SXSW Startups: ARwall Builds Illusions
The Forrest Four-Cast: February 9, 2018
Fifty diverse startups have been selected to compete at the 2018 SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event before a panel of industry experts. Half will pitch on Saturday, March 10, and the remaining 25 on Sunday, March 11. Winners in 10 categories will be honored at the Accelerator Award Ceremony at 7 pm Sunday, March 11, at the Hilton Austin. The SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event takes place within the Startup & Tech Sectors track of programming.
A finalist in the Augmented & Virtual Reality Technology category, ARwall has created an AR display that requires no headset, no goggles, no smart device. Their film tool creates a real-time, in-camera composite and eliminates the need for green-screen or post-VFX work to finish the illusion. A second product, AR3D, creates an interactive “virtual window” illusion for businesses and consumers. ARwall CMO Eric Navarrette (pictured front row, far right) spoke about the Los Angeles-based company in advance of their in-person pitch at 3:30 pm on Sunday, March 11, in the Hilton Austin, Salon AB.
Can you give us a few real life/real world use cases of how your products work or might work?
Our flagship product, ARwall Effects, is an augmented reality film tool created specifically to eliminate the need for green screen on a production. If you were shooting a scene on the bridge of the Enterprise or from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, we would be able to display all of the visuals outside the windows. In fact, our first client is one of the Big Six studios and we’re doing exactly this for their new science-fiction show.
What is your competitive advantage?
Our biggest competitive advantage is the human capital, which has already developed a patent-pending spatial imaging technology that is four times faster than anything else on the market. Our team has the background to really thrive in the collision of film/TV and high-tech. Our product team includes award winning developers with 15+ AAA titles released between them, and the rest of the team is rounded out with over 50 years of combined industry related experience in film, TV, and interactive.
What does ARwall hope to accomplish this year?
We’ve already made great headway in 2018 and we hope to continue this upward climb. We were featured at Slamdance in partnership with Clever Fox. Our installation, “What We Leave Behind,” was the first collaborative effort to create a film during a film festival using AR, attendees and filmmakers. We provided the ARwall background illusion, with foreground AR and creative design provided by Clever Fox. We’re talking to major studios and brands about doing live activations at festivals, concerts, premieres, and we are eager to continue our talks with creatives about hopping onto more shows, films, commercials, and games. Sky’s the limit!
What inspired your team to apply for SXSW Accelerator?
SXSW is one of the most exciting events every year — the melding of A-list talent and media with cutting edge technology really speaks to us at ARwall. Half of our team comes from the filmmaking world, while the other half come from technology, specifically gaming, VR and AR. It seemed like a natural fit.
What are ARwall’s goals at SXSW 2018?
While we haven’t been to anything the size of SXSW before, I will say that the great thing about going to these types of events is that you meet creatives, storytellers who are just really passionate about making the best thing possible. It’s really an embarrassment of riches, the number of talented individuals who show up. I hope that we make connections with these types of spirited people, that we can collaborate with them on exciting projects, and hopefully help some of them complete a dream project they never thought attainable.
Who are you looking to network with?
We’re hoping to connect with technologists and virtual production experts. They tend to have their eyes set on finding the indispensable film tools of tomorrow. Also, productions and savvy brands that can make use of our technology. But equally important, everything we’ve accomplished so far has been founder funded, so we’re definitely interested in speaking with investors!
How long has the ARwall team been together?
The company has been together for a little over a year now. But I’ve been collaborating with Rene Amador (CEO) and Jocelyn Hsu (CPO) for more than 16 years, since our freshmen year at college — making movies, co-founding our campus’s TV station, and then working together at the creative agency they ran and owned. Micheal Plescia (ARwall inventor and Chief Creative Officer) has been our friend and colleague for 12 years now. So, we’ve got a lot of sympatico and have been through the trenches together.
Have team members previously been involved with other startups?
Rene and Jocelyn founded and ran a digital agency, Automaton Creative, for eight years, in addition to running a creative label, NEWMYTHIC, where we developed our personal projects. Michael founded his own boutique VFX house, called Broth(el), where he lends his experienced eye and talents for projects that excite him personally. Will Hellwarth, our Chief Interactive Officer, is the founder of the award-winning game studio, Good Bye World.
ARwall is based in Los Angeles. What are the best things about the L.A. startup scene?
The people and groups who we meet here in L.A. are impassioned creatives. Everyone we’re building relationships with is excited to try something risky, something no one else has ever done before, and the fact that virtual production tools and this type of immersive AR are still so new means that we get to experiment with these people and play a role in the digital revolution.
Does your team have favorite podcasts?
The team is hooked on Gimlet’s “Start-Up” and “The Pitch.” We’re also fans of “How I Built This” and Rene and Jocelyn love “Masters of Scale.”
As a personal project, I hosted and we produced a season of a podcast, “At the Point of a Knife,” in which I interviewed modern horror filmmakers about their experiences making films in the new streaming/OTT/fragmented distribution world. I’m always fascinated by the stories of creators and what they’ve overcome to make their work. One of my favorite interviews we did was with Radio Silence, directors of VHS, Southbound, and Devil’s Due. They’re a lot of fun and their experiences navigating from YouTube content creators to major studio filmmakers is pretty incredible.
What do you enjoy most about the startup experience?
Hearing people’s excitement at what we’ve built and how it can help them make better movies. It’s been a lot of hard work and time we’ve put into this endeavor, so it’s immensely satisfying and reassuring to hear that validation. It lets us know we’re on the right track! Also, one time Alan Tudyk randomly showed up to one of our Culver City demos and my nerd heart nearly exploded.
How about least?
You have to put a lot of time and energy into getting a company started. The whole team has made sacrifices and compromises for the greater good of what we’re building. I’m looking forward to the moment when we all start seeing the rewards for our efforts, but I feel like we’re hitting that inflection point moving into 2018!
What do you know now that you wish you had known before you began the startup journey with ARwall?
I wish we had known how overwhelmingly positive the response was going to be. We were worried that the 10 filmmaker friends we initially showed this to were a fluke, or were just being nice, but it’s become clear that what we have built here is exciting filmmakers and creatives.
Person, company, thing or goal. What inspires your team to work harder?
We have a well-balanced team. People are working on the product, prototypes, building partnerships, booking clients, pitching at events and conventions — honestly, every individual’s successes in their respective discipline continually inspires the rest of the group. We’re very supportive of one another and I like that we have built a company that has “respect” and “admiration” as foundational elements.
What has the startup experience taught you about life?
You have more strength and ingenuity in you than you give yourself credit for.
Look for interviews with other SXSW Accelerator finalists in this space between now and March. Startups already profiled as part of this series include 70MillionJobs, Bluefield, Cambridge Cancer Genomics, Commutifi, DashTag, FanFood, Goalsetter, HealthTensor, Instreamatic, Leaf, Pawame, PolyPort, Sceenic, Switchboard, and UPGRADED.
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.