Paul Reynolds sits in a borrowed conference room in Oregon (his home Internet’s being installed tomorrow) to humbly share what he knows about real-time interactive 3D, being involved in the world’s most secretive startup, and what investors really what.
“I consider myself an advisor, founder, and developer,” says Paul. His track record of starting multiple business, combined with a penchant for helping people and making things, have resulted in a varied and colourful career, mostly in games, but also dabbling in various kinds of interactive 3D projects. For example, Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has at least three active exhibits that were built by Paul and a partner. “I’ve always been a software developer, and have always worked in many programming languages and platforms – whatever project appeals to me, I’ve taken on.”
I really got hooked on this idea that we could start to blend the virtual and the real world.
From 1999-2005, Paul worked exclusively on video games. After that, he became a fully independent developer, during which time he loaned his skills to a number of mobile AR projects (which are ridiculously hot right now thanks to Pokémon GO). As such, Paul soon became well-versed with mobile devices featuring standard monocular cameras, essentially blending the camera view with the virtual one. “That’s when I really got hooked on this idea that we could start to blend the virtual and the real world,” he says.
Then, in 2013, a stealth startup called. Well, Paul’s friend, collaborator and game-industry icon Graeme Devine called. Back then, nobody had even heard of Magic Leap. “This was before the first round of funding, but I knew that first round was coming. It was a rare experience for me to get, but that’s not all. The technology is mind-blowing and the ability to shape that and work on that and have access to it before anyone else, was just this perfect combination of factors for me in my background.” He was there two and a half years and would eventually go on to become its senior director of SDKs and apps.
Let’s get technical
The beauty of Magic Leap is a thing called digital lightfields. Basically, we have a left and right eye, and thus we see the world from two perspectives. Our brain blends those together to give us a sense of depth. “The images that we’re using to create this kind of blended 3D perspective is actually a stream of light coming into our eyes,” he explains.
Watch this demo released by Magic Leap. “The key thing to look at is the way the camera changes focus on the woman, and the virtual content properly de-focuses, and then the camera actually focuses on the virtual content, and the real world properly de-focuses, if it’s not in that same distance.”
“The images we’re using to create this kind of blended 3D perspective is actually a stream of light coming into our eyes. Light is bouncing off of everything in the real world. If I focus on a thing a meter away, then my eyes are going to expect that light to be coming from a meter away.
“Ultimately, when you hear ‘digital lightfield’, it’s all about this. It’s all about creating signals that matches the real world as much as possible, [then] really awesome things happen,” he explains. Now that ML has this technology, the idea is to wrap a wearable product around that capability.
So why’d he leave?
“I must be insane to leave, right?” Paul admits, having wrapped up at ML in May of this year. Ultimately, his reasons for moving on were that he’d accomplished what he wanted and was hungry for something new. “I came in early, got a tonne of crazy experience I never would have gotten otherwise. Plus, experience in the business side as well. I had a lot of influence in the company and that was educational in both good and bad ways… the extreme scaling and pace, I mean the company has grown literally 10 times in the time I was there.”
His time at Magic Leap was instrumental in this way: it showed Paul that there are even bigger things out there; it gave him a deep technical understanding of where things are headed.
“Super-general advice based on my observations and my research”
“These are the types of things I would tell anyone that’s interested in the space,” he starts. “First of all, I think there’s plenty of time to find your product-market fit. It’s really easy to feel like you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot or you’ve got to be the first one in. I think first-in advantage is hugely overrated. Just make sure you’re not doing things to just get in on the quick action; that you’re actually focused on building your company.”
Anybody creating a platform – Oculus, Magic Leap, Microsoft – will have programs to pay for content development, because they need content to create the marketplace.
That’s not the only reason to slow down. “It’s still early days [in this field], and much as we would love for it to be tomorrow, I think it’s going to be at least 18-24 months before there is a market place. What I mean by market place is self-sustaining, interesting activity around consumers who have devices, and they’re willing to pay for content, services or experiences around those devices. There’s not going to be a clear winner or platform.”
Also, don’t be so guarded about what you’re working on. Paul urges, “Now’s the time to explore partnerships and collaborations. Do take advantage of this enthusiast investor climate; there’s a lot of both traditional VCs and other large companies that are wanting to stay ahead of the curve. A lot of these guys have seen behind the curtains of the upcoming tech and demos. They know where things are headed.”
Follow the tune of Sketchfab, a website used to display and share 3D content. “One question might be, can you create products for existing, established platforms? Sketchfab has done an amazing job of being available and functional on commercial platforms today and they’re constantly looking forward to the new platforms. They’ve got a product that transcends both the traditional and what’s coming.”
Finally, he says, “If you have your heart set on developing content, my advice is to have 18-24 months of capital at least to make it happen. Anybody creating a platform, that being Oculus, Magic Leap, Microsoft, will have programs to pay for content development, because they know that they need content to create the market place. If you have something compelling, get in touch with some of these guys. That might be an opportunity.”
This article was based on Paul Reynolds’ recent talk for Hacker Unit’s online conference on AR. Sign up for the new season here.