Three years ago this week, visual effects veteran Gil Baron joined up with virtual reality (VR) pioneer Jonnie Ross a handful of other VR enthusiasts to build the nascent medium’s version of Final Cut Pro. But a few months in, the team threw all of its preconceived notions about serious production tools over board, and instead opted to just go crazy — complete with fart jokes and talking Twinkies.
Instead of the Final Cut Pro for VR, Baron, Ross and their co-conspirators ended up building Mindshow, an animated storytelling tool for VR that currently works with HTC’s Vive headset. Mindshow lets users easily pick avatars and record short skits by acting them out while wearing VR headsets. “If you tell stories in VR, you should do it from within VR,” said Baron during a recent interview with Variety.
And if you already have the ability to be an animated character, why not be a green-skinned alien, telling lewd jokes to a drunken audience in a VR comedy club? “Ridiculous nonsense is actually the best place to start,” Ross said.
Mindshow had been in private beta for the last couple of months, and already attracted following of dedicated fans. Some have even begun to upload their creations to YouTube, where a few genuinely funny clips have attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers. Earlier this month, the company publicly released the Mindshow app on Steam as part of a so-called early access release, and the number of video productions have gone through the roof ever since. “We can no longer keep up with the volume of content being created,” said Baron.
The Mindshow software gives creators a number of avatars, sets and props choose from. “Everyone has the same set of virtual Legos,” said Ross. Scenes can be played out and edited over and over again, giving one creator the chance to play multiple characters. What’s more, any video shared within Mindshow can be remixed by the community, leading to recurring themes and running jokes.
Mindshow’s software is still very much a work-in-progress, and the company wants to keep developing it with input from the community. Future features will include the ability for multiple users to act at the same time, and possibly also a real-time component that could be used for live streaming.
Animation created in real-time for a worldwide audience — that’s something Baron couldn’t have imagined when he began
working in visual effects in the mid-nineties. His bio includes a 13 year stint at the visual effects powerhouse Method Studios, but his goal for Mindshow was always to go completely the opposite way, and make it a tool that allows anyone to produce animated content. “For creative people, this gives them superpowers,” he said. “I wish this existed 20 years ago.”
Ultimately, Mindshow wants to enable a new generation of creators who aren’t just using technology for technology’s sake, but reach an audience far beyond the world of virtual reality. Said Baron: “The question is: Who is going to create the next ‘South Park’ in their Mom’s basement?”