Makers of The Metaverse: Brad Martin Of Another Reality Studio On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Just take the step to get started in some fashion. Many people want to make career changes or want to be a certain thing “when they grow up,” but oftentimes, it seems out of reach, and people don’t make moves towards getting there. I would encourage you just to take whatever the next step is (no matter how small) and just get started in some fashion. It may lead to something sooner than you know!
The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Martin, Founder and CEO of Another Reality Studio.
Brad Martin is Founder and CEO of Another Reality Studio, where he has overseen the creative and technical direction since 2013. He is a subject matter expert and is an in-demand speaker on virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) technologies and services. Brad is one of the top-rated developers on Upwork and has been published in multiple articles, including Forbes, Fast Company, and CNBC. He is an innovative and creative thought leader who brings new technology, project management, and ideation to clients and industries.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in St. Louis, MO, from birth throughout high school (Oakville Senior High). I have always been very into playing sports and watching movies (perhaps what many kids did). Right after high school, I moved to Columbia, MO, where I attended the University of Missouri to study architecture and interior design. After graduating in 2012, I moved back to St. Louis and worked for a couple of Architecture firms. Throughout my entire collegiate and professional career, I was focused on showing the end-user what designs and spaces would look like once built by using realistic rendering and animation. I was always interested in using the latest technology and most immersive methods. In 2010, I started to get involved with the Oculus Developer kit 1 for testing Virtual Reality (VR) for architecture. It was immediately apparent to me that it was the future. I began to look for career paths for any and all VR development, which led to 5 job offers, but all on the coasts and away from the Midwest. My wife, Renee, and I were interested in sticking around the area, friends, and family. Luckily one of the offers, based out of New York City, offered a remote position. I worked for Floored (prior to CBRE acquisition) creating online walkthroughs for architecture and office space planning. Unfortunately, after only a few months of working for Floored and the company made a pivot to autonomous space planning instead. At this point, Renee encouraged me to keep doing what I enjoyed the most with the consulting relationships I had made, and I began to work with other companies in many industries developing VR applications; so once the Floored company pivoted, I moved into full-time contracting. I solo contracted for a little over one year until I was too busy to complete my workload alone, and shortly after, Mauricio Espin joined me, and we founded a company called Another Reality Studio. Mauricio and I are very similar; we are still kids at heart playing games and turning our hobby and love of XR into a career. Now we are able to offer the same to 26 other employees and contractors. I still play sports (just started ice hockey!) and absolutely love animation films and movies. I have already started watching some with my 10-month-old son, Milo.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
When “Despicable Me” came out in 2010, it really highlighted how much I loved animations and visual experiences to engage people. In another life, I would be creating short films or feature-length animations. Regardless, it really opened up my imagination of how visualizations and animations can emotionally connect with people.
Another completely different topic of books that really impacted my life were Intercessor, a biography of Rees Howells, and The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee, a book that brought simplicity and clarity to complex theologies and purposes. Both of these books have encouraged me lately in the “why” I do what I do and help bring perspective and purpose to my future and life goals.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.
When I was in college, my friends and I were into gaming and building computers. My friend, Luke, had found online that Oculus (a nobody name at the time really) had just come out with their Developer Kit 1 headset (DK1). At this time, I had some experience modeling and rendering spaces as well as exploring some technologies like stereoscopic rendering and VRML walkthroughs, but nothing major. I went over to check out the DK1, and we downloaded a game called Windlands, which was an exploration/puzzle game. The second I put on the headset, I was enthralled with the game and exploring not only the low-poly, stylized environment but exploring VR and its impact on me, the user. I would sneak over to his house while he was out and continue playing. It’s what opened my mind and excitement to how VR can be used for exploring spaces (architecture), and from then on, my goal was to push realism in VR and XR technologies.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
This career path has been one surprise after another. Honestly, my intention was not to start a company necessarily and definitely not to have a 28-person team. I was so interested in the XR technologies that I began freelancing outside of my day job in architecture and interior design. I would get online (odesk/Upwork) or reach out to local contacts in architecture to pick up rendering jobs and always try to sell the “next best thing” that included lots of ideas surrounding XR. When consulting work picked up and was too much for me to handle alone, I reached out to an online contact, Mauricio Espin, who was also interested in XR, to see if he wanted to help out on a project. At the time, there were not many people in XR, so finding groups and people on the internet, you came to know who people in the industry were. Mauricio joined me on a project, and we clicked and worked so well together that we stayed working on all projects together and eventually started ARS with me as CEO and Mauricio as CTO. The interesting part was that we worked together for around one and a half or two years, talking every day online (discord) and hanging out online (games), but we did not actually meet in person until a work trip brought us to the same spot. Mauricio is now one of my best friends (and obviously a partner at ARS) whom I continue to speak with daily as we grow the company, but more importantly, enjoy what we do and offer the same to others. It goes to show that technology can be used in so many ways, and is very important to explore the possibilities of tech! So I guess the sum up of the most interesting story for me is that two random guys met online with a shared interest in VR and started a business together, not meeting in person for a couple years later.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
