Lucas Wilson: Supersphere Makes It Super Live
VRTL spoke with Lucas Wilson of Supersphere, the VR and live 360 production powerhouse, about how to best deliver an exceptional audience experience. From sporting events to live concerts, Supersphere has been behind the scenes hauling flypacks, checking sound, and setting up cameras so viewers feel like they are smack in the middle of the action. Most recently they captured musicians performing in a festival setting at SXSW and were the partner for livestreaming in Oculus Venues at F8. Lucas shares a couple of great stories, insight from his vast experience and a few tips on best practices with Justine in this VRTL podcast episode.
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Justine: Welcome Lucas. I wanted to find out if when exactly did you get busy with immersive? What happened?
Lucas: Let’s see. I got busy with immersive several years ago. I had left a job that was an intense demanding job and was taking some time off and delved briefly into adtech for a little bit and learn some about that industry. And a friend of mine said, hey, let’s go check out my buddies are working at USC, let’s go check out a virtual reality headset. And virtual reality has been around for a long time, but it’s always been a very niche technology in a very niche market. And I said, yeah, okay. So I went with my friend to see this, see this headset. And this was an Oculus headset shortly before the Facebook acquisition. And the very first piece of content I saw was a crappy video of Dave Mustaine playing guitar in his backyard.
Lucas: But I put it on and I had sort of an Aha moment and I thought, this is incredible. And my first career was in music and audio, so I thought, this is incredible. This is communicating to me in a way that, that very few things have and that it’s an opportunity to do something really new. But I had this immediate emotional, visceral connection with the content that I haven’t had with any other medium. And so my combination of loving creation and being a geek, I thought, well, this is what I want to do. So I started, I started going off into that world.
Justine: And how did you, how’d you find it? How do you, you know, what was the next way you said, oh, I’m, I had this great experience watching metal and then go from step, step, second step.
Lucas: Well, oddly enough, it was Dave Mustaine, but oddly enough, it was him playing an acoustic in his backyard. So, but it was still Dave Mustaine. It was awesome. then I was actually in the middle of, of looking for my next opportunity and I thought, you know what? I’m going to try my hand at this. So I raised my hand and said I was a VR producer when nobody knew what that meant. And then I started, as I’ve, as I’ve said before, I started getting jobs and not screwing them up. at a point in time, this was four or five years ago, maybe at a point in time when it was just the beginning of that VR hype cycle. And there were hundreds of companies selling great ideas, but when it came down to production, it was largely smoke and mirrors or people who hadtechnology but had never done production and thought, oh well I can go figure it out. And production is its own. There are producers for reason. It’s its own career, it’s its own skillset. And people, if you live in La, you’ve seen wave after wave after wave of the collision of Silicon Valley and Hollywood of people from Silicon Valley coming to La and thinking, oh, I can do production. It’s no big deal. And, and them just getting trounced and in happens for Hollywood people going to Silicon Valley as well. but I started raising my hand saying I was a virtual reality producer and started getting jobs that I liked and started delivering, you know, when people were, a lot of people were selling smoke and mirrors. I was selling timelines, budgets and deliverables. And I understand that one of those projects ended up being in the White House and was a Seminole work.
Justine: Tell us a little bit about that.
Lucas: Sure. So in again, in the early days of VR, I started doing a lot of work for Jaunt and Jaunt at that time was, was doing a lot of really interesting and exciting work and I had an opportunity outside of Jaunt a friend of mine called me and I had an opportunity to very quickly, it was coming up very quickly to do an interview of virtual reality interview film. The interview with the first lady was at the time Michelle Obama in the White House. And so I hung up the phone. I thought, well, I have to do that. And I called up, I called up, Jaunt said, hey, I have this opportunity to do this project. Do you want to do it? And they said, yeah, sure. So I basically, only a couple of crew people could go. So I called up a guy that I worked with a lot and he was like, Yep, I’m in. We hopped on a plane, got to DC within 48 hours or so, and then we’re, and then shortly thereafter we were in the White House and it was, that was a great day. The night before was hard. The camera failed when we, when we got there. And so I spent until 3:30 in the morning in the hotel room with with Koji, the, who is that? Jaunt at the time, an engineer, super nice guy. Him walking me through, taking apart the camera and figuring stuff out and then putting it back together. But, but we got it done.
