Podcast By justine

Amit Chopra: Iconic Engine’s Holometric Theatre Gives the Power Back to the Creatives

It’s barely over six months since Iconic Engine spun off from Digital Domain and they’re awareness is already going through the roof. Iconic Engine CEO Amit Chopra explains how his forward thinking XR company combines service projects with a global streaming platform and 60+ Location Based Entertainment centers already in China. Key to the seamlessness are the people working at Iconic Engine; they’re all industry veterans. Early April the company launched their newest product the ‘Holometric 4D Cinema’ during both Cinemacon and NAB Show in Las Vegas. Iconic Engine is building a new ecosystem of immersive theatres which can break the boundaries of the traditional frame and can be globally managed and programmed. Amit explains they don’t believe in the philosophy of ‘anyone can be it’s own director by looking around’ and how they want to put the director in the driver’s seat again. Just sit back and enjoy the forward thinking ride.

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Justine: Well, straight from the Cannes Festival Palais, here we are and I’m with Amit Chopra who is the CEO of

Amit: Iconic Engine

Justine: And I kind of get in, has been doing some great stuff, but first time it, let’s find out how you got there because my understanding is you had a background in finance and financing creative don’t seem linked, but I’m sure you have a good reason why they should be.

Amit: Oh, that was very creative financial guy. And now I’m actually, it’s kinda interesting because my history actually it’s a quite unique I’ve been at different industries. I think I got into media entertainment about 10 years ago, but prior to that I’ve gone through six different industries. So I had a sort of a luxury of learning different sites of the businesses. and when I got into the entertainment side of things it just started with Reliance, hiring me in and bringing me in as a more of a finance person, VP finance. And pretty quickly I took over the operational side of the business. I, I really consider myself to be more of an intrepreneur. that’s, that’s where my background has always been. A, any company I’ve worked for, I go back in and sort of look at the company as my own company. so that sort of gave me the idea of, and the, the having the financial knowledge just helps build the business. from a creative perspective. I wouldn’t call myself a creative person in any way. I think I’ve a very little bone when it comes to being creative. What I do have a strong affinity to is working with people and I’ve got a really, really strong group of creatives and technologists that work with us that makes me look good. So,

Justine: Well, that’s a very important skill for sure. Being able to work with people and being able to work with creatives. Like, do you ever have to, you know, drop down the hammer with their deadlines or?

Amit: All the time. But I think the, the, the funny and interesting part of this, the group that we work with are, or the 40 or so people that are today within Iconic, oh, they’re all been sort of industry leaders and they’ve been working for 20 plus years. So they’re adults. Not a lot of kids that I have to go and push. If anything, they push me.

Justine: That’s a luxury. Yes. Great. Luxury will tell us. Okay. So Iconic Engine is originally from Digital Domain. Do you want to tell us a little bit of how that came about?

Amit: Yeah, let me, let me, let me go back a little bit. I think it’s kind of an interesting history. I I was working with alliance and back in 2012 Reliance ended up acquiring Digital Domain out of bankruptcy. it was a, it was a great company and great history. I don’t know if you’re fully more much familiar, much or not, but a Digital Domain was sort of started with James Cameron movies like titanic, true lies. And just recently we deliver projects, leg Avengers and ready player one. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s an iconic company and the vendor lines acquired them. They asked me, go in for a couple of weeks spend two weeks at a DD and a see what I can do from a financial perspective, look at the assets, look at the way the financials are working and how we can help. The two weeks ended up becoming two months and I actually ended up leaving Reliance and joining Digital Domain fulltime as their CFO back in 2012. very quickly, by 2013, I had taken over a position of Chief Operating Officer and since that we’ve been growing, initial goals was to turn the company around which we did. And by 2014, we were making money and we started looking at new technologies, new businesses, how to go back and grow the company back up. So the years of 2014 to 2017 I’ve been really interesting one for me personally. we were able to take the company public, a Digital Domain, go raise a lot of capital, which gave me a pretty big wallet to go shop. gave me an opportunity to go on a sort of a shopping spree. And we acquired about 11 properties, 11 companies, whether they were full acquisitions and investments and JVEs or strategic partnerships, but a lot of money got invested into the companies and acquisitions of, of technology, of people, skillsets, understanding the whole pipeline of building cameras to distributing content on, on the whole era we side of things. So that’s where the last four years I’ve been for us and it’s been really, really good at this.

Justine: At the same time, the industry is doing all sorts of somersaults at the moment. You know, at one point in this period that you’re working VR, XR is at its height and now it’s kind of recalibrated in, shall we say. How have you managed that? At the same time you’re growing and expanding.

