Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Metaverse is (virtually) real!

Dearest Listservians,

It has been my pleasure to read your stories, musings, pleas, playlists, tips, tricks, philosophies and travelogues. I love the fleeting glimpses into so many interesting lives that the listserve lottery elicits.

As for me, I am currently recovering from running a startup with my wife for seven years. The company lives on, but it needs city planners with spreadsheets and procedures, not pioneers with machetes and delusions of grandeur. As a result, I find myself, once again, trying to decide what I want to do when I grow up.

My early background was in film and television and I have always been drawn to storytelling arts of one kind or another.

When I first left our startup I was so steeped in the silicon valley Kool-Aid that I became deeply allergic to social media in almost every form. I felt that mass communication was becoming infinity wide and about a micron deep. Avoiding social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just thinking about the amount of ‘social media strategy’ needed to produce an independent film today gave me that Irish-bachelor-party-hangover feeling. I needed about a year of BoingBoing and a lot of books before I would even consider coming out of my shell.

It’s been more than a year and I still can’t use Facebook, but I’ve added Twitter Tuesday to my routine (just lurking for now) and I use email like a kid trying to grab something out of a dark basement. (No matter how fast I retreat up the stairs, I still feel like something REALLY bad is about to catch me and drag me in.) But my creative spirit is starting to stir.

I followed the kickstarter for Oculus Rift and the slow but determined resurgence of the virtual reality vision with a basic tech-geek fascination. But when I saw the early experiments with virtual reality (VR) filmmaking - that piqued my interest. Something big is happening here.

VR filmmaking is the process of making movies by shooting with a whole bunch of video cameras pointing in all directions. You then ‘stitch’ all of the videos together using ad-hoc tools, and an impossible amount of patience. The result is a ‘spherical’ video that you watch using one of those geeky looking virtual reality headsets that you are seeing all over the news nowadays. The video plays all around you, but you only see the part that you are looking at - like life! The director loses control of attention management in some ways (e.g. no close-ups to show you what’s important) but the feeling of watching something interesting play out around you and not breaking the illusion when you turn away is profound, and immersive, and all the other buzz words that will try to convey how cool this really is.

I’ve built 3 different camera rigs to shoot VR video with and have spent countless hours stitching the videos together. I’m learning all about stereoscopic parallax, Interpupillary distances and simulator sickness, but the best part is… It’s pioneer time again! No business models in sight. No monetization strategies. No SEO. No social media efforts to leverage your community. Just grab your machete and start chopping through the vines!

It’s rough now. Even the short videos produced by the cash-infused pioneers have a basement-lab quality to them. That’s to be expected. This is only the PONG version of the metaverse, but I can see the future from here and it is transformational. I’m convinced that we are on the verge of a new way of telling (and experiencing) cinematic stories. This is a huge step for filmmaking. Bigger than color - more like talkies.

Anyway, stay tuned. Exciting stuff to come. If you get the chance to try out somebody’s virtual reality setup, do it.

Switching gears to the traditional listserve signoff…

I don’t claim to have the key to happiness, but when I do these things, I feel like I might just be able to pick the lock.

- Listen to the audio book of Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. Just do it.

- If you are on a spiritual path and are curious what would happen if you mashed up western therapy and Buddhism, check out Bruce Tift’s audio program called Already Free. It resonated deeply with me and has changed my life.

Finally, if you are interested in VR filmmaking or storytelling in the metaverse, drop me a line. The nights out here in the wilderness can be pretty lonely and I’d love to sit around the campfire and swap stories from the trail.


Kind regards

Jeff Fitzsimmons
jeff[AT]area444.com
Milwaukee, WI

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