Makers of The Metaverse: Christopher Ruane On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries
An Interview With Susan Johnston
A strong background in Visual Art. Anyone can drop in video or 3d content to an environment. Have purpose and understand the canvas is everywhere.
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 Christopher Ruane.
Christopher Ruane is an Augmented Reality artist and photographer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who specializes in massive photo and video montages. Constructing, recording and combining thousands of individual layers, his work often focuses on spirituality, technology and the mysteries of life. The complexities of each piece are made to be studied to reveal an inner meaning and viewpoint about our culture, the current climate of the world and what we believe to be the truth of our origins.
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 a small town right outside the city of Pittsburgh, and was an artist from birth. I enjoyed painting and drawing at an early age and was influenced by my mother’s artistic abilities, and my father’s enterprising spirit. I graduated from Edinboro University with a BFA and became a purist photographer and graphic designer. After leaving school I immersed myself in the creation of digital art and photo and video montages.
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 I was a boy and first saw the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy wakes up after the Tornado scene and opens the door revealing Oz and the transition from black and white to vibrant color. I remember thinking our grandparents must have been blown away. It was one of the first movies to have color and to introduce it by opening a door. Amazing!
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.
Augmented Reality doesn’t feel like something you really hear about and pursue like say Painting or drawing. At Least in my situation it was a gradual and natural progression of my work as a visual artist and designer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
Creating these experiences finally allows me to communicate fully what I have to say in my work. Since my start in AR I have had the pleasure to educate people in museums, universities, and group and solo exhibitions. I have met many creators and industry professionals, won several awards including a Solo exhibition at the landmark theatre in Hollywood, California and created and launched the 1st Augmented Reality series with help from Co-Producer and Media Futurist Susan Johnston. As amazing as all this has been, I still get the best feeling when someone’s eyes open wide from excitement when they see my work leave the page.
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?
In many use cases AR XR projects are viewed through a tablet or smart phone. I have found that it is good practice to keep a separate device primarily for test builds. I can tell you from experience it’s very embarrassing when you ask a viewer or client to try something new and open themself up to a different experience and your screen goes blank or crashes from conflicting builds.
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?
My wife Stefanie has been by my side and supported my work through thick and thin. She has carried my camera bag, equipment and props countless times through intense and sometimes strange situations, such as Lava Fields, destroyed cityscapes, Mountains and even under the sea. She supports all my crazy ideas and even has reluctantly taken center stage in many roles throughout the years. Eleven days after giving birth to our first child Isaac, I photographed her with our son in a junk yard. She sat holding him on the hood of a beat-up station wagon recreating a Modern Nativity scene. She was a pro and her complaints were minimal and very justified.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I have always been interested in the intersection of technology and spirituality. Two things that don’t seem to fit very well together. However, as I have seen with the creation of my works Jacob’s Ladder and Mother Of Sorrows there is amazing potential for a deeper level of connection between viewer and content when experienced as opposed to traditional means of communication. Moving forward in this direction I am currently working on a Last Supper that will take the viewer further into the scene and allow one to explore and even interact with the scene. In Further meditation of the scripture participation will reveal relationships to the modern world and how this fits as a whole.
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?
I think the most exciting thing about AR is how we remember what we have seen. I have had many people say to me, “ I love your work, but why would I look at it through a small screen?”
I can see how one would think this when presented with a 4 foot by 4 foot image that seems to engulf you, but something interesting happens when viewing the image through the app on screen. When another layer is added skillfully and controlled by the participant in their environment the work elevates . Although we experience them as separate when we recall the experience that has unfolded, in our mind they are one. We no longer see the screen. It was never there.
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?
There are still many obstacles that must be overcome before AR is a part of our everyday life. The main obstacle is still the production of an affordable wearable AR solution. There have been many advancements with glasses however the price, size and distracting nature of headwear has still not been solved in my opinion. For now, I think it is still best to meet people on their playing field. Everyone has a smart phone and they have come quite a long way in accommodating AR practices. Implementation of liDAR cameras and plane recognition have really helped in giving a realistic feeling to 3d shapes when placed in real world environments. Aside from that, I think over saturation of meaningless XR experiences will be the long-term issue. A bombardment of sloppy video overlays and cheaply made overused 3d content will certainly outweigh quality uses. Another issue is that many AR experiences require an app to be downloaded to access the content. There is no one size fits all to view or create. Everything is still very custom and that makes things expensive. This makes creating for companies and business very difficult. An artist or developer has to sell an app along with the work which is cost prohibiting in most instances. This is why you don’t hear about more pop-up AR exhibitions. There must be a considerable commitment and investment by the creator and client. In an attempt to alleviate some of this issue I am currently producing a subscription-based app that houses multiple projects and is more realistic for most clients and instances. The new app TrueAR will be available hosting clients in 2023.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?
Once you are done with a project you can move on from it. This is far from the truth, when you release something and want it to work long term, you will have to update it several times. If you aren’t willing to accept the ever-changing nature of technology you will never make it in new media. There is no instruction manual or simple solutions. It’s just a process and you have to be willing to roll with the punches and adapt as quickly as possible. We are all at the mercy of big tech and their updates can make or break our experiences or even sideline our ideas.
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?
The work place is a great environment for implementing AR solutions. It will revolutionize safety and untrained individuals will have a smoother transition into complex jobs that would otherwise have taken years to learn. Overlaying safety and assembly information allows workers to fully understand what they are building, reduce mistakes in production and notify of any safety concerns.
Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
Now more than ever, with so much anger and fighting in the world, we need art for our sanity and our souls. We are visual beings and this new jump in tech is powerful. If used properly, I believe it can enrich our experiences and not just distract us from them.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. A strong background in Visual Art. Anyone can drop in video or 3d content to an environment. Have purpose and understand the canvas is everywhere.
2. A powerful computer. A pro video camera is great but without a strong computer setup you will quit out of frustration. Rendering time can be tough on a deadline.
3.Someone who knows how to fix the computer when you break it. If you are any good you will push the boundaries of your software and hardware. You must have someone you can call when you break your game/ app/ project/ hard drive or phone.
4. Support from family and friends. This one is everything. A strong support system is key to depend on when an allnighter is needed, especially when kids are involved and you have a deadline. XR takes long hours and it’s important to keep balance with strong family time to recharge.
5. A good chair for long work sessions:) A bad chair will put you in a bad mood and that’s no way to create fun. “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams” — Willy Wonka
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success in your great work!
About The Interviewer: Susan Johnston is a Media Futurist, Columnist well as Founder and Director at New Media Film Festival®. The New Media Film Festival, hoas noring stories worth telling since 2009, is an Award-winning, inclusive, and boundary-pushing catalyst for storytelling and technology. Susan was knighted in Rome in 2017 for her work in Arts & Humanity.