Eddie Lou: “VR is Booming in China”
Founder and Director of Sandbox Immersive Festival, Eddie Lou stepped on stage at Cannes XR bringing good news: “VR is booming in China.” How can it not? With a population of 1.3 billion, just a small fraction of users makes for a respectable market. The biggest tech companies of China (Ali Baba, WeChat, Tencent, Baidu) are all investing in VR ventures. Together with telecom companies the investments in XR content will only increase. Let’s listen to what Eddie Lou had to say on our VRTL Podcast.
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Justine: Good morning. We are at Cannes XR, it’s me, Justine Harcourt de Tourville and I’m very pleased to welcome Eddie Lou who is the director of the Sandbox Immersive Festival. And I think you also have a studio you might want to mention.
Eddie: Yeah. Hi everyone. I’m Eddie Lou I’m from Sandbox Immersive Festival. Also, I have a production studio called Sandman studio. It’s a little confusing, but you share the same like a word of sand, but yeah, so basically we organize the biggest VR festival in China and also was trying to use the production team to experiment with the medium.
Justine: Yeah. Oh, great. Well, welcome Eddie. China is quite the story when it comes to immersive technology and XR. You want to share a little bit about that?
Eddie: Yeah, sure. Uh, I think China’s being experiment, like experimented with AR, VR, XR since pretty early in 2015, 14, around that time back then it was still quite a small community, but now as the technology advanced and more and more companies started to work on this in this field we have quite an active, um community working on technology, a software and content as well. So I do think it’s, it’s one of the most active industry,
Justine: For Xr. I think one thing I think that’s maybe worth elaborating a little bit is about what the Chinese audiences like. I, I think there, there probably a little different than the European or the North American or Latin American and African, before you get to get down to it, what are some characteristics you can globally describe the Chinese market?
Eddie: Yeah, so in terms of, I think there are two different parts, right? The industry and the, and the industry and the the consumer market. Okay. So for the consumer, I think all, especially I think younger generation, they all kind of kind of similar. You know, they all want something new and something exciting and they’ve been watching films and TV for many years and they definitely want something new. Right. So this is something that I think XR can provide to the to the younger generation that they’re very thirsty. They crave for new stuff. Yeah. And, and also what’s, what’s been a little bit different in China is that we have a huge population and we all grown up in a very severe competition. Oh, very competitive, very competitive. Like people.
Justine: Oh people are competitive.
Eddie: I mean, yeah, because we’d grown up with so many things. You have to compete with your classmates, you have to complete with everyone else around you. So it’s a very competitive environment. It’s tough.
Justine: I would say when you have a population of that, that you’re actually competing among your large population as it is that, that must be quite hard…
Eddie: Like every year we have approximately 7 to 8 million graduates from college. Wow. So that’s a lot of people and they need to compete for work and they do compete for jobs which, which actually create like a very, a lot of pressure on everyone. So, so that actually clause because people wanted to how should I say? I wanted to find more types of entertainment because they want to be entertained because their work has been very, the, the live shows were being very tough and they need all different kinds of entertainments that don’t go to clubs.
Eddie: They go to Karaoke, they go to all different kinds of events. And, and with the emergence of Ar Vr, I think a lot of people show a lot of interest to kind of offset that really push push culture of our driving culture. Yeah. Because you know, the, the dominant medium in China right now for younger generation, our games and mobile mobile games or MPC games as well, but mobile is more dominant. Um, because people, people always attracted to those games and they’d been spending a lot of time trying to have an escape. They’re very competitive. Yeah. Daily lives. And I just think that AR/VR is the next step for them. It’s hard, you know, it’s probably is pretty difficult. We’re kind of creating these addictive tools and providing them in the future though, I mean, we’re, we’re creating this, this platform allow them to immerse themselves in a deeper way, trying to get escape from the daily lives.But, so I, I do think people in China will want, and even, but even better immersion yeah. More than TV’s, films and games. So I think we can. People totally wanted to do that, but right now is the technology and the content is not there yet. So they, they, they, and also there is very little accessibility of those hardware and content. So they do not really, they’re not getting into VR just yet. So it’s, it is such a large market, so maybe it’s harder to penetrate in saturate the larger market. Is that kind of, it just, yeah. I mean, if you, if you think about China, because it’s, it’s it’s a huge country and and we have different provinces and different provinces have different subcultures too. So you can consider China as like a European Union. Yes. Uh, geographically and population wise and certainly even larger than the European Union. I still think, yeah. For example, I just talked to my friends to you yesterday that Beijing one city has 38 million a million people.