Amit: We always had our feet to the ground. I think that was very, very important for us. we’ve had last four years, very, very, uniform revenue. we’ve made money. We made the same money in 2014 or 2015 is what we made last year. wow. And it’s pretty unique. That fact we are actually self supported on the business as such. It’s just, we looked for things that were missing in the industry at that time and we’ve been very, very smart about that. Early on we realized very quickly that the brands were looking for investments to come in and do service projects. so we very quickly connected with the brands. our 360 live production is a capability that not a lot of people had in the marketplace. And that was very unique for us where we could go in and produce three 60 content, publish it, broadcast it out to the world very, very quickly. And our failure rate was almost close to zero. we could go up and running within 24 hours. it, it’s just, is a better product, better technology. In 2016, we worked with closely with the Olympics and they came back and they’d given us about three months of notice to say, look, we want to go in and do a quick activation to see if this will even work. And within three months we were able to go partner with 14 broadcasters that they brought. We build 42 apps. You put a team of 27 people in Rio to produce 17 days of content, which using art have w which we build our own cameras. We publish our own product. And he went out without a glitch, without a glitch, and we were publishing product into China.

Justine: How do you explain that? Well, how did you, what was like the key to the seamlessness and what kind of magic pill did you give everybody to perform? You know

Amit: People. It’s all about the people skills. It’s all the people skills. All the guys that are working for us have been in the industry 20 plus years. and one of the companies that we acquired at that time was immersive media under the brand of IMV. That team had been actually doing live productions for almost four or five years. So having them, knowing the product, understanding the product was very, very unique for us. And again, finding the right people, right technologies and then going in and building products and publishing product has been really, really successful for us.

Justine: Okay. So you have pretty much mapped out the landscape and figured it out really well. What did you see that was missing that you, it sounded like you have a really good eye for finding, you know, what’s not happening and, and diving into their,

Amit: Yeah, so like I said, throughout the years we saw the ups and downs in the industry. So when the, when the brands were bullying back, the live business was catching up for us. When, when that CIDY pulling back, we started going after the Games and publishing games and building games for the, for the, on to be on the platforms of Oculus and HTC. And when we saw that actually that’s not doing well, we started putting our capital back into the location based entertainment product. We published a product, a product that was designed in house by me and my chief creative Julian. and we build our product back in 2017 and we put their product out in market in China in mid 2017. I’m with our first location to go live based on their first location. We went out raise capital, that helped us put up to 60 locations now operating in China.

Justine: Wow.

Amit: Throughout all the different cities that are tier one, tier two and tier three cities. And we are today in midst of raising more capital to go and publish another a hundred locations. So it’s again, finding the niche, finding the gap into the market what the need was and fulfilling that very, very quickly has been really successful for us.

Justine: Am I correct? And it’s my understanding that there’s not a lot of us based companies that are going out to China in VR. Is that correct?

Amit: It is very difficult to enter the Chinese market. as a matter of fact, 20.

Justine: It’s a huge market for sure. And they are pretty advanced when it comes to what their expectations are for an experience. How are you meeting that?

Amit: For us it’s been actually pretty interesting. We now this is again all sitting under the Digital Domain brand, right? Right. So it is not something with Iconic today, but it is all digital demand brand. the went out and we acquired a company after failing twice trying to build companies from ground up in China. Didn’t work. And we ended up acquiring a very well known post production house there. And we used that as our base and then we started building back up again today I believe we have close to 800 employees in China alone.

Justine: Oh my.

Amit: So it’s, it’s a, it’s for Digital Domain. They’ve grown tremendously. When back in 2012 when we started, we were about 800 employees. Today we are close to 2000 employees globally. And it’s been a, it’s been an interesting ride from that perspective. And, and this actually takes us to where iconic came to picture also because of what I wanted to get get at next. Yeah. Because you know, the journey has been pretty good. It’s been a ride. It’s been a hoot to two logics and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it. but with the president Trump coming into power, and the relationship with China and the Trump the, the whole trade war

Justine: Terrorists

Amit: Terrorists, and then it’s, it’s, it’s been a, it’s been a year and a half of a misery in some ways because a lot of our capital raise happened in China and that resulted in restrictions of odd capital moving out of China back to US. So we ended up making some adjustments on some changes. about six months ago we talked about, hey, listen, let’s let’s change the brand from and spread the brand out where Digital Domain goes back to be focusing on a visual effects company. They continue to do the VR work in China, but focus within China itself. And anything outside of China should be branded under annual brand and thus came Iconic Engine. the moved the people, the skillset, the assets, the technology on, into a new group spun the business out under the new brand. I stepped down from DD as the, their chief operating officer and took over the position of the CEO of Iconic Engine. I’m still involved

Justine: When did that happened exactly?

