The founders of Virtual Content Group talk about the VR industry and why they merged their three award-winning businesses.
SK: Soenke Kirchhof. Co-Founder. Berlin. http://invr.space/
TH: Torsten Hoffmann. Co-Founder/CEO. Melbourne. http://3dcontenthub.com/
GCQ: Gallien Chanalet-Quercy. Co-Founder. Paris. http://www.cow-prod.fr/en/
- What is your background and how did you catch the “VR bug”?
GCQ: I come, like the three of us, from a strong 3D background and have always been interested in new ways to tell stories. When the first 360 photography gear was released, we immediately tried to use it for storytelling and built our first rigs.
SK: With my background as a producer/CEO, I always focused on new ways of storytelling and formats. For example, I started one of the first internet TV Stations in Germany back in 2005 – just to be able to distribute art projects that I was interested in. In 2006, I founded Real Life Film International, focusing on stereoscopic 3D, to tell stories in more immersive ways than in flat 2D. Shortly after that in early 2008, I was part in a research consortium on immersive storytelling; we also shot the first 180° degree project with the first prototype of Fraunhofer HHI´s Omnicam. Over time, there were more projects in 360° for Dome Projections – and since 2014, we have produced and collaborated on over two hundred projects in 360°.
TH: Licensing content is a competitive and crowded business. I stumbled into stereoscopic 3D ‘by accident’ and 3D Content Hub became one of the leading distributors in this niche – which quickly disappeared. What 3D promised back then, VR actually delivers now. This became clear to me as soon as I saw the first few 360 clips on GearVR. VR will take a few more technology iterations to really take off – yet the first few headsets and experiences are already quite impressive.
- What is your proudest professional accomplishment to date?
SK: My favorite moment was when Disney decided that they will not shoot in Los Angeles or with the largest German studio, but with us a relatively small and unknown company. We had been involved in the development of the camera system (which was awarded by the International 3D Society shortly afterwards) and Disney was convinced that we understood the creative aspects of working with it as well as the technical details.
GCQ: a) the premiere of my first feature film as executive producer in London, b) accepting the Lumiere Award in LA alongside Jean-Pierre Jeunet for Best 3D Commercial of the Year for the World of Warcraft commercial, and c) the recent Lumiere award for Temptation of St. Anthony VR for Arte Creative.
TH: a) figured out many ways to monetise 3D content and paid out about $3 million in license revenues to independent filmmakers, small production firms and freelancers b) built a network of hundreds of content creators and clients all over the world and finally c) wrote, crowdfunded, directed and produced my first documentary about the controversial technology Bitcoin and won 4 international awards for it.
- Why did you decide to merge your existing business with the founders’ others and form VCG?
GCQ: I’ve known Soenke and Torsten for years, and I was immediately sold on the idea that we would be stronger as a global group integrating all aspects of VR content from development to production and distribution.
TH: In short, 1+1+1 > 3
SK: Through mutual business, I always recognized Gallien’s and Torsten’s professionalism, skill and integrity in the industry. I jumped at the chance to take my business activities to the next level by partnering with them.
- In your opinion, what makes VCG different than other immersive media companies out there?
TH: a) We’ve figured out profitable business models for all aspects of our operation in an industry highly populated with startups that have yet to realize neither revenue nor profit b) There are many strong American VR companies while we’re an international group with a focus on Europe and Asia c) With over 150 productions to date and almost 100 clips in global distribution we’re already one of the largest international players already. And we’re just getting started …
SK: We are an open network not relying on one camera system or one branded app for distribution but instead are set up to collaborate with anyone. And we are not just a tech company – After so many years of running our businesses in this industry we deeply understand the craft of filmmaking as well as the market realities.
GCQ: We do things for passion and with a sense of storytelling. We did not jump on the VR bandwagon because it’s the next big thing, but because we’re excited by a new way of transmitting emotions. All three of us have been doing this for a very long time: We’re in it for the long game.
- What are some of the most exciting developments for VCG in the near term?
SK: Being able to develop this new medium and the art of storytelling at this very early stage.
TH: We’re hoping to finalise negotiations with some investors in Q1 2017 and that e new capital will allow us to scale the business.
- What is your long-term vision for VCG?
TH: Building our brand and reputation internationally and adding more international partners to the group.
SK: Growing together into a global powerhouse, being able to tell more complex stories, and bringing them to a much bigger audience than each of us could do individually.
- What are you most excited about for VR in general in the coming months?
GCQ: I recently showed the St Anthony piece to an old aunt of mine. She is old, quite sick and can’t leave her bed anymore. Seeing the smile on her face and her emotional reaction after she took the headset off was very touching. I knew ‘This is so much more impactful than VR roller coasters or zombie games’. This may sound silly, but it’s a true story and I really feel that way.
TH: Let’s not get over excited about the next few months. It would be a mistake to fuel the hype cycle and the three of us have seen how 3DTVs ‘died’ not long ago. The true breakthroughs for VR/AR hardware are still a few years away. Similarly, storytelling in VR will evolve and emancipate itself from the traditional ‘framed’ media much slower than many want to believe. We’re confident that we have figured out a profitable business model to take us there.