Immersive Interview with Dave Cardwell

I know that you are a Creative Director and founder of BRIOVR. Is that right?

Yes. I am the Co-Founder and Creative Director behind BRIOVR. I am also a Partner of the company that owns BRIOVR, known as SPINVR.

How did you get into VR field?

I started my career as a professional digital artist. I have worked at several visual effects studios around the world, including Weta Digital and SPINVFX, which is now the sister company of SPINVR, in addition to the gaming industry. I have also worked in the area of product design visualization for companies such as Apple, Ford, and Mercedes.

All of this experience in computer graphics and design helped me develop a wide scope of the fundamental techniques and software used by artists around the world, and also the areas in which that software can be improved. It is because of this that I went on to co-found Mudbox, later acquired by Autodesk, and why I have turned my attention to virtual and augmented reality. AR and VR represent a natural evolution in the application of CGI. This is where the world is headed, and so I wanted to create a platform that enabled users of all proficiencies to successfully create in so that today’s digital designers can be part of that revolution.

BRIOVR is the product of this vision. Just this month, we officially launched the platform out of BETA to the public, and we are pleased to now offer affordable subscription options to our global audience.

I know that you founded a company Mudbox which you sold to AutoCAD. It’s pretty spectacular! Did you learn something special that you are using in your current venture with BRIOVR?

Actually, we sold Mudbox to Autodesk, which is the company that also produced AutoCAD.

What drives me as a product developer is building technology specifically to be accessible to creatives. With Mudbox, it was modeling and texture painting, and with BRIOVR, it’s about allowing artists to author immersive experiences without coding, and to be able to share directly with their clients, fans or colleagues in a simple way.

I see my role as being responsible for making complex things like building AR/VR experiences simple to use so that creators or a VR developer can do what they do best without worrying about technical barriers.

I heard that you won an academy award for technical contributions to cinema. What is this about?

In 2014, the team and I that conceptualized Mudbox were awarded the Academy Award in Technical Achievement. Mudbox re-shaped the digital artist landscape and had been used in a number of films. It was an honor to share a stage with such talented people, of course. It meant that what we set out to create in terms of accessible technology had resonated with the community we it created for.

How you got an idea to make BRIOVR?

I considered the challenges in product design, thinking about how we used to do it at Apple with life-size models and replicas so that the team could visualize space. It occurred to me that AR/VR was the solution to visualization challenges so I turned to the popular virtual reality platforms on the market, like Unity3D and Unreal Engine, to start learning how to create immersive content. I quickly learned that without advanced coding knowledge or a programming skill set, building in VR was nearly impossible in these programs. This means that the world’s leading digital artists, architects, engineers, and educators would be left out of this trend towards augmented and virtual reality, which they should really be at the centre of.

BRIOVR was my solution to these problems. The mass adoption of immersive technology like AR / VR is inevitable, but while the technology is developing, I knew it was important to make sure that we were bringing the best content creators in the world in to the trend. BRIOVR is not a creation platform like Mudbox was, but rather a new step in the digital design process. Designers can create their content in their preferred industry software, like ArchiCAD and AutoCAD for architects, or Autodesk Maya or 3DS Max for artists, and simply import their final design file in to the BRIOVR platform to animate it in AR or VR. This way, there is no coding or programming required for the creator, and sharing is limitless and instantaneous. BRIOVR is about reducing the barriers to entry that the other programs put up.

How do you describe your competitors and market at all? Is VR growing fast enough?

In terms of the competitive landscape, I don’t actually see very many direct competitors in the AR/VR software space. It’s very much the ‘wild west’ where all of us are trying to nail down the specific principles in AR/VR that will make mass adoption possible. There aren’t many proven models out there, but there are a lot of ideas. What gives me the confidence to pursue this area of technology is that I know from my experience in visual effects, design and game development that creators want intuitive, drag and drop software so that they can focus on design and storytelling rather than process. This is the problem that BRIOVR is solving.

The industry is growing rapidly, but we also know that it’s growing within a niche audience. I want to see it grow much faster and I believe that targeting wider demographics are the way to get there. We need to make AR/VR accessible to everyone, not only those with the money to spend for the top-of-the-line headsets and study coding at an advanced level.

Who is responsible for design on BRIOVR?

