Immersive Interview with Robin Pultera
I’ve spent all of my time with BRAINZ since it was born as our middle school idea with a bunch of friends to start a game development studio :) We built a couple of game prototypes where I learned a lot about 3D development but soon switched to developing interactive microsites just as a matter of coincidence. I got together with Štěpán Kleník and we established BRAINZ in 2008 as a full service creative digital agency. In 2016, we decided to start another creative studio, specializing in immersive technologies and BRAINZ VR was born. In the beginning, I used to focus on interactive Flash microsites for clients like ŠKODA AUTO, IKEA, Pepsi and others where I learned a lot about the digital production process and different technologies. I also kept my interest in game development, which came really handy starting working in XR.
How did you get into VR/AR field?
We always experimented with different technologies in BRAINZ, even though we were focused on the web. When the first Oculus DK2 prototype arrived at our office, I put it on, immediately I got goosebumps and knew what my next focus would be.
Can you let me know a little bit more about BRAINZ VR?
BRAINZ VR is a creative immersive studio providing virtual and augmented reality services. We build experiences for brands but also work on our own products and platforms, or develop them for clients. Our team is mainly a mixture of people coming from game development and film which gives us an interesting focus on storytelling and gamification in a lot of our projects.
On what type of projects are you working?
We like working on diverse projects and like working with both AR and VR. Our work really ranges from product presentations through to brand experiences all the way up to art installations. We are now working on a couple of music-related projects, one of them is currently being exhibited in DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague as part of the Tata 30JS exhibition. We are also working on an AR app in the medical field, that is unfortunately still secret. But I can indicate, that it will be an interesting use of AR to help, prevent and educate about a certain type of disease.
Can you give an example of a project where your expertise was highly applicable?
We like to combine different technologies and techniques. When we were asked to shoot a historical 360 video for our first project for ŠKODA AUTO, we convinced the client to build a VR experience that mixes 360 video and real-time 3D for a user better experience instead. We shot the story with actors in 360 and reconstructed a historical 3D car model from the preserved museum car. Then we combined both parts to create a unique historical ride in 1930 in front of Prague Castle. But you can experience the fully detailed 3D car interior and see the story happening around the car at the same time thanks to the live shoot action.
What do you think is the main challenge in the creation of experiences for marketing purposes?
Most clients have very limited experience with AR or VR and don’t have much experience with immersive apps hands on. So our first job is usually getting them familiar with the medium a bit better before we can craft a good XR project together. We usually also need to prototype a lot for things to be less abstract when pitching creative ideas.
We also try to explain, that the goal of VR is not to simulate reality, but the best experiences are about things not possible in real life. For example, we created a VR experience event for Prominent, an engineering company last year. As a client, they obviously paid a lot of attention to their product visualisations. Our goal as a studio was to make the experience not just an impressive visualisation of something that’s on the other side of the world, but also an experience in the way we present it. We ended up creating a talking flying robot that’s our guide, that flies and jokes around to make the experience more engaging and fun. Also having a guide in VR experiences is an important element so the user doesn’t feel alone in the virtual world and maintains the feeling of immersion.
What do you need to work, on a daily basis? What kind of tools, services, and hardware are you using?
Unity 3D is our beloved core development tool. We use Cinema 4D and, Figma for UX/UI design for AR apps. Asana/Harvest/Forecast/Slack is our project management quatro. As we do a lot of 360 videos, we have a full production setup with multiple Insta Pro 2 and GoPro fusion cameras with BlackMagic Resolve and Fusion for post-production. Recently we also started using Rokoko for motion tracking and we are experimenting with Sketchbox for UI concepts in VR.
How clear is a separation between designers and developers in Brainz VR studio?
The line is still there, but everyone meets in Unity 3D. We have talented developers in the team, that are able to do a lot of animation and FX work in Unity themselves, just based on a brief from the creative team. Designers on the other side are usually able to touch on the basics of interactions in Unity as well. Both are really important and I think we are living in an age, where it's really a benefit to having a wider experience outside of your specialisation overall.
What is a typical background of people who are working on the immersive design in Brainz VR studio?
The core of the team usually has a background in film, gaming or digital. Overall, I like to have people that have a multidisciplinary background, which is something in our DNA. That allows us to have different creative and technical approaches for each project we do. Our project manager is an architect, an art director is a fashion designer, our lead developer knows a lot about video, the UI designer also designs characters, sound designer is a rap artist and the creative director knows how to distillate homemade booze.
How do you deal with sound design in VR?
Audio is often more than half of any VR experience. We are working with Martin Hůla, an excellent musician, rapper and audio producer that has a lot of experience with theatre sound design, which is really great for VR. He is one of the most talented people that I have ever worked with and really helps us to push our projects to another level. We have a lot of audio related plans for 2019, including working on Martin’s own project that will be helping young street children learn the basics of composing electronic music using a mobile app with AR.
Are out there a lot of other studios like yours? Is this area overcrowded already?
Actually not really. We are a specifically focused studio, but I don’t feel too strong competition on the AR & VR market yet. I thought much more digital agencies would be going for XR, but they seem to be very cautious so far. They are also often still thinking that VR is just a gimmick that will come and go.
How you experience from digital agency affected your approach of the immersive field?
As we do a lot of brand experiences, it’s really handy to understand how clients think, invest money and expect results in such projects. We know how to start working for a new brand and understand it’s specific needs really quickly. Which is something you have to do in the digital agency business all the time.
With whom from VR/AR field (or not) would you like to have a beer, and why?
I would surely want to meet the guys from Felix & Paul, I really admire their work that shows that VR is the most advanced storytelling medium invented yet.
What are your plans for the future?
We are just about to launch a new brand definition of BRAINZ and BRAINZ VR, that will allow us to expand our activities further along with a new brand identity. We will be taking some of our internal projects we’ve been working on in the past year and making them standalone projects with their own dedicated teams so they can grow. One will be a VR music platform that brings intimate music experiences using virtual reality. Second is a VR Cinema platform for festivals and events that allow them to manage larger scale VR 360 video projections easily.
What advice would you offer to those starting out in immersive design?
Accept that VR and AR are new mediums and don’t be afraid to start inventing your own ways of doing things. And that everything is possible, hardware and software tools are so affordable and advanced nowadays, that you can realise your big ideas without huge budgets and teams.
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 or Anastasiia Ku a line on Twitter. Check out the previous interview from this series: