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VRTO2020’s Flotilla Is A VR Conference That Convenes International Thought Leaders To Shape Our Spatialized Future

VRTO explores everything from your digital twin at the office to an immersive world that is accessible by all.

Toronto, ON – Virtual & Augmented Reality World Conference & Expo (VRTO), Canada’s premier immersive technologies summit celebrates five years.

If ever there was a time to convene thought leadership around the future of work, virtual presence, and spatialized socialization, that time is now and VRTO is the summit to do it.

The roll-up-your-sleeves-and-sort-it-out symposium will take place on June 6-8 and will explore how these technologies transform the way we engage with data, the world, and each other.

The organization is calling this year’s show “The Flotilla” – alluding to the idea that there isn’t one platform to rule them all, but rather that the answer will come by tethering together different spaces, modalities, and people to do what needs to be done.

VRTO2020 Flotilla

The show will be available on mobile, desktop and in VR to foster social interaction while bringing the thought-provoking presentations and training that VRTO is known for. A key differentiator between VRTO and other conferences that have pivoted online is its aspiration to bridge the terrestrial reality to the extremely active and prolific metaverse that has been flourishing for years via the web and a variety of emerging social VR platforms. Thus the event will take place between several of these spaces, affording a grand tour of the landscape.

From Virtual Humans to the Spatialized Web, Climate and Ecology to the Future of Work, VRTO takes a deep dive into how immersive technology will affect, transform, and advance industries across the board.

“I created VRTO in 2015 to meet an inevitable future where telepresence, platform agnosticism, and accessibility are fundamental to social and economic progress. In 2020, it is clearer than ever before that we need new ways to approach the real and the virtual worlds we now inhabit. The way we process data will necessarily become spatial. The way we manipulate real-world processes will become increasingly complex and remotely piloted,” explains Keram Malicki-Sanchez, Founder and Executive Director, VRTO.

“VRTO is the summit where the people in the trenches come together to exchange these challenges and their solutions in hopes of making meaningful strides towards knowledge that any business, enterprise or individual can understand and adopt for whatever their needs dictate. And sometimes, we have to come at those challenges from unusual and unorthodox perspectives,” continues Malicki-Sanchez.

The future of work means building a true digital face-to-face experience, Elizabeth Bieniek, Director of Innovation, Cisco Collaboration shares her insights on where extended reality developments will change the way we work.

Rose Barasa, Industrial Relations, Strathmore University will discuss how organizations and institutions are applying immersive technologies in Kenya, and how companies can invest and partner with VR initiatives in Africa.

Aditya VishwanathElizabeth Bienek

Featuring an in-depth and interactive summit on Accessibility and inclusion in VR, VRTO will showcase the latest developments in research and design, inclusive storytelling and hardware, and the global movement to create inclusive standards around this technology.

Jonathan Avila, Chief Accessibility Officer, will discuss how Level Access is helping companies make their digital systems readily accessible and enable technology to be an empowering force for those with disabilities.

Focusing on VR solutions for patients, David Parker, Founder & CEO, Wishplay shares learned processes and procedures for providing immersive experiences for those looking to live beyond the limitations of their illness or disability.

Jody Tyree VRTO speakerDave Cardwell SpinVFX

Moisen Mahjoob Nia, OCADU + SMARTlab PhD candidate, presents research on immersive applications that address isolation, mental health, and accessibility issues VRTO 2020 will gather thought leaders from the largest Visual Effects companies in the world who have collectively won multiple Academy Awards, including Asad Manzoor, Lead Unreal Artist, Pixomondo (Star Trek, The Mandalorian), John Canning, Executive Producer for VR, AR, and Interactive, Digital Domain (Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War, Captain Marvel), and Dave Cardwell, Creative Director, SPINVFX (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong).

Applying her deep background in interactive and immersive media as well as distribution, Jody Tyree, Entertainment and Advertising Product Owner for Ford’s Autonomous fleet, explains how she is rethinking the passenger’s in-vehicle experience. No longer do your eyes have to be on the road! Now what?

Christina Heller Kathleen CohenGalit Ariel

Kathleen Cohen, Immersive Strategist, The Collaboratorium will explore virtual beings, digital twins, and the legacy that is your likeness, and Christina Heller, CEO, Metastage will discuss how her Microsoft-partnered capture studios is creating high-resolution volumetric video of some of today’s biggest stars for the next wave of entertainment.

