My ears pop in the elevator heading to the 43rd floor of a Los Angeles highrise. When I get out I find a little metal plaque marking my destination. Between the offices of people who have very straightforward jobs in very normal offices is one that’s quite a bit different — “Mindshow.”
Their office is adorned with lively cartoon characters and figurines. With a big U-shaped smile, Mindshow CEO Gil Baron takes me straight to their mixed reality demo area. I enjoyed my first visit to Mindshow when the software was revealed in August at the huge VRLA conference, and like that first demo with Baron he gets straight to business. First I’m going to put on a headset and visit the latest version of the world made by his team, then I’m going to chat with him.
Rediscovering the wonders of childhood
For those unfamiliar, Mindshow is a VR animation and cartoon creation tool transforming visitors to its virtual world into a variety of characters. You can embody a doctor, airline pilot, cat or even a humanoid twinkie, among many other possibilities. The software records your voice along with hand movements and head movements to animate the characters.
What’s changed since that August debut is a dramatic improvement to the process of unlocking a visitor’s creativity. It is one thing to teach a person “how” to create something in VR. Tilt Brush does this well as few people have trouble figuring out how to sketch in the air using Google’s software. Deciding “what’ to make is something else entirely. It is easy to stare at a blank canvas or stage and feel overwhelmed. That’s the magic of Mindshow’s latest additions. It draws out creativity and silliness — activating any child-like playfulness that might be buried beneath the veneer of a serious adult.
After a quick tutorial which covers “how” to create something, I dropped myself into three pre-prepared scenes inspiring “what” to create. The scenes were already started with a character prompting me to continue the story. In improvisation classes they teach you to say “yes and” to what another actor asks you — spurring on a story you discover together. This is much the same except the first actor performed their part long before I entered Mindshow. In the videos below you can see me discovering this new way of making a story and filming it with a virtual camera.
A visionary project meets real people
When I talk to Baron after recording these videos I ask him who he expects this to be used by. Right now, the software is in a testing mode for a limited audience, but by Q3 this year they plan to launch an open beta that should grant any HTC Vive user access to the software. When that happens, is this something for people to play around with and make silly internet videos, or will filmmakers use this toolset to make lengthy and carefully produced projects?
“My God, I hope both,” Baron says.
This software is already evolving into a super intuitive virtual production studio with some really surprising features baked in. For example, in the airline pilot video I didn’t realize until I was back in the real world and viewing the finished project that sound had been realistically occluded. When I filmed the scene, I brought the camera over to the window to film it almost like a passenger had captured from their seat this bizarre interaction playing out. If I had filmed outside on the wing with the characters the sound would’ve been more clearly captured, but with the fuselage of the plane blocking some audio there’s an added bit of subtle accuracy automatically built in. If you’re someone making an animated movie that effect likely would’ve been the work of a sound engineer. In Mindshow, it is just part of the simulated world.
Children live in a world of belief in which anything is possible. By the time we’re adults, though, we’ve learned limits and look to movies which need to “suspend disbelief” to draw us away from the world for a couple hours. Mindshow sits at the cross-section of these two worlds, perhaps empowering kids to make movies and adults to forget their limits. Baron recalls something Alfred Hitchcock is quoted as saying: “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out.”
“This is movie-making with all the boring bits cut out,” Baron says of Mindshow.