Whether it’s virtual reality airplanes, apartments or a trip to Saturn, TRICK 3D is making it happen.
VR, along with augmented reality, could become an $80 billion industry by 2025, according to Goldman Sachs. Atlanta is trying to claim a piece of this by establishing itself as a VR hub, led in part by TRICK 3D. The immersive content studio added virtual reality to its services in 2014.
In addition to creating VR content, TRICK 3D is helping organize Atlanta’s VR scene. In November 2016, it founded Georgia VR, a thinktank to share ideas and do research. The group of more than 30 member organizations includes Georgia Tech, the Savannah College of Art and Design, CNN, Delta Air Lines and the City of Atlanta.
Chad Eikhoff, founder of TRICK 3D, talked to Crain’s about his favorite VR projects, why he began Georgia VR and how to ensure the future of Atlanta’s VR scene.
Q: How did TRICK 3D begin creating VR projects?
A: We actually started TRICK about 10 years ago, and we were building virtual environments for architects and commercials. When virtual reality as a technology started to emerge, it was something we were technically already doing. We were already building virtual worlds. It was just another way to engage in them. We were able to get in really, really early when virtual reality was just coming back into the mainstream. There was a wave of virtual reality in the '90s. People got excited about it, but then it didn’t live up to the hype. So this new wave of Oculus and Sony and HTC and Facebook all joining for VR is kind of a second wave.
Q: What are some of your favorite VR projects that TRICK 3D has done?
A: Our very first one was with Delta Air Lines, and they had a new aircraft that had not been built yet, so we were able to build that and let people board it through virtual reality. That was a really cool one and to this day, we still work with them doing that.
The second thing we’re really excited about in virtual reality is a product we launched called Floorplan Revolution. That allows any developer or marketing company—or anyone who uses a 2D floor plan for marketing and selling—it allows them to automatically turn those into 3D virtual homes or virtual walk-throughs. Real estate is an example of an industry that’ll definitely be heavily affected by virtual reality.
The third and really coolest one we’ve done to date is we did the first ever VR wish grant for Make-A-Wish, specifically Make-A-Wish Georgia. It was a little boy who wished to go to space, and in particular Saturn, on a red rocket ship. So we were able to build that experience for him in virtual reality. The community really rallied around it and Dobbins Air Reserve Base [in Marietta] joined, and they provided a hangar and put the base on quiet time so that we could set the event there. A former, real astronaut came and was his co-pilot. It was kind of a perfect use for virtual reality, making something come to fruition that really wasn’t possible to do in any other way and doing it in a way that solved a problem for an organization.
Q: Why did TRICK 3D launch Georgia VR?
A: I was a filmmaker before starting TRICK 3D, making films here before the big Hollywood boom that we’re in right now. I really saw how that came to fruition through the tax incentive and creative and government and education all coming together to build a workforce, provide the resources necessary and really incentivize the people coming here. Simultaneously, I also produced and directed the Elf on the Shelf Christmas special, which is an animated TV show. Character animation as a business has largely been outsourced outside of the United States at this point. I saw some of the reasons why people were outsourcing it, and a lot of it had to do with the education systems that supported it – making sure you have a great talent pool.
Georgia’s uniquely situated in that we have both technical and artistic schools right in the city. We also have a large concentration of Fortune 500 companies, as well as the experience of having done the film tax incentive, which brought the whole industry here. Really, when you combine all of those, it’s the perfect fertile ground to build that ecosystem for VR. So I thought it was important to bring somebody from all of those areas – from education, from government, from an industry, from agencies and from production – into one room and figure out how we’re all working on it. How do we communally help make Georgia the place to go?
Currently, no city really owns the idea of being a hub for virtual reality or augmented reality. It’s not Silicon Valley. They’re owning the investment in hardware, but not content. It’s not Seattle. It’s not Hollywood. It’s not New York. It’s nobody yet, so there’s a lot of cities making a play. We think that Georgia’s uniquely positioned to take the lead on that.
Q: How is Atlanta’s virtual reality scene?
A: There’s a lot of interest. There’s a good meetup where people are excited about the creation of VR. All of the schools are doing a great job jumping in and figuring out how to educate in VR. The industries are all really interested in what the best way to leverage it is. Some are more skeptical than others. It’s a good, fertile ground of interest and activity.
What I think is lacking right now, [which is] what we’re hoping Georgia VR and pulling some bigger projects together will do, is to give it some focus to take it from fertile interest and exploration to a real, stronger foundation of being the true leader and represented at major VR festivals and conferences around the world. That’s starting to happen.
Q: How can Atlanta ensure the future of its VR scene?
A: There has to be competition that drives innovation, but there has to be collaboration in an effort for us to really take the lead, and there’s a lot of other people in that industry. So I would say collaboration between all the things that Georgia VR is trying to do really is the goal for Georgia and Atlanta to stay in the lead. The next step from that… is understanding the vision that is the future, where VR stands. If you see VR as just a marketing tool or as actually just a consumer platform, then it’s missing the point of the big vision of VR, which will more likely disrupt enterprise and industry first and consumers will come second. There’s going to be a ton of innovation and ideas that draw that to happen, but you've just got to be early in developing it and understanding how that fits in the overall international economy and ecosystem. That vision is really important.