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Fake It To Make It: Cosmo Scharf on How VR Improves Reality

Fake It To Make It: Cosmo Scharf on How VR Improves Reality

“All you need is love.” The famous lyrics were Cosmo Scharf’s last words explaining to Medium why he gave up a grant from the prestigious Thiel Fellowship. Why did he do it? Scharf saw technology as a means to spread goodness and love, and Peter Thiel’s political views opposed that aim. Scharf paid back what was left of his $100,000 grant, and donated the rest to climate change-related charities. Bold move.

 

Love isn’t a concept often paired with technology, so hearing it from one of virtual reality’s elite seems a little…odd. Love? Doesn't he just key in code all day? Yet the more you read from this boyish titan of VR, the more the confusion fades away. Scharf has become an apostle for one particular ray of VR’s development—spreading good energy, and not just by wearing fun, purple geometric-patterned shirts, and black-framed glasses.

While some forebode the rise of AI and immersive technology, Scharf daydreams about the new, better realities it makes possible. The tech senator needed a forum to share his ideas, so he made one. It started as a casual meeting at USC, where Scharf and some peers fantasized about the earliest whispers of VR. Then in 2014, everything changed.

Facebook announced its plan to acquire Oculus VR, erasing whatever doubt lingered of VR’s place in the future. Scharf and his VR group wanted to make their gathering more official, so that year, the first Virtual Reality Los Angeles (VRLA) expo was launched. In attendance were a whopping 100 techies.

6 shows later, VRLA has flourished as the world’s #1 VR expo, and the 21-year-old Scharf has adapted well to his new role as a visionary. He now shares his tech-positive world vision with the very moguls creating it. "The potential for VR is not just to escape reality,” he divines in Ad Age, “but to improve the reality we live in. VR experiences help you rethink the nature of reality."

This isn’t just the future of technology, it’s the future of humanity.

In this TEDxTalk, Scharf unveils the groundwork of what would become his next venture: Mindshow VR—a program you can use to plug yourself into the virtual universe and assume a cartoon body. “What could be more fun than sticking a computer into your brain?” he cracks. To Scharf, the future will fuse our shared experiences, personalities, and quirks into a single, final entity—the singularity.

This singularity is the notorious white rabbit chased by physicists for ages, and Scharf believes VR is key to its arrival. Graphics, he says, will become so lifelike that, “VR will be indistinguishable from physical reality.”

New computer realities will let us experience the impossible. It’s humanity’s next phase, and Scharf is not frightened in the least, even if it means dinosaurs will chase you around trying to eat you (another comment from his TEDx Talk).

So, this April 14-15, we await what comes from this optimistic futurist. “The future is going to be fun,” he says, and if the VRLA smiling icon is any indication, it should be. If love is all you need, we look to visionaries like Scharf to program that love into the virtual universe. We'll see you there! 

A New Reality To Explore

A New Reality To Explore

Back in the old days, before credit cards had chips, weirdo kids like me could sit and stare at shiny holographic eagles printed on the front of these cards. They were mesmerizing for the same reasons holographic 3 ring binders would mesmerize friends at school. These unusual, eye-catching illusions make flat surfaces appear textured, contoured, not flat. It is achieved by creating depth—the third dimension of 3D.

Though its novelty might suggest otherwise, 3D isn’t some new technology. As far back as the 1920s, motion pictures have been shown in stereoscopic 3D.

Source: widescreen movies

People wore glasses that worked like one of those View Masters you’d look at Taj Mahal with. While image clarity has improved, viewing 3D hasn’t changed much—it’s just more accessible. What’s changed, however, is the territory 3D can explore, like when this 1994 film crew jumped into the Pacific Ocean with a 250-pound camera assembly. Their aim? To create the authentic underwater experience.

Going Deep with Depth

The film was IMAX’s Into the Deep. It became their most successful production up to that point, exploring mind-bending unknowns on the ocean floor in dazzling 4K. Audiences gasped, squirmed, even jumped as glowing creatures of nightmares torpedoed directly at them, like the Jaws attack on Marty McFly. 

Source: YouTube

So what’s so effective about 3D, and why can’t we get enough of it? Why, after the trend grows and shrinks, do we keep working for better 3D? The reason is depth—the crux of our lifelike vision. Without it, life becomes a course in Skate or Die, with movement restricted to up and down, left and right. It doesn’t work very well. Just try catching a baseball with one eye closed (just kidding, don’t do it).

Without depth, skyscrapers aren’t monuments of human achievement, just good camera angles. Skylines don’t tower over millions of people below, they’re just the tallest thing in view.

Adding the third dimension does more than complete the picture—it moves beyond spatial limits. But how could you explain or show that to someone else? 3D can only be experienced. Just look into an eyepiece, and voila! Depth is created—the skill painters spend lifetimes perfecting.

