situations? That’s a TV show. Are they delving into the innermost depths of a character’s psyche? That’s a book. If they’re looking to discover characters and plot through the physical actions they choose to take, then that’s a movie. If they want to have characters talk everything out, they’re going to want to write a play.

The lines are frequently blurred, of course, and one story may often exist in any number of these formats to varying degrees of success. But for the most part, each medium has staked a claim on the type of stories it’s best at telling.

As the new kid on the block, VR is fighting to establish itself in the narrative space. Experiences and games come easily to virtual reality; but, in terms of storytelling, it has yet to find its footing. VR may prove better at delivering one of the established story categories. As a screenwriter who’s found his way into the world of VR, I find myself most excited about the possibility of discovering something new. What is it that VR can do in terms of a story that none of the formats available to us in the past have been able to do?

It’s tempting to cheat! VR is a powerful technology that can recreate almost anything, including most of the other formats I’ve mentioned. I could, for example, place the viewer into a virtual theater and have him watch a play. I imagine this would actually be rather compelling; watching a brilliantly produced play from the comfort of your own home is clearly a great value proposition. This isn’t novel, however; it’s appropriation. Most viewers will balk at having to strap a headset to their faces just to experience something they’ve already done in the ‘real world’.

If narrative VR is to succeed, it has to do so on its own terms. An experience made for VR must embrace the things that VR offers that can’t be found anywhere else, otherwise audiences will go back to what they know.

What’s been done so far

There’s been a lot of compelling work done in VR. Oculus’ Story Studio has produced several shorts that begin to make a solid case for virtual narratives as a legitimate storytelling medium.

Efforts like Henry, in which the viewer invisibly attends a charming hedgehog’s birthday party, and Lost, in which the viewer finds himself lost in the woods with a mysterious presence, have both demonstrated a transportive capacity that brings the viewer somewhere new and interesting. Both of these pieces toy with scale, making the user feel either small or very aware of the largeness of the characters around them. The experiences also employ various visual and auditory cues to lead the user’s attention to where the creators want it to be. Trying to imagine Lost succeeding in another format is difficult; and, though Henry could work as a traditional short, the intimacy of the experience greatly heightens the viewer’s sympathy toward the titular character.

Other efforts, though wonderful in their own ways, have failed to capitalize on the unique elements of the medium. The Rose and I by Penrose Studios is visually impressive, but it would be hardly any different were it viewed on a traditional screen. It is easy to argue that The Rose and I is best viewed in VR, but it’s difficult to go so far as calling VR the only way to experience that story.

Losing a powerful tool, forging others

Screenwriters have long understood what they can and can’t do with their medium and have embraced the inherent confines to improve their storytelling. A traditional screenwriter controls what is seen and heard, as well as controlling what isn’t. By carefully directing the audience's attention toward the gun in the first act or away from the killer hiding in the shadows, they dictate what information is shared and when.

In VR, the writer loses that power. The viewer can look where he pleases. It becomes incredibly important for the writer to think about the set, the motions of characters and items, and the techniques he might use to have the viewer looking where he needs to look when he needs to look there. To date, this has often been achieved with sound cues, virtual “ahem” moments that say “look over here” followed by enough time for the user to turn and focus.

Again, I think this is cheating a bit; it’s using stagecraft where it doesn’t belong. Ideally, the VR writer will find innovative and creative ways to direct attention and move the story forward, instead of thinking of the viewer’s new capability as a handicap. The answer isn’t always in finding innovative ways to direct the user’s attention, but also in embracing their freedom. In my writing for VR, I find myself trying to find ways to reward the curious viewer. I place items or actions around the scene that are not needed to forward the narrative, but enrich it for the viewer who makes the extra effort to really take in his surroundings. It may prove best to try filling scenes with so much story content that there’s something rich and important no matter where the user directs his gaze.