With new and emerging technologies, there are always challenges and bugs to work through that have no posted solution online; you are literally paving the way for the technologies. One of the toughest challenges that remains today is estimating and scoping an XR project due to the unknowns and possibilities clients only understand once you get into development. One day I was meeting with a friend at a different architecture firm in St. Louis and showing some VR use cases without knowing that they were in the middle of finalizing plans for a new office and planning an opening party for clients, family, and friends the following Monday. He asked how long it would take to see something in VR for the event, which is a very vague question that has lots of directions… My mistake was agreeing that we could likely get something in VR for the event, and I would get started. I did not leave my office from that Thursday talk until that Monday night to bring them a VR solution (on the GearVR) that was a walkthrough for their office. I learned a lot along the way about estimating and agreeing to timelines. Luckily, this one worked out and can just be a funny memory!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had a mentor at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) that encouraged, pushed, and gave opportunities to me that drove my desires, knowledge, and understanding of emerging and immersive technologies, Bimal Balakrishnan. Bimal started out as my professor in design communication, teaching me the proper tools to visualize and showcase designs through traditional means like sketching to advanced methods like rendering and animation. After my first class with him sophomore year, I continued to meet with him and learn. Bimal invested time in me by involving me in our iLab setup (an immersive lab with emerging tech hardware), helping me receive funded research grants, and keeping me aware of all technologies and how to use them throughout my undergrad. After college, Bimal and I stayed in touch, and he continued to dream with me on how these technologies could be used, giving me advice as I pursued consulting and other jobs in the industry. He would always push me to do something that hasn’t been done before and find a good/purposeful use of the technologies. Years later, Bimal became an advisor to ARS in research and development and has brought opportunities in grants and clients. Although Bimal is still a mentor and advisor, he is also a friend.
Also, a huge shoutout to Arch Grants, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to transform the economy in St. Louis by attracting and retaining extraordinary entrepreneurs, for all the help they are and have been in the recent past! Arch Grants awarded ARS $50,000 in non-equity funding through its annual Startup Competition in 2021 for our Looking Glass platform for its high-fidelity architecture design communication tool and VR viewer. ARS is partnering with Arch Grants as much as we can; their purpose is amazing and the people there are inspirational!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, many! As a development agency that brings XR tech into other companies, we have loads of opportunities to dream with clients and use the technology in a fun and creative way; I think every project that we work on is exciting and has tons of potential to bring benefits in the product or service of ANY industry. One example of a very useful and “cool” project is a safety training that we are doing for one of the largest oil and gas companies in the US. We are using virtual reality to train and educate thousands of employees. The goal is to animate and showcase real-world, dangerous tasks that take place on an oil drilling site in an immersive and fully dynamic VR scene. The user then walks through the experience and can recognize safety issues that are taking place and point them out to pause the event until it is addressed. During the experience, we collect data and score the user on their retention of the training and how they did recognizing safety issues. Afterward, we generate a report with the data, and we can fine-tune safety training and highlight areas of concern. The whole application is much more involved and allows for a more efficient training and safer environment in the real world, saving lives and preventing injuries. From a business standpoint, we will also be saving time and money by expediting the training process for the thousands of workers while bringing more engagement and safety understanding. I wish I could share some other current projects we have going on around St. Louis; Follow our social media and website to see over the next few months what comes about!
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?
It is hard to limit to only three, but I will try my best!
- People are starting to understand and see the potential that these technologies bring to the table of all industries, and it’s generating a lot of great use cases of how XR technologies can be used across the board. So the fact in and of itself that the XR industry is growing and bringing huge benefits that no other technology allows is extremely exciting.
- One thing that we are excited about at ARS is that we have figured out how to stream high-fidelity experiences with in-depth interactions from cloud computing or a dedicated rack straight to VR, AR, and MR devices! We are currently using this for our Looking Glass platform for community developers and architects to realistically visualize their unbuilt spaces and designs from any device. It not only visualizes the spaces accurately and realistically, but it has built-in tracking of redlines, communications, CDs, and specifications and allows the user to see real-time installations of the options for materials, lighting, furniture, etc., on the fly as they walk through. Our VR streaming now gives the users scale and sight lines without having to download the experience and at a visual quality, the device itself could never obtain. VERY EXCITING. Looking Glass and its cutting-edge abilities have been greatly helped by Arch Grants! ARS won an Arch Grant in last year’s cohort for Looking Glass, and the networking, funding, and community has been a much-appreciated help in where Looking Glass is and where it’s going!
