If You Told Me I’d Work on Holograms…Or, The Next Adventure at 8i

In 2010 I was working at Topspin, a music tech startup that helped artists take control of their direct-to-fan business. I had the privilege of working with one of my favorite bands, Arcade Fire. It was the week their essential album “The Suburbs” came out and I was on the phone with their extraordinary designer, Vincent Morissett. He’d had a brilliant idea for what he called “synchronised artwork” using Apple’s M4A podcast format — if you were listening on an iPod you’d see the lyrics and cover art change in time with the music and could hyperlink to references at specific points in songs. I’ll never forget what he said to me on the phone: 
“Why should an album cover be a JPEG?”

Image credit: The Guardian

Vincent was right — technology evolved but our notions of standard album consumption were stuck. In the past several years, we’ve seen creators pushing the boundaries of the ways we tell stories. Fast forward to 2016, past Beyoncé’s visual albums, Pharrell’s 24 Hours of Happy video, Frank Ocean’s live stream of a woodwork staircase to nowhere, and here I was, sitting on the couch at 8i, just before Thanksgiving.

8i is a startup based in Wellington, NZ and Los Angeles that develops holographic technology for virtual, augmented and mixed reality. The company’s mission is to enable the evolution of media and human communication by giving people the best way to connect with each other and express themselves through holograms. 8i makes holograms of people — real humans — using actual video recordings, not special effects. The term 8i uses to describe the holograms is “volumetric,” meaning you can walk around these holograms when you are in virtual reality and the dimensions of the person are fully formed. You can even step inside the person and watch their hands if you want and see their point-of-view, or walk up to them and look them in the eyes. Crazy, right?
The day before I visited 8i, I’d finished interviewing at a large music company where I was 90% sure I was going to work. I did not think I would jump into life at a startup and I didn’t yet know what it meant that 8i made holograms.

Tupac at Coachella — Not that kind of hologram 
photo credit: 

After I spent time with the 8i tech and went home for Thanksgiving, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I loved my time at Twitter and when it ended, I committed to take my time and make sure the next adventure was a genuine fit. It was a hard choice between the two offers rationally, but in the end my heart was perfectly clear: I had to be part of the creative team at 8i.

Here are a few of the themes that resonated for me and why I’m thrilled to join the team.

Making Virtual and Augmented Reality Human 
With fake news now a thing, and seemingly endless content shouting 24/7, 8i’s focus on bringing real people into virtual and augmented reality feels profound. What does it mean to be in the presence of someone? It’s different than watching a video from the perspective of someone who was there. The sensation is much closer to “being there” than any other digital format I’ve experienced. Imagine bringing the world’s best teachers to unlimited classrooms, the most gifted surgeons into medical curriculums, or the electricity of a front row music performance to future generations. What if I could someday show my now 3-year old what it’s like to be feet away from Nick Cave while he mesmerizes and snarls “Higgs Boson Blues?” That experience is was one of my personal life highlights; visceral and irreplaceable. With 8i’s holographic technology, it is possible to get closer to that feeling than ever before.

Photo credit: Nick Cave Official Instagram

Diffusion approximations for nonclassical Boltzmann transport in arbitrary dimension
I know there are people who understand this point blank and you all inspire me (I’m looking at you, Isaac Hepworth). This is the title of a recent publication from one of 8i’s co-founders Eugene D’eon. I don’t understand the virtual reality industry inside out and have limited context for computer graphics and compression. I’ve had a habit of being attracted to situations where I have little working knowledge but an open opportunity to learn by jumping in the deep end. Therefore it was irresistible to be part of the brilliant team undertaking complex challenges to bring the 8i mission to life. The core technology at the heart of 8i is extraordinary, proprietary and formidable, and the team making it happen is world class.

Live Videos, Face Swaps and….Dioramas?
Along with most of the world I got swept up in the wave of obsession known as Pokémon Go. Mixed reality (or augmented reality) is here to stay and yet we haven’t even scratched the surface. There will always be a sanctity to the album cover, but well beyond JPEGs, GIFs and visual albums, future creative formats will include holographic video and mixed reality. The ability to layer 3D objects will feel more like the dioramas of your childhood, only with motion. I wish I’d had a hologram of Drake doing his infamous “Hotline Bling” moves or a hologram of Tiny Drake from the “Views” album cover or just Drake doing any Drake expression at all. “Portable Drake” is pretty much my dream hologram.

Tiny Drake on Darth image credit: Esquire

Up Next…
I’m helping the 8i team leading content strategy and execution, working closely with President of Studios Steve Raymond. (I encourage you to read Steve’s far superior Medium entry on why he joined 8i.) I’m excited to work with artists and creatives to help give their communities a breathtaking new form of creative expression. I’m even more excited to see how fans test the boundaries of this new medium. I’m learning as I go and I’ll be sure to report back.

You’ll find me pretending I know what I’m talking about at 8i in Culver Studios and on Twitter (nicole stjean). Hopefully soon, we’ll have meetings via holodeck.

Don’t laugh — it could happen sooner than you think. 🖖

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