Amit: The exact date was October 2nd, last year, 2018 and 18, but we actually did not go live and tell anybody til early this year in January. So if you think about it, it’s been only four or five months since people have known what Iconic Engineers.

Justine: Wow. We’re not even at a year old. We’re, we’re just barely over six months,

Amit: Just over six months and a, and having a lot of fun. we’ve got two key products. we have a product which is a streaming platform that we are partnered with various telcos, companies like Deutsche Telekom, Orange,…

Justine: So those are big. Deutsche Telekom and Orange are big in Europe. And do you have any American us based partners?

Amit: We were working with with RYOT, RYOT is not so focused on yeah.

Justine: Verizon and I hear Verizon.

Amit: Okay. Yes. So, but there are companies that we’re talking in South America, there are companies in US that we are talking to you. E-entertainment is one of the clients I’m Red Bull. We work closely with. So there are a bunch of clients that we are working us and they’ve used our platform to distribute content. That’s great. Okay.

Justine: So you have these two products. One is a proprietary platform and that you’ve developed. And the other is, do you have other products you want to talk about?

Amit: Yeah, that’s for sure. But that’s actually is the, is the more fun part of it. So all of our work we’ve done in China over the last two years, all the learnings we have had through that. Oh, we wanted to build something better. and we again see some challenges in the market of what’s happening with the products that are in the market today. scalability is a big issue. Adoption by consumers are a big issue. The technology is still has a lot of restrictions when it comes to headsets. people don’t like to put the units on their faces for too long. So there are various issues that we dealt with. So we wanted to build something that is a little bit more adaptable, a lot more scalable, be more user friendly. A VR consumer’s not overall is focused on trying VR are trying ar but more focused on the oral experience. So we build something very, very unique. we’re calling it our holometric theater. we just announced it, about five weeks ago at Cinema Con in Vegas last week is, yeah. And we did a quick demo of, we invited about 40 or so industry key influencers people, CEOs of big exhibition businesses to come in and try the product out. And the response was amazing. They spent a couple of hours in our suite looking couple hours.

Justine: Wow.

Amit: A couple of hours they spend

Justine: It’s not like there’s not enough to look at in Las Vegas. So I mean there’s a, that’s good. So you held their attention for a long time.

Amit: We captured there a long time and every one of them that finished experience and walked away, talked about. Wow. this was amazing. We had one of the key executive that had spent three days, in a classroom with Cinema Con talking, but the future of cinema and came back and said, I just wasted three days. Frankly, I should have just shown this thing and this exactly. It tells me what this could be potentially look like when it comes to the future.

Justine: Could you tell us a little bit about the chair? Like for people that are just listening, you know, of course they should go and Google immediately, you know, Iconic Engine

Amit: Oh yeah, that’d be wonderful. yeah, so we haven’t really released a lot of information to the public yet. Right. Even in our website, if you go, there’s been some small short images of pictures of the chair itself. Yeah. The chair’s only a part of it. Ah, so it’s a full theater, crazy top of the line sound system built in and a full interactive screen that goes in front of, the Taylor. So when you walk in, it’s not just about the chairs, chairs, obviously a top of the line, full smart pod. you name the technology. It’s in the chair. it’s, it’s fully immersive. It’s a six staff experience. it’s a full crazy simulator built to look like a premium first class experience. it’s, it’s very much sort of focused in a taking people away and immerse them into a different world. You walk in, just like you would walk into any potential theaters, there’s a very large screen in front of you. cherish. You can go sit in and the experience normally starts on the large screen. and it goes from there. the chairs and the screens are communicating to each other. The characters that are moving on the, the screens, the chairs kind of follow them through the process. And it’s a, it’s a curved screen that goes from one end of the the room to the other end of the room. So it’s, it’s quite large and quite immersive. now the experiences we were showcasing in Vegas we and we showcase two different experiences. One was a piece of content that was volumetric content, done by Starbreeze and um, it is the project called Construct. We want it to be able to showcase that particular product and publish that through our chair. That was an amazing experience for somebody to actually see a really high end cinematic Marvel like experience, what that would feel like on a, on a, on an experience like that. And the second thing to really see show the range of the product itself. We created a video game really you can be in a chair with, in a chair with not only that, we had two people playing at the same time with a large screens showing what they were doing and you can compete. So it, it’s a product that could be sort of, has arranged to start from a very focused on as say, medic experience and the range going all the way to esports capabilities. Very diverse, very, very diverse. And again, it’s the range. And again, today we were using a Vr headset tomorrow could be very easily using an AR headset and create an experience through that with an AR experience or no headset at all to be able to create that and having that sort of arrange, giving the possibilities and being, creating an experience that’s an overall immersive is where we were sort of focused on. Okay. Again, all of that sits on top of our same, content management system that we have sort of given out to our telco partners to publish content. So all content is streamed. it’s, it’s, it’s really, really very, very unique product. We don’t have anything that exists in the market that has the depth that this product offers.