- Of course, the new hardware coming out for immersion and wearables are exciting. Many companies are creating great headsets and accompanying hardware to engage other senses. ARS is managing a XR research lab with TREX downtown St. Louis that will house many of the latest and greatest XR hardware so we can really explore and help others explore the true potential of the XR technologies for their industries. Of course, other technologies and growth like NFTs, metaverse, digital twins, IoT, ai, ml, cv, etc., are all very exciting when used properly with XR, and we have been having a lot of fun including those in our current projects and research efforts.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
For this question, Mauricio and I put our heads together. Here is what we think.
- VR, in particular, CAN lead to isolation and can be used to separate a user from the real world. The concern is that good and useful technologies can be used to try to live life outside of the real world and not used to enhance the lives we have. Consider social media and the studies of how they affect users in negative ways- loneliness, comparison to others, unrealistic depiction of their lives, bullying, etc. Then think about all of those things in a more immersive manner of absorbing them… Furthermore, some users can get so involved in VR that they care more about it than the real world (WOW and Second Life are good examples). In my opinion, technology is a great tool that can bring tons of benefits to this life and world, but it’s no replacement for the life we have, and I would not want to see anyone get lost (literally) in an alternate reality. I think developing the technology side by side with the real world and bringing useful technology that promotes connection to others while still encouraging real-world experiences will help this issue. Also, large companies will play a huge role in what the XR experiences can do and look like, so there is a huge responsibility on our side to develop better practices that are not to consume and addict to platforms. A cheesy but applicable analogy is the ending of Ready Player One (spoiler alert), where the Oasis is limited to a few days a week to force real-world living.
- There are a lot of unrealistic expectations with the current technologies available due to demos that have been post-processed and are not actual experiences but instead good cinematography. The problem is that there are great use cases with current technologies, and we need to build the foundation with what we have to make them better and more immersive in the future, but when clients and investors come expecting some of the movies they have seen (Iron Man for example), they want holograms and perfect simulations. The solution is good education and exposure to the current technologies and continues R&D on our side to showcase what is possible and what we can work up to in the future.
- Big companies are basing technological advances on what benefits them and their interests OVER solutions that improve the quality-of-life advances. The problem is that big companies spend enormous amounts of research dollars to push certain parts of XR technologies (which is great), but they also have influence over how that is used, and it’s often to drive their revenue dollars and ambitions, which has little to no concern for people and what’s in their best interest. As Mauricio put it, big companies aren’t investing billions of dollars to make our lives better… To address these concerns, other companies and people need to develop alternative solutions that improve quality of life and have the end-user in mind.
I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR, and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?
Actually, ARS is heavily involved in the business enterprise solutions that XR tech brings over the entertainment side of XR. However, we do use aspects of “entertainment” in our applications to drive the engagement and repeat use of our applications. We use the term gamification at times, where the goal is to turn a learning experience or tedious task into an interesting and engaging event. It has to be done properly, but through our experience of what works and does not work, we have been able to moderate how far we take the “gamification” process to involve a person with rewards or reactions to the VR experience based on how well the task is completed. An example of this would be a project we are working on for a Florida company that trains in Cell Tower installations. We have created a “world” that allows a user to learn how to operate equipment, install cell tower equipment, and run a company that is rewarded with different points and monetary systems in-game as well as unlocks new opportunities for their user and company. The games and entertainment industries are extremely helpful in funding the development of new XR technologies and bringing joy to people along the way!
Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
We have not begun to develop many of the ways that XR (extended realities- VR, AR, and MR) can improve our day-to-day lives. Most experiences are still one-off experiences for gaming or work-related tasks, but eventually, XR hardware, software, and use cases will be just as commonly used and referred to as traditional work machines like computers, cell phones, and programs. As different wearables and sustainable methods of running programs and experiences come out, the more use people will receive from them. Probably the most talked about in terms of hardware is the Apple MR Glasses that could lead consumer adoption and allow users to interact with the augmented and real-world more seamlessly (think facetime calls with your friend/family walking beside you or browsing amazon and dragging and dropping the item in your house to see how it looks and fits). COUNTLESS day-to-day tasks will move to MR and allow for more efficient and beneficial experiences to users. That is more of a lifestyle improvement, but from other standpoints like sustainability, society/business/culture, and world planning, any number of ideas and imagination can improve lives through XR- healthcare industry is an obvious life improvement that XR can solve a number of current challenges (surgery planning and training). This is such a loaded question; maybe we need to write a book :).
