Filmmaker Joe Russo knows a thing or two about what it takes to tell a good story. Russo (along with brother Anthony) directed four Marvel blockbusters, and he wrote and produced the most successful original film Netflix had ever released when it came out in 2020. “Extraction” was viewed almost 100 million times during its first month on the platform.
He’s currently in Prague to shoot “Extraction 2,” but the filmmaker found time over the weekend to join (via video link) a panel of tech executives who were sitting on a stage 5,500 miles away in Austin, Texas.
Russo told the audience at the music-film-tech festival SXSW that he “teared up” the first time he tried virtual reality.
holoride is changing the VR game
Now he’s advising holoride, a new kind of virtual reality platform that makes it possible for creators to build games and other experiences that are designed specifically for passengers in vehicles.
The tech creates incredibly immersive experiences using data about where the vehicle is and what it’s doing (and about to do).
Russo calls it “dramatically experiential” and “all-consuming.”
That’s a big deal for regular consumers because holoride is finally — more than three years after making a huge splash at CES — coming onto the market.
Daniel Weissland, president of Audi America and another panelist at the SXSW event, made the announcement.
“Audi will be the first manufacturer to bring the holoride experience alive in our production cars,” he said. The technology will be available starting in the summer of 2022.
Russo says VR is the future of storytelling
Russo experienced VR for the first time “many years ago when it was first starting,” he told the SXSW crowd.
The technology made an impression.
“Oh man,” he thought to himself at the time. “I'm in a lot of trouble on the film side because I don't know that I can give someone the same level of experience [on a two-dimensional screen] as you can get in a virtual space.”
He says the difference comes down to how strongly the medium can impact viewers.
“It’s been a compelling last 100 years with two-dimensional linear narrative. But I think that we're on the cusp of real change,” he says.
“The next evolution in storytelling is going to be virtual, all-encompassing, [and] more impactful than what can be presented on a two-dimensional screen “
holoride came out of an informal conversation between Audi engineers
The idea for holoride came out of an informal conversation between engineers at Audi. Nils Wollny, now holoride's co-founder and CEO of holoride, was working on autonomous vehicle technology at Audi and using VR to simulate different traffic situations. He had a colleague who was building tools for the cars to keep track of their location in space.
“It was just an evening idea to use [his] tracking and my VR stuff to play a game,” he tells IE. “We found out that it's actually way more fun than we thought.”
It wasn’t long before they started thinking about spinning the idea into a business.
There was just one problem. It would only be worth it for creators and studios to invest in making an entirely new kind of content if the potential payoff were huge. Even a carmaker as big as Audi doesn’t have enough customers to drive that kind of demand.
“So we said okay, let's spin this out and do this for all the car industry,” Profendiner says.
The board of directors gave its blessing, and holoride was born.
Cars are surprisingly good for telling immersive stories
A VR platform specifically designed for use in moving vehicles seems a little random at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Consider that traditional VR does everything it can to emulate movement through space. It uses light and sound to create the illusion of starting and stopping, turning left and right, speeding up and slowing down.
These are things cars have done for more than a hundred years. What’s relatively new in vehicles is the amount of data they produce.
It turns out that data from the GPS system and from the vehicle itself are exactly what creators need to build virtual worlds that change depending on how a car is moving.
holoride takes that data and “fuses it all together in our software,” Wollny says.
If you're using holoride to play a video game, your avatar will move when the car does. If you come to a stop, so will the character. The same is true if you're a pterodactyl flying through a prehistoric jungle.
"Elastic content" solves a longstanding problem for in-car entertainment
No matter the size of the budget, a filmmaker can't make a movie that lasts the length of one car ride because that length changes with every trip. In fact, every medium — even most video games, at least in some ways — is limited by the fixed length of their medium.
holoride changes that. Since the platform knows your current location, destination, speed, and traffic conditions, it can unspool content at the right pace so a user is finishing upright as they arrive at their destination.
holoride calls this kind of story "elastic content" because they stretch depending on the incoming data.
"We compare it to theme park rides very often because it's a guided experience that changes every time your driver takes a different route," according to holoride co-founder and CEO Nils Wollny.
The technology also has a surprising advantage for people who get nausea from reading or looking at their phones in the car. That's roughly a third of people, the company says.
"People said 'you guys are nuts' [because of] people getting motion sick" when we first started the company, Wollny says.
In the critics' defense, it was a reasonable concern. In addition to the carsickness problem, a lot of traditional VR experiences make users feel queasy even when they aren't moving.
But holoride addresses both of those problems by synching what users see with the movement they're feeling.
"When you look at [a two-dimensional] screen, your body feels something different that your eyes are looking at," he says.
"[holoride] solves this problem, [so] we can make visual content in the car is more accessible to people," he says.