Of course, the best way to tell stories may be some wild and crazy thing nobody has tried. It’s my hope that more and more writers will flock to this new medium, and we’ll start to see less clever variation on existing tricks and instead see something genuinely new. VR is the wild wild west at the moment; we should embrace the freedom that it offers us as well as the freedom it offers our audiences.

—Greg Sullivan

VR's Table Top Games

VR's Table Top Games

The Big Future of VR May Be Smaller Than We Thought

by Greg Sullivan


Since MechWarrior 2 on PC was released in 1995, I’ve been obsessed with simulation gaming. I bought a Saitek X36 HOTAS (Hands On Throttle and Stick) for my Pentium computer and even got a set of rudder pedals. I found a little program called Game Commander that lets you issue voice commands to your AI squad-mates, and it worked pretty well. No clumsy keyboard and mouse for me; now I could pilot a giant mech using my hands and feet in a 3D world while barking commands like “All units attack my target”. The verisimilitude was amazing, even on a 15” CRT running at 1024x768 with janky 3d graphics.

This was the start of virtual reality for me. I lost myself in the world of that game and many others like it. Any program or bit of kit I could get my hands on to bring me further into these other realities was a must have.

So, naturally, when the Oculus Rift was announced, I knew I would have to have one. I ordered it instantly. I waited like an impatient child for it to arrive, and, when it finally got to my studio, I skipped a half day of work to install it. I got it dialed in, and I leapt into all the prime candidates for VR: Elite Dangerous, Flight Simulator X (thanks to Fly Inside), Eve Valkyrie, and their kin. Big dynamic simulations. I was in heaven!


I’m a pilot in the real world, and I’ve done some aerobatics. Never once has my stomach so much as hinted at discomfort. I ride rollercoasters like a champ. I don’t get seasick. So imagine my surprise when I felt a bit of unease in Elite Dangerous, queasy in Eve Valkyrie, and downright nauseous in Adrift.

NO! This can’t be! I’ve literally spent 20 years waiting to step into these virtual worlds, and now I don’t have the stomach for it? The Fates are cruel, and I can no longer find the point of living.

It’s not actually that bad. The discomfort is not deal breaking. I still play and enjoy these games, but not for as long as I’d like and not as often as I thought I would.

Instead, I find myself playing a game that I already own on my Xbox, that I’ve already completed, that does not require VR to be entertaining. That game is Defense Grid 2 by Hidden Path Entertainment, a tower defense game with cheesy dialogue that was plenty entertaining played on the TV in my living room.

In Defense Grid 2 you’re charged with preventing a parade of aliens from crossing a play field, stealing your ‘cores’, and then escaping. You do this by placing towers along their path that are equipped with a variety of guns and other weapons. Simple concept. Fun. Nothing earth shattering. But in VR this game comes to life! The field of play is presented to you in miniature. It appears to be maybe 5’ across. You can lean over the level, or off to the side, and you get an entirely different perspective on the battle. What felt static and dead in the 2D version of the game I played on my Xbox, feels alive and vibrant in my Rift. You can play it sitting down, but I never do. I stand and move as I play so I can check all my angles and explore various strategies.

Another gem that I find myself spending far too much time in is Pinball FX VR by Zen Studios. It’s pinball. Just pinball. It’s amazing! This too is a game I’ve played in standard 2D. Played on a screen, it’s a good time. Good looking, entertaining. Fun. In VR, it’s a revelation! You find yourself leaning to keep the ball in view or getting down low to plan your skill shots. On the Xbox I can’t get an even decent score. In VR, I was able to break into the top 20 on the global leader board.

Mythos of the World Axis by Ats Kurvet is a small experiment in VR that offers a glimpse at just one little level. In it, you view the world from the perspective of a massive titan who controls a human from far above. The experience is powerful and captivating.

