What is a Virtual Reality Experience?

Denecia: Hello, my name is Denecia. On this episode, we’re going to talk to our guest Ed Lantz, of Vortex Immersion. Thank you for joining us Ed.

Ed: Thanks

Denecia: Your background is aerospace engineering and then you got into working for planetarium where you look at the stars and the planets, and now you’re a leader of virtual reality. How did this all begin for you?

Denecia A. Jones Speaker, Work-Life Balance Coach & Business Strategist works with individuals and companies to create more inner peace, success, and happiness from the inside out

Ed: Well, if I reflect on my life, as a teenager, I wrote a sci-fi story, a short story about a performer in the future who projected his consciousness onto a large dome and took an entire audience on a journey through his own mind. And so that performer had to have perfected consciousness that they could hold this vision of a journey and then move the audience through that journey without wavering. And if they wavered the audience could get sick or confused or whatever. So that actually stuck with me through engineering and through when I took the job in the planetarium. I remember the story. Dreams do come true.

Denecia: Right. You just knew from that childhood story that it was in your heart.

Ed: It’s almost like I was born to do this, you know?

Denecia: Yeah. That’s so cool. Well, you’ve work with Nike and Ikea and even X-Box. Just to name a few. Tell us a little bit more about the underlining purpose of your business.

Ed: Sure, Well when we founded the company in 2007, the idea was to raise money to put up arts and entertainment domes, having worked in the planetarium space for many years and helped to pioneer the full-dome systems which is a digital projection on planetarium domes and giant screen cinemas. That took off and there’s now over 1600 of those theaters. But you’re kind of constricted in that market with the programming. And I really had a bigger vision for the programming so that’s when I founded my own company. And we were raising money to put up permanent theaters in 2008 and that’s when the market started to sag and found ourselves in a kind of a tight spot. And we’re like, well, we have to make money somehow. And what really took off was experiential marketing and that is popping up these immersion domes for big brands. As you mentioned, IBM and we’ve done four Nike domes, we’ve four super bowls, two Comicon domes, Sotheby’s international real estate domes, like that, and creating experiences for large audiences. We put maybe 10,000 people through the dome over a period of a few days. So basically, the domes, it’s like putting a headset on a large group of people, and I call it a tour bus through Virtual Reality (VR) because it’s very… You get a lot of the same sense of presence that you do with VR but you don’t have to wear a headset and you also are in a room with other people. And it’s a collective experience, more like a theater. It’s just a different format in its own right. And I see it really as a fusion of cinema and theater, like a cine theater that’s immersive. You get this powerful immersive spectacle, maybe similar to a Cirque du Soleil show but it’s visual effects and baked into pixels. And maybe there’s a stage and there is a live performance commanding the experience. In a sense, they’re commanding your nervous system as an audience member.

Denecia: What are some cool things that VR technology can do these days?

Ed: Well there’s great potential for the format. I mean, a lot of what we do right now is more pin to a push-button movie. And that’s because our dome in LA is a testbed and experimental theater. Now, but when we distribute shows, as planetarium and science centers were constricted to the hardware they have in place. So other things that we do in LA that you wouldn’t see on a mass scale yet is like for instance, we have connected cameras on the stage and performers who are dancing or controlling the imagery on the dome, we can hand out ones to the audience and they can finger paint on the dome as like a group composition. Really, how I see the dome in the future is the dome is really a portal into the metaverse. So it’s a portal into worlds, both real and virtual, maybe real-time where you have a spherical camera, at a watering hole in Africa or a NASCAR race or whatever and it’s like a telepresence portal for a group of people or maybe it’s presence in a virtual world. For instance, like the concert that Marshmelllo did recently, the fortnight where 10 million people showed up to see this performance in the metaverse. We could have the live performer on the stage in a dome with a live audience looking out into a virtual world. But when you’re at home, you put on a headset and now you’re actually entering the metaverse. And because of real time volumetric scanning or mocap or whatever, you’re able to see the talent in the metaverse as well as in the physical space. This merging of real and virtual worlds is basically our business plan. And as well as bringing in artists because now, these are powerful experiences and you’re taking over people’s nervous systems. You have to respect people’s nervous systems. This is not like watching a TV that is a flickering light on your phobia. Here, this is your sense of presence, your sense of balance and it can affect you deeply. Designing worlds that uplift the human spirit or open hearts and minds or have some positive overall positive effect is really important to us.

Denecia: Well, I had a chance to check out Mass America, at the vortex dome in downtown, and I absolutely loved it. I hope that my viewers get to check it out next time. When’s the next show?

Ed: Oh, we’re running about once a month here in LA, which is James Hood playing live and he’s the composer. And we produced the show with him here at the vortex dome in downtown LA. The show is also playing in 24 domes across the U.S., so you can see it in long Island or Edmonton or Calgary or Portland, Denver, Boulder, Denton Texas. And so Mass America is focused on the science of happiness. We intentionally, as positive psychology to evoke positive brain states. Through the music, through the visuals, through those sort of trans inducing patterns and then there’s a narrative, I call it poetic narrative. It’s a voiceover guiding you into different journeys that then you just embark on that journey and then there’s no narrative after that for that piece, so you get to go into deeper, more contemplative states of consciousness.

Denecia: There’s a really unique aspect of your business that attracted you and about the healing modalities world. I’m a businesswoman and I’m into crystals, Reiki energy and yoga. Tell me a little bit about the technology behind what you do.

