Annie Lukowski & BJ Schwartz – Vanishing Point VR

Vanishing Point Media

 

ABOUT: We drank the punch early — very early. VR was something that we both experienced back in 2014 and immediately saw the potential for narrative. We knew these were uncharted waters but we were crazy enough to dive in head first.

We met at USC’s cinema school in the MFA program. We had always admired each other’s work but somehow never really had the opportunity to work together. After graduation I went to the digital/advertising route doing a branded web series with Jaleel White (Urkel, “Family Matters”) and another with Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) and ads with Maybelline and Jeep while BJ went the festival route, traveling internationally with his thesis film “Wolves in the Woods” and then doing development work at LionsGate. We both found ourselves in early 2014 looking to try something new, and then a friend of ours invited us up to her VFX studio in the valley to experience VR for the first time. We were literally blown away by the potential we saw in terms of storytelling and immersion. BJ has done a lot of theater in his time and I’ve worked in digital and a variety of genres and the two of us just couldn’t stop talking about the advantages and potential pitfalls of VR for narrative and advertising. It became a preoccupation and then a bit of an obsession in those early days as we did more and more experimenting. We did small gigs here and there suddenly we had a little known-how, and before we knew it, we had started a new business. To this day, those early conversation are the foundation of all the work we do now, whether it is our scripted narrative projects or our advertisements. At core, we are storytellers trying to push the medium forward.

 

What is it like working with you guys? Take me through the process.

– We love every stage of working with people and organizations who are new to VR/AR. This medium is very tech heavy and the jargon and innovations can be dizzying. We always aim to demystify things and champion the creative over the technical so that clients are always at ease and involved. The first step is always an honest, open discussion about what people want to achieve and what these mediums do well. Whether we are working with an ad firm or a brand directly we like to listen to the client, hear what they want to do and why, and make their goals our goals. Sometimes we find ourselves suggesting that VR might not be the right option for a given project; this amazes some, but honestly – part of knowing when a project will be fantastic in these new mediums is knowing when an idea can be better served in another way.

The next step is collaborative ideation, some clients have really defined ideas, and that’s awesome. Sometimes they have nothing more than a vague notion that they want us to use as a starting point. We love the creative freedom of the later and also working to elevate concrete ideas of the former.

And from there, we can provide creative services throughout the project all the way through distribution. And, as a full service VR production house, we are happy to do everything from development to casting to craft services on set — if that’s what a client is looking for.

 

How would you describe your company culture?

– VR technology is in constant flux. But our core competency and passions are unchanging: we are filmmakers and storytellers who champion emotional engagement above all else. The other thing that defines Vanishing Point culture is a lot of laughing. My past work was in comedy and BJ dabbles in standup in LA so we definitely keep it light and fun. This has been a Godsend. When it is 2:00am and a hardware provider has released a mandatory update which has disabled all our third party software from working and we have a deadline looming — it is important to keep it fun. And that really is what working in VR often looks like — people dealing with software updates and trying to figure out what to do when the USB bus on a computer is overwhelmed. Murphy’s Law is that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong; our VR corollary principle is: plan for jobs understanding that Murphy was a crazy optimist. We know, that sounds like a joke, but understanding that we’re dealing with technology that is basically in a huge, public Beta has kept us delivering all our jobs on time and all our clients happy.

 

What is your company’s core expertise?

– As a technical matter: we really focus on live-action (camera captured) VR projects. This doesn’t preclude interactive, and we are super excited with integrating more control for the viewer, but you hire us for our core competencies. And we said before: we’re filmmakers. You should hire us if you want to make an emotional connection with the consumer that goes beyond the “cool” factor of the technology. We love tech as much as the next kids — but we think the medium promises so much more.

 

Do you offer any type of satisfaction guarantee or revisions of completed work?

– Firstly we have to be satisfied with the project. As filmmakers we take real pride in our work and in this medium. We really believe in its potential and we think every piece that is released that is subpar sets the whole industry back. We are very much the toughest critics on each project. But like most projects working with teams and clients there will be a back in forth. Revisions and tinkering are a given and a pleasure. In essence: we let our clients know what they should be anticipating before we begin and are sure to be on the same page from day one. From there, our process is so collaborative that any objection or problems would arise and be discussed far before the completion of the work.

 

I’ve been living in a cave the last few years and just got back to work at the marketing department, can you explain to me why I should invest in a VR marketing campaign?

– VR is really an arresting medium. When you put on a headset you are not doing anything else. You can not cook dinner, answer email, pay your taxes. The viewer is 100% focused on the screen in front of him or her. As directors and producers that can be a dream come true. VR simply has the power to make and impression and create a memory in a way that traditional media cannot. If an experience is done right — it feels like just that: an experience. And that has a far bigger impact than just seeing another advertisement.

 

If you were to speculate freely. What sort of VR experiences do you think we will see in the future, in terms of marketing?

– While home VR will also grow, we are looking forward to an explosion of event based VR. We always laugh at the naysayers who think VR will make us all like moles in tiny apartments. Rather the data is pointing to VR experiences at social events expanding people’s interactions. In the short term, the arrival of stand-alone headsets that can be easily programmed to be at-the-ready for providing and experience (with no or minimal supervision) presages a huge surge in VR experiences. Those that get out ahead of this could see a huge return on investment. While VR is still an exotic draw, companies should be racing each other to be the first to have headsets in every store showing off their wears in ways that only VR can achieve. Do you think the average kid shopping for basketball shoes would walk by a display with a VR headset that said “Go One-on-One With Lebron in His New Kicks” without slipping it on? We sure don’t. How about a makeup display that put you in a Beyonce concert to check out her beauty line? BJ and I know that we’d both take the time to enjoy that.

 

STUDIO: Vanishing Point VR

 

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September 25, 2018 by Rick