Lucas: But the Michelle Obama piece was another sort of seminal moment for me, at least in, in my, in my road, in VR. and that’s because I realized at that point I realized what the Michelle Obama piece that, okay. Why in the world would you shoot this in 360 why? Why do you want to do this? And in virtual reality, because it’s the first lady and her social media director talking to the Editor-in-Chief of The Verge, sitting in chairs talking for 11 minutes.
Justine: Now that doesn’t sound exactly very virtual reality-like.
Lucas: It really wasn’t. And, and then I thought, okay, why are we doing this in VR? I mean, hell, I’ll take, I’ll take the excuse to go to the White House and we’ll meet the first lady. Yes, thank you. But why are we doing this in VR? And when we started doing the post production on it, I realized that the, when it was cut, it would have been a wonderful piece no matter what. But if it was cut traditionally in HD or 4K, it would have been presented on a 16:9 screen. Right? And you would have looked at it and it would have been nice, but the world around you would’ve still been your world, right? Open your living room, your dining room, your kitchen. And when you saw the piece in a headset, it was the difference between looking at the White House and being in the White House. And it’s a huge, it’s a very different emotional connection, which got back to the reason I first got into VR with Dave Mustaine. It’s just him sitting in a chair playing acoustic guitar, but I could look around and I was in his backyard. And it’s a very different level of visceral emotional connection.
Justine: Well, you have some strong thoughts though on connection and communication and you want to explore a little bit about that, like why you feel or what you feel communication should do or why it works for VR in particular.
Lucas: Sure. Well, no, I remember, I remember saying this in a presentation I gave a couple of years ago and it still holds true. If you’re in this industry and your goal is not to communicate in as deep in, as compelling as possible to your audience, then what are you doing? so to me, virtual reality for so many use cases is the most compelling, most effective, most visceral way of communicating with an audience. And if you’re not going for that bar, if that’s not what you’re trying to do and reach your audiences and make them feel something, then you’re doing yourself and your audience a disservice.
Justine: That’s true. And how do you feel like, how can narrative and storytelling do that in VR in ways that regular flat screen doesn’t
Lucas: Narrative and storytelling in VR is hard. They, there have been, I’ll be honest, there have been very few, very few pieces that I’ve seen that I think, okay, this is someone who has deeply thought about the medium and is doing this to say something new that cannot be done in any other medium. there is, when I worked in the 3D world for a while, I worked in the professional stereoscopic world for a while and it’s suffered from stereoscopic movies were always wonderful, but they always suffered from the fact that there is not a single stereoscopic movie that ever came out that you can say to yourself, if I saw that movie in 2D, it absolutely would not be the same movie. I wouldn’t get the same emotional connection and it would be, it couldn’t be done in 2D right. The hours not that way. I mean there are a lot of VR narratives and 360 narratives that I’ve seen that I thought that’s just somebody who wanted to shoot in 360 without something really new to say in the medium. But when it’s done right, it’s, it’s incredibly powerful.
Justine: So in immersive, what we can use it obviously narrative and cinematic. We can also use it and we’ll all sorts of ways, but adtech, what do you think about this? How can we use adtech and why is it a valuable combination with VR?