Justine: Okay. Let’s think about that. 38 million people in one thing. Yeah. Wow. In one city. Wow. That’s, that’s a country. Yeah, I know. I know. Beijing’s a country and then you still have Shanghai and you have many others.
Eddie: So, so if you think about China is, it cannot really treat it as one country is a collection of subgroups. Subcultures. Yeah. That’s it. So even for Chinese company who wanted to roll out a, any kind of entertainment products, do you have to think about whether they can fit the multiple cultures? Yeah, exactly. So it’s a, it’s a quite tricky market to do. Even for Chinese company, it’s even worse for foreign companies.
Justine: Wow. This is really fascinating because you’re, you’re basically saying there’s certainly a drive to here because there’s a competitive culture in a large population. There’s a drive to find things that will offset that like immersions and there’s a true need in a way.
Eddie: I think so. Yeah.
Justine: But then that need is multiplied by the many different extra cultures and the large population for itself. Wow. That’s not easy.
Eddie: If you think about the roots of entertainment, I mean it’s universal, but it’s just when the difference will be how you presented it. Okay. And what kind of content you should present. So, I mean I mean with, with with the Internet, I think people has been unify quite a bit. True. We’ve been globalized, right? Globalizing Second. Yeah. So I think people, people have been look into similar things because also the, where the social network, I think a lot of people trying to become closer, trying to become similar. Right. Um, I, I think, you know, if we design something that universally works psychologically the same. I think they’ll just work on many people. Yeah.
Justine: Well that makes sense. I mean, emotions are universal. I mean, fear is under. Yeah. Yeah. So of course, joy, surprise. I mean, that makes sense. But is there any kind of content that you see works especially well in China if we speak about it? No, sure. From a unified many country subculture perspective
Eddie: Yeah. For example, like every, AR/VR experiences I, I speak the VR now. So in China we started to have those like vr arcade pause centers starting from 2015 early, which is early. Yeah. It was pretty early actually. And we, we’ve been through several waves of these companies, started to emerge and started to like fail and the new companies coming out again. And so we have, we been through several waves of that. And as far as I know from the market feedback, people still willing to go to the experienced it, which are emotionally very emotionally strong, intense. I think wanting more story like yeah. So I mean it depends. It depends. So we have like VR cinema which provides cinematic and story telling content and there’s also VR arcades which very game focused. So for games people are still, you know, they’re interested in those tutors. Although those lot of those shooter games are not very well Polish will not very well designed. But people still wanted to do that because it’s very direct. It’s emotionally very direct. And then there’s also horror experiences people like to try.
Justine: They really do?
Eddie: Yes they do. I mean, also it’s, it’s, it can go very viral because people always people, some people want it to be scared and they’re more people wanting to see people scared to watch people scared and they can, they can tweet, they can, you know, share on there. It’s like, it’s, yes, it’s a human. Yeah. Funny, but that’s the reality. So, so her experiences shooter games like social experiences in general started to become very popular now and for cinematic is quite different because some people like documentary, some people like animation, some people like her experiences. So these three I just mentioned are the top three. Nice. There was one, I don’t know why, but it’s very interesting. One of the documentary actually marks the highest highest income of VR cinemas. Really? Yeah. I didn’t expect that. I thought it must be like a heavy visual effects kind of experiences, but actually one of the top one was a documentary. That’s fascinating. Yeah. That’s, it’s kind of ink, you know, I don’t know why, but sometimes it’s, sometimes changes are very hard to predict, you know?
Justine: Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. Wow. Well, you are going to be programming or you know, looking at programming for your own festival very soon. Do you want to talk them out sandbox?
Eddie: Yeah, sure. Uh, so we are, we are running the second year our own independent VR festival called Sandbox immersive festival. Last year was the first tradition. And we are doing it again second year, next month in June, last week of June.
Justine: Okay. Can you tell us where it is? Yeah, I can, I can spell it.
Eddie: That’s called it’s called Qingdao. Uh, yeah, so it’s very well known for its beer. And we imported a beer from Munich more than a hundred years ago. So, so you can, you can actually find Qingdao beer in your supermarket and in Europe and US.
Justine: No wonder we all know how to spell it.
