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A Taste of Illusion

Jaunt China and Pinta Studios embark on a journey of discovery with their new animated VR short.

Last month, I visited the new Jaunt China Beijing office to check out Pinta Studios’ latest animated virtual reality short, Shennong: Taste of Illusion. Co-produced and distributed by Jaunt China, Shennong: Taste of Illusion was one of thirty VR works to premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival in the Linear VR Immersive Stories Competition. Taste of Illusion tells the tale of Shennong Lie Shan, the mythical Chinese god of agriculture and herbal medicine, who embarks upon a hallucinatory spiritual journey while sampling and collecting strange plants in a primeval forest. The 9-minute immersive short is an engaging exploration of exterior and interior landscapes that is well-animated, well-told, and makes good use of VR.

After experiencing Shennong: Taste of Illusion, I sat down for a chat with my friend James Fong, CEO of Jaunt China and former CEO of Oriental DreamWorks. Jaunt China was established in 2017 by Jaunt Inc. and Shanghai Media Group (SMG), one of China’s largest media and cultural conglomerates, backed by China Media Capital (CMC). Jaunt China has partnered with Chinese and international content creators to provide VR production and distribution services through online platforms and offline channels. Recently, Jaunt China has focused on producing and distributing VR content and location-based experiences (LBEs), securing China distribution rights for award-winning VR titles, and inking partnerships with major Chinese LBE operators. Jaunt China is furthermore developing a slate of VR experiences, including free-roaming LBEs.

James and I discussed what attracted him to the Shennong project, where he sees immersive media heading, and what he considers the greatest challenges and opportunities to be over the next couple years.

(NOTE: My conversation with James was conducted prior to Jaunt USA’s recent announcement of restructuring and layoffs related to their pivot away from VR to focus exclusively on AR.)

Kevin Geiger: So, I just experienced Shennong: Taste of Illusion in the other room, and it was great. I’d heard a lot about Shennong, but hadn’t seen it until you invited me in today. Pinta Studios has been getting a lot of good press on this animated VR piece, and it’s been touring the international film festival circuit - most recently in Venice. What attracted Jaunt to this particular project, and what do you think are the distinctive features of this VR work?

James Fong: Last year we went to Venice together with Pinta Studios and their previous VR project, The Dream Collector. We were impressed with the narrative structure of the Dream Collector piece, and I thought they did a great job with the visuals, given their budget. So, when the opportunity presented itself to get involved with Shennong, we talked about the project and what we could do together from a distribution and business perspective. Pinta showed us a much earlier version of Shennong than what you just saw, and I was really impressed with the simplicity of the narrative and the beauty of the visuals. This is a Chinese animation production, so you’re working with a fraction of the budget that you would see on a Western project.

KG: And everything was done here in China?

JF: Everything was done here in China by Pinta’s team, and we thought that this is something worth investing in. Pinta had two pieces going into Venice already, and we’d seen marked improvements in how they’re thinking through narrative storytelling, visual style and quality of animation.

KG: So, there’s a quality arc that you’re witnessing.

JF: Absolutely. We felt that they were definitely on the right track. You know, when it comes to story, many creators tend to make things more complicated as they go along, as though adding more elements will make it better in some way. What Pinta did with Shennong was to take the theme, parse it back, and actually make the storytelling more simple and compelling.

KG: Indeed, when creators face problems, the instinct is often to throw more in, rather than addressing the fundamental issues of the work.

JF: Exactly. You need to make the story simpler and then making the right judgement calls in terms of where you’re going to invest the majority of time and money for maximum effect - which they did with Shennong amazing dragon creature.

KG: Yeah, the fire sequence was incredible.

JF: Exactly. So, I’m thinking, “Hey, they’re doing all the right things that an animation studio should. This is a project worth investing in.” And given the budget and the output, I thought they did an amazing job. In Shennong, they were able to get to the essence quickly, and you’re really drawn to the protagonist.

KG: Yes.