Lucas: The purpose of advertising is to create a call to action. I mean, I’m, I’m not a professional advertisers. I’m sure their advertisers out there that will listen this and go, no, that’s not what advertising is about. But to me advertising is to, is to create a call to action, whether it’s to register a brand in your memory or whether it’s to create a tangible call to action of, of buy this, do this, and take an action. And to do that you want it, you want to connect viscerally to an audience and gets back to my point of if it’s done right, 360 and being immersed in a medium is the most visceral connection to an audience. and, and that just makes sense. If you put somebody, the more you occupy of somebody’s senses, the more they’re going to be connected with what you’re doing. That’s just, that’s just, it just makes sense. And adtech specifically, the numbers in virtual reality and the numbers and headsets certainly aren’t certainly aren’t the tens and hundreds of millions that advertisers really want. But what a lot of what a lot of advertisers don’t realize yet, I think is that virtual reality & headset based communication is their dream come true because it is an ad speak. It’s a hundred percent views and 100% completion. when somebody has on a headset and they’re looking at an ad, they’re not looking at anything else. They’re not looking at their phone, they’re not distracted by something else in the room. And they’re looking at that ad and taking off the headset and deciding, you don’t want to see it actually as an act that requires a tremendous amount of volition. It’s, it’s analogous to deciding you don’t want to see this movie and I’m walking out of the movie theater. Most people just don’t, don’t take it. Even if they’re watching something they don’t like, most people don’t take off the headset. They’ll sit, they’ll sit through it and they’ll watch your ad.
Justine: Is there some kind of, then do we have a moral contract to make good stuff?
Lucas: I think that creators have an obligation to make their product be as good as possible. Right? That’s, I mean that’s the constant conundrum in any kind of content creation is that sort of that constant push and pull between, budgets, deadlines, reality and the ideal, right?
Lucas: If you’re doing something that could actually be hazardous to them, then you do have an obligation to say something at the beginning of content. you know, the, the epileptic warnings, the seizure warnings that, that are at the beginning of, of a lot of content are even more important in an immersive space. Cause that could actually be a genuine hazard to somebody. So we’re very careful about that.
Justine: Let’s dive right in to Supersphere and tell me what is it you’re doing a, what are you working on right now that’s exciting. Sure.
Lucas: So Supersphere is a company I started, Gosh, going on four years ago now. Uh, the name came from my, at the time, 11 year old, 10 or 11 year old son. I was doing a job for direct TV and they asked me, what’s your name? And I said, Lucas, you’ve met me like 10 times. It was a weird question. And he was like, no, stupid your company’s name. And I was like, oh that, yeah, I don’t have one yet. He was like, you should get one cause we’re doing like press and stuff and we kind of need a company name. And I was like, right, I’m on that. And so I, my family was in big bear and I had left them, we were on vacation. I had left them for a day to go to Vegas to do this job and then I was going to go back to big bear. I knew they were on vacation, so I called them and I was like, hey guys, you know all this weird virtual reality stuff I’ve been doing. And they were like, yeah. And I was like, okay, so I need a name for my company and I’m busy. Can you guys figure out a name from my company? And they were like, copy that, run it. And so all day I was getting these texts from my, from my family saying, how about this? How about this? How about this? And Supersphere came across and I was like, oh, that’s Kinda cool and the URL is available. Excellent. You know, and that was, so there we go. That was how Supersphere was born.
Lucas: And what are you working on right now?
