I can’t believe I’m doing this on April Fool’s Day, but here goes.
Last year, when I had my first social interaction with another person in virtual reality, something amazing happened. Within moments of seeing the other person’s avatar —it was just a simple representation of a human head and hands — I realized that my brain was perfectly willing to treat the most rudimentary representation of a person the same way it treats flesh and blood people. It’s kind of the inverse of the uncanny valley — if it tilts its head like a person and moves its hand like a person, my brain will happily accept that it’s a person.
After seeing that demo, I got obsessed and talked to everyone I knew about my experience. At the time, hand controllers were ultra rare, so few people I spoke with had shared that first taste of social VR, but people started to get it. When I was telling my friend Mike about it, he asked an important question. “Could you make the kind of shows that in VR that you did on Tested?” With that conversation, FOO VR was born.
We’re launching our first product, The FOO Show, in early access today. It’s the first conception of what the kind of show I’m known for would look like in VR. It’s the culmination of months of work, and I’ve never been prouder of anything I’ve worked on. My goal with The FOO Show is to showcase amazing creators and their works in ways that were never before possible, using virtual reality. My first guests, Jake and Sean from Campo Santo, brought an iconic location from their game, Firewatch, for us to explore, and I think the results speak for themselves.
We built The FOO Show using a suite of tools let us quickly and easily capture performances in VR using off-the-shelf hardware, like the HTC Vive and Oculus Touch (when it’s available). We’re currently building production tools that are analogous to the video production tools I worked with daily since 2010. The benefit of doing things using our software is that we allow producers to front-load the work. We build everything we need for an episode in advance —scripts, assets, props, sets and more — then load our performers into a completed virtual environment. During the interview, we capture the performance — everyone’s body movements and audio. After a few hours of post-processing, we have a 3D-rendered, interactive virtual-reality show that we can broadcast to our audience, using The FOO Show app on Oculus Home (and soon SteamVR).
At the core, we’re building software analogs for the hardware tools that we used to make 10+ Tested videos a week with a very small team. We’re using those tools to make VR-native content that can quickly and easily be posted on all the VR platforms. (Our toolset is still in private beta, but we’ll be launching it later this year. If you’d like to learn more, please email us.)
I started in the magazine business just as desktop publishing tools supplanted the old, physical toolchain. That transition ushered in an era of unparalleled creativity. Your creative impulses weren’t shackled by the length of time it took to resize a photo in the darkroom. When constructs that had been physical objects became easily modified software, literally anything was possible.
We have an incredible team at FOO, and put something together that far surpasses what I imagined when we started on this, just a few months ago. This is the work of an incredible team. I’m really excited to introduce them to you now. Lead developer Andre Infante hasn’t slept in weeks. He came to me with an awesome working demo, and built that into what you see today. Sindre Skaare not only designed our sets and characters, he figured out how to bring the Firewatch assets into our studio, no small task. Eric Florenzano came in to help us with the final push, and we never would have made it without his help. Finally, Mike Tatum has been invaluable not only with the scary business and fundraising side of starting a new company, but also because he convinced me that I was ready to run a company and turn an idea into reality.
Virtual reality presents us with a similar opportunity to desktop publishing, and I can’t wait to show you what we have planned next. We’ll start regular production of The FOO Show early this summer, with lots more coming later this year.