JF: And there are many different layers that you can peel back on this character - even though he doesn’t speak, and is going on this particular journey to find and identify different herbs and so forth. And there’s a tremendous amount of humor - not just a children’s humor, but also a “psychedelic” humor that adults will appreciate. (laughing)

KG: (laughing) Yeah, that surprised me a bit. And also the fact that he was so empathetic as a Chinese mythological figure - a demigod, correct?

JF: Yep.

KG: Remarkably empathetic. Even though he has horns, never utters a word, and is engaged in strange activities, you really feel for the guy.

JF: Yes, because you recognize that he’s on a mission. You know, in China, Shennong is the demigod or the “patron saint” - to use a Western analogy - of medicine. He catalogued all of these plants and herbs, and must have undertaken an incredible journey of trial and error - mostly on himself - regarding what works and what doesn’t.

KG: And putting his life at risk in the process.

JF: Yes. He carries this tortoise backpack - which in Chinese tradition has a very strong connotation for medicine - and is able to utilize that. So, there are all these interesting little things that Pinta ties together - including the interactions not just with plants, but with animals and other creatures - as the protagonist goes through this arc of discovery. Inevitably, he has a very interesting trip with one of the herbs that he tries, which takes him on a pretty remarkable journey.

KG: Did you interpret that as an internal struggle, when he’s fighting the dragon creature - that it was something internal he was wrestling with? What was your take on that?

JF: I think it’s a bit of both. You can view it in different layers. I don’t believe you have to look at it from a particular view. You know, China never went through the 60’s and the 70’s in the same way that people in the U.S. did.

KG: (laughing)

JF: So those of us in the West may look at this piece and say, “Oh, wow! He looks like he’s having an acid trip.” But China never experienced that culture, so that layer of humor may not be there for the Chinese. So, the director created a different type of read that the Chinese audience can relate to, in terms of this mythical journey and what that mythical realm may look like. And he also created - for younger viewers - a very silly side to this particular struggle. So, this is a multi-layered piece that appeals not only to Chinese audiences, but also to Western audiences, across multiple age groups.

KG: Are you finding that as you take Shennong around to festivals - Venice, etc - that you’re getting that? That you’re seeing audiences respond to it, but in different ways?

JF: Yes, absolutely. Asian audiences and Western audiences feel like this is a very fun piece, with different elements that they relate to in various ways. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we felt this project and this studio are worth investing in. As part of our partnership with Pinta, we’re working with them as co-producers on new projects. We’re very excited about that, and hope to have some news around it soon.

KG: Well, that’s fantastic. From a business standpoint, of course, it’s forward-thinking to support content creation. And when you have those little gems out there, those diamonds in the rough, it’s great to support them in this way - especially giving a young team like Pinta a boost to show what they can do.

JF: We absolutely are privileged to do this with artists and creators - and especially so here - because I think the things Pinta Studios has learned cannot only be applied to VR, but also to any other creative venture moving forward, in terms of making the right choices and trade-offs, developing characters, thinking through narratives and so forth.

KG: After watching Shennong, I thought about how Chinese content creators often get a bad rap from the West. And I think that it’s usually not due to inability, but because of the circumstances that the Chinese creators work in. I believe there are many Western creators who can relate to this situation as well, where - whether because of the CEO of the company they’re working for, production constraints, budgetary constraints, or what have you - they can’t do what they’re fully capable of. And now we’re seeing these bright spots in Chinese VR where young teams - fresh out of school in many cases - are eager to show what they can do, in a medium that doesn’t have a lot of prescribed rules... where you really have to go for it and impress people enough to put this thing on their face and then recommend to other people that they also put this thing on their face. We’re starting to see some breakthroughs in China that may surprise people in the West who have never seen home-grown Chinese VR content before.

JF: Absolutely. I definitely believe that. Chinese content and production budgets have always been a fraction of what we see in the West. On top of that, the Chinese studio system isn’t as well developed as that of the U.S. So, as the Chinese studios attempt to curate their slates, or as they’re building out their productions, they go through something that we take for granted in Hollywood - especially today. I think China is now where the Hollywood system was maybe in the 50’s or 60’s. They’re trying to find themselves.

KG: Yes.