Lucas: Sure. Supersphere started out. Honestly, we started out just wanting to get good at VR, get good or virtual reality, get good at creating immersive content. And that path has led us to a couple of different places. Uh, the very first thing we did, one of the very first things we did was probably the hardest. We created an app in the Oculus store that had, that had interactive video and adtech and a whole bunch of other stuff in it. I think to this day, it’s still probably the first app in the Oculus store that had, that had interactive adtech. I could be wrong, but I think it was at that time anyway, as we continue doing production, we went into 360 video where did a lot of 360 videos for most of the studios, tons of brands. And then as 360 video, at least in my opinion, I saw 360 video taking a downturn because the demand from people who pay for content just wasn’t there for 360 video. They had all done their marketing exercises and they had all spent money. and they were like, okay, that doesn’t really move the needle for us. So I saw 360 videos, sort of a little bit of shaky territory as it sort of found its way. Right. And I think there are incredible use cases for 360 video and those are finding their niche. But we, I started looking around going, okay, what are we going to do? What am I going to do? And I thought that the live space, held a lot of promise because live to me just doing the live work just made sense from all kinds of different perspectives because fundamentally, if you’re a fan of something, you know, to me a fan is defined as somebody who’ll pay money or take an action to get closer to the thing that they care about. And if you’re, if there’s a live event going on for something you’re passionate about, if you can’t be there, you want the next best thing and you will pay for the next best thing. And to me, there’s no question that an immersive livestream is the next best thing for tons of different tons of different markets. So started testing the waters and it just, and it just snapped on and I could see that the demand was there. And so over the past couple of years we’ve really built up an expertise in, built up our company as one of the leaders in doing immersive livestreams. so we do a lot of music. I think we pioneer doing a lot of e-sports work and creating immersive livestreams for e-sports. And e-sports tournaments last year we did I think 45 or 46 shows between music and e-sports and give some ideas or samples or representation. Sure. Uh, let’s see. We did, we did, we produced the rolling loud festival late last year. in, in conjunction with Samsung. We did a ton of, a ton of work for Oculus, including, we did the first live immersive stream of an e-sports tournament at OC5 and we created our own VR cameras within the game engines of who we were of the companies we were working with. we worked with, let’s see, oh gosh, Portugal, the man. Lettuce as the name of a band if you’re not familiar with them. Portugal, the man, let us Nathaniel Rateliff I’m forgetting now. thievery corporation. Uh, we have coming up Vince Staples. I, we did 40 bands I think in a way.
Justine: What we were talking a little earlier about your first experience was being a fan cracked. And so it all comes back to it. Now you’re in sports, now you’re in music. It’s, which are all fan, a fan based and based media. Yeah. Yep. Is there something special about that?
Lucas: A ton of fun. We wouldn’t keep doing it if it wasn’t, well, if it wasn’t financially viable, number one, number two, we wouldn’t keep doing it if it weren’t for the fact that the feedback we just consistently get is that the fans love it, right? The fans love it, the artists love it. The management loves it. Every, every part of the food chain from, from artists to consumer, right? And everything in between. Everybody looks at it and they’re like, that’s Rad. Right? And in the VR industry did itself a tremendous disservice in the early days. I called the early days. It’s a phrase that I always have in my head, the Photoshop years because I dunno how many, again, dating myself when Photoshop first came out, I not the Photoshop, you’re sorry. The ransom note years. because when Photoshop first came out, everything looked like a ransom note because all of a sudden typesetters and designers could access fonts willy nilly. And so they had 40 fonts they could, they had 40 fonts that they could use at the drop of a hat. So they did and everything looked like ransom note for a couple of years. Right. And that’s true. And, and VR is, VR did itself a disservice because in the early years the people were just, people were trying all kinds of stuff, some stuff work. But God, there was a lot of garbage out there. And unfortunately that coincided with the hype curve, right? So when everybody got really, really excited about the industry, they were fed a ton of garbage largely. And so a lot of people that, that are responsible for budgets and spending money and making content decisions. When you say VR to them, they have a negative connotation of it because their first couple of experiences were we’re with either bad production or bad content. So we spent a lot of time last year when we really kicked our live work into full swing. We spent a lot of time meeting with labels, meeting with companies, meeting with different locations. So you did your homework. Yeah. But we spend a ton of time convincing people, no, no, no, no, no, no. It doesn’t have to be bad. Right? And, and a proving to them that on a production level, we can show up at a location. We know how to work in a live context. We’ve done this before, right? And