Eddie: We have different spelling. Uh, but it’s T. S. I. N. G. T. A. O. Okay. So that’s the English proper English one a, but Chinese is Q. I. N. G. D. A. O. So it’s a different spelling. Anyway, so it’s a, it’s a city by the ocean, by the coast. It’s a coastal city is really look like Cannes. Actually I got an idea of running the festival in Qingdao because I was, when I was in Cannes two years ago and I was saying, you know, it’s such a beautiful beach, such a beautiful scenery and people really enjoy this festival environment.
Justine: Now the sand is making sense.
Eddie: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Because we really wanted to create this atmosphere and environment that people can enjoy, can relax and also talk about their work and see the see the art pieces as well. So, you know, I think Qingdao is a good place to, to do that. Yeah. Wow. Why? Yes. It’s a great environment. I mean, who can’t help but coming out of like being indoors and looking at experiences all day and walking outside in such beautiful landscape, it makes such a difference. Wow. That’s, that’s impressive. Well, any things you want to tell us that? Yeah, so we so it’s, although it’s the second year, it’s very young but we actually curated a very interesting group of people from all around the world, not only in China but also globally. Um, so we really wanted to use this opportunity to show what has been happening in China, whether it’s industry was or creative wise. So we want to showcase global projects, but also Chinese artists and Chinese work as well. So we invite all the people around the world to come over and see, see our curation and selection. But also at the same time, we’ll have two days of talks and keynotes and conferences that we really wanted to dive into the industry. How how well it performed right now and what what China’s been doing and what China can bring to the table in terms of industry values and, and also market wise how do, how would it perform and what everybody’s been doing right now. So, and and we also going to present six awards too. Wow. Yeah. Last year was five, and this year was six. Uh, we actually add immersive marketing, um award to, to the previous election, to previous awards because we really wanted to uh, embrace the creative talents that can bring immersive branding to the next level.
Justine: So that’s nice to hear.
Eddie: Yeah. So it’s like a mini Cannes Lion for VR, but only one o word though. I mean, yeah. But we really wanted to see how this medium can help with storytelling as well. Branding is also storytelling, brand, brand storytelling in a new way. That’s what’s behind the logic. So we’re going to present an immersive experience award, immersive storytelling awards, immersive marketing, immersive arts, and there’s going to be a grand jury award and also the best Chinese project because it’s a Chinese festivals so well,
Justine: Well that makes sense, I think that it helps everything, helps bring, bring the market up. But I’m excited about the fact that you are addressing branding simply because it’s a, it’s a way that so many makers have to, and to practice their art and practice their craft is they have to take on branding then it to at least be acknowledged about artistic merit. Yeah, I think that’s great that you’re, you’re taking that on
Eddie: Because I’ve seen quite a few very interesting pieces that are branded, but it shows a very strong creative ideas and execution as well. And I think these work has to be, has to be seen by other people because you know, most of the branded work, they can only be seen in specific circumstances. And and apart from those events, they’re trying, it’s, there was nowhere to be seen. So I really wanted just to curate a small section of in our program to show people what created people who had been doing with the brands and to let them know what will be the next generation of marketing. Um, and uh, and also to use such an opportunity to educate the brands and specifically in China and to let them know what’s yeah, it was possible.
Justine: Exactly. Oh, that’s great. Let’s okay, that’s, that’s new and you know, great for both in China and the globe.
Eddie: And also there’s one more thing we’re going to do. So last year we had our first pitch session. We present a 10 projects similar to like the showcase kaleidoscope did here. And we’re going to have more projects this year and we are going to invite the curator of all the festivals and and potential investor financiers and also platforms to come over to see, to hear their projects out and then then potentially they can support them into future productions. That includes both international projects and Chinese work
Justine: Well creators are going to like that.
Eddie: Yeah. We were really trying to prepare the festival to be very useful to creators, not only Chinese produce, but also international programs. And we are also finding some potential funds to support international coproduction. Maybe not now, but you know, next couple of months we’re going to, we are in active conversation with some funds and trying to see whether they will be able to support a content production or International Coproduction uh, and so, so then we becomes a festival that promotes and, and showcase promotes and also incubate projects.
Justine: That’s a lot. Yeah. How are you man names that and running your own studio?
Eddie: Uh, having less sleeping hours.
Justine: Oh my goodness.
Eddie: Yeah, it’s you know, it’s, it’s a lot of work, but I think it’s very, very exciting to work in this fund.
Justine: That’s so, on one hand, you’re, you’re pushing like the industry forward. And then how are you finding, like, besides not having sleep, how are you managing to be creative yourself?