JF: If you think back to the 50’s and the 60’s in the USA, there were only a few stars that headlined all of these films, Rock Hudson and others, a very small set of people who garnered a tremendous amount of the budget - very similar to China today. Because China hasn’t yet rounded out the other parts of the creative team and process that make movies that much more attractive. For example, in Hollywood, the compensation distribution - while still a pyramid - is a lot flatter than in China. I think this is something China is just now dealing with. China also doesn’t have the industrial organization - the professional guilds, writer’s associations and others - to create a formal structure that guides people, calibrates compensation, makes sure that the rights of creators are protected, etc. These organizations in the West were created with a specific purpose that I believe has helped the creative product.

KG: And Jaunt China, I imagine, is trying to provide some guidance on this front.

JF: In a very small way, because VR is such a new medium.

KG: I don’t mean in the sense of someone who says, “Here are the rules,” but rather as someone who says, “Here’s what’s possible. Here’s what we hope you could aspire to.”

JF: Yes. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re working with a company like Pinta. We’re trying to create an expectation around how we can help the creators and build a fair infrastructure where the creators, distributors and audience all win: a healthy ecosystem for VR.

KG: That’s great. That win-win-win scenario is something everyone is striving for, and something I think the VR ecosystem needs to achieve market traction and get people like my mom and dad in there. (laughing) On that note, I’d like to turn to my second question, from more of a macro view: where do you see extended reality - VR / AR / MR - heading, and what do you think might surprise people in the near future?

JF: You know, I just got back from a month in the U.S. this August - which was really interesting - because I saw a lot of VR content while I was going up and down the West Coast in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And what was really different for me this time, as opposed to prior years, was how much people are thinking about commercialization and monetization. Creators aren’t just saying, “Hey, I’m going to enter this film festival,” or “Look at the artistic ground that we’re breaking.” You still have those conversations, but you also have creators thinking, “How can I productize? How do I present this to the audience in a way that scales to the mass market?” This is the first year that I’ve seen VR creators engage in those conversations in a credible way. This summer, you had at least three pieces of major movie IP that went VR. You had Jurassic World, which was put into about 130 Dave & Buster’s - roughly $5 a pop per person for 7-8 minutes of an interesting ride-like experience. You have an experience called Aliens: Descent, where you’re entering a backpack PC-enabled, free-roaming room-scale environment, trying to complete a mission inside this alien world.

KG: And the VR equipment becomes part of the experience. You’re suiting up for battle.

JF: Absolutely. You’re putting the gear on and they give you a gun that is incredibly realistic...

KG: (laughing)

JF: ...a VR helmet, and off you go. And the narrative is creative and compelling. A third one is Terminator.  The Terminator VR experience is by a company called SPACES, with Brad Herman. Brad was the head of VR for DreamWorks, and he I go way back - he’s the first person who got me excited about VR when I was at Oriental DreamWorks. He’s now doing Terminator and putting the experience into different locations. So, if you take that - and you look at what happened earlier this year with Dreamscape and with The Void - you have a lot of interesting location-based experimentation taking place. And all of them are thinking about commercialization: creating compelling customer experiences at an attractive price point.

KG: Which you need to. Do you think that folks are learning more about how to do this correctly? As you know, here in China there was an initial burst of interest among ordinary people in location-based experiences, then that seemed to dip a little bit, and now it’s ramping back up - not necessarily with the same companies of course (laughing) - in some cases by people who learned from the dead bodies they’re stepping over. There’s definitely been an ebb and flow.

JF: Yes, and I think that the type of play has changed. I put together a deck for Morgan Stanley recently, which took a retroactive look. Two years ago, when I first got into VR, the most amazing and compelling thing was Google Cardboard.

KG: Yep. For me too.

JF: Right? That’s how I got into it. I was going, “Wow! With a $3 cardboard headset, you can watch all this VR stuff.”

KG: My thoughts exactly.

JF: In those days, the exciting thing wasn’t that you could watch VR on the Vive or one of these other high-end headsets, but the fact that it was accessible on a mobile phone. So, a couple of years ago, that idea of cheap mobile VR is what I think drove the hype - because you could do it with a phone.

KG: The tech was already in your pocket.

JF: Right. But people quickly realized that to have a really compelling experience, a Gear-type headset wasn’t quite enough: the resolution isn’t very high, the content is limited, the interactivity isn’t there, and most importantly - everything is experienced in solitude.

KG: It’s not a communal experience.

JF: Exactly. Whereas, I think some of these new multi-player VR experiences are trying to create a social experience with more than one person involved - something people can relate to.

KG: Yeah, one of the surprising things about the multi-player experiences I’ve tried is that you really do feel like you’re part of a team. In many cases you feel closer as a team because it’s the few of you against whatever you’re facing together.

JF: Right.

KG: You’re on edge, because you don’t know what’s coming. Or maybe you have an inkling of what’s coming - such as with the Terminator or Ghostbusters brands - but that only increases the intensity, because you’re not sure when, where and how thing are going to come at you. So, it knits you and your fellow players together as a team. It’s you against the VR world.

JF: Yes, and when you look at these multi-player experiences, they also fit into different categories. One is single-theme based: player vs event. Very much like what The Void has been doing, or the Terminator or Alien experiences do, where a team of three or four of you go on an adventure together to accomplish a specific goal. It’s you versus whatever virtual challenges are waiting for you in that world. Another category is akin to Battle Royale tournament play, where you have multiple players in a free-roam space, but you’re going head-to-head against each other in different scenarios: “capture the flag,” “sudden death” and so forth.

KG: (laughing) VR paintball.

JF: Exactly. And all of that creates a new level of VR excitement, because we’re now at this point where VR technology has become more affordable, more approachable, and the content starts to feel realistic enough that people go, “Yeah, this is something I really enjoy.” So, these are some of the things that are happening.

KG: Just from the exhibitors’ standpoint - considering the initial equipment setup costs and the daily wear & tear on everything from the headsets to the backpack PCs - the cheaper the physical elements are for an exhibitor to install and replace, the more likely they are to get in, and the more feasible it is for them to stay in.

JF: That’s why, as you can see from our setup here, we’re doing a lot of multi-player experimentation - especially on the cost side. How do you get the costs of all these sensors and everything down? I think we’re at a point where the multi-player, room-scale hardware cost investment is going to drop dramatically - especially with a lot of the new sensor technology coming out - where you no longer have to set up a very complicated, 20-sensor space. You can do it with as few as 4 sensors, and still have a very good experience.

KG: I remember back when I was working at Walt Disney Feature Animation in Burbank. Around 1999, we switched from SGIs to ordinary PCs with CPUs and graphics cards that were finally good enough to meet the performance requirements of 3D animation production. And those PCs cost less than 10% of the SGI workstations.

JF: Yep.

KG: And think that kind of inflection point is coming to VR.

JF: That’s a great analogy. On the sensor side of things, that’s going to happen really soon. And once you’re able to do these room-scale things at a relatively cheap price point, I think VR will start to get more sticky. Once you have these VR tournament things going on, these more social multi-player adventures, people will begin to experiment with other forms of VR content than just shooters. Most of these VR experiences are shooter-driven now because it’s immediately engaging and relatively easy to do. But I think people are moving on to other experiences.

KG: Are you saying that we’ll start to evolve from VR experiences where are you against something to experiences where you are with people?

JF: Yes.

KG: One of the slams against VR is that you’re immersed in isolation. Do you think that the increasingly social nature of the medium will surprise people?

JF: Absolutely. I think that it will surprise us with the extent to which we can make it social. For example, one of the things my team and I were talking about before you arrived today with these room-scale VR experiences is: wouldn’t it be interesting if you could incorporate an AR app that allowed you to superimpose the VR gameplay onto your actual surroundings? Almost like a portal that you’re opening from the real world into the VR world.

KG: And of course, the news recently came out about Jaunt’s acquisition of Teleporter.

JF: Yes, that’s one of the things we’re working on. The integration of VR and AR is extremely exciting. The other thing we think will be interesting is what happens when people who are outside of VR begin interacting with people who are...

KG: ...inside of VR.

JF: Yes! What would that look like and what would that open up? Suddenly, you’re breaking the headset confinement down, breaking the VR wall down.

KG: The people who are outside are coming in.

JF: Right. It could be as a spectator, it could be as a participant... so many possibilities. What would that look like, and how would VR and AR participants interact? This is the part that’s really exciting and could be extremely surprising, because we’re seeing the convergence of AR and VR, which means that high-end headsets and mobile devices will need to converge.

KG: And that convergence is long overdue. Conversations about “VR versus AR” are so 2015. People have moved on to the understanding that these are not polar opposites, but different aspects of a mixed reality spectrum.

JF: Right. Kevin Kelly wrote a book on technological change called The Inevitable, and one of the things he mentions in it is that all of the material things in the world are getting less expensive. The long-term trajectory of the global supply chain - recent trade issues aside - is for cheaper material goods.

KG: Trump’s doing his best to make them more expensive. (laughing)

JF: (laughing) Well, that’s hopefully a short-term blip. It has to be. People just don’t want to pay for more expensive things. That expectation is so ingrained in us.

KG: We expect things to become faster, cheaper...

JF: Right. No one has ever come up to me and said, “Hey, can I pay more for this?”

KG: (laughing)

JF: (laughing) Right? It’s just so antithetical to our human nature.

KG: This is too cheap!

JF: Can you make it more expensive?

KG: (laughing)

JF: So, that’s just not natural. But the things that are going up in value are experiences. And I think what VR does is bring a whole new level of experiences - different types of experiences - that people will pay money for. Going back to Kevin Kelly, one of the things he has said is that VR is just AR with the lights turned down. And if you think about it from that perspective, the walls that we mentally put around VR start coming down.

KG: Yes, you so often become a prisoner of your preconceptions about what something can or cannot be, as opposed to taking yourself “out of the box,” so to speak.

JF: And with that kind of framework, you can start to think about new types of experiences. Why does an experience have to end with VR? Why can’t it extend to AR and other immersive forms... and vice versa.

KG: And then people like my mom, who don’t want some clunky thing stuck to their face, will have options. They’ll be able to participate at a level they’re comfortable with, in a way that they’re comfortable with, and still be part of the immersive experience - whether that’s in an entertainment context, a business context, educational context, medical context or what have you.

JF: Right. And as we said earlier, I think over the next couple of years the hardware will rapidly improve. Sensors will get smaller, headsets will get lighter, longer battery life, less heat. Everything’s going to be wireless - the tethers have to go, because they’re a huge constraint on the medium.

KG: Literally and figuratively.

JF: There’s a tremendous amount of effort being put into advancing all of that.

KG: To make the technology like clothing, essentially.

JF: Yeah, or to at least make it as easy and comfortable as putting on a pair of glasses, so that you don’t have to lug around a backpack of gear just to have a VR experience. I remember the first time I had a VR demo at my house a couple years ago: they showed up with a roller case full of equipment, and then had to set up the PC, configure the headsets, calibrate the controllers...

KG: (laughing)

JF: ...everything was heavy, expensive, packed in form-fitting black foam so it wouldn’t get damaged...

KG: (laughing) I recently posted a snarky comment on Facebook and WeChat, where I said something along the lines of, “If consumers need a VR-ready computer, then VR is not ready for consumers.” And I meant it. Most people are not going to go out and purchase a “VR-ready” anything, especially if they’re new to the technology. They’re going to say, “You know what... let me know when I can use this thing as easily as a hair dryer.”

JF: (laughing) It’ll have to be like that if mass adoption of VR is going to work. Because right now, we still need the more expensive, specialized equipment - especially if you want to do things that are really high resolution. If you take traditional 2k to 4k content and put it on a 1.5k to 2k headset - which is what you have with Vive and Oculus - that’s basically a 400-500p experience. When you do 6K to 8k content with a 3k headset - like a Vive Pro or Samsung Odyssey - now you’re approaching 1080p.

KG: You’re getting somewhere...

JF: We have tests we’re working on in 8k. When you start to get into 8k content with a really good 3K headset, the image quality is amazing.

KG: You’re stepping into Ready Player One territory. (laughing)

JF: (laughing) Starting to. You can even do it on an all-in-one. I’d love to show you some tests at our Shanghai office sometime.

KG: And Jaunt China is headquartered in Shanghai, with the satellite office here in Beijing.

JF: Yes. The Beijing office houses more of the creative team, while Shanghai is where most of our tech people are. They’re the ones who are working on the 8k player, getting the content ready for all-in-one headsets, and working on the back end to make sure that - if you’re a creator, and you’ve just shot something in 8k - you’ll be able to render everything. Integrating content with motion rigs: we’d love to develop an automated workflow that takes whatever content you have and syncs it up with a motion chair, and supports multiple motion chairs. Because when you watch VR in a motion rig, it’s a markedly different experience than from a static chair. And I think this makes the Vr medium much more compelling. At least in China, when people see these chairs, they’re much more willing to pay for an experience than if you just dangle a headset in front of them.

KG: (laughing) Yes. And that’s a great lead-in to my final question, which pertains to Jaunt and the changes in the VR industry. This industry has been evolving, to state the obvious. I believe we’re now in VR’s third wave, if you count the early exploratory work of the 1960’s as the first wave, and the attempt at mass market adoption with the Nintendo Power Glove and Virtual Boy in the 1990’s as the second.

JF: Yep.

KG: So, there’ve been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of learning, and Jaunt has been pivoting rather agilely through all this. You’ve gone from B2C to B2B, and acquisitions such as Teleporter show how Jaunt is trying to address relevance in this market. So, the question is two-fold: within the next year or two, what do you see as your greatest challenge, and what do you see as your greatest opportunity? Those might be different things, or might be the same thing.

JF: You know, one of the persistent challenges that we’ve been tackling at Jaunt, whether Jaunt USA or Jaunt China, is to determine the best virtual experiences that we can present to audiences. I think that’s one of the reasons why we invented our camera - because at the time a VR camera didn’t exist to provide the best experience. At Jaunt China, we’re trying to find the best location-based experiences for VR, and at Jaunt USA I believe their focus is how you do something like that for AR... and make it live.

KG: Interesting.

JF: Because there are a lot of AR apps out there, but they’re not very helpful or useful.

KG: (laughing)

JF: You know what I mean? Sure, they may provide some little gimmick or function, but...

KG: They’re not really sticky enough to...

JF: have an AR app that shows you how big your TV needs to be on your wall - but how many times in your life are you going to install a TV?

KG: (laughing) Maybe a few times, depending on relationship changes.

JF: (laughing) And that’s it, right? So, you use it a couple of times. And the various AR games and so forth are rather gimmicky.

KG: Yeah, after you’ve kicked a few AR soccer balls around, you pretty much get the idea.

JF: This is something we’re trying to address. The Jaunt USA team has been digging into what it would be like if we were to have a live, 3D AR recreation of someone who is remote from you. Instead of a 2D video stream, you’re able to see a 3D person in the room with you - using your phone, tablet or a pair of glasses - and have a conversation. Kind of like you’re talking to Princess Leia from Star Wars when R2D2 projects her hologram... but instead of a recorded image, this Princess Leia is live: you’re able to talk to her, and she’s able to respond to you.

KG: My mom, who I frequently reference, represents the consumer who is not interested at all in this, but is the sort of convert that I believe VR and AR need in order to achieve mass market adoption. She’s a fairly tech-savvy 78-year-old - she has a PC, tablet, smart phone and teaches courses online - but is convinced that she has no use for VR or AR whatsoever. So, I said to her, “Mom, imagine if you were assembling a piece of IKEA furniture, and instead of looking at this sheet of paper with pin A going into shelf B and shelf B going into slot C, you could see the steps with arrows and diagrams superimposed over the item you’re assembling. And if you got into trouble, you could call tech support and a person would virtually appear to help you sort out whatever problem you’re having.” My mom said, “Oh, can you do that?” And I replied, “Well, in some rudimentary ways, yes - but not right now in full form.” I saw her interest perk up, because this wasn’t an app that was going to let her bounce a digital basketball around, but something that could help her daily life.