Our designers and I research extensively before we build any of the designs that you see in the app. We consider the design processes of our target industries and build a design that is intuitive for that user persona. For example, we know the central functions of popular visual effects artist software, so we make sure that those critical functions are front and centre for that type of user in BRIOVR.

Ultimately, it’s a collaboration between myself and the UX team. Our design and user experience has evolved dramatically since we first launched the platform in BETA, and it is entirely informed by user feedback.

What kind of tools are you using for design, prototyping and developing daily?

The old classics like white boards and paper are still our most common means of brainstorming. We have also used Adobe XD, Sketch and a number of others.

How do you keep connected with your users? Do you have some special receipt?

We invite users to email us or connect with us live on our Discord channel. We welcome feedback — especially negative feedback — so that we can make quick fixes and provide a seamless user experience. We are also very active in the tech community. We attend events like SIGGRAPH, VR conferences, and trade shows so that we can meet with people and discuss their needs. We want to know what isn’t working so that we can make it work in BRIOVR.

On BRIOVR website I saw tons of different scenes by different users. Do you have some favorite user-case?

Yes, there are some really stunning scenes and VR experiences that have been published publicly on there that visitors to can check out. We recently held a contest where we challenged users to create a scene using a transportation theme. The winner was a user named 5hreyas5 with a scene called Mirage which was quite stunning (click on the hyperlink to enter the scene!)

We also have a user who has been working with us for the past few months who goes by ESR on BRIOVR. He is a professional architect who has been using BRIOVR to showcase his models architectural layouts for his clients. His scenes are quite advanced and show how texturing and materials can look photo-real in BRIOVR.

What other activities or initiatives do you enjoy besides BRIOVR?

We share a studio floor with our sister company and world-renowned VFX studio, SPINVFX. I still get involved in the occasional visual effects shot since that is still a passion of mine.

If you could, what career advice would you offer to your younger self?

I would tell my younger self to always try to be part of the solution, and to not hesitate when you have an idea worth trying. The key to success is perseverance, and I’m glad to say that I’ve always kept moving forward despite any mistakes I’ve made along the way.

With whom from the VR field (or not only) would you like to have a beer, and why?

WETA Workshop CEO and one of Magic Leap’s founding directors, Richard Taylor. I used to work with him when I was at WETA Digital in New Zealand, and he is an amazing creative force. In particular, I’d like to hear his thoughts on the future of creating large-scale augmented reality worlds.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now, the future is about getting BRIOVR into the hands of as many creators as possible, and revolutionizing their industries and workflows in the process. I plan to go on a cross-country AR road trip once the headsets allow me to do so. AR/MR is going to bring the reality we live in to an entirely new level, and I can’t wait to explore it.

Can you share one story about being a founder of VR tool that sums up your experience?

Watching designers experience their creations in AR/VR for the first time is the most fulfilling part of my job. I love showing them that they already have all of the tools that they need to create stunning AR/VR content. They don’t realize that this medium is for them as well. Watching some of the seasoned VFX artists at SPINVFX see their work in VR has been so gratifying — so much so that we actually made a video about it where we show some of those artists bringing their Google Tilt Brush paintings in to BRIOVR to animate them.

For me, founding a VR company allows me to help to shape the future, and that’s a great feeling to think about how we can touch people’s lives.

What are the most required skills for guys who want to start designing for VR?

A basic design background is plus, although a complete novice can create a AR/VR app, content, scene or experience in BRIOVR using the assets in our Google Poly Library and BRIOVR Treasure Box. 2D or 3D Designers who work in most major design programs will find their workflow compatible with BRIOVR. It’s free to start, and sharing a scene is instantaneous and unlimited. Unlike major VR tools out there, BRIOVR allows users to share with friends and colleagues using only a link, making it very easy to distribute content.

Can you give some advice to young designers?

Never stop observing and learning. Pay attention to the trends around you — not only in terms of aesthetic, but also in terms of software and tech development. When your livelihood depends on every-changing software, you need to be agile and ready to adapt.

Also, take note of the challenges in your design studio, and seek out the solutions to those challenges. That’s how you become a leader and innovator in your industry.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

This story is part of series Immersive Interviews. If you are also VR/AR designer, and you have what to say (I’m sure that you have) drop me a line on email or Twitter. Check out the previous interview from this series: