Interview : Brian Rausch, CEO of House of Moves @SIGGRAPH2016

We met Brian Rausch, CEO of House of Moves, a company specialized in motion capture, designing and developing real time production tools for the last 4 years. Through this interview, we seek to understand better his insight on VR and how his company is playing a major role in defining a higher degree of engagement for the audience in the experience.

Salar Shahna (SS): What led you to work in your field ?

Brian Rausch (BR): A series of weird events. I went to school for audio because I was big in the music and I realized that my love for audio was actually in the performing, not seating behind the console and this is late 90’s. I started to see kind of what computers were becoming capable of. And it was just something that clicked, so I got involved in that, I ended up in the Philippines for three and a half years, as a CG Supervisor on a television show where I fought motion capture tooth and nail, because I wanted to be the animation purist, the rigging purist. I found this moment where I wanted to know the “Enemy”, so I started to explore motion capture and then I actually realized that was a performance element in that, that I truly love because it kind of tied the performance of music and then kind of the performance of animation, tied all that together for me. And that’s when my little quest started to find the performance in motion capture. When I got involved it was still back in the days of, you know, your accountant putting on a pair of roller-blades and calling it hockey data, that wasn’t truly performance, but over the last 7 years or so, the kind of the true performance; the art, the craft, the creativity, it’s all started to kinda come to fruition and you know we’re recognizing this beautiful merge of performance art and technology, and now with real time rendering, is where its getting to that point where it feels real and I know I keep going back to the music but forgive me, it gets to that point where you actually feel that kind of creative flow that you used to get musically when you get a bunch of people in a room and your creative together. The tools have finally got to the point where we can all sit and make music together again. It’s not about sending an animator away for 6 months and then having him come back with something. It’s truly this kind of collaborate, flowing, element where you get to create.  It is just a beautiful things and I’m so happy we’re here. So happy we’re here!

SS: How did you make a transition into VR, did you think VR or others invited you to join the movement?

BR: I think Oculus kind of blew this whole thing open again. Very earlier on in my career, I was actually looking at going to the University of Utah where they made the first HMD’s for VR and this is again, the late 90’s. So I’ve always been super interested in VR. It was very rudimentary at that time and required crazy technology, but then Oculus shows up. It does feel like they kind of opened the door, a little bit; where everybody just got excited about the Rift and then Google cardboard, etc. Unfortunately, I’m at that age now where I get motion sickness, so it wasn’t until the Vive came out, I threw that on, and I was like wouah I could live in here, because of, just the refresh rates. The very, I say the very early days, we’re talking 24 months ago, the refresh rates weren’t good enough to where I could get in and not feel sick, but now I can get in, not feel sick and truly enjoy.

So, I’ve been interested in VR since the late 90’s. We’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in 22 VR projects over the last 24 months, anything from stuff with ReelFX, DNFL, American Express… over to internal stuff. There has been a tremendous amount of great VR that we’ve done.

SS: Do you work mostly in the US or have you been starting to work with international partners for virtual reality?

BR: Mostly in the U.S. Actually it might be entirely in the U.S. We were trying to push some stuff in Brazil, for properties that played very well in South America, but there was a concern about the power of the machines that existed there, and whether or not where people had access to the right level of machines that will be able to kind of play all of this back in real time. So mostly U.S based at this point.

SS: What was the biggest challenge for you from switching to regular films to VR?

BR: How to make it, not be just an experience. Everything is about the VR experience, and losing control of the camera makes it very difficult, you don’t control the user’s view point of the world anymore.

Trying to make stuff engaging and long-lasting and something that people want to return to. Because a lot of experiences are being made where you live through something for a couple of minutes and then you take the helmet off and you’re done. But how do you get people to go back? How do you get people to continue to persist in this world and explore and play? That’s been the very, very difficult piece for us.

SS: What is your solution?

BR: Putting people in the places that they couldn’t get themselves. My mom lied to me growing up because she told me I could be anything that I want to be. I’m never gonna be an NFL Running Back, right? This body, does not allow for an NFL Running Back. So, being able to put people into the place of an NFL Running Back, but then being able to build enough content around them, to where they can explore and live in that world for a while, and engage in that space.

I don’t know that anybody’s come up with the right solution, yet you asked what are solution was and I don’t know that anybody can figure out how to tell the right story, the VR space yet. It’s a challenge, it’s a long quest but I’m super excited and this is a fantastic time to be alive in the industry. It feels like, VR is kind of like having a website in the 90’s, everybody was super excited by having websites in the 90’s, but nobody quite knew what to do with them, but that’s a mature thing now.

So now VR, everybody is really excited to have VR, but we don’t actually know what all the uses are and that’s why it’s so beautiful. It’s the Wild West and its just, it’s alive again. You know our industry’s gotten pretty, aaaah . . . what’s the word I’m looking for? I don’t want to say boring because it has always been awesome, but our industry had kinda gotten pretty narrow for a while. It was like little tiny changes, little tiny tweaks to our industry and then VR showed up.

SS: It’s like a reset button on everything.

BR: Completely, it’s been the greatest!

SS: Lastly, can you tell me one thing that you have learned at SIGGRAPH this year?

BR: On the real time cinematic storytelling? What I’ve learned is the industry is now ready for this. That stuff that we’ve been doing for four years now, we been streaming real time in the game engines, we’ve been rendering in the back of game engines. and its been really hard to convince people to use it because change scares the crap out of people. Now that you’ve got Epic and places starting to embrace this type of storytelling, It’s a big signal to me that the industry is ready for more real time and more VR and virtual production.

That’s what I’ve learned, that the industry is ready for that.

SS: Is the audience ready?

BR: I think the audience is, because the audience is starting to mature. What was that old song? 57 channels and nothings on. We kind of have a little bit of that right now. We got these great media outlets with Netflix, Hulu, VR, Steam, etc. and there’s not enough viable high end content, because viable high end content, it’s not inexpensive. It’s expensive to make. So in order to flood all these media outlets with content you have no choice but to be real time. Fast and taking advantage of all the storytelling that exists in Hollywood, in the world, and in people etc. and figure out ways to get that out of them in a very quick way. Again, getting back to that band type cadence where you get a bunch of people in the room and you start doing something beautiful, and musical together, but now that music is coming out in the form of real time, CG, where really high end creative people are going to be able to bring these high end story experiences to the 57 channels who want to make it to where you can turn the 57 channels and there is actually something on. So its kind of where we are right now.

SS: Excellent, thank you Brian.

BR: Thank you very much.