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Down The Rabbit Hole Of Extended Reality – XR Studios Is Where Live Performance Enters The Metaverse

Two months ago I interviewed J.T. Rooney of XR studios.  I remember the date well because it was the day when California reopened fully, and all of us thought we were one step closer to putting the pandemic into the rear view mirror.  In life as in extended reality, things are not always what they appear to be.  Covid has once again turned for the worse, but technology continues its unabated march forward.

J.T.’s comes from a background of live entertainment having worked with Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Katy Perry.  He has a calm and steady presence, critical when you’re working in the junction between live performance and merging of performance and technological enhancements.

This story has taken me some time to digest because it is truly about the next evolution in performing arts: merging live performance with pre-produced imagery in real time.  The speed of computing power allows for the insertion of complex visuals and text while a live performance is taking place, at broadcast quality levels of integration.  There are so many features being enabled and stacked that I had a truly difficult time thinking through just what that meant technically.

The work XR studios is doing is the equivalent of living in a sci-fi movie.  J.T. and the team use LED screens to construct a shell, including a LED floor and augmented reality technology all tied to a camera with a fixed focal point on the live performer.  As the performer moves, the camera tracks the movement causing the technology to shifts the displays around always maintaining the illusion the performer is within the world which is represented on the screens.

This allows for endless variations of how to put a real person into an artificial universe.  And, once inside that universe, size and space become irrelevant.  You can be made as small as a pixel or as large as the solar system, and the graphics surrounding adjust seamlessly.  

In addition, this technology can be used to enhance a live performance on stage, while delivering a different and more comprehensive streamed view of the event to those watching remotely on screens.

The purpose of this tech to enhance storytelling and compel attention, as now almost any performance competes with social media, and the endless magnetic dopamine seeking behavior of almost anyone in possession of a smart phone.

The same technology can be used to enhance speakers at a live conference, allowing a more integrated way to deliver data points visually while incorporating the speaker who is at the front of the room and relieving the audience from the tedium of power point slides.  It’s also capable of “transporting” people, by knitting together onto a single screen someone who is onsite with someone who is halfway across the globe, much like the satellite interviews now seen often on cable news.  However, with a little bit of preproduction planning, the final production which is seen will appear to be that of two or more people in the same space.

XR worked on the Kid Cudi video produced by his team for Amazon Prime

day, placing Kid Cudi into space in support of his song Man On the Moon. Because XR studios is creatively agnostic, they implement the design which is brought to them by the production designers working for the artists who use XR’s facilities.  XR provides guidance and helps to technically execute the recording, which is how Kid Cudi would wind up on the moon during his portion of the Amazon Prime day event.

As another example, XR worked on the Billie Eilish live stream which was fully integrated with their augmented reality.  After days of rehearsal, when the go live time arrived, Billie performed while the XR tech merged her image with that which was built for the event, in real time, and streamed around the world.  The beauty of extended reality is that once the preproduction work is done, the camera turns on and the finished product is filmed and streamed live.  Like all things tech, there is always a risk that something might go wrong, but after all, isn’t that the fun of live. It’s not perfectly predictable and that slight undercurrent of “this might go off the rails” adds a certain frission.

My conversation with J.T. Rooney is here in both video and audio podcast format:


Every bit of this is fascinating.  Stay tuned.  I plan to get back to J.T. soon to find out just what else can be accomplished by adding massive computing power to a performer’s ability to compel attention from their audience.

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