VRTO is your ticket to understanding and designing the very real virtual world we are all inhabiting. We are interested in accessibility, understanding, teaching, learning, and collaboration. Join us at VRTO and upcoming onboarding Meetup events that will prepare you to go down this rabbit hole.

Official conference site: https://conference.virtualreality.to
For tickets, go to https://vrto2020.eventbrite.com/

VRTO 2019 - Virtual and Augmented Reality World Conference - photo by Christian Bobak

VRTO 2019 – Roundup and Highlights

The 4th annual VRTO – Virtual & Augmented Reality World Conference & Expo wrapped up in early June in Toronto. The event brought together provocateurs, digital media harbingers, inventors, developers, and best-selling authors to examine the future of culture, society, humanity, and how we can collectively work together and leverage immersive technologies for the betterment of ourselves and the world we live in.

VRTO 2019 Graphical Banner

VRTO is a juncture where startups and local content creators, established distributors, investors, and international media are introduced. Networking opportunities for our exhibitors like our VIP lounge and reception enabled a number of fruitful connections, and several companies in attendance were previously inspired and met at a VRTO event before getting where they are today. The success of these relationships and partnerships are made possible by way of the community’s support and the support of our sponsors, exhibitors and media partners. And a big thank you to TMAC -Toronto Media Arts Centre, Dames Making Games, and Gamma Space for providing us with a new home.

Leaders from Intel Studios, Ubisoft, Entertainment One, The Venture Reality Fund, CTRL-Labs, Globacore, Pimax, Cream 360, Dark Slope Studios and many more descended upon the city to explore the current state of the industry and discuss where we go from here.

The event garnered 30+ pieces of coverage which included an article in Forbes and the Canadian debut of Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast. The event received over 2.5 million coverage views from a readership of 1.13 million and earned over 550,000 social media impressions.

An early highlight of VRTO 2019 was Indie VR Dev – The Game Show, hosted by Dustin Freeman (Escape Character) featuring Blair Renaud (IRIS VR), Martin Bradstreet (Martov Co.) and Andre Elijah (OPIATS) – photo by Christian Bobak Copyright 2019

Founder and Executive Director, Keram Malicki-Sanchez explains how he approached this year’s show, “It’s about pausing for a moment, like one of those volumetric John Gaeta bullet-time sequences, and taking stock in all that has come before, and how to communicate that to as many people as possible in a way they can understand.”

By focusing on the human element and the recalibration of the industry there were a couple of themes that came to light during the 3-day symposium.

Human Connection & Community

Often mistaken as a solitary and isolating endeavor, VR is a tool that has the ability to draw a community together. Virtual Reality provides users a sandbox or playground that is completely unique to the medium. With over three million downloads and 3.2k Twitch viewers, VRChat has become one of the most successful Virtual Reality apps.

Syrmor Shiraz–who calls Toronto home– is an embedded journalist in VRChat and unearths intimate, personal stories from users across the globe. His engaging videos have earned him a following of over half a million subscribers on YouTube. “A lot of your physical identity is stripped away and a purer version of yourself comes forward,” Shiraz says. He discussed how a boy who was unable to go outside because of a debilitating disease found solace in this virtual community.

Shiraz was joined at VRTO by DJ Soto, a Christian pastor, who recently performed a baptism in VRChat before making international headlines. Looking to reach those who are excluded from real-world congregations, Soto’s virtual outreach has lead him to members of the community who have been forgotten or physically unable to attend a service.

Watch “Syrmor’s Gonzo Journalism in SocialVR” at VRTO

Spatialized media is redefining how we are able to communicate and connect with one another. Voices of VR host, Kent Bye and Keram Malicki-Sanchez explored how companies are developing immersive experiences that will excite and engage attendees. “Disney Imagineers have been collaborating with immersive theatre creators and world-leading live action role players for their new Galaxy’s Edge experience,” says Bye. “Experiential designers are blending the principles of game design, immersive theatre, role play, and architecture in order to create immersive entertainment at the highest levels of mass culture,” the podcast host continued.