Ed: I’ve always been into wellness modalities since I can remember I was a meditator as a teenager. I read books about shamanism and worked hard to reproduce some of those experiences as a teenager. You know, a lot of religious texts I’ve read, I’m ordained as an interfaith minister. So studied all different religious paths, but at heart I’m a scientist and a mystic but to me, a mystic is just a scientist turned inwards. Where instead of polishing telescope lenses, you’re polishing the lens of contemplation and going within. I believe that this is really the next big frontier of science having to do with phenomenology. And if you look at cultures like Buddhist practices where you have a very detailed taxonomy of inner states of being and different ways of being and different archetypal embodiments. Science has kind of brush all over a lot of that and because the mind is seen as bias, as subjective, as not something you can measure repeatedly to do repeated experiments or anything like that. But what I realized is that the mind is an informational domain just as the physical universe is a material domain. Like in it say to a computer, the computer hardware integrated circuits and interconnects with voltages fluctuating and encoded signals. That’s kind of like the neurons in your brain. But when you close your eyes and go within, well that’s kind of like the software code, right? When you pick up your computer, you don’t care what the voltages on the chips are, you’re looking at the software or the user interface, right? It’s an informational domain. That’s how I see the mind. And I think that to ignore the mind is you know; quality of life depends on a number of things. Clean water, clean air, good food, and all sort of exercise and all that. It also depends on the quality of consciousness. And this has been the domain of self-help gurus or whatever. But I think turning the observational power of science and some of the methodologies of science to inner experience is going to be a whole other frontier.

Denecia: You’ve been an entrepreneur for some time now and you have a growing company working with really big companies to entertain and stimulate audiences in positive ways. What are some ways that you keep yourself healthy and happy?

Ed: Well, that’s a real challenge as an entrepreneur, I push myself a lot and working a lot of late hours. And I’ve had to, out of necessity really, a survival mechanism, to find ways to pull my mind away from the work. Sometimes meditation is the right modality for that. Sometimes it’s watching TV. I tell you, it’s the intense focus on the intellectual is, you forget your body, you forget, your presence. I forget to drink water. I forget to breathe sometimes. I have a number of practices and one of them is just to get up and move, it’s very easy to sit for very long periods of time. So honestly, I’ll go for bodywork. I’ll do yoga once in a while. But getting a consistent practice can be very challenging.

Denecia: Completely understand. I’m constantly dealing with the same,

Ed: As simple as, like the bodywork I love because you have somebody working on your muscles and you realize how much tension is being held there. It’s like, oh my God. I’m just like, all stressed out. But it can also be challenging as an entrepreneur. You have ups and downs financially and we’re in a growth phase in the company now, which is shifting that. But there’s a lot of healers out there and there’s a lot of stressed-out businesspeople out there. I think it would be awesome to find a better way to connect and to help one another out.

Denecia: And I completely agree. That’s pretty much the purpose of this channel is to connect the two worlds because there’s just a separation between the two. And I think a lot of it has to do with just not knowing the other side, sometimes the unknown creates fear. Thanks for being with us on this journey. I really appreciate you connecting and sharing your story.

Ed: You bet.

Denecia: So as an entrepreneur and someone who’s been in business, you’ve had your business for some time, how long has it been now.

Ed: Oh goodness. I guess it’s been 12 going on 13 years for Vortex. Prior to that I launched a cable television network with Kate McCallum, who’s also our creative VP of creative at Vortex. And that was called harmony channel, believe it or not. And we launched on Comcast, so we went from nine to 14 million homes over a period of a year. And I never got the investor we needed on that one and it was costing like 30 to 50K a month just to keep on the air. But the viewership was growing, people loved it and, it was my first foray into entrepreneurialism.

Denecia: Amazing. Hopefully we’ll see more of that now more than ever.

Ed: Well we’re bringing it into the domes.

Denecia: Right.

Ed: It’s a more powerful way to present a concept that has less narrative programming. People expect stories from a TV or a film but when you have more of a simulator ride, really it can be like an IMAX movie, it doesn’t need as much talk necessarily.

Denecia: And what are you and the company up to in 2020-2021

Ed: I’m glad you asked. We are in the process of building out a network of immersive entertainment venues. These can range from a single dome theater up to a dome Plex which is a cluster of domes. The largest project we have right now in development is in Phoenix, Arizona, and that has a 2,500-seat central performing arts stone and several auxiliary domes for standup and multi-use events as well as the dedicated semi theater. Right now, we’re distributing primarily to science centers and museums. We actually in cooperation with James Hood and mood swings, his company, we actually come in and rent out the theater for the evening and put on our own shows because they would never take our show. They don’t know how to market it. They don’t do entertainment. It’s not in their charter. Whereas when we rent out the theater, we are creating our own programming, selling the tickets, doing the marketing ourselves. As we move into our own venues instead of a Friday night or a Saturday night shows, we’re going to be able to do yoga in the morning and family entertainment in the day and entertainment in the early evening, and then maybe a dance party in the late evening or concerts or whatever. We’re going to need a lot of content, which is another aspect of the company. We’re a development studio, we produce original content. We co-produced with outside producers and we license the content, all the above. And one of the major focuses is what we call transformational media. So that it is something that shifts people into a better place, essentially.

Denecia: Amazing. Well, thank you for doing what you do to make the world a better place, Ed.

Ed: You bet.

Denecia: And thank you for being part of the show.

Ed: My pleasure.

Denecia: If you liked this and want more tips and tricks on business and wellness topics that keep you uplifted, inspired, and balanced, like us and subscribed to our channel. And If you might know of someone who would benefit from this, share us, they’d be happy you did. To all of my beautiful souls who are moving through the universe with grace and ease. Thank you for joining us. And until the next time that we meet, be beautiful and be well.


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