So why is the small so much more compelling than I thought it would be? It comes down to how these games take advantage of one of VR’s unsung super features: the absolutely perfect point of view controls. Properly controlling the user camera in 3d games has been a struggle since the very start of 3d gaming. VR solves the problem by introducing six new axes of control that the user manages with great ease. The player doesn’t have to think about how to move the camera or how to get the right perspective. In these miniature experiences, the user just does exactly what they’d do in the real world.

Were Defense Grid presented in real world scale with the user viewing the playfield from some floating platform, there would be nearly no change in perspective as they moved their head. It might, in theory, look more impressive and massive, but the view of the world would be little different than it appears on 2D screens.

When Pinball FX is played in 2D, the camera is either static or moving programmatically, neither of which shows off the amazing dimensionality of the tables. Were Mythos of the World Axis presented with a traditional third person camera, you would lose much of the interesting and impressive scale. By presenting their experiences in miniature, like playsets atop a table, the developers of these games and those like them make wonderful use of the perspective provided by VR and give us a point of view that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Several of the projects I have underway will play in this miniature, table top-style space. It’s an exciting and robust use of VR as it exists today with a lot of interesting possibilities to explore.

There are a lot of amazing projects in development for VR right now. Despite what I spent 20 years thinking I’d want to do in VR, it’s the projects that are smallest in scale that are holding the largest part of my attention.


Greg Sullivan is a screenwriter and virtual reality producer with Studio Transcendent who has an unhealthy addiction to gadgets and technology.


Languages of VR

Languages of VR

John Dewar, Co-Founder of Studio Transcendent, discusses the programming languages of Virtual Reality

The programming language you should choose to learn largely depends on your targeted platform.

While Unity offers three scripting language options, everyone has more or less switched to C# at this point.  Since it’s the most popular, it's easy to find code samples to learn from.

Cryengine now has a C# layer to try to win over Unity devs. They also have Lua and C++ APIs.

Unreal uses Blueprints and C++. Blueprints are easy to get started in, but you'll need to get comfortable with some advanced OOP concepts to get the most out of them.  As the scripts become more complicated, editing them becomes a hassle with a lot of pointing, clicking and dragging, so complex logic is better off in C++.  While Epic has gone to great lengths to make C++ easier to use, it’s still a very challenging language to learn and prone to spitting out arcane error messages.

JavaScript inevitably will get in the mix through the WebVR effort, and you can use a flavor of it in Unity if you really don't want to learn C#.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Swift enter the mix when Apple makes its move into VR, but it's a bit early to bank on that.

The bottom line is C# is your best bet and the overall easiest language to learn. But if you've never touched code before, Blueprints in Unreal are a great way to learn some basic concepts, since you can watch the program flow visually, and the skills you gain will transfer to any programming language.

Conversation with John Dewar, Technical Director for Guided Relaxation

Conversation with John Dewar, Technical Director for Guided Relaxation

Co-founder and Technical Director John Dewar enjoyed creating the beautiful cliff-side oasis for Guided Relaxation, a VR experience Studio Transcendent created in partnership with AppliedVR.  He recently spoke about the technical aspects of this project:

The biggest challenge that the Studio Transcendent team experienced with Guided Relaxation is that it needed to work on the mobile-phone based Samsung Gear VR --- which is a more resource-limited platform than the Rift on Desktop PCs, which is where we have done our previous projects.  We approached that by doing a lot of pre-rendering.  For example, we have a beautiful sky day/night cycle that’s pre-rendered with clouds and millions of particles controlled by fractals, crepuscular rays, and realistic lighting models that you could never do on a mobile platform.

We also used Houdini to create a realistic fire with fluid dynamics, which makes the fire much more realistic, and it gives you the ability to look into the fire and see patterns in it like you would in a real fire.  A more typical game engine would use just animated particles which are purely random but don’t follow any laws of fluid dynamics.

It’s the fluid dynamics that gives you interesting behavior in the fire, something to actually concentrate on, which is quite valuable in a meditative experience.  This is something you don’t usually see in real-time applications.  