Kent Bye at VRTO 2019
Kent Bye discusses the future of Virtual Reality at VRTO 2019

In addition to developing platforms that aid in the creation of communities, Virtual Reality provides a complementary layer of interaction that was previously unavailable to those who were already established. The proliferation of the eSports industry has produced a dedicated community of players and spectators. This year’s VRTO featured a panel discussion that explored how VR will become a gladiator in the eSports arena.

“Rhythm Games should not be underestimated. We’re seeing lots of YouTube influencers and personalities who play Beat Saber on Twitch” says Jakyo Manor, an eSports consultant and tournament organizer.

“Spectatorship is important in eSports. Virtual Reality would allow fans to experience and interact with the players on a whole new level, this is where the opportunity truly lies for VR in the industry,” Manor added.

Jakyo Manor discusses Virtual Reality's relationship with eSports at VRTO 2019
Jakyo Manor discusses Virtual Reality’s relationship with eSports at VRTO 2019 – photo by Captive Camera copyright 2019

While the VR ecosystem is plagued by fractured platforms, the future of the industry’s success will rest on the shoulders of the companies who are able to meet the needs of the consumer.

Blake J. Harris, the author of The History of the Future, spoke about how Facebook believes they have conquered the gaming industry, “but they have not successfully planted the flag that they think they have.” Harris went on to discuss how in the early days of Facebook the platform solidified a strong user-base with the campus community before going mainstream, but the gamers and developers have been overlooked on the current journey. He echoed sentiments from former Oculus VR engineer Alexandra Howland who said, “Facebook doesn’t understand the market they bought into.”

The social media juggernaut–who has invested more into VR than anyone else–will have to reconcile with the gamers and indie developers in order to re-create their earlier successes.


Check out “VR and the Road to Now…and Then” featuring Blake J. Harris, Keram Malicki-Sanchez, and Blair Renaud at VRTO.

Creating For Consumers

While Virtual Reality has demonstrated its success in the enterprise market with impressive results–Walmart, Fidelity, UPS, DHL & more are training millions in VR–the industry has been waiting for consumers to become converts of the medium. With 4.2 million PSVR units sold and 4 million high-end PC VR headsets in the hands of users, Virtual Reality is no longer just flirting with consumers.

Tipatat Chennavasin, co-founder of The Venture Reality Fund, sees the launch of Facebook’s latest headset, Oculus Quest as an inflection point for the increase of the at-home user. Games like the indie-darling Beat Saber– which made $20 million in a year–proves that consumers are hungry for VR.

As arcades continue to expand across the globe and provide distribution channels for the media, the question is how do you get customers to return once the “gimmick” of VR has worn off?

On Monday June 3rd, Chennavasin led a panel with three entrepreneurs who have managed to navigate the unforgiving tides of the immersive industry, and have found client work and managed to successfully evolve with the industry. Joined by Srinivas Krishna of Awe Company, Mary Sorrenti of VRGen and Game Pill, and Jonathan Gagné of Masterpiece VR.

Tiptat Chennavasin, Srinivas Krishna, Mary Sorrenti, Jonathan Gagne

Laura Mingail, Senior Director, Strategy & Business Development at Secret Location – an Entertainment One company states, “The most successful experiences are ones that are developed with the range of location-based entertainment consumers in mind. Consumers will not pay to play a game simply because it’s VR. They will pay for an experience if it has an IP or story with mass appeal that they want to step into. But story alone won’t make a hit. It needs to be virtually intuitive to play, and it needs to have a reason for people to want to play it over and over again.”

Laura Mingail discusses location-based gaming at VRTO 2019
Laura Mingail discusses location-based gaming at VRTO 2019 – photo by Captive Camera

Nintendo, Star Wars, Terminator have all found success as VR content pieces. And Jurassic World VR became Dave & Buster’s biggest launch in the company’s history!

Chicagoan Keisha Howard, founder of Sugar Gamers, spoke about how to increase adoption by respecting that new audiences do not understand the jargon or have the facility to assemble complex rigs often required by VR. They may not understand the UIs that are so familiar to gamers, let alone the buttons on the controllers. She spoke about understanding the Midwest and her experiences in creating inclusivity for gamers of all ages, types and backgrounds.

