Raleigh-Durham firms take VR power to Duke, UNC, Amsterdam | Crain's Raleigh Durham

Raleigh-Durham firms take VR power to Duke, UNC, Amsterdam

Jason Cooper, left, is the director of multimedia and Jason McGuigan is the creative director at Horizon Productions. | Photo courtesy of Horizon Productions

For Jason Cooper, getting someone to embrace the technology of virtual reality is as simple as getting them to put on the headset.

That’s all it takes, he insists. Once they try on a headset, they’re sold on virtual reality, seemingly regardless of what industry they represent.

Cooper, director of multimedia for Durham, North Carolina-based Horizon Productions, said virtual reality is applicable for almost any industry or company.

“As soon as we were able to try virtual reality, we knew that this was something that we had to offer our clients because we knew it was about to change everything,” Cooper said. “Our No. 1 rule is get someone in a headset. As soon as they get in a headset and try virtual reality they are sold on it and the ‘what-ifs’ come very naturally.”

Horizon Productions, which creates video, audio, animation and web products, counts several of the Triangle’s biggest employers — and global leaders in their respective fields — among its clients.

Later this month at a conference in London, Horizon Productions and Lenovo will unveil a collaborative effort that merges virtual reality with 3-D printing. Lenovo and Horizon Productions have helped a Dutch company create a 3-D printed representation of what a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam will look like in the future.

“They are going to 3-D print a pedestrian canal bridge in Amsterdam,” Cooper said. “We built the Amsterdam canal scene in 3-D, then used the Unreal Engine to create a VR experience that puts you in the canal scene. You can teleport yourself around where this bridge is going to be.”

Last year, Horizon Productions helped Durham-based contract research organization QuintilesIMS launch its Solution Design Studio, described by the company as “a highly interactive, technology-driven environment featuring digital-simulation capabilities.”

“We believe that the future of healthcare is intertwined with technology innovation and its application in real-world settings," said Richard Thomas, Quintiles president of technology and solutions. “Simply put, we are working with stakeholders to rapidly create technology solutions that solve healthcare challenges, big and small."

In a healthcare setting, specifically in a clinical trials setting, virtual reality allows a participant to go inside the process.

“Instead of someone handing you a white paper, we take you inside the body and show you how it’s going to impact you,” Cooper explained.

Tobacco Road rivalry

There are few things symbolic of the Triangle than the Tobacco Road rivalry of Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For Cooper, a UNC alum and loyal Tar Heel fan, that was a rivalry fit for virtual reality.

“I’m a Carolina grad and I also worked there and taught there,” Cooper said. “We got to shoot the Duke-Carolina basketball game at Cameron Indoor and at the Dean Dome. We’re putting together the rivalry experience to give people the floor seat experience.”

Horizon Productions has one of the only Google Odyssey cameras on the East Coast, which lends itself perfectly to capturing high-level athletics. The Odyssey camera has 16 GoPros and a platform called Jump that allows for 3-D, 360-degree video.

Here to stay

For Cooper, it’s important to stress that virtual reality is not a fad.

“The way we see virtual reality is like the internet back in 1995,” he said. “It is this transformative technology that’s going to change so many industries, but it’s still in its infancy. While virtual reality has been around for a while, the technology and the hardware have finally caught up and now we’re realizing the promise of it. It’s applicable to just about every industry. We’ve just done such a variety of things with it. We teamed up with Cree and Home Depot and we transported people from a trade show to an aisle in Home Depot.”

Christophe Lafargue, director of business development for Lucid Dream, a Durham-based virtual reality agency whose work spans architecture, engineering, retail and education applications, said several economic firms have estimated that virtual reality and augmented reality will have a market share of $100 billion to $150 billion by 2020.

“Right now, you can do anything in virtual reality,” Lafargue said. “It’s just a matter of how much time you have and how much money you have.”

While the industry may be in its infancy, that doesn’t mean it’s not on the rise, and quickly.

“As an industry, virtual reality just took its first steps right now, and it’s still figuring out what to do next,” Lafargue said. “But it’s moving.”

“We haven’t found an industry that wasn’t interested as soon as someone there got to try it,” Cooper said.

June 16, 2017 - 3:45pm