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?
There are a few that come to mind, but being in the middle of the great recession, probably one of the most important myths to bust would be that it’s too hard to learn how to develop for XR applications. I would encourage anyone who has interest in XR to just try to get started in creating something simple. I think companies such as ARS and enthusiasts in the industry should also evangelize in primary and secondary schools more. The XR research and development lab will be used in St. Louis to showcase the possibilities to students and offer programs for learning and certification.
Some other quick myths to bust are that XR technologies are gimmicky, super expensive in development and hardware, and only used as a cool factor. I will gladly meet with any company in any industry to hear out your pain points and brainstorm with you real solutions that XR can bring to solve those challenges and offer ROI. We have worked with many companies to bring just this to their product, service, or workflow. I have yet to find an industry that cannot benefit.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”
- You need to study yourself and understand what your role and expertise would be. It does NOT have to be programming strengths (mine wasn’t). Instead, I found that I was really good at brainstorming real solutions that use XR technology to solve issues. I enjoy keeping up with the latest technology and their limitations and then creating ways to use those for unique and creative experiences. So learn about yourself and what you enjoy doing and then ask someone or review positions in XR industry companies and figure out where you fit in. Development, creative, storytelling, planning, QA testing, management, etc. Only get into the industry and career that you love and find interest in. There is no money or fad or industry worth getting into if they themselves are the goal. Find something that you enjoy and run with it.
- Get into VR and experience AR content! It amazes me how many people have yet to test out some VR game or application or who has not yet tried an augmented reality app on their phone. The second that you get into XR and see the possibilities, it will spark how it can be used in what you are familiar with (industry, tasks, day-to-day things you do). The first time I used stereoscopic rendering for architecture (shows very little depth on a screen), it opened my eyes to understanding architecture dimensions and sight lines from an image.
- Ask questions and connect with people in the industry. One of the most challenging things for Mauricio and me was that no one was around (or at least easy to find) that was exploring these technologies, especially for business and enterprise! Now, this technology is being taught in universities, and there are clubs and meetups, so get as involved as possible and be around people that are also passionate about the tech and industry. I am always available to chat about this!
- Just take the step to get started in some fashion. Many people want to make career changes or want to be a certain thing “when they grow up,” but oftentimes, it seems out of reach, and people don’t make moves towards getting there. I would encourage you just to take whatever the next step is (no matter how small) and just get started in some fashion. It may lead to something sooner than you know!
- Stay up to date with the technology. It is CONSTANTLY changing. Every day there is new hardware, software, accompanying technology improvements (ML, CV, AI, IOT, etc.). Research often and subscribe to people in the know and then get creative with use cases or develop cool demos, depending on point 1.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
At ARS, we have focused on trying to bring positive change from the use of XR and accompanying technologies. That manifests in lots of ways, from VR training that helps save lives (dangerous jobs, healthcare, police, and armed forces) to AR that helps bring people joy and ease of use to products and services (fashion, sales/design, geospatial). An active project we are currently working to get funded that I believe would make a tremendous positive impact on society, sustainability, and efficient future city planning is a Digital Twin and management platform to St. Louis (ability to bring to other cities as well). Put simply, Digital Twins are virtual representations of real places that are accurate and have the ability to show real-time analytics or tie the virtual and physical places together in some way. ARS, TREX, Arch Grants, Beyond Housing, and others are invested in bringing this technology to St. Louis for the purpose of resilience and sustainability. The goal would be to allow municipalities to have a full city view of current efforts around them to plan as a whole instead of separately, as well as giving communities the opportunity to voice challenges around the city (such as downed trees, traffic, crime, food deserts, etc.). As the different municipalities see efforts going on nearby, they can partner up to save resources, time, and money and make the biggest impact and changes for the most good. There are also tons of simulations that can be run on a digital twin to best plan for natural disasters, environmental impact of new developments, green canopy, city services locations and work requests, as-builts visualized to match city documents, etc. I believe that XR, along with AI, ML, CV, IoT, Digital Twin, and other technologies, can bring great impact for the whole society and bring positive change for the present and, even more so, the future people of the city.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
The long-shot answer is Elon Musk. Probably a lot of people’s answer to this question; however, his boldness to not only start projects but form companies around some of the most challenging issues for our time is impressive and fun to follow. It would be great to discuss the technologies surrounding Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and the boring co (I guess possibly Twitter, too…). When he gets to the heart of these companies, though, it’s all about the joy in life that people should have and the sustainability of the world, two topics I love to talk about.
A close second is Francis Chan, which is probably the complete opposite to the first answer. There is not a more clear and inspirational speaker/teacher around today that I can think of. I would love to discuss some of his books and messages and encourage each other.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!