Justine: Wow. So it sounds like a game changer. Could this literally a game changer? Could this be, I think a little earlier, we were kind of talking about the way you view immersive and it’s not just based on tools, it’s based on experience. Do you want to go in and talk a little bit about that?

Amit: The only thing I will say that is, you know, lot of the technology that exists in the market, right? It’s been a, at least one of my frustration has been that we’re always trying to work around the technology. well this particular at HMD can do only this mice or build something that can face this or this is the amount of broadband do you have and this is how much you can publish and you can go size wise on the size of the files itself, there’s always all these factors that have been put in and it’s, it’s, it’s technology that’s new and we’re learning and building around that. We wanted to build a product where technology is working for us and that’s what this product is built for. and it gives a lot of power to the creatives to build a product, in a way that they want to showcase their piece of content to the public. It’s not something that’s forced on somebody who’s head and you’re asking people to go look around trying to find and be your own director. That concept doesn’t work in our minds. The chair does all your work for you, right? It’s been trained to go and look at it needs to look before the experience starts. So once you get into the thing, you’re just sitting back enjoying the ride. Chairs are doing all the work for you. The directors already planned for you as a user to look where you need to see. So, so that I think is a very, very powerful product in itself. And in with the all the haptics that are built into the chairs, it just creates a very unique experience.

Justine: How long was the chair in concept and production phase?

Amit: We started on October 2nd the day we spun out. The very first thing we said was, let’s go build the next version three of this product because we need to create that. That is something that we believe in. Location based entertainment is, is, is very, very unique. It’s a market that’s super hot. if VR has to work today, it has to be through that process.

Justine: So what do you see in the industry for LBE like, aside growing? Have you seen any new developments that are exciting to you other than the geographies are growing?

Amit: The geographies are definitely growing. I think there’s a oral, in the market, there’s a, there’s a shortage of family entertainment units. You know, you want to go to a, a Disneyland or Universal Studios as a family of four, you’re spending $1,000 that’s just flat out too much money for most people. And there’s not a lot of resources outside of that to go for entertainment. You can go to films, you can go watch movies, but you do so much. Today’s market, today’s people are, the kids are all focused on experiences. They are looking for that. There’s not a lot of places that exist in the marketplace. So I think there is a market, I think location based is going to keep growing and that is one of our, our key reasons why we jumped into this market early on two years ago.

Justine: Family is, is, is an important market. But usually when you go to the location based, you’re talking about a 15 minute experience and you compare that to a two hour film where your kids are busy, you know, they’re captured for two hours. It gives the parents a little bit of a break and a good time together. How do you see that, that gap?

Amit: Again, I see that as a big issue actually because and even the, the, the cost structure that’s associated with that because most of the that are built today again has limitations, right? most of the location based entertainment are very active. That means you’re sweating, you’re moving around quick and within 10 or 15 minutes you are done. You’re out of there. So there’s limitation of this. The, the people that are going through those express, a lot of the kids can really enjoy it. A lot of the folks that are not physically active don’t want to go through the process. That is one of our main reasons why we build a product that works for you. Right? Again, technology exists. You don’t need to work based on what the technology does. You need to have the technology work for you. Again, that’s, that’s been a big, big thing and pushing our within our company. Chair does all the work for you.

Amit: I can put a 10 year old kid on it or I can put a 75 year old grandma on it and they can go in very quickly. Enjoy an experience. That’s what it’s built for.

Justine: Wow, that’s remarkable because it is, it is hard, you know, headsets on both those age groups, you know, the young cancer and the older is, it’s very tough. So you’ve crossed a barrier and created that access to this kind of technology. Certainly broadened it.

Amit: And definitely, again, the experience doesn’t have to be 15 minutes anymore. Right? You can actually build a 30 minute or 45 minute experience knowing very well that you don’t have to have headsets. Having it great. It adds to the immersiveness and, and maybe it works in some cases, but in some cases maybe doesn’t. So it again depends on the creative telling the story the way they want to to show.