Dewar notes that “we are taking advantage of the fact that our user is in a fixed location.  We know what he will be able to see, and we can render around that.”  However, there are still challenges in shaping an experience that would work with the specific physical constraints of the users:

We found that we couldn’t just pre-render the entire environment.  This could create problems.  A lot of the users may not be able to sit straight up.  A stereo 360 panorama at this point in time requires that your eyes are level on the horizontal plane to work, otherwise, the stereo effect is lost.  We also found that you couldn’t just pre-render a 360 degree stereographic video due to various comfort issues.  For example, your head doesn’t really rotate around your eyes, so there is a certain amount of distortion that happens when you are looking side to side.  We wanted to avoid this.  Also, many users would not be able to look with their head perfectly horizontal.  They may be leaning over to the side a bit.  They might be lying on their side or back.  

In order to give them a nice, immersive stereo environment, we rendered the foreground in real time with the Gear VR hardware.  That provides a much more comfortable stereo environment that doesn’t break if you aren’t in exactly the right position.

Dewar’s favorite part was when the team finished the day/night cycle.  They were able to watch the sun set and the stars come out.  “The earth went to sleep, and it almost felt as though the temperature in the room was lowering as the sun went down.  I almost felt that physical sensation.  I thought that was a very cool transition.  It’s still my favorite part of the experience.  It shows the power of an immersive environment  that you can have a physical reaction to it.”


Note:  Guided Relaxation was originally named Anxiety Reliever.





Guided Relaxation

Guided Relaxation

Studio Transcendent partners with AppliedVR to create a VR experience to lower anxiety and manage pain

A therapeutic experience designed to manage acute pain and reduce stress before a medical procedure, Guided Relaxation provides a peaceful environment with a warm fire, ocean waves, and birds circling in a beautiful sky.  

The guided meditation employs elements of this environment seamlessly.  As the user follows the path of the birds, they move closer.  A calm voice encourages the user to let his or her thoughts go like a spark from the flame, disappearing into the night sky.  The sound of the ocean helps lead to deep breathing.  The user gazes into the fire and becomes aware of his heart beat.

This spring, patients at the Cedars-Sinai Hospital tested the experience and received positive feedback.  Although originally created to soothe patients in a hospital setting, Guided Relaxation could also prove a valuable tool to help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, relax before a difficult event, or simply wind down after a stressful day.

Co-Founder Aaron Nicholson sought to design an experience based on the life-enhancing time that he spent on the central coast of California.

Bringing the essence of the Big Sur coastline to the experience was important to me and AppliedVR’s founder Dave Sackman. Both of us have experienced the majesty of that place.  We wanted to bring that feeling to people in settings in which they could most use the influence that it had upon us. When you are in a hospital setting, you wish for a setting like Big Sur, and now people can have a taste of that.

As he has been immersed in its creation, Co-Founder John Dewar has found Guided Relaxation extremely helpful:

I have spent many hours in Guided Relaxation myself, and I find it very effective.  It was a very tough project.  It was a very tight deadline.  But I wasn’t too stressed out about it -- probably because I was testing it every day. So, there’s an advantage to working on a meditation application.

Working on this project has strengthened Studio Transcendent’s partnership with AppliedVR, a “medical VR solutions company with a mission to create positive change by using immersive technology to solve big societal problems.”  Studio Transcendent and AppliedVR are currently developing a second edition of Guided Relaxation as well as additional VR experiences that will address other aspects of health and wellness.

Dewar recently summed up Studio Transcendent’s experience with Guided Relaxation:

This was our biggest project yet in terms of the crew.  We had a lot of people working on it, and we were able to deliver it in a very compressed timeline.  It was a great learning experience, and, moving forward, we’re going to do even more complicated projects and do things even better and faster in the future.  That’s an exciting place to be for Studio Transcendent.


Note:  Guided Relaxation was originally named Anxiety Reliever.