JF: And that’s exactly the point: having a real-time AR interaction with someone, whether it’s in tech support or some other context, or a seeing a task unfold before you in real-time, these are the things that Jaunt has been trying to figure out. What are the best experiences that we can provide at the most affordable price point? Because to do the things that the guys are able to do right now in San Mateo is really hard. If you go to Intel’s huge studio, or Microsoft’s huge studio, they each have a hundred cameras for volumetric capture. That’s a huge amount of infrastructure. I think what we’re able to do is to provide something similar - maybe not to that exact level, but with a fraction of the infrastructure at a fraction of the cost. And when you’re on the phone, your resolution demand is somewhat different than when you’re on the big screen. So, we’re trying to provide you with something that is visually compelling, with an economical outlay of equipment. And what I think is exciting is that you can take that to the next level. It’s no longer just personal communication or a conference call, but what if we can do this for sports, concerts and other live events that you can stream live in 3D, and then be able to change your point of view and do a lot of the other interesting things that you can do in AR.

KG: And what are you facing in terms of challenges to achieving this goal you’re describing?

JF: I think the biggest challenge for most of us, not just Jaunt, is adoption. Just like when any new technology comes out, there’s an initial burst of excitement, followed by a deep breath to consider the practical applications that you’re going to need as a driver for the technology. It may not even be entertainment. It could be medicine. It could be something we haven’t even considered yet that will leverage on immersive technology in a way that provides something extremely compelling to audiences and consumers - driving a wider range of adoption, which drives costs down, and then propagates another vertical, etc. I think that given the current price points and sales volumes, the hardware costs of VR and AR aren’t coming down fast enough.

KG: Yeah.

JF: It’s only when you are able to expand the user base and extend the verticals that the necessary interactions start to take place, and you start to get the economies of operations, the economies of scale, etc... the things which could make VR and AR a very compelling value proposition.

KG: Cool. And I said that was the last question, but I lied. There’s one more that I’d like to ask you, on a personal note. You’ve had a very distinguished career - geez, that makes it sound like it’s over - I know you’re still in the middle of it.

JF: (laughing)

KG: You’ve had a distinguished career in a variety of capacities, including as the CEO of Oriental DreamWorks, and now here at Jaunt China. And I get the impression - from the conversations we’ve had during the time we’ve known each other - that you’re having a lot of fun now, and that you’re using all of these muscles you’ve developed in the past in a fresh, new way. Is that a fair assessment?

JF: (laughing) I’m having a lot of fun. As you know, I come from tech. Then at DreamWorks, I was involved with movies and creative. Now here at Jaunt, I’m synthesizing those experiences with our explorations in VR and AR. So, it’s absolutely integrating everything that I’ve done in the past and bringing that all together in immersive media. And the cool thing is that what we’re doing now is borderless. There’s no one place that has an advantage over another, because it’s all so new, relatively speaking. It’s not like in older technology or media where the West is dominant, or Hollywood is dominant, and people here are saying, “We want to be the Pixar of China.”

KG: (laughing)

JF: In VR, that hasn’t happened. It may never happen - or may even be reversed. With so much of the new technology - electric cars, IOT, VR, A.I. - China is right up there. So, people like you and I - with my background, with your background - who are here in China but still have a foot in the West, we’re able to see what’s happening in both places, and maintain an objective view on being able to assess, “OK, this works. This doesn’t work,’ or, ‘This works for this market, but not for that market.” You’re hopefully able to make these judgment calls for the business and content decisions related to VR and AR.

KG: Well, that’s a great note to end on. Thank you for your time today.

JF: My pleasure.

KG: SHennong: Taste of Illusion was fantastic, and I think it’s commendable that Jaunt is supporting this kind of work. It’s very much needed in VR, and the example you’re setting is really wonderful.

JF: Thank you, Kevin.

Kevin Geiger's picture

Kevin is the author of AWN's Reality Bites blog, his musings on the art, technology and business of immersive media (AR, VR, MR) and AI. You can find Kevin's website at and he can be reached at