Eddie: Yeah, I mean for the, for the studio, which really trying to experiment what would be possible. So I’ve seen couple of projects in the past that really inspire me to further explore how we can find the best marriage of tech and arts. So with our team, we are experimenting with two projects being working on. One is immersive theater which is which is a China-French coproduction. Cool. Uh, and we want to use this also to see how we cope with juice and internationally, but it will be in immersive theater piece based on a Chinese story that we call Rights. Um with the live actor inside, mocapped. live actor inside. Basically you will be able to see a fictional character in Chinese mythology. So that’s going to talk to him, going to protect him, something like that. Another one is the one that I mentioned earlier, which is the interactive emotional piece based on labanotation.
Justine: Labanotation is something involved into dance?
Eddie: Yeah. Yeah. So basically labanotation is the symbolic, a recording system for four spatial movements that has been used for choreography. Right? And we actually developed a system that allows the program, the, the the algorithm to detect your movements and, and, and recognize your movement and translate into a labanotation. And then we map your movements with visual effects. So basically you use your body as a instrument to interact or to control. In another sense the visual elements around you, but not only visual, but also sound elements. So basically you move and dance with sounds and visual effects. So that’s the, that’s the idea.
Justine: Well, that is pretty innovative. I mean, it took a long time to create labanotation. And then what you’re doing is very next level.
Eddie: Yeah. We actually have the the design team to, to study a labanotation like a textbook, like this thick
Justine: He’s holding his fingers pretty wide apart.
Eddie: And yeah, we really wanted to see how, because, you know, such, it’s very interesting. Would you, because we came across labanotation randomly and we just realized that it’s a perfect a system to be working with special movement because, you know, Vr is all about special needs.
Justine: Right. And then to convert it into an algorithm, I think that’s, that’s very, very clever.
Eddie: Yeah. So we are now still into, I mean, it’s, it’s our little secret. Okay. Uh, but we’re, we’re, we are using the system to develop you know, to experiment further what we can do about it because this movement system can be extended into all different kinds of elements, application. Sure. But still, we want to use it to and create emotional experience first. Then see how it, how it goes and to, to, you know, experiment with it for sure.
Justine: So first as it, you want to do it in terms of artistry and then the technology that you’ve developed is secondary, can have other purposes.?
Justine: Okay, great. Well was quite impressive. That’s a lot.
Eddie: Yeah. So, so there’s a couple of you. So we have a small engineering team to work on the movement system and also visual effects system interacting with visual effects and interactive sound effects.
Justine: Oh, neat. So we’re here at Cannes XR at ease or anything you’ve seen that you’ve, you know, sparked your eye or caught your attention. I know you were on two panels. Yeah. Maybe you got some crazy questions.
Eddie: Uh, I mean it’s, it’s now it’s, it’s kind of all similar questions, but it’s, we are trying to find new answers to those questions. Okay. You know, in terms of distribution, monetization and coproduction, things like that. But you know, it’s great to be at Cannes and, and, and it’s also great to see Cannes, Cannes started to move forward with Cannes XR, trying to curate more people, more projects, and to to find a better place for VR in Cannes.
Justine: Well, thank you so much for your time. I look forward to seeing you on the sand on the other side of the continent, and good luck with both, both your projects and certainly with sandbox immersive festival next month. Thank you.
Eddie: Thank you so much.
Bio Eddie Lou
Eddie is the founder and director of Sandbox Immersive Festival, China’s first VR/immersive media festival which the well acclaimed first edition was held in June in the city of Qingdao.
Apart from organizing Sandbox Immersive festival, Lou has become a filmmaker himself. His Sandman Studios has made the narrative short entitled Free Whale. Currently he is working on Taiji, a multi-person experience about Tai Chi, the martial art form. It is an artistic brew blending Laban notation (a method used to document choreography) with Chinese calligraphy. Users can spatially draw with ink, “brushing” the air to recreate Tai Chi movements. Taiji is an example of VR’s unique qualities, says Lou, “It’s the bi-directional nature of VR that gives a singular ability to communicate.”
SANDBOX IMMERSIVE FESTIVAL
Sandbox Immersive Festival (SIF), announced that the second edition will take place June 24-30, 2019 in Qingdao, China. SIF is China’s first cross-media festival dedicated to promote immersive and interactive storytelling in all media format.
This year, SIF is going to present 50 projects in its competition and non-competition screening. The competition continues to honor the best immersive projects from across the world with six awards