we can show up at a location in behave like professionals in the live world. So that was number one. And number two is being able to show people here, just take a, just take a look at this, right? This is stop. Stop talking for a minute and just look at this. And when the band’s look at it and when the management looks at it, when the label looks at it, they’re like, wow, that’s super cool. We haven’t had a single artist, not a single one that has, that has finished working with us. And they said, right. Everybody’s super excited that we have, we have a ton of artists and a ton of labels that have told us, call us anytime. Well that’s wonderful form of communication with, with an audience when they have a better experience than just a regular video, that’s for sure. But you’re a proponent of merging I believe, creating kind of hybrid with 2D and 3D, want to talk about that? Sure. I’m a big proponent of delivering as much as possible in 360, but being a realist and understanding that, you know, so many new technologies, this happened in the 3D world. I’ve seen it happen a dozen times in different technologies. So many new technologies come in and they say, okay, this thing that’s tried and true that you’ve been doing for 30 or 40 years, and it works, stop doing that because we’ve got something new and unproven, but it’s really cool and you should start doing that instead. And VR is no different. So many, 360 companies came into the world saying, all this stuff that you’ve been doing, well, it’s bad and wrong despite the fact that you’ve been making money at it. And people like it, it’s bad and wrong and she just start doing this new thing. So we come into the, especially in the live world, we come in with the attitude of 2D companies. Traditional production companies have been doing this work for a long time. I grew up watching live concerts and watching live streaming concerts. I loved them. I still love them. I just have a better way of doing them that can incorporate the best parts of what already exists into this new medium. So a lot of times if there’s an existing 2D production company, we’ve, we know exactly how to work with them, in such a way that they continue doing what they’re doing and we incorporate the best of what they have to offer in what we’re doing. And in some cases it’s, it’s moving towards a situation where we just handle everything. Where we’re doing a 2D stream, we’re doing a 360 stream and we’re able to take all those elements and incorporate them in, incorporate the best of each element in the other livestream.
Justine: All right, well, any thoughts that you might have on 180 versus 360 nope.
Lucas: Next. Just kidding. no, honestly, honestly, I, people get hung up. A lot of the industry gets hung up on 180 versus 360 and there are a lot of 60 purists that are like, well, if it’s not, if it’s not 360 then it doesn’t count. That’s bullshit. If it’s not, it’s the same people that argue about angels on the head of a pin on what the definition of virtual reality is. I don’t care. I’m honestly going to call it whatever I need to call it in order to communicate my message and to get people to hire me to do stuff.
Justine: Right. It’s a little bit of using, you know, one medium of watercolor versus oil paints.
Lucas: Sure. And I think 180 versus 360 I honestly don’t think it matters as long as it’s communicating a message successfully. Right. because there’s one 81 80 as soon as you put on a headset, 180 is more immersive than a flat screen. 360 is more information than 180 but in 360, honestly, the, you know, human beings, if human beings were meant to look all around them constantly, our next would be swivel heads. But you know, there’s, there’s the, there’s so much, 360 that people have seen. I’m sure you guys have seen it too. There’s so much 360 that’s been done where people are concerned about putting action in every angle and making sure there’s always something to look at in the real world.
Lucas: And there were, then there’s action in every angle. It’s called a riot. You know, people don’t do that. That’s not how people function. Right? I’ve been, I’ve been looking at you for probably half an hour now. I haven’t once looked behind me. You know why because I’m working with you because, because I’m looking at you and my attention is focused on you. And when in every once in a while people will look around to, to sort of take in their environment, right? But, but people in general don’t look behind them. That’s just not how people function. So, honestly, I think if you covered the field of view of the, of an average person, you’re, you’re more than 90% of the way there. And there are some cases where I think 360 really matters, but the difference between 180, 220 and 360 I don’t think matters that much. As long as when someone puts on the headset, you’re covering most if not all of their peripheral vision. One of the highlights of the past couple of years for me, it was working on a large project for the Olympic channel. and that was under the auspices of Jaunt with them, with my friend Canaan Ruben is the EEP on it. And really it was, that was a, an incredible project and that was actually an incredible use of 360 and we were talking about 180 versus 360. That was an incredible use of 360 because we were working with athletes largely in a fast moving environment and putting people into a situation that they never get to be in. We mounted, it took us a lot of work to do this, but we were with the Nigerian, the the women’s Nigerian bobsled team on some of their first bobsled training runs in Calgary, I think it was, and we safely and correctly, we mounted a 