Virtual Reality – The New Digital Revolution


Like it or not virtual reality is going to change the world. From healthcare to haircuts, VR is set to change the way we live our lives and it looks like it’s here to stay.  Formulate chat with Jonathan Barrowman from Gorilla In The Room, a digital animation studio based in Brighton.

1/ What’s the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality?

AR enhances the real world around you: it’s a see-through experience, recognising objects in the real world and rendering 2D & 3D animation on top of it. Amazon is currently using AR in their search function and it’s getting more advanced, identifying things in the real world. It’s still learning and not ideal but it’s starting to recognise certain objects, colours and so on. It’s also being used in apps for visually impaired people so they can understand their surroundings, and for tourists to gain more information about the places they’re visiting.

VR is a closed lens which transports you somewhere else.  VR & AR are sisters, both sit on the same end of the reality/VR continuum: AR is trying to index the world, VR takes you somewhere else and you’re completely immersed.

2/ Virtual reality has been around for a while, particularly with gaming, but why has it increased momentum so rapidly?

We’re seeing a platform shift with the way we interact with technology, from the keyboard and mouse of the nineties, to the smartphone from 2010, to where we are now when we’re starting to interface with technology in a more human way using voice, sight and gestures.  Yes, virtual reality is being used predominantly in the entertainment sector. Consumers want to stay in the experience for longer periods of time and to be rewarded and get value from it. Virtual Reality is an easy step from gaming—the mindset of building games is very like VR, it’s intuitive and immersive.

VR & AR are not just different channels, they are a seismic shift in platform.  There is a demand for both in today’s world.  From a market perspective, the gold rush is on. Investors are getting behind the tech that’s happening now and is going to change the way we interact with digital. It’s moving fast and it’s the way forward. 2016 was a pivotal year: the first quarter saw £1.2 billion of venture capital flow into the industry—Facebook Oculus, Microsoft Lens, Google Daydream, PlayStation VR (which sold out in UK during pre-order phase).

3/ Currently, where do VR & AR sit in the digital industry? 

Market research is one of our fastest growing sectors at the moment.  This area is in desperate need of these tools, principally because research techniques are pretty old-school—they still rely on pen and paper and basic observation. If you can place someone into a supermarket, train station or any environment, make it is as natural as possible then observe their behaviours, the insight you get is far greater than current techniques. The client gains an emotional response not a rational one.

Product design: Currently, in the automotive industry companies will build full- scale models of prototype cars out of clay, then ask respondents to walk around it, feeding back on the design et cetera.  With VR, the client gets immediate emotive feedback—real time data which in turn give more qualitive data.

Additional product information: Augmented reality allows consumers to trigger information out of a physical object: any product becomes a digital portal. For example, scanning a drink can give you more information on football sponsorship.

Brand advertising: Virtual versions of adverts look to extend the consumer experience. They are empathy driven and allow people to explore the world a client has created, within a TV commercial for example.

Customer service: Virtual ‘try-on’ services have been adopted by companies such as Ikea, L’Oréal and Specsavers.  They are using these technologies to enhance their customer service.  Once the customer has bought the product, AR is being used for troubleshooting purposes.

Sectors which are currently adopting this technology are fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), automotive. healthcare, retail, beverages—there’s almost an application for every sector.

4/ If we believe the hype then clearly our way of life is due to change dramatically. How do you see virtual reality affecting our day to day lives?

It will be the way we interact with digital information.  In 10-15 years’ time, we will be using our voice, sight and gestures to interact with tech. It will be a screenless world.  We may not be at contact lens stage but we will start to see non-obtrusive glasses that will enable you to get information from the world around you in terms of directions, product information etc. which, at the touch of a button or a certain gesture, will transport you somewhere else.

It’s a more natural way of interfacing – to talk, to see, to touch, to use gesticulation. They are more human ways than the technology we have been using in the past. I welcome it.

5/ With such an increase in demand from marketers for VR, how does someone start a career in this field and what skill set would you require from a digital candidate?

Anyone with a passion for visual computing is welcome.  We look for skills in animation, CGI and game developing—even if it’s just a personal passion.  There are loads of animation tools available which you can use to create things.  There are obviously strong parallels with game developers and how you design an intuitive experience.  It’s not just about the tech, but understanding the consumer experience in terms of emotions, market and so on.  The field of computer vision is not something you can study, it’s such a new field you need to have a passion for it and be dedicated to understanding the visual world. Anyone that has an interest in that would be choosing a killer career choice!

6/ What is the future for Gorilla in the Room?

Our work will always be magical meaningful and measurable. We think there is a lot of magic in VR & AR but we want to produce work that is meaningful and measurable. Ultimately, we are working towards having a trusted relationship with our clients to continually experiment and innovate. The tech we are using now will all change in 6 months’ time. We can’t stand still, we need to be constantly experimenting with different technologies.  Our role is about being agnostic with the tech but delivering a more meaningful experience for end- users and a more measurable programme for our clients.