New Dimensions to Know

This is great news for those of us who aren’t James Cameron. 3D means we won’t be shelling out millions to get a look down the Mariana Trench. Depth will show the relative sizes and shapes of these alien creatures. And as 3D gets better, its images will come closer and closer to reality, so instead of having to imagine the ocean, we’ll be reaching down to grab handfuls of sand from its floor. The closer we get to a real experience, the more information we can draw from.

Source: YouTube

We’ll know more. We’ll have new colors for our creative pallet. This new frontier is the most exciting prospect of 3D’s future. As expected, the initial hardware for 3D is clunky. Most of the gear available needs a phone or a gaming computer to work. But if you’re looking for a little more freedom as you step into the next dimension, you may be interested in something like

As expected, the initial hardware for 3D is clunky. Most of the gear available needs a phone or a gaming computer to work. But if you’re looking for a little more freedom as you step into the next dimension, you may be interested in something like this.

See what you can do with 3D. Give yourself a new reality.

How Google's Oscar Nominated VR-Short "Pearl" Changes the Way We Interact with Movies

How Google's Oscar Nominated VR-Short "Pearl" Changes the Way We Interact with Movies

2017 marks the first year in Oscar's history where a 360° VR film has been nominated for an award. I'll repeat that in case you didn't hear. For the first time in history, a virtual reality motion picture got nominated for an Oscar!

After years of sci-fi concept films like in RoboCop and Demolition Man, movies are finally immersing viewers into digitized 3D universes. Viewers are no longer merely observers, but can now take part by participating in a film's setting and scenery. 

The first movie I ever watched that tried to show consciousness from a first-person point of view (seen from the viewer’s eyes, rather than from outside) was Spike Jonze’s 1999 fantasy-comedy Being John Malkovich. The movie is about a doorway that gives people control over Malkovich for 15 minutes from inside his head, from behind his eyes. At one point, Malkovich himself discovers the doorway and enters, resulting in a situation as confusing as you’d imagine.


(Source: https://film-grab.com/2011/03/10/being-john-malkovich/)

For a 2D screen, there are some difficulties with putting a viewer behind a character's eyes. The camera can only demonstrate movement by panning in one direction. Characters can look at you directly through the lens, but they’re flat, lacking lifelike depth. In Being John Malkovich, the edge of the frame is darkened, suggesting a peripheral limit. That isn’t right either. We don’t “see” the edge of our vision any more so than a blind person sees their lack of sight. Vision simply ends where our noses and eye sockets begin.

Can films present perspective and depth without leaving holes?

We need that other dimension, and this is where VR comes in.

Pearl is an Oscar-nominated film, produced by Google Spotlight Stories and Evil Eye Pictures. This tearjerker unfolds from the passenger seat of a car, where viewers observe a single father as he raises his daughter, Sara. We watch her grow from toddlerdom to those troubled teenage years. All the while, her father nurtures her with his greatest gift—music. You, the viewer, participate in the scenery by choosing where to look and what to see, rather than just watching a whole 2D screen.

This third dimension provides the kind of perspective where we can drive through a swarm of fireflies as they zoom past us in every direction, like Star Wars scenes of light speed travel. Snowy trees and amber skylight show time moving forward as it filters through the windshield in front of us. The sun rises and falls. Characters age and gain experience. Even sound is given perspective as the film’s musicians jam in the back seat behind us, beyond simple left and right stereo fields—another illusion, of course.

The use of 3D means the technique of darkening the frame’s edge, like in Being John Malkovich, is now obsolete. We have a 360° scene with no limits. So, what does this new dimension mean for entertainment?

Storytelling in the third dimension

With the ability to put people right inside a consciousness, from its very perspective, some new feats will be tackled in storytelling. More lifelike camera views mean writers and directors have new territory to explore in the nuances of consciousness. 

Films can travel into subjects like imagination, memory, adrenaline, drawing a blank, daydreaming, being stunned, feeling frantic, or anything else uniquely experienced by the first person POV.

Imagine looking closely at the texture of an actor’s face, or watching the hair raise on someone’s neck. What if our favorite actors interact with us more? What if they ask us questions or react to our shifty eye movements? What if films gave us a choice to determine a story’s trajectory? Imagine the future of horror, where we can hear a monster and know it’s nearby, but we can’t see it.


The future of entertainment

There’s a powerful new frontier of mystery and viewer-intimacy that comes from, not just seeing, but interacting with a film. No matter how immersed we may feel in a 2D scene, it’s always safely in front of us. 3D introduces the instability of not having eyes in the back of your head.



With VR having now made it to the Oscars, we’re sure to undergo a significant change in how viewers interact with their entertainment. Are you ready to experience entertainment in the third dimension? Do you have what you need to step into a new reality?

**all "Pearl" images courtesy of Google Spotlight Images