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Gerri Sinclair Award Winners on Building a Mixed Reality Concert Experience

Apr 24, 2019 By Crissy Campbell

Centre for Digital Media’s Gerri Sinclair Award for Innovation in Digital Media is awarded every year to recognize a student or group of students in the MDM Program who created a digital media product or innovation that has great potential either as a commercial digital media product or an innovative methodology for creating digital media products.

This year’s winners are from Team Visuality, who won for their project Music Holograms, a project that explored how to enhance concerts using mixed reality.

Below they discuss their project, why they took an entrepreneurial route in the MDM program and how they’ve leveraged the project to get where they are now.

1. What is Music Holograms?

Music Holograms is a project we pitched in Summer 2017, to enhance concert performance experiences using mixed reality.

We ended up working with local band Belle Game (check them out, they’re awesome!) to put on an entire concert performance for one song with stage lighting, projections, as well as a unique mixed and augmented reality experience (using Microsoft HoloLens and AR capable phones) that paired with the song.

When we first started the project, we wanted to explore how to best enhance music with visuals. Throughout our project, we kept returning to our main goals: to deliver mixed reality interactive visuals that utilize the whole concert space, convey the musician’s visual identity and dynamically react to sound, that users can interact with, all without distracting from the musician’s performance.

Our team members are Julie Puech (Lead Developer and UX Designer), Flo Wong (Art Designer), Mark Olson (Project Manager) and Noor Yeslam (Motion Graphics and 3D Designer).

2. Why did you decide to do a Pitch Project?

Julie and Flo got the idea of starting a pitch project pretty early on, wanting to explore creative applications related to music.

Julie had already had the opportunity to work on a student project that friends had pitched and it was one of the most rewarding experience she had been a part of. When she learned it was possible to do the same for a term at the CDM, she jumped at the opportunity.

Flo has always loved working on personal projects, and thought the pitch project was a great opportunity to have creative freedom while collaborating and learning with others.

What is great about a pitch project is the passion behind the concept the team develops, everyone has extra motivation to push the idea further and get to amazing results. An interesting part of the process that leads to actually doing a pitch project at the CDM is that you have to convince team members to join you and present in front of an industry panel to be approved.

Julie and Flo knew that their skillset covered development, design and art direction but to get the best team together and ensure a successful project, they needed someone to help manage the project and someone to handle motion graphics and 3D modeling. They presented their idea to several member of their cohort, explaining the potential learnings and opportunities that could arise with such a project. Mark and Noor ended up joining the team as respectively project manager and motion graphic designer.

3. What was the pitch project experience like? Any highlights?

The pitch project experience was INCREDIBLE!

Let’s not kid ourselves — it was hard work, a lot of stress, a lot of unknown and a lot of sweat… but what a ride.

We started with a pretty solid idea of what we wanted to create, but once we managed to get the band Belle Game to be our "client" and collaborator, we expanded our scope: we decided that our final deliverable would be an actual performance from Belle Game with our immersive experience. That meant we had to actually plan a (very small) concert: sound equipment, lights, projections. Even when we had little experience with this at the start, we had to figure it out.

Because we were building our experience on Microsoft HoloLens (expensive hardware) and we wanted a lot of people to experience our creation, we also decided mid-project to build for iOS.

During the three months we spent on Music Holograms, we also reached out to a lot of people from the XR industry and interactive installation field. We ended up learning about cool projects that were going on, meeting other XR enthusiasts, and building our network in Vancouver. We even started partnering and working together with some industry members!

To document our process, we decided to do a video recap every week of our progress, our learnings and what our next steps were. It was pretty fun to do — and it’s nice to look back at it and see what we managed to accomplish. Check our vlogs out here.

But of course, the biggest highlight was the day everything came together: the performance we held during the Art Installation Showcase. Seeing people use, interact with, and enjoy what we built, and having it run smoothly with only a few tiny hiccups, was heartwarming.

4. Did you go into the MDM program thinking that you’d take an entrepreneurial focus?

We all had come to the MDM program with very unique background and different ideas of what we wanted out of the program.

Julie knew starting at the CDM that she was interested in being an entrepreneur. She didn’t think it would happen so soon, during her time at the CDM, but she is happy it did. She is very grateful that the CDM provides this safe space for students to experiment and maybe, start your own company. This is exactly what she did! She took this project and turned it into a company, which focuses on building Augmented Reality Experiences for live events. Check out the website here.

Mark on the other hand came into the MDM program with many years as an entrepreneur and saw the potential in this innovative idea. He believed in the team, which is just as important as the idea and could see how the team could develop this into a real business. He was happy to help develop this as a stepping stone for Julie to run with!

Flo had been inspired being surrounded by peers with an entrepreneurial energy. She always liked doing her own projects, but had mainly been more focused on the creation and less of the business side of things. Working with the team, especially on this pitch project, she began to learn and appreciate how important both sides are. While she is still more of a creator than a businessperson, she now has a much more entrepreneurial mindset in approaching the world — taking risks, not being afraid to fail and learn, making your own opportunities and carving your own path in the world.

When Noor came to the CDM she never thought she would have an entrepreneurial focus, but when she was approached by the team she knew she couldn’t pass up this great idea. This project allowed the team to create, take risks, and push the envelope of what’s expected. Working with this amazing team she was able to learn tremendously from them and the innovative technology.

5. What did winning the Gerri Sinclair scholarship mean to you?

It’s an honour.

We started out not knowing whether our project would go anywhere, and ended up being quite proud of how far we’ve come. To receive the Gerri Sinclair scholarship is an acknowledgement of not only our journey, but all the support we’ve received from the CDM faculty, staff, and local Vancouver VR/AR communities who helped push us along.

We also want to acknowledge that we’re a majority-women team and hope to encourage, empower, and support other women in tech and entrepreneurship, especially tackling systemic unconscious biases existing in male-dominated fields.

6. What’s next for you guys?

We all work on different projects now that we have graduated.

As mentioned earlier, Julie is taking this project further with The Impossible Studio, so if you know any musicians interested in exploring Augmented Reality, tell them about her studio!

She also started another company, Time Factory, that runs design sprints, rapid prototyping and workshops to help small and medium business solve problems faster, hence saving them time and money.

As you can see, she’s really embracing the entrepreneurial route!

Mark was lucky enough to be recruited by one of the companies the team met with during this project. He is now enjoying working for Tangible Interaction as a project manager, having the opportunity to continue to work on innovative projects – now with world renowned clients (Ralph Lauren, Google, Diesel, BMW, etc.).

This pitch project and the CDM program encouraged Flo to pursue her own side freelance work with art and illustration designs. She has also started working full-time for Corporate Finance Institute, an educational platform as a multimedia UX, graphic, and education designer.

After working on this project, Noor began to work at Can-Health International as a digital designer. Later on, she moved back to Saudi Arabia where she is currently working as a freelancer and a motion graphic design instructor.  She doesn’t think she would love teaching if it wasn’t for this amazing team and this project.


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