"We want to reach designers, we don't want to be seen as a VR company," says Clay Walsh in the offices of The Wild, where she heads up marketing. Looking for an analogy, her eyes light on a computer mouse.
"That would be akin to saying Adobe is a mouse company."
Point taken. Virtual reality — and augmented reality which The Wild also handles — are just tools. The real value for this company is in helping people use those tools more efficiently.
The Wild launched a subscription service on Sept. 25, 2018, which lets up to eight people work together simultaneously building virtual worlds. The founder and CEO Gabe Paez ran the Business Tribune though several demos in their basic industrial space behind Baerlic Brewing on the inner east side. On one monitor product manager Mischa Winkler wanders around the inside of a clothing store, putting up shelves and changing the color of T-shirts. Winkler is sitting across the room with an HTC Vive headset and two hand controllers. Winkler's voice is audible on a two-way speaker attached to a standard $1,000 MSI laptop running Windows. He shows up on screen as a faceless avatar made of blue stripes like a living IBM logo-turned-robot, discarding items by tossing them over his shoulder.
He walks through walls, draws cubes and cuboids from thin air like someone measuring a fish, and he pulls the sides and roof of the store out from their hiding place. He appears like a giant above a buildings then shrinks to human scale to walk around.
The point of this conjuring is for the viewer to see in real time what Winkler has been up to. He could be anyone, designing a store (or "branded retail experience") for a client who needs a closer look before they commit any money or time to bricks and mortar.
"It's about the design of the space," says Paez. "When you say 'We've got 5,000 square feet, what are we going to do with it?' It's more of a visual merchandising flow, adding content to spaces."
Then, like someone selecting a font or a color, Winkler draws a portal in the air, like a picture frame, and places it over the viewer's head. Like Alice going through the looking glass, we end up in another world. On the other side of the portal, we dive into a cityscape. Here Mischa creates tower blocks and parks which pop up and shrink, establishing their proportions.
Winkler turns on the advance lighting profile and takes a "photo" of his work, like a screen grab, which can be shared. It takes a few seconds to render on the cloud, then drop into space when it is ready.
"With city planning you're putting in buildings and train lines and parks, and you need a way to reach consensus with stakeholders across a lot of teams," Paez says.
Such cloud-based technology is not much different from Google Docs where several people can edit the same document at once, only here the graphics are heavier. However, The Wild is optimized so that the results are viewable on a phone. Paez shows off a video of the downtown Portland skyline shot from the east bank, and on it the blue stripey avatar is building two new tower blocks, varying their height and mass the way architects do when they are in conceptual design stage.
Many design teams and their stakeholders are hampered by working in 3D then having to send files back and forth, (often 2D renderings) and wait for a reply. Add the fact that emails between people without the same mother tongue can lack nuance, which causes more problems, and you can see how the noble, inspired gestures of the designer can die in committee.
"We wanted to create a continuity. More so than like on a desktop, which is about loading new files, this is about the continuity of moving between spaces. So the portal was a magical and utilitarian way to do that."
In the end the different viewers travel as one. And when they log off and log back on, everything is still there.
Another demo shows a concept house that looks like it belongs in the West Hills: a series of postmodern rectangular boxes perch on the hillside, some on stilts, with generous windows and walkways. (See cover)
It's an architectural study by Open Studio Collective, an eight-person, "woman-owned, anti-disciplinary" design shop at Belmont and Southeast 42nd. (See sidebar)
In another demo, Paez holds an iPad up to a wall in the office, with the camera on. Winkler's avatar appears on screen, moving another wall around and adding retail outlet touches such as shelves and shoes. The real Winkler is visible across the room waving his arms around, and lag between real life and his avatar's gestures on screen is minimal.
"It works so well on the iPad because of the efficiency of how we've coded it," Paez explains. "We've built out our own cloud infrastructure and front-end operations optimized for persistence."
Engin Creative is one Portland-based company using The Wild. They do experiential design and brand design.
"They've been great to work with," says Walsh. "They've been pitching clients using The Wild. Adidas has been using the platform for both in-store design and for internal meetings."
"They use it to get the merchandise, marketing and retail design teams together, because they're all different departments." Not to mention that some key executives are nine hours away in Germany. "They use it to make decision making more effective. You could collaborate and communicate in real time, making decisions quicker."
If you Google "The Wild + VR + Portland" chances are you will be followed around by a want ad they're running for a third Unity developer, that is, someone who can code in the Unity language that is used for most video games and VR projects.
"It's funny (being attached to a brewery) because we're not really big drinkers," says Walsh, who moved up from San Francisco. "We're focused on our work. I can hear the music come though at night, but we're not working all night, we can't be like that, we'll burn people out."
They work on a series of Agile-like four-week cycles which Paez developed, tasks that everyone has detailed in their project management software Asana. "It's a way to keep everyone focused," she says.
In another side room two coders are hard at work.
Taylor Libonati is the lead experience designer who cut his teeth designing installation-based games and experiences that ran at trade shows. They were short games that existed briefly, then were mothballed.
"This has new challenges, because we're trying to do real work with this. It's about more than being fun, it's being useful."
He points out the time lost to sending files back and forth the old way.
"It's usually in a 2D format, what The Wild adds is the 3D spatial format, so you can fly around in this 3D space, or they can step into VR and having that quick communication. That is a big benefit to anyone in the spatial design field."
His next-door desk mate Adam Micciulla, has 26 lines of C# code on his screen. Asked what he is doing, he talks about writing code that determines how a 3D model renders to the screen. These 26 lines "handle the translation, rotation and scaling" of objects, he says. "I'm writing some code to simplify some other code."
Allison Bryan, founder and owner of Open Studio Collective, says her firm designed the Walsh Residence to see what The Wild could do.
"They commissioned an interesting space that our team is excited about. We were thinking about it like a sculpture." They didn't have to worry about building code or designing utilities, and they chose a rocky terrain on purpose. "It would be a more dynamic space, we wanted to explore movement up and down on sloped terrain. It was a dream come true, a blank canvas."
OSC has designed Freeland Spirits Distillery in Northwest Portland and is currently working on the Knot Springs expansion, the spa in the notorious apartment block called Yard.
The sense of place in virtual space is starting to feel real. Bryan says her firm designed a project in Portland, Maine, at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in collaboration with local studio Upswell, without using The Wild.
"We walked through the spaces after we designed them remotely in SketchUp and Autocad. When I visited it for the grand opening it felt like seeing a space for the first time designed in The Wild."
For construction documentation it could use more detail, to express structure and mechanical etc.
"Now it's more like the schematic design and design-development phases."
Her team works in AutoCAD and SketchUp and is excited that instead of sending typical design communication, the person on the other end can just walk through the spaces.
The biggest hindrance to good design is bad communication. "Normally it takes a combination of 2D, 3D and verbal communication. It's a labor of love."
Usually Bryan has lived with her design and knows it like the back of her hand. But not everyone does. With The Wild she is sure certain team members will gain a lot, such as a general contractor.
"If we design something and have the GC stand in the space, he or she could understand a lot faster. You see a skylight, how the sun rotates, how this corner is made of corten metal... etc."
Right now her eight-person collective does not have a subscription to The Wild. But she says if they get the right project they will spring for it.
"They really care about design. The fact they cared enough to come to us says a lot about The Wild. I think it will gain traction," she says of the SaaS suite.
Software company that makes cloud-based collaboration tool for designers, in augmented and virtual reality.
CEO and founder: Gabe Paez
2236 SE 10th Ave
Phone: (503) 490-9215
Get VR news from: roadtovr.com
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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