Long Beach Virtual Reality Pioneers Carve Out Their Place in a Rapidly Expanding Industry

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Photo by Asia Morris.

Nevada native and filmmaker Josh Dubon got his start in production with his creation of Daydream Cinema, now an established Long Beach-based multimedia production house, 12 years ago, after growing up within and feeling compelled to capture the Reno skateboarding scene.

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A skateboarder himself, he naturally fell into the profession of filming action sports after jumping in headfirst to develop that skill set. The work for his first real client, Skullcandy, enabled him to hit the ground running, and he took his business to California in an effort to expand.

“It was raw and rugged and, being a skateboarder when I grew up, you were made fun of,” said Dubon. “You were basically a loser. It’s just funny because it’s a completely different thing now. I just wanted to make films, capture raw skateboarding and have something visually pleasing to share with people.”

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Image courtesy of VRVUZ.

About six years ago, Dubon met Jessica Maslin, a Los Angeles transplant from New York, through a chance encounter on the sand in front of his Long Beach condominium. Maslin, who was working for a startup at the time, unknowingly wandered through a Daydream Cinema commercial set, met Dubon, and ended up using his company’s expertise for several media and kickstarter projects at the startup.

After working together, Maslin envisioned an opportunity she couldn’t ignore.

“I was like, what you do is so much more interesting than what I do,” said Maslin. “I saw an opportunity to be more creative with Josh and pitched him on bringing me on as a partner.”

“That’s a testament to how it works in Long Beach,” said Dubon. “You just meet people, you collaborate and sometimes you become partners and build businesses together. It’s a great place to thrive.”

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Now the two are the co-founders of VRVUZ, a company specializing in capturing, editing and creating Virtual Reality (VR) experiences—and they’re the first such business to dive headfirst into VR in Long Beach.

“About two years ago we started, I’d say, dabbling, in virtual reality,” said Maslin. “And soon realized that it wasn’t going to be a passing fad, that it was a completely new way to tell stories and that’s what we love to do—we love to be storytellers. And virtual reality is just the next generation of storytelling.”

VRVUZ is essentially an everywhere-operation, as Dubon, Maslin and their tight-knit team rarely say no to a project, knowing full well that their experiences on the job are going to put them ahead of any company claiming they know how to work with this nascent, and quickly growing form of filmmaking technology.

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Image courtesy of VRVUZ.

Although the two companies are separate, running Daydream Cinema certainly provides a foundation of filmmaking expertise that VRVUZ uses everyday, albeit in a completely new manner.

“From lighting—everything is so different—we’re constantly creating new ways to give off light,” said Dubon, referring to just one example of the myriad differences between traditional filmmaking and VR. “You’re being forced to think in a different way.”

“Right now it’s like the Wild West, it’s like who did it first,” he continued. “We were the first company to fly over Los Angeles and shoot it in VR.”

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Image courtesy of VRVUZ.

The company has had a lot of firsts, including creating one of the first restaurant VR activations, “potentially in the world,” said Dubon, right here in Long Beach at Lola’s Mexican Cuisine. The company contributed to the city’s local mural scene over the summer by filming local street and fine artist Greg “Craola” Simkins hard at work on a mural in Lola’s back patio.


 

Seamlessly stitched together, the 360 video features not only a completely immersive window into the work-in-progress of a talented street artist, but also showcases animations and Simkins’ shared insights throughout its duration. Wearing a VR headset, you can almost smell the paint, but are grateful you don’t have to.

A similar experience could be created for, say, the Olympics, where if you’re unable to fly across the globe to watch your favorite athletes compete, a VR production would be able to place you right in the middle of the action, minus the crowds and the cost.

“If you can’t make it [to see] your favorite band in Germany or something, we can make that happen, and work with those music labels to create a new experience for the fans that can’t make it there,” said Dubon.

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“There’s so many different applications that are appropriate for different industries and we’re exploring all of those,” Maslin added.

The team is also working with Jam in the Van, “the world’s first solar powered music discovery vehicle” and mobile recording studio, as the project’s official VR partner. VRVUZ has been creating VR360 sessions of the musicians that play in the van, said Dubon.

One such session includes a 360 video with The Motet from the GoPro Mountain Games, stitched and edited by VRVUZ. Make sure to use your cursor to spin your view around the studio.

Tilly’s, thanks to VRVUZ, was the first retailer to use VR on Black Friday, with a video shot with the new GoPro Omni, given to VRVUZ by the company to test out, said Dubon. And whether you’re using a proper headset or just your phone, it’s certainly an entertaining experience you’re compelled to watch again and again, because, well, all advertisements aside, there’s just so much to see.

The list goes on and on of the projects the VRVUZ team are tackling head-on, with this article barely acknowledging the tip of the iceberg of what can actually be publicized.

“I love seeing people experience VR for the first time,” said Dubon. “I love seeing people smile, saying, ‘This is nuts.’ From them holding the phone and not even knowing what to do; just moving and being able to see the image move a couple feet, their minds are blown. And then you’re just like, ‘Hey, guess what? Put your finger on the screen.’ And then their minds are blown again.”

The applications for VR go far beyond pure, immersive entertainment. For example, the VRVUZ team recently landed the opportunity to create several VR experiences for a six-year-old girl paralyzed from the waist down. The hope is to stimulate Eden's brain to fire mirror neurons used to imitate actions, as well as aid her physical therapy and remove her from her everyday routine, said Maslin. VRVUZ flies out to Louisville, Kentucky this month to begin work on the project.

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Image courtesy of VRVUZ. 

“Virtual Reality is going to be a 20-plus billion industry by 2020 and right now we’re carving our place in that industry,” said Dubon. “And along with that is something that's really important to me and to our team, is creating opportunities for other creatives.”

“Everyone in the world will know that VRVUZ was launched here in Long Beach,” said Dubon. “I’ll tell you that much.”

To follow the VRVUZ team, visit the website here and Facebook page here.



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