In every walk of our personal and professional life, we share stories to communicate, exchange information, or consume ourselves in tea-break giggles. Imagine the efforts ingested to blend a story into a visual narrative format; be it scripting, directing, or influencing the audience with the animated transitions. Evolving from the conventional 2D format to virtual reality, entrepreneurs are leveraging technological advancement and introducing new storytelling avenues to further their businesses.
With evolving trends, storytelling has been transforming itself with cutting-edge technology and innovative, creative solutions. Heading down the road of extended reality (XR), AR/VR companies are setting up a new course of narrative storytelling content and VR commercials.
Pioneering in the XR industry is Vanishing Point Media (VPM), LLC. Founded by Annie Lukowski and BJ Schwartz as its Co-Founders, the company is leading XR with its expertise in VR Production Services along with multi-camera solutions, Pre-Visualization, Stitching, and Composting.
Exemplifying the technological leadership in the AR and VR space, Annie and BJ are committed to the community, developing high-quality narrative content, and inspiring millions with their speeches at major industry events like VRLA, NAB in Las Vegas, Google Labs, and Forbes magazine.
We at Insights Success interviewed Annie and BJ to learn more about Vanishing Point Media‘s success story.
Below are the interview highlights.
Please brief our audience about Vanishing Point Media, its USPs, and how it is currently positioned as a leading player in the Virtual Reality space.
Founded in 2014, VPM has worked extensively in the extended reality (VR/AR) space creating original narrative content and VR commercials. We have been proud to work with incredible partners, and amazing brands, from ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live to Toyota to Banana Republic – which sought out VPM to create and oversee the company’s first-ever foray into VR marketing. Collaborating with wonderful partners like these, VPM has become adept at working with scaling budgets on a wide variety of content.
Further, our collaborations with brands positioned throughout the entertainment industry have allowed VPM to develop some of the key workflows that are now staples of VR production and post-production. Its founders can be heard speaking at major industry events throughout the year, including VRLA, NAB in Las Vegas, Google Labs, and Forbes magazine. We feel privileged to be raising the bar in this new and dynamic entertainment medium.
Shed some light on your offerings and how are these making an impact on the industry and your customers?
Well, first and foremost, we’re filmmakers and storytellers. At root, Vanishing Point is a production company working in a new space. Technology is the medium, not the message, but there is no doubt it is central to our mission.
We are proud that VPM has led the way in innovating new techniques in the XR space in terms of storytelling, advertising, and location-based installations. Whether we’re working to help Toyota thrill its customers or assisting the ACLU to educate the citizenry – we are always aiming to hit the sweet spot between innovation, storytelling, and client service.
Annie and BJ, please tell us about yourselves, your individual journeys in the industry, and how you both have contributed towards the company’s success.
Our partnership started when we jokingly founded the “Annie and BJ Mutual Admiration Club” during film school at the University of Southern California. And this continued after graduation when BJ worked at Lionsgate and toured with his short film “Wolves in the Woods” while I headed to the digital side with branded entertainment at Funny or Die and Jeep.
In 2014, the nascent but electrifying medium of VR entered the market; we both saw its potential and wanted to learn more. Of course, nothing in VR worked as advertised, particularly in the early days, but these challenges only spurred us on. In fact, it took us back to our heady film school days of schlepping gear, shooting on shoestring budgets, and learning about new ways to tell a story that was nothing short of electrifying.
We were simply delighted to have the latitude to explore a medium that was so untested. There were no classes in VR storytelling – we were discovering the rules as we created – so we would break out our cameras and learn by doing. Would something work? Film it, throw on a headset and see. That was all we had, and we loved it.
Soon enough, we built our own vocabulary, which we could share with colleagues and discuss at panels and talks that were bubbling up around VR filmmaking. Being on the cutting edge is scary and very cool – but not necessarily in the ways, you anticipate.
Being an experienced leader in the VR field, share your opinion on where your industry is headed next.
Well, that’s a big, open question in a very, very volatile and developing industry. The first question we would have to ask is what you mean by “field.” These days, people working in our circles refer to the medium as “XR” (or “Extended Reality”) as that embraces both VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality).
We have mostly worked in VR – which is the modality like that seen in Ready Player One, where users put on a headset and enter a whole new world. “AR,” on the other hand, is more like Tony Stark’s glasses in Marvel – overlaying graphics and data over the world we already see.
We agree that AR will be huge in the coming years, but until consumers can get their hands on Stark’s glasses – we are in a wait-and-see posture about some aspects of storytelling in that format. It’s all just so new, and the tools are not quite ready for primetime in terms of camera-captured storytelling.
So, in terms of Vanishing Point – we think the immediate future holds a lot more “traditional” VR content creation with partners like ABC, Pow Entertainment, and the Banana Republic.
Considering the current pandemic, what initial challenges did you face, and how did you drive your company to sustain operations while ensuring the safety of your employees at the same time?
Like most film companies, we were on set when the call was made to shut down for what we thought was going to be “two weeks.” It was a lot longer than two weeks, and we needed to pivot to develop and prepare our slate of other long-term projects.
In short – except for an incredibly fun project with Jimmy Kimmel, the pandemic has been downtime for us in terms of VR production, and we have used that time to focus on development and several technology projects, which are currently a little top secret.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the VR Space?
Experiment a lot. Before your first real project. Visual storytelling is a language, and we have been immersed in the 2-D language of film and television from our earliest days. So, we come to the task of traditional filmmaking already unconsciously “fluent” in the language.
It’s easy to take that exposure for granted and think things are “intuitive” when they are informed by decades of engagement with a medium. Then you hit something like VR and find yourself learning the limits and possibilities of a new language as you are literally trying to create it.
It’s wild. Honestly – the only way to get good at it is to make something and then put the headset on and experience it yourself. And you have to do that over and over and over till you find just what works to elicit an emotion or draw attention in the 360-degree space. It is a joyful and sometimes painful process. And you cannot shortcut it; experience is everything.
How do you envision scaling your company’s operations and offerings in 2022 and beyond?
With the highly anticipated jump into the field by Apple and all the developments at Facebook – the XR space is very busy (though this work might be behind the curtain for most people). The initial buzz that came back in 2014 has (thankfully) worn off, but now that means real applications have room to enter the field.
The cameras, stitching (which is the composting of all the lenses to make a one-360 image), and editing software have evolved quickly. The major missing element was distribution. Headsets were too heavy, too expensive, and not user-friendly enough for mass appeal. But now, for the first time, that is not true. There will be a flood to the market of headsets, and people will be yearning for content.
Back in the beginning, we would often be asked what we thought the future of VR would look like: Would the fad wear off? We always said we are not worried about the future of VR; we are worried that kids might not be taking off their headsets.