Virtual reality experts give their insight into tomorrow’s world


10 Sep 2021

II 21 WEB EventHeader Gareth Natalie Peter 700x400



Virtual reality experts give their insight into tomorrow’s world

10 Sep 2021

Later this month, an exclusive ‘Designing the Future’ Industry Insight event with Immerse Australia Chair and Voyant AR founder, Natalie Marinho; Frame Labs founder, Gareth Lockett; and Zarmada VR Developer, Peter Carey is being hosted at SAE Perth. Before the session, we caught up with Natalie, Gareth and Peter to chat about their careers to date and how they see the industry evolving into the future.

Hi Natalie, Gareth, and Peter, can you share your current roles in the industry?

Natalie: I’m the Chair of Immerse Australia, and also run a creative studio called Voyant AR, which started in 2017. We do the whole development process from research, design, prototyping development, and deployment of augmented reality applications. 

Gareth: I founded Frame Labs in 2016 with my business partner, Justin McArdle; which was formed to be a dedicated XR studio. We deal primarily with VR, AR, and MR. 

Peter: I’m currently working as a VR Developer at Zarmada, and previously worked as a Game Developer at St.John. 

Natalie and Gareth, what was the inspiration for Voyant VR and Frame Labs?

N: I was actually working for one of the big four banks in their corporate digital team. Whilst I was there, Pokemon Go was released and it illustrated to me that augmented reality development had become mainstream, as everybody now had a smart device in their pocket. That’s what started it for me.

G: When we first began Frame Labs we didn’t want to specialise in a particular industry. We were inspired to do whatever came up. This led to all sorts of collaborations with different types of people on art projects, training courses, and entertainment as well.

What’s the most satisfying project you’ve been a part of?

G: That’s like asking who your favourite child is! One of the projects I am most proud of is called Thalu Dreamtime is Now which took close to two years to complete. We worked with traditional Aboriginal storytellers from Ngarluma, Pilbara. We finished it in 2018 and launched it at the Melbourne International Film Festival and it sold out - which was fantastic.

N: One of the more recent ones I did was actually a personal project. With the start of COVID-19, a lot of people were forced to sort of look at the world around them. I developed a project that compared the experience of the mandatory two weeks quarantine that people had to do in hotels, when they returned to Australia, with the refugee asylum process, and in particular a detainee who had actually been in detention for nearly 10 years. I think a lot of people have sympathy for those that are in quarantine, so I hope the sympathy can be extended to those in detention through the augmented reality experience I created.

P: I'd have to say the ‘First Aid Skills Project’. It was a three year plan, I worked on for the digitisation of first aid training for St John. It aimed at breaking down the traditional training mechanism by providing the content to people at home via Mobile and Web apps, as well as a location based VR experience. 

You’ve travelled all over the world, Natalie. Where is the most enjoyable place you’ve worked?

N: I really enjoyed my time in the Solomon Islands. I was there for three months and it was so different from what I’ve experienced. The people there are so amazing, lovely and friendly. I was working on a digital ICT project there with the Education Department, and it just made me appreciate that technology really opens up opportunities for people. No matter where you are in the world, the way technology has advanced means you’re no longer restricted by these big, heavy and expensive desktop computers. 

How do you think VR experiences can solve real life problems? 

G: We did some work for Murdoch University’s Forensic Department recently where we built a crime scene investigation experience, where students can see a murder has taken place in an apartment, and they can go through the learnings of what they’d need to do and consider. And of course it’s really beneficial to the university because if they wanted to set up a real life scenario like that for students, it would be incredibly costly and time consuming. 

What did you study at SAE, Peter and Gareth?

P: I completed my Bachelor of Game Development in 2016. It was a great learning experience, as  I not only learnt the programming and design side of things,  but also the soft skills like time and project management that I probably wouldn't have focused on if I was teaching myself. And now I’m studying for my Masters of Creative Industries in Game Development and Design there. 

G: I graduated with a Bachelor of Animation in 2014. I’d been doing animation professionally for the past 20 years, but I wanted to get a formal qualification. I now have students on placement at Frame Labs, so the experience has come full circle.

Why is it important to support future creatives in the industry?

G: When we first started Frame Labs, we found out very quickly we couldn’t go out and hire a dozen VR developers because they just don't exist. So we have to train people and be prepared to spend time and effort in training. It’s part of our vision to support and train developers. Over the last five years we’ve had over 30 people we’ve trained, some of them still work with us, and others have gone on to create their own VR studios, which is excellent for the future of the industry.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

N: There's such a wealth of talent in this country from other sectors. There are a lot of people who have transferable skills working in the creative industries like audio, music filmmaking, visual effects and animation. Some companies will go overseas thinking that that's where the best talent is, before looking at their own backyard. Our goal at Immersive Australia is to promote and support our talented industry and educate the general public about what's available here. 

G: I've been doing this for almost 40 years now. I've lived through the personal computer revolution, the internet, the birth of smartphones, the uptake of social media...and I can tell you without a shadow of doubt XR is the next platform. It's going to be in every industry, from entertainment training, education, medical - it's a natural evolution of how we develop technology, and the next step in the digitisation of human experience. If you want to rock climb the tallest mountain in the world, you'll be able to do that in VR. 

Finally...Peter, what would you say to a High School student who wants to get into the VR industry?

P: I can say that with persistence, you can get past the challenges of the industry if you’re willing to put in the time to hone your skills. Generally when you're 20, your friends may be earning more than you, but then when you get to like 25, you'll have friends that wish they were game developers - it’s certainly a rewarding career. 

The Designing the Future’ Industry Insights session with Natalie, Gareth, and Peter is being hosted at SAE Creative Media Institute’s Perth campus at Northbridge in partnership with Immerse Australia on Thursday 30 September from 5-7pm (AWST). Secure your seat for free now.