Even if you’re a virtual reality naysayer, Devin Ehrig, co-founder of Shadow Factory, will convince you otherwise. Far from being a flash in the pan, he believes that augmented (AR), virtual (VR) and mixed realities (MR) are only gathering speed and have already spread from industries such as gaming and entertainment to other corporate sectors.
Which is one reason why he set up a creative VR agency and production services company with his friend Amit Chatterjee in 2016. Although Ehrig is an attorney by training and worked in private banking when he moved to Hong Kong from Honolulu, he grew up in the entertainment industry. Chatterjee’s background was in the animation industry but when he met Ehrig, he was working on the tech side, looking at e-commerce and corporate IT infrastructure. A mutual passion for VR as a creative, storytelling media prompted them both to give up their day jobs and Shadow Factory was born.
The duo started with a handful of employees to develop VR for all types of headsets (aka platform agnostic) but the company has since expanded to three offices in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Toronto, working with all forms of immersive content. As well as an agency-focused business offering branding and marketing, Shadow Factory has developed a proprietary tool that allows them to create a cloud-hosted VR or AR environment, which companies can use remotely across multiple offices as a multinational sales tool. The studio is also set to roll out an experienced and established production studio to enhance traditional film businesses with AR and VR formats, leading to everything from video game publications to TV films and commercials.
“You can be totally absorbed when you watch a film but you’re still third party and it’s a passive process,” he says. “VR has the capability of bringing us back to play acting. The idea that you can change the perspective of a story to actively include and engage someone is very exciting.”
The way Ehrig explains it, the differences between 360° video capture, augmented reality and full virtual reality can be likened to the volume dial on a speaker. The lowest volume is 360° video capture, using a series of cameras to capture images that are stitched together. You can be surrounded by these images but due to their fixed camera point, they remain static and their perspective doesn’t change however you look at them.
If you turn that up a notch, you get AR. Think Pokémon Go, where you hold up a device and see the world around you but you also receive and interact with additional data.
Crank your dial up to maximum and you have full VR. “Full virtual reality means you are locked off from the real world; you are in a virtual space. It is fully immersive and perspective alters so you can lean towards an object and it will get larger,” explains Ehrig.
According to Ehrig, immersive technologies can be used to fulfill different needs in the property industry according to who you are and where you are in your cycle. Architects and engineers can, for example, use it in pre-construction to coordinate design and engineering. Developers, who are in a three- to five-year development cycle, might be interested in a fully immersive VR model at around year two after planning approval has been given because it can facilitate initial sales.
“As a developer trying to generate initial sales via a road show in various cities, I could set up a VR room and let people experience being in that property before anything has even been built. It is much more effective than renderings,” says Ehrig. He thinks that holograms will eventually replace headsets and that social VR, the holy grail of VR, will be achieved.
“In the future, we will move in a fully immersive virtual world alongside other people rather than in a single player environment,” he says. “Part of our challenge is being in such a forward-looking industry. We honestly don’t know where some of these applications will go.”
Beam me up, Scotty.