Keisha Howard, founder of Sugar Gamers - photo by Captive Camera copyright 2019
Keisha Howard, founder of Sugar Gamers – photo by Captive Camera copyright 2019

Where Content Drives

Many prolific and notable Canadian VR developers and companies were also on hand to share their war stories, insights and successes. Signal Space Lab talked about the interactive 360 video pipeline they developed for Mel’s Wake and Afterlife. Occupied VR shared the winding story of their R&D and growth into one of the world’s most notable VR content developers, including their latest Holy City. Emma Rye is a production by Dr. Hillel Maresky and Shachar Weis–founders of VRAL–that uses Virtual Reality to prepare children and adults undergoing MRI’s without anesthesia, which can cut the waiting time from 8 months to only a few weeks. Tribe of Pan discussed the challenges and complexities of shooting personal, intimate interviews with women about the right to choose…in volumetric capture settings(!), where the length of a take is unknown at the time of capture. These companies and many more – including those supported by the Canadian Film Centre and ideaboost that include Tribe of Pan, Masterpiece VR, or York University’s Friend Generator VR art installation After Dan Graham – were demoed in the activations hall.

Sarah Vick showcases what Intel Studios is working on at VRTO 2019
Sarah Vick showcases what Intel Studios is working on at VRTO 2019 – photo by Captive Camera

Speaking of volumetric capture – Sarah Vick, head of Intel Capture Studios, Los Angeles, was on hand to demonstrate their eye-popping volumetric video results. Photorealistic, and seamless captures of dancers, with frills and twirling skirts, and nary a broken seam. Sarah’s approachable style helped to better understand Intel’s Studio’s objective and target audience and expressed how everyone is still learning.

The final day closed with a panel featuring CSA award winner Andrew MacDonald (Cream Digital), David Dexter (SIRT), Imran Mouna (InStage) and Dan Mills (Geogram) moderated by Keram Malicki-Sanchez that explored real world, contemporary commercial applications and adoptions of volumetric capture at all levels of budget and technical implementation – from mobile devices to film production, education to political campaigns.

This round-up is far from comprehensive and we invite you to subscribe to our YouTube channel, Instagram and Twitter channels to get a fuller picture of the many powerful talks, interactions and experiences that took place.

VRTO’s logo is “Let’s. Get. Real.” And Toronto’s “little-conference-that-could” continues to win international audiences with its hard-hitting approach for the betterment of this emerging and powerful new medium.

Learn more about VRTO 2019 and 2020 at the official conference site.

Report prepared by Stephanie Greenall
with additional reporting by K Malicki Sanchez

Special thanks to our premier sponsors:
Pandor Productions, CFC Media Lab, Cleanbox, OCAD University, Ontario Tech University, Charles Street Video, and Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre

The Promise, The Power, Perils and Possibilities of Virtual Reality – An Introduction

What is Virtual Reality – “VR” – and Why Should I Care?

Nintendo LABO VR? Facebook Spaces? CNN 360? Now ‘Oculus Quest’ and ‘Valve Index’ – what’s it all mean, Billie Jean?

If you are wondering what all the fuss is about with this thing called VR, but have no real idea what it’s about, this article is for you.

Labo_VR_Kit
Nintendo LABO VR Kit – a poor implementation, but at the very least a broadcast of the idea of Virtual Reality to a wider audience

Who in their life hasn’t, at some point, wished they could fly, or perhaps climb Mount Everest, swim in the great blue hole of Belize, or perhaps explore remote parts of the world unreachable by standard travel?

Or perhaps you wished to become a doctor and wanted to train on your patient’s specific body part many times before you actually faced them, with quivering hands, in the operating room? Perhaps you are a construction worker and want to understand the various design and build stages of a new project long before the first brick or girder has been laid.

Maybe you are far away from your loved ones, friends or co-workers, or possibly a new client, and you have always felt that normal telephone or even video conferencing isn’t quite the same a being in the “presence” of the other. Maybe they are dead and you wish to stand in their presence, one more time. Or many more.

All of these things are possible with the new medium of Virtual Reality.

Seeing is Believing

This medium is one that truly must be experienced first hand in order to fully grasp its power and potential, and to understand why it has become the tech world’s buzz word for the past five years (writing this in 2019, the holy year of Blade Runner), attracting massive investments from Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Qualcomm, HTC, Apple, HP, Acer, ASUS, AMD, Nvidia and many more.

What is the difference between “VR” and the media we already know – like radio, television, and even 3D movies?

