A mixed-reality circus performs in Vancouver this Saturday, courtesy of LiveSwitch and Shocap
The circus is coming to town – and in a world first, you can watch it in person, streamed live online, on your VR headset, or through your console. All in real time.
Jerod Venema, CEO of LiveSwitch, tried to make a platform where people could collaborate in real time on a Word document. It’s a good job Google Docs did it better.
Losing out to the tech giant opened up new opportunities for the Surrey-based entrepreneur and his co-founder brother, Anton Venema. Rather than text, they decided, the future lay in images. Over 14 years, their company focused on building out solutions to improve digital connections: a move that has culminated today in LiveSwitch’s multiple platforms and software development kits (SDKs) which are able to power high-quality, large-scale interactive video.
Turns out, that tech has huge potential in the metaverse.
“The idea behind everything, right from day one, has been about building human connection,” Jerod Venema tells Vancouver Tech Journal. “Since then we’ve launched all of our SDKs and cloud platforms with that in mind. We’ve been attracting a lot of interest from the metaverse folks because of our background in this kind of world. Without getting too deep into the technical aspects, our SDK aligns itself with those kinds of experiences.”
Enter Shocap Entertainment. Launched in 2020, the organization is the meeting-of-minds of two Vancouver motion-capture and animation leaders, Animatrik and Lifelike and Believable Animation Design. Combining the technology, teams, and expertise of the two studios, Shocap produces cutting-edge live extended reality (XR) through real-time motion-capture and visual effects. In other words, the company can do very cool things with circus performers.
Shocap is behind the idea for LiViCi (short for “live and virtual circus”). Similar to a Cirque-du-Soleil-esque performance, the event is a full-blown, real-life circus event, featuring acrobatics performed by Montreal’s globally renowned troupe The 7 Fingers. Each of the artists, however, will be wearing motion-capture suits, allowing their stunts to be recorded by special technology that can overlay real-time movement into a digital world.
The show is titled Carry Me Home, and promises to be a live and virtual journey into the creative mind of famed circus acrobat and singer-songwriter Didier Stowe. To beam the performances into people’s homes, Shocap has partnered with LiveSwitch to scale up its four-audience model. In a world first, while the circus happens live in Burnaby, it will be simultaneously available online through a live stream, a virtual-world multiplayer game, and in virtual reality using a VR headset.
“It’s just completely different experiences,” Venema says of what viewers can expect on each platform. “Some are 3D, some are avatar-driven, some are game-experience style – almost like a first-person [character] walking through the video. They’re all designed for the different models, but still with one combined human connection point to them.”
For Venema, the excitement of the project goes beyond the entertainment of watching acrobats push their limits with death-defying stunts. True to LiveSwitch’s founding values, the project lets the company explore a new way for people to interact across real and virtual worlds.
“If you think about an in-person experience, you have yourself, and whatever you're watching. If you think about a VR experience, it's a completely isolating one. In a gaming experience, you have the gamer, and the people watching the gamer, and the game. So all of these have different styles of interaction that are taking place. And what we're framing here is the idea that all of those different styles of interaction can take place in a single event. It's never been done before. The idea that all of those connection points can happen at the same time – it's unheard of.”
Venema isn’t sure yet how many people will watch and participate across all four audience options, but he’s confident that his tech is able to handle it. There’s no cap on how much the LiveSwitch system can support, and if the platform starts to “feel some creaking” – an event he says might happen if virtual viewers were to rise toward the millions – there are multiple options to keep scaling higher.
“All of our technology is what's providing all of the communication layer,” Venema says. “So that’s anything that's driving [the virtual representations] to the sub-second time [and] the delivery out to all of the end users – whether they're in a VR headset, or gaming experience, or just a desktop application. All of the communication and the actual interaction of the people is delivered by what we're creating.”
The in-person performance of Carry Me Home will take place at Animatrik’s world-renowned motion capture studio in Burnaby – the largest independent motion capture stage in North America – on Saturday, June 4. Two showtimes are available, 1 p.m. or 6 p.m. P.T., for in-person or virtual-world ticket holders.
In the venue, audiences can access a number of VR headsets to experience the immersive interactions during the show. Online attendees can move around the virtual arena and watch from various points of view – even through the eyes of the circus performers. The Interactive 3D experience is accessible from any computer web browser, VR headsets, and mobile devices.
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