About 2 months ago, my virtual reality studio was shut down. The closure was sudden and a stunning punch to the gut. It was a decision I very much disagreed with, but it was a decision I can understand considering the larger context of the VR industry and the difficult path ahead.
Before going onto what may be next, I've needed some time to recover from that blow, and reflect. In writing this public diary entry, my hope is that it will not only help me plant a sign post for the journey so far but perhaps serve as a way to leave behind what needs to be left.
Considering what we were able to accomplish in 3 years, I am proud of the work we did to see what this new medium could look like. Lost, Henry, and Dear Angelica were as much experiment as they were entertainment, and our mission was far from accomplished. But any pioneering work needs to start somewhere. When these pieces first premiered in 2015, 2016, and 2017 respectively, they contributed new nouns and verbs to how we talked about VR entertainment.
The thing I am proudest of is the team we assembled. Story Studio was a group of some of the best computer animation, visual effects and game makers in their industries who were all excited to stake new claims in a risky frontier. I know this because during the interview for every team member, I took a moment to warn of the dangers of being so far from civilization. I spoke of how I was excited to be discovering what no one had ever done before, but that as exciting as the discovery was, it was difficult to predict what was around the next corner, how long the journey would take, and what setbacks we'd need to overcome. I'd even be as honest to say that I couldn't guarantee the studio would still be around in 6 months. Some interviewees blanched at the uncertainty, but I knew those that came back with eyes wide open and excited about what lies ahead, they would make great team members.
I am confident that the seeds of this team, now having scattered out into the world, will go on to help grow the forests that will define our cultural and technical landscape.
Then there's what needs to be left behind. I've struggled with the guilt that we weren't able to convince our leadership we were a bet worth making. I've struggled with a bruised ego that inevitably comes from a fall like this despite how lucky we were to get the opportunity in the first place. I've struggled with the fear that capturing the kind of lightning we had only happens once in a lifetime. I need to constantly remind myself that all of these suffocating thoughts aren't worth my energy if I'm to get on with my journey.
In early 2014, I made the difficult decision to leave the comfort and renown of Pixar and embark on a journey to do something novel, scary and groundbreaking. I would have been happy to find a creative problem worth solving that may have taken 3 to 5 years and given me the opportunity to see what it was like to grow a team from the beginning. I was ecstatic to find virtual reality, a problem so big that it wasn't just about creating a new product on an existing platform, it was about figuring out a new medium-- a problem that would take the rest of my career. The horizon line stretched far beyond an unknown and perilous frontier. It was daunting, inspiring, and irresistible.
This closure is a particularly humbling setback and it's given me a moment to pause and reflect on if I should turn around. Am I so driven towards the promise of gold in California that I'm blind to the fact it may be a fool's journey?
I don't think so. There are enough brilliant, thoughtful, and future savvy people that believe in VR. It remains undeniable that VR has the potential to change our relationship with digital content, making it a richer, expansive and more meaningful experience. I continue to be awed and inspired by the innovation that continues to happen on a weekly basis.
As for what's next, I have decided to continue towards the horizon of what VR may become, even during this particular stretch of desert. I may plot a slightly different course than what we were doing at Story Studio, but my goal is still to give a visitor something that is immersive, memorable, and emotionally engaging. My sights have changed in that now I also believe that for VR to truly find itself as a medium, it must be an experience you share with your friends. But that's for a future post...
It's time to dust myself off and push onward.