Inward, Within

Imagine that, instead of simply the width of a widescreen TV, you also extend it vertically. Now imagine that the experience surrounds you completely, on all sides. And when you turn your head or lean forward or back, or lean side to side, the horizon, or the floor, the floor or horizon maintain their position.

Now also imagine that because of this effect things feel as though they have an actual dimension proportional to you. So a table looks and “feels” as though it is in front of you at the correct size and scale. Of course – you could enlarge it or shrink it down if the application allows, but for the sake of my explanation – imagine that it feels correct – a 1:1 size to your own body.

Now imagine that you could walk all the way around that table and that it would maintain its size and position, even while you encircle it. Your brain is fooled very quickly into believing that it might be real.

In fact, it only takes a minute or two, before you have completely become unaware of what is happening outside of the headset you are wearing to experience this.

More Than Meets the Eye

Now, privacy issues aside, imagine that anything could be created or represented inside of such a world – a fully interactive world that can convince your brain, and the vestibular system that helps you keep your internal sense of position, movement and balance, that it is present.

You could, instead of showing children boring pictures of the pyramids at Giza, put them INSIDE of the pyramids, where they could feel the enormity and layout of the these marvelous, ancient tombs.

You could bring the classroom to any city, town, village, forest, mountain, time, in the world or civilization and give them a memory that they could feel as if they were there in person. Using satellite imaging, photogrammetry, volumetric technology, machine learning and computer vision, almost any part of the world can be extruded into a three-dimensional location you can fly through. Some authors have used Google Earth VR to virtually visit the locations they write their novels about, never having set foot in the place, while being so convincing that their friends ask them why they didn’t stop by for tea.

VRTO - Child using VR - photo by Christian Bobak
VRTO – Child using VR – photo by Christian Bobak

With this incredible power to create spatialized, embodied experiences, comes great responsibility of course. Just as we are able to amuse, astound, educate and impress others with the media, we can also wound, terrify, scar and indoctrinate them.

The Problem With Empathy

In the early stages of VR, many wistfully referred to it as an ‘Empathy Machine” – with the positive connotation that it might help us to feel something – perhaps compassion and sympathy, for others in less fortunate positions. Of course, this is a risky assumption to make, for it could just as easily create “empathy” for dark and evil ideologies. Empathy, of course, means to understand another’s situation, feelings, and motives.

VR could be used for real torture, and it could be used to train the next Olympic champions.

Furthermore, though videogames may be full of violence, many academic studies have shown that such acts do not, in fact, have a correlation to real-life acts of violence. In fact, for many, they can serve as a healthy examination of feelings, a way to vent stress and anger, and also learn methods for managing failure and frustration while also building camaraderie.

Out of Body Experience

Does this change, however, when we are inside of an embodied experience? The data would suggest that no, it would not make us more violent, but it might make us more affected by the acts of violence. We may, for example, process every zombie we kill differently in VR than in a traditional TV frame. We may hesitate, before we fire our weapons at people in VR, than we would playing Call of Duty or Borderlands in traditional TV frames.

There is a lot of data that we take in every day that we are not conscious of. Though we see and hear and smell thousands of things every day, our prefrontal lobe only registers some of these data. VR and 360-degree video are similar – by surrounding us with data, we are processing more information than we necessarily register at first. But the body remembers, and so does our subconscious. What experiences will we create the will remain with the receiver, perhaps for a lifetime?

Perhaps more importantly, what could YOU share about YOUR experience? What can we learn, from you? What part of your dream could you transfer, so that others, now or not yet alive, could better understand about the human experience?

After 5 years of rapid iteration, jagged market awareness, failures and successes, in 2019 we have moved from clunky and cumbersome setups to all-in-one, wire-free (“tetherless”), self-contained and motion-tracked VR that can be had for the Facebook-subsidized price of only USD$400.

And yes, a pair of them will empower you and your loved ones to simultaneously experience these worlds in tandem from your living room, without the need of a desktop computer, tripods or other complex setups.

In 2015 I created the FIVARS Festival of International Virtual & Augmented Reality Stories to investigate how this new media could be used to tell stories in new ways. In 2016 I created the VRTO Virtual & Augmented Reality World Conference & Expo to explore the ethics, best practices and industry that would define these media and advancements for future generations.

I hope you will join me at these events in Toronto this year, 2019, to learn more.

Keram Malicki-Sanchez
Los Angeles, April 30th 2019