Justine: So do you think, the focus for creatives should shift a little bit more towards developing location-based stories, cinema experiences versus focusing solely on headset?

Amit: I think if people are looking to monetize and make money, they will have no choice but to look at their market. The headsets don’t exist. There’s this, there’s, there’s not enough quantity of headsets in the market today, which makes the market very, very small for them to actually monetize and get the capital back. That is one of the big reasons people actually not investing money towards building more content. So there’s the limitation of a really premium content in the marketplace. So having venues and having distribution channels like these LBEs that are being put out to the market, I think it will grow. That market will give the opportunity for the creative not to be able to only push product onto their online channels, but also look at the offline channels like the LBEs.

Justine: So I think it’ll helps them and it will help the industry overall as well. We do want to help the industry move and grow and develop. So that would be great. Well, tell us a little bit, about Lil Dicky. What can you tell us about that experience?

Amit: So since launching of Iconic Engine, we’ve been in three key creative projects that we’ve been involved from a content perspective. we did our first project was with Red Bull, Red Bull Rampage and where, which was more of a live 360 production, and a full VR/AR immersive experience, with full technology app development. the second experience was the Little Dicky there. We just launched, I’m not too long ago, a couple of weeks ago, and it’s still an amazing, I think it’s just hit the 103 million views in the market. we got to work very, very closely with RYOT and, and building the product of front. We brought in a partner, to do the production for us. a company out of Argentina. it’s been it’s been pretty good for us where we played the role, more of it from a creative perspective of looking at the stuff and the producing perspective. we brought in a production company to help grow and build a product out to the market and the relationship, the ride, it’s been amazing for that matter.

Justine: So it’s pretty impressive. 103 million?

Amit: Yeah, it’s been, it’s been crazy. And we have another product coming to market which is with NBC, a product called 1111. we’ve done a lot of work on that all done in house to a large extent from a, the creative to production to preproduction, preproduction to creative . and then actually publishing the product out on HTC and Oculus first are going to Sony next. We’ll also have a mobile product coming in and a couple of months, even in AR, full experience

Justine: You guys aren’t busy. You guys need to pick up the pace. But well that’s, that’s all right. And anymore. I mean, did I cut you off?

Amit: No, I, like I said, you don’t want like team is really, really strong. So they, they’re very, very engaged. They know what they’re doing and they’re really, really focused. Like I said, I don’t have to push them. They’re pushing me all the time. So it’s, it’s, it’s amazing to have a good, cool team that’s just out there. They’re just focused. Oh, and it funny, we’re talking about film by winning, when it comes down to it, it’s still all about people.

Justine: So Amit, thanks so much for talking with us today and sharing all of your triumphs because there’s just quite a lot in there. And is there anything else you want to add to the community? people that are growing in building? Any maybe tips you’d give them or get feedback?

Amit: No, I think the industry overall needs to keep growing. I mean, the idea of this whole concept of markets moving up or markets coming down. I think you just need to keep your focus. And then the, it’s going to take another three to five years. I that suddenly you got to stay the course and then don’t waste money. I’m serious. Like finally keep really ocused on what you’re building and what you’re going to do.

Justine: Okay.

Amit: People try to do too many things and times and that’s where they lose money in my mind. as long as you’re focused on the product you’re building in the quantity or the quality of the product you want to build, you’re going to be fine. And there’s always money in the market. There’s always money.

Justine: Well, that’s very good advice. Thanks so much.

Amit: Thank you. Really appreciate it.


Bio Amit Chopra

There’s a new kid in town in terms of immersive viewing and that baby comes from Iconic Engine. In only six months since being spun out from Digital Domain, they have already launched 50+ LBEs in China. At the CinemaCon/NAB Show in Las Vegas last month, they premiered the Holometric, a 6DoF 4D haptic chair, powered by a cloud-based CMS and premium content library. Iconic Engine is building a robust new eco-system for interactive and cinematic experiences for location-based entertainment with murmurings that this may be the distribution system the industry has been waiting for.





There’s a new kid in town in terms of immersive viewing and that baby comes from Iconic Engine. In only six months since being spun out from Digital Domain, they have already launched 50+ LBEs in China. At the CinemaCon/NAB Show in Las Vegas last month, they premiered the Holometric, a 6DoF 4D haptic chair, powered by a cloud-based CMS and premium content library. Iconic Engine is building a robust new eco-system for interactive and cinematic experiences for location-based entertainment with murmurings that this may be the distribution system the industry has been waiting for.