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From VFX to virtual reality with Nathalie Mathé

By 3dtotal staff

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Date Added: 22nd July 2015

3dt: What's the most indispensable tool you use in creating VR experiences?

NM: Since I work on video content, I've been mostly using NUKE. It's an awesome tool for compositing 2D as well as 3D elements, and for stereo too. I also use proprietary tools developed at Jaunt to integrate images from multiple cameras.

"After a few minutes I could feel tingles when the balls were touching my palms in VR, even if they weren't truly there… really strange. It's called synesthesia"

3dt: What's the strangest experience you have had with VR?

NM: In a game where I was playing with Leap Motion bouncing balls in my hands; after a few minutes I could feel tingles when the balls were touching my palms in VR, even if they weren't truly there… really strange. It's called synesthesia.


3dt: What's your current favorite VR experience that you have not developed yourself?

NM: TiltBrush, for painting directly in 3D in the Oculus Rift with hand gestures. I just saw 3D paintings and demos made by artists at a Gray Area exhibit this month in San Francisco, and I tried it for myself. It's an amazing tool and I can't wait to paint all kind of worlds in VR.


3dt: Whose work (both past and present) do you really admire and why?

NM: I was very inspired the first time I saw Ralph McQuarrie's matte paintings at a San Francisco exhibit 20 years ago. They were huge paintings on glass, bigger than me, and they were so realistic looking with planets and alien worlds – all painted by hand by this incredible artist. I had the chance to meet him in person, and a brand new career path opened up for me.

I find live and interactive digital art very inspiring too, whether it's projection mapping, light painting, augmented dance performance, creative coding. I particularly like the works created by Design I/O, Obscura Digital, and AntiVJ. Being able to play, interact with body and hand gestures, and being part of a piece of interactive art is really fun.

In terms of immersive media like VR, I truly enjoy the emotional experiences created by director Chris Milk or journalist Nonny de la Peña, as well as the piece Cloud created by artists James George and Jonathan Minard. It's a computational documentary exploring art and code, mixing artists interviews, direct experience of their works, and interactive navigation.


3dt: Besides games what do you think will be the most useful application for VR?

NM: Definitely education and training using immersive videos or games. VR is the medium to put you into someone else shoes, show you the world from a different point of view. Immersive journalism and medical therapy seem very useful as well.


3dt: Is there a way to prevent escapism through virtual reality? What do you see as the major obstacles to VR?

NM: Right now the pieces I have experienced are very short, and I see mostly friends sharing them and speaking about them afterwards. There is another thing that in my eyes might be dangerous about VR: it is an extraordinary powerful emotional media, even more than film, because it's not just your emotions, it's also your body that is involved. So, given everything going on in the world right now, this is an extraordinary powerful tool for manipulating people. The only way to counteract that is to encourage more people to create VR content that is going to create more connections, and more understanding. Because you can use any media for any purpose that you want. That's my concern.

3dt: How does prolonged use of virtual reality affect our brains? Like hours of it. What do we do about it, because the research isn't here yet?

NM: I read some study that was saying that with VR we are exciting about 50% of the neurons that you usually use when you interact with the real world. But it seems to me that we already spend most of our time looking at flat screens, which is the most unnatural thing in the world. Our eyes have to focus on this flat screen at 30 centimetres, when naturally we need to change the convergence distance of our eyes all the time. So actually getting onto VR is much more natural, and should be less taxing on our senses. The limitation right now is more the technology, the quality of the pixels, the quality of the 3D rendering that you see in some games. So once the technology evolves, I would expect it feels more natural than looking at a flat screen. I don't know that it won't have any effect, but it can't be worse than what we are already doing to our brains.


3dt: How are things different in this industry? Would you go back to VFX?

NM: Right now VR technology is still in its infancy, and is dominated by hardware and software engineers. But things are evolving very fast. What started as a small independent project 2 years ago has now attracted major media and technology players who want to be part of it. On the other end, content creators are still struggling to create original experiences with tools that are not fully adapted. There is also no clear funding or distribution channel to create revenue for artists so far. So it is very different from VFX which is an established field with best practices, workflows, markets, and so on. However I enjoy these new challenges, and hope there will still be a place for independent and creative VR projects.


3dt: What advice would you give to people on how to get into VR development?

NM: Learn Unity, go to lots of VR meetups in your area, it's the best way to make connections, experiment and be flexible.

3dt: Do we want more women in VR? Not just as consumers but as creators? And how do we go about accomplishing that goal?

NM: That's a very interesting question. Yes, we want more women in VR, because there are so few of us, not even 10%. That's how it started in computer science 20 years ago, and then it went up, and now it's down again. That how it was when I started to work in VFX, then it went up to like 25-30% depending on the studios. And if you look at the media industry, because this is a new medium, all reports show that 90% of the media, newspapers, TV, online, are created by white males. And even when you look at the statistics of so called female topics being covered by the news, they are covered by men mostly, and they interview more male experts on these topics than female. So this sort of bias has been there for years and years.


This is a new medium and there is a great opportunity there. But if we just keep repeating the same biased approach that has been used until now, it's just going to be the same, nothing is going to change. And how we bring more women into VR is a very good question. There are many factors right now, negative stereotypes, in education, in the workforce, and in our culture, that discourage women. Even when they are in the computer or media industry, they drop out more than men. So you have to make conscious efforts and policies both at the educational level and in the work culture to bring women in and to keep them.

On the positive side, recent studies have shown that companies and start-ups with better gender balance are more successful, so that could help change some mind-sets.


3dt: What can we do to design VR experiences for women too?

NM: The first thing to do is to test your VR experiences at all stages of development with 50% women, and see how they react. Another thing is to look for what women are really interested in beyond obvious stereotypes. Let me give you an example of some apps that were developed for women that women really use. Recently there was a UN Women hackathon around the world that was done in India, New York, Oakland, and other countries. And most of the apps developed by these women were related to personal safety. Some of the girls in Oakland developed a mobile app for reporting in the streets where it was safe to be, or where they noticed something dangerous happening to let their friends know about it. The girls in India developed a safe to use and friendly sex education website, with counselling for girls, resources that they usually don't have access to. So these are practical things that interest women.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not represent Jaunt in any way.

Related links

There's loads more to see on Nathalie's site
Check out Nathalie's linkedin
Nathalie on IMDb
See more of Condition One's work
Take a look at Jaunt's latest work

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