360 camera to the front of a bobsled when the women were doing their training runs, and we’re able to put people on this insane rollercoaster ride going down a bobsledder on, I mean how many people in their life ever get to, you always see the bobsleds and you’re like, wow, that would be cool. I wonder what that looks like. I wonder what that feels like. There 360 is important because we were able to put people on this insane rollercoaster ride and they could look around and they could see behind them and the athletes crouching down. Right. We worked with Jamie Anderson who at that time, since it was before the Olympics, we didn’t know she would win another gold medal, but she was already a gold medal winner, and so we were able to work with somebody like Jamie Anderson or Max Perot who are these incredible athletes and be able to put people sort of in the position of a champion snowboarder and how they would go down the hills and how they would do their runs. And it was, that’s amazing. And looking around and seeing that in 360 is important, but that was incredible. We delivered 27 videos across several different sports for the Olympic channel and really gave people a sense of what it was like to be an Olympic athlete. That was a blast. That’s great. One, if I now you know, to the upcoming crop out of a aspiring professionals and current professionals, do you have any advice that you would give them if they’re entering the VR industry from a technical standpoint, Listen to your mom and dad. Go into law. Come on now. Honestly, the people that want to get into the, if you’re a young creative or even if you’re a creative that’s looking to do something new, and you’ve been doing this for a long time, that’s not so much advice that I would give to somebody entering the VR field because I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. I think it’s somebody entering the creative field and, and being the most important thing is to be open to new technologies and new ways of communication. There are a lot of people that get, they get very locked in to doing things a very certain way and they get tunnel vision and maybe they win Academy Awards. Maybe they get incredibly good in our world class at what they do great. But a lot of, there are people that have tunnel vision and don’t stop to look around and all the validity of all the new stuff that’s coming out. And how can they incorporate that in their mission to create in their, in their mission to communicate. That’s the reason why, that’s the reason why most adults my age don’t use Snapchat. because they see the kids doing it and they’re like, oh, it’s this new weird fangled thing that the kids are doing. Well, the kids are communicating their communicating and their way through a platform that is powerful to them and mean something to them. Why? If it’s a valid communication tool that you should learn about it and you should figure it out and you could see, you should see, maybe you’re never going to be a big Snapchat user, but there’s some validity in what they’re doing and how they’re communicating. Figuring out what that is and incorporate that into your mission and into your journey. I think that’s, I think that’s important. So it’s not so much the VR field, it’s the creative field and be open to new technologies and new possibilities. Find out what they are and see how you can incorporate them into your work and into your life.
Justine: And as a master technician and this field, do you have any technical tips you want to impart?
Lucas: Sure. On a technical basis, you know, the upside of, of all this new technology and all this new cool stuff that I just mentioned is learn about it and find out how you can incorporate it into your creativity. The downside is that they’re technical. There are technical challenges and there’s a lot of stuff to learn and once you cross the line from figuring out, okay, how can I use this? Once you’ve crossed the line from that into I have a budget and I have to do something right, then you really, really, really need to do your homework and either find crew members and find people who are experienced at this and can help you be successful. Right? I always say that I like to collect people that are smarter than me. because I like to hire the absolute best crew people available. I want them to know much more and be much better at this than I am. They better be hire a camera person and I know more about, I know more about the camera then the camera person. I’m hiring the wrong camera person. so make sure you’ve done your homework, make sure you’ve done your preproduction, make sure you understand the technology and you don’t get yourself into rabbit holes that you can’t get out of,
Justine: Or situations where you can’t take off your headset. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate this look as well. Listen, and
Lucas: thank you so much. I appreciate it the time and look forward to hearing it.
BIO LUCAS WILSON
Lucas believes that technology amplifies creativity and communication, and has built companies dedicated towards that mission. That’s why Lucas became the Founder and Executive Producer at Supersphere Productions, and consultant on VR technology and its interaction with ad-tech and media infrastructure.
Supersphere’s a full-stack VR creation to execution company with the focus on building consistent systematized workflows for worldwide production and the implementation of monetization structures. They’ve created a GearVR app with the first true, live, ad-serving tech for VR. Their focus lays on the integration of existing ad-tech and infrastructure into emerging VR platforms.