Interview: Talking VR with Steve Watts Kennedy
Posted 24th of July, 2017

Is VR right for business? We found out how VR is being used in unique and exciting ways across industries.

Writer, editor and producer, Steve Watts Kennedy certainly knows a thing or two about the world of film-making. Recently, however, he's dipped into the virtual reality sphere and already has a vast knowledge in the field. We caught him for a quick cuppa in Montpelier to find out more about his recent projects and where the future of VR lies.

What was your first VR project?

The first thing I did was a project that teaches children the electromagnetic spectrum. In this experience, you’re in a forest and you have the ability to switch between different levels on the light spectrum. You can switch between x-ray, gamma, microwaves etc., allowing you to see the light that's invisible to the naked eye. When I started this project I had very little knowledge of virtual reality but in the space of about six months, I learnt a lot. It was pretty much my way of learning how it all works.

The second project I’ve made is a display model of my kitchen at home. This was designed to show interior designers how they could use VR to show clients their ideas. You're able to move around the kitchen relatively freely and it's a great way to get a feel for the space.

We've spoken with others in the past about VR as a gaming experience or as a way to show big-data, but not how it could be used as an educational tool. Is VR something that schools are actively investing in?

It’s a good question and to be honest, we don’t really know as we don’t plan to release it for another few years. I was hearing about a school in England that was investing in a VR classroom with 40 or so headsets, but it is a pretty high-end thing. It’s still fairly niche now and I imagine it will continue to remain so for a while yet, and it’s hard to say where VR is going - it’s all fairly uncertain.

Looking at your kitchen project, how did you go about making it? Did someone approach you?

Well it’s weird. I did have this idea to approach the guys that did our kitchen. One day, however, they came round to take some photos of the kitchen to pitch it to design magazines. Whilst they were here I told them that I work with VR. Straight away they wanted to integrate VR with what they do, so the project has just stemmed from there.

What I've made so far is the pitch I sent to them which they said they like! If it works then this is something I'll take to other businesses, particularly designers and architects. Rather than looking at a piece of paper or digital graphic, I feel VR is a much better way for clients to get a feel of a space and actually move around it.

How do you feel other businesses could benefit from VR such as this?

More and more commerce businesses are doing this. IKEA have something similar where you can import your room and then flick through the catalogue and add bits of furniture so you can actually see if it suit. John Lewis is apparently making something too.

In my opinion, it's the design industry that’s using it the most, particularly automotive and aerospace. They can build these complex 3D models and really focus on the details at all angles. When 3D printers came out, this certainly changed the way people could look at designs too but it takes more time and resources to do this than it does to view a model in VR.

Do you find that your film-making background helps you when it comes to making a VR experience?

I’ve been working in visual mediums for over 10 years but now I’m having to completely rethink how to tell stories. You can’t just tell the stories in true VR.

When I watch our first project back, parts of it really grate on me now. I feel like I approached it at the completely wrong angle; I approached it as a film-maker which has resulted in it being a very passive experience. When you're in VR, you want to have the freedom to engage with the story and interact with the elements within it.

We’re always interested in hearing how VR might be integrated with social media. Do you think it will become a prolific part of social media, especially with the likes of Facebook investing in it?

I think with social media it’s more likely that augmented reality (AR) will become the big thing. Apple seems to be paying more attention to AR, such as the Google Glasses. VR is quite a palaver; you know, you have to put this big headset on and you’ve got this built cable. But if you can put this little thing on and have a TV that you can grab and move when you want it and will display your twitter feed, websites, etc that’s going to take over. It’s kind of weird and I’m not sure I like that. What’s good about VR is it is this world you can go into when you want, rather than the digital world penetrating reality.

Are there any other big trends in VR you think we should be keeping an eye on?

Mobile VR is definitely going to get better and better. At the minute it’s not very good but it won’t be long until everyone’s smartphones will have VR and you can just pop it into a headset. We’re not there yet but it’s definitely going to come.

For anyone interested in learning more about VR, do you have any recommendations of where to go?

I listen to a Podcast called ‘Voices of VR’. It is based on interviews with people working in all fields of VR, whether that’s e-commerce or sports. What you learn is that everyone’s trying to figure out what VR is.

Could you give a sneak insight into your next project?

We’re currently trying to get funding for a series of films about calligraphers around the world, and we’d like to get them to each do a piece with the Tilt Brush.

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