XR Creator Spotlight: Ricardo Laganaro: Partner, Chief StoryTelling Officer at ARVORE
Hi Ricardo! Thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you give us an overview of your background?
I started working with filmmaking in 2001 in Brazil, doing stop motion animation. Computer Graphics was a new industry in the country and the place where I was working at the time, and the transition had just begun from analog to digital cinema. I was born in a generation that had an analog childhood, but digital adolescence so it was kind of natural for me to bridge the gap between different times and technologies. Soon after beginning my filmmaking career, I started directing music videos and became a VFX supervisor. Later, I became a director at O2 Films, the company that made the film “City of God” among other great pieces, and from that point, I started directing projects for new formats, such as the full-dome at the entrance of Museum of Tomorrow, (created for Rio 2016). This eventually led me to creating work in virtual reality.
What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey getting into the XR industry.
I was always in the middle of established technologies and the next generation ones. So it was natural for me to look at new technologies and try to figure out what I could learn from them to become a better storyteller. When I used a VR headset for the first time in 2013, it was experienced as a magical and perfect previsualization tool for the 360º fulldome piece I was creating at the time. At the end of 2014, after one year of using VR every day for this purpose, I realized that I could create pieces that would use VR as the final output.
Huge congratulations on winning the Venice Film Festival with your project The Line. Can you tell us a bit about the experience and your motivation for creating it?
Sure! “The Line” is a 15 minute interactive embodied narrative about love and the fear of change. Set upon a scale-model of 1940s São Paulo, this 6DOF interactive experience invites us to the world of Pedro and Rosa, two miniature dolls who are perfect for each other, but hesitant to live out their love story.
At ARVORE Immersive Experience (the studio that produced The Line) there were three main premises for this project:
1) It had to be a story that only would work in VR.
2) The user’s body should replace controllers.
3) It had to be a mainstream gateway to VR. We knew that if we could achieve these goals, we would create something truly innovative.
What were some of your biggest challenges you experienced while creating this project?
We are still learning not only the storytelling language and technical challenges for virtual reality but also how to produce it as we go. So working with a multidisciplinary team, with completely different backgrounds, both professionally and personally, it was our main strength but also very challenging. Mainly at the beginning of the project when we didn’t even have a formed idea of what would be the experience. We had to learn, all together, how to feel comfortable in not knowing exactly what we wanted to do until the project took shape.
You are one of the first experiences to effectively use hand-tracking on the Quest. What challenges and opportunities do you think this input method provides over regular Quest controllers?
This feature was a blessing for us since we had always wanted to replace controllers with the body of the user. Even before the hand-tracking was possible, we designed all the interactions to be similar to how they would feel in the physical world. Joysticks are awesome for more traditional games, but for experiences that are made for non-gaming users, it’s way better just to tell them “use your hands as you would do in the real world. Our main challenge was beginning to develop this feature before it was launched globally. We had to teach the computer how humans move their hands. This was only possible because we performed a lot of user testing to iterate and develop the correct interactions.
What are you working on right now?
Rest! After almost two years completely focused on this piece, I really need a break. But at ARVORE, my development company, we are finishing a new VR game called YUKI, directed by Kako (the production designer of The Line). It’s a bullet-hell in VR, that happens inside the imagination of a teenage girl that loves anime. As in “The Line,” you also have to move your body around to progress through the experience. I can tell you that it’s quite funny!
What do you believe are most important considerations for making VR experiences accessible and inclusive for diverse audiences?
It’s important to always think about the body of the user. This is something that never crossed my mind while working in regular 2D movies. For “The Line,” we invested a great amount of time creating a seated option for home use that would create a sense of moving through space, even if the user was seated. I can tell you that seeing people with all kinds of bodies being able to enjoy our piece is one of the aspects of the experience that make me most happy and proud.
Another tip: make sure to develop experiences that can easily be localized in other languages (subtitles, UI, and audio) If you wait to have an opportunity to translate your piece, it will become much harder and more expensive to do so (and sometimes even completely unfeasible).
What advice do you have for people interested in breaking into the XR industry?
Get comfortable not knowing how to do things! Breathe, discuss your challenges with people of different backgrounds, and become accustomed to learning together as you develop solutions.
What were some of the largest challenges you faced while working in the XR industry? How did you overcome them?
When I started in 2013, we didn’t have any proper software (and even hardware, to be honest) to work with when developing immersive experiences! Then, the production industry began to create better devices and tools, but we still did not have the tools to properly publish or distribute or even show our experiences. Now we have these resources, but the install base is still small. Luckily all these challenges are being overcome quite fast. Immersion is a six-year year old industry and the ecosystem is very impressive already, with many big players in all different industries. The Oculus Quest was a game-changer, addressing almost all of these challenges, proving that our vision wasn’t wrong. To overcome all of these challenges took a combination of a little bit of stubbornness and a lot of reality checks. We knew all along that our big picture vision about VR wasn’t wrong: it is the future of entertainment (and computing). We definitely had to make a lot of adjustments in our approach, trying to figure out what was working and wasn’t and we made many adaptations to our experiences to make things right. And honestly, we are still doing this and continue to do it on a daily basis.
What parts of the XR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?
Being in Brazil, it’s pretty clear to me that the industry is still limited to certain countries in terms of adoption and access. For instance, Oculus, HTC, and other big companies still don’t sell headsets in South America, a lot of countries in Africa, and many other important areas. If this industry plans to become the next computer platform, we must make both the hardware and software more accessible to everyone,as soon as possible. We also need to make headsets smaller, lighter, and cheaper. However, I think this is something that will happen naturally now that the ecosystem is becoming more mature.
Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?
There have been many important mentors in my life. The first would be Fernando Meirelles, the director of “City of God”. I worked directly with him as a VFX supervisor and as a beginning director for seven years. The first thing I learned from him was not to be afraid of trying new things. What impressed me the most about him was all the work he did for the opening ceremony at the Olympics in Rio. The second thing about him that impressed me was that his projects were respected abroad. In our country, we have what we call “underdog syndrome,” which makes a lot of people feel that we would never be able to compete with other, more developed countries (besides in soccer). Another influential mentor of mine is Cesar Charlone, the photographer of “City of God” and the person with the most artistic soul with whom I’ve ever worked. Even being an Oscar Nominee in a very technical role, he always taught me how to focus on building the emotions of the viewer. One day, on the set, they were shooting a very emotional moment. Someone looked at the video monitor and told him “Hey, there is a weird shadow on the top right corner of the frame.” Cesar took his eye from the viewfinder and answered: “If the viewer is paying attention to this small shadow in this exact moment of the movie, we have a much bigger problem, my friend”.
Lastly, I must mention my father. He always told me “You are not better than anyone. But also not worse. Always aim high.”
What was it like to win an Emmy and what advice would you give others who wish to achieve such success one day?
It was surreal! Especially so because we were still in quarantine in Brazil. I was cooking in advance for the next week and had to turn off the cooker to scream and jump alone at home, celebrating with my business partners via Zoom. The advice I would give others who wish to achieve this is to be very careful with the regulations (it seems complicated, but it is worth paying due attention to it) since the submission. Try to learn as much as possible with the previous winners and submission. You can figure out a lot of small insights by looking at previous projects and categories. Lastly, don’t do it alone. Have always someone to check and recheck everything you submit.
Did you find the Emmy submission process supportive of diverse voices? If so, how? If not, any ideas how it could be improved?
We didn’t have any experience with the Emmy’s before this project, and we were able to win the award. I don’t know if they have any special focus on foreigners and outsiders or it is something natural for the Academy, but I can say that every time we asked questions or needed help understanding the process, they were very responsive and supportive.
Are you currently hiring, and if so, what roles are you looking to fill? What’s the best way for candidates to reach you?
We are not hiring right now, but we are creating a bank of candidates . If you are interested, please contact us with your portfolio and/or resume via this form.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?
My favorite quote is from a Brazilian writer named Ferreira Gullar: “Art exists because life is not enough.” I prefer not to explain this. The quote itself is pretty self-explanatory, but remains open for everyone to understand in their own unique way.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Immersion offers the first big revolution that exists at the intersection of technology, art, and communication, beginning at the same time, for everyone in the world. It offers such a unique opportunity to create a new medium with more diverse voices, backgrounds, and stories. Let’s enjoy it as much as possible and carefully create new standards for this new industry that help protect and strength all of this diversity.
And, lastly, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts!
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