An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

You definitely need to be persistent. Your pain threshold to frustration and patience needs to be extremely high, having good relationships and a sense for selling your work and business making doesn’t hurt, and you certainly must love the process of creating.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Miriam Kuhlmann.

Miriam Kuhlmann is a filmmaker, actor and media artist. Her work incorporates new technologies, such as AI, VR, and game engines, and was featured in numerous films and exhibitions, including at the AplusD Museum and the Helms Design Center in LA. The trailer for Kuhlmann’s Sci-fi short film Mercury XX was presented at the LA Fashion Film Festival in 2020.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in Germany, in what I would say was a very sheltered environment. German society overall is rather risk-averse and safety-first. Engineering technology and the automotive industry are dominating, which still results in a very male-oriented, structured and rule-based lifestyle. In retrospect, I guess I was unconsciously trying to break outside that box by being constantly drawn to the arts, and trying to find what my palette was. I started out interning with a goldsmith, then worked in a metal workshop, and also with a stone mason in Portugal for a couple of months. He created these organic, seemingly flowing and light sculptures out of huge, heavy blocks of marble and I just had to go and meet him. I remember arriving late at night by taxi at a gas station after my flight, and he was this huge guy, built like a tank, one eye blindfolded, and with a stubble, but he actually turned out to be one of the kindest people you could imagine. Together we went to a quarry in the midst of Portugal and chose some good pieces for the next sculptures. He showed me how he designed his sculptures in software, starting out with 3D-printed models. I learned how to use a handhold buzz-saw to cut out the real sculptures from the stone. At the end of my 3 month stay we celebrated our adventure together with a wonderful exhibition in a gallery in Monchique with his live band, beautiful art by one of his artist friends, and the sculptures sitting in the center of the room. Coming back I was definitely struggling to match my fantastical, complicated, and gravity-defying ideas with work reality after joining an Interior Design school, where I did my BA, and I continuously kept looking for a space to call home. After a couple of years working on and off in architecture and design studios I found a wonderful art school in Frankfurt called Staedelschule, where a small, magical architectural program existed and I found mentors, who taught me, which personal and software tools I should pursue to fulfill my fantasies. I found that there are really no limitations to what is possible in a purely digital realm, the only limitations really are to what people are able and willing to perceive. Ignoring even that limitation, my travels to India, Japan and Kenya inspired me to broaden my own horizon and grow as a person. Somehow I landed in Los Angeles mid 2019 based on a scholarship for SciArc’s Fiction and Entertainment program with Liam Young. Then the pandemic hit and I started my first film project Mercury XX which took almost 2 years to complete due to post-production.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I would say, that I take inspiration from a lot of things around me. I feel very attracted and inspired professionally by the strange and weird and boundary pushing art.

A truly inspiring book for me was “The glass bead game” by Herman Hesse, which is about the inexhaustible human learning experience. It describes the ultimate game, in which associations between disciplines like math and music become deeper and more meaningful. The rules of the game are so sophisticated and specialized, that they are not easy to imagine and are not explained. It is only played by highly trained people living in an academic futuristic bubble, almost like monks in a monastery. Technology and other pleasantries of life are kept to a strict minimum.

I am also fascinated by the works of Marcel Duchamp and his excessive inquisitiveness for the unknown and the multidimensional made me realize, that there are ways to describe the chaotic and unresolved matters of the human mind through the lens of art. If there is a scientific explanation, a complex matter can be visualized, it just needs the right palette and decision making. For instance, his “Large Glass” explains a wondrous story of male and female desires conflicting and coming together through a complex piece of machinery that follows made-up rules that are near impossible to abide by.

I can’t help watching films like Aniara, which is a science fiction film based on an epic swedish poem that really impressed me when I was watching it. I had never felt such bleakness and desolation before in a film. When the pandemic hit 3 months later, I felt like I was in that ship drifting into the dark cold space everyday more and more. The isolation was so hopeless, that I wanted to build something inspiring and beautiful, because I knew it was there, I just could not see or feel it. I wanted to explore, if I can create hope in darkness.

Beyond the black mirror was a great inspiration as well, visually, but also energetically. The story is about a psychopathic man using his power and holding a magical girl captive in a hospital. In a larger sense, it speaks about the male ego and never ending quest for power. It speaks about a whole generation of traumatized humans, the reconciliation between science and spirituality, allowing humans to move into a new age of happiness and I do see a lot of parallels of that in our present. Many people say that we are currently living through a second space race, but we also have new technologies such as AI, NFTs, and block chains now which we simply did not have even 10 years ago. It is interesting to me, however, how these marvels are really mostly driven by greedy, traumatized human beings, hungry for change, and not by gratefulness, empathy and the will to fight for survival. Maybe it’s a mix of both. Showing examples of how humans can heal and use their inner strength to create and make progress rather than using fear as an engine became very important to me.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the AI Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.

During one of my first mixed reality exhibition as a student back in 2017, there were a lot of interested visitors, that wanted to try on the VR goggles. When we had families coming in, usually the dads put on the goggles onto their children and the mothers were just looking at the screen. When we asked the women, they were mostly much more hesitant and it took a long while to actually convince them to try the goggles. They were afraid to use the controllers, because they didn’t know how to use them and did not want to break any of it. The maybe four year old kids were extremely quick and understood the controllers in a minute, but the women were too nervous to try. It inspired me to stay in that kind of tech space as an inspiration for other women, and it inspires me to stay calm and curious, even though I don’t know everything and things break all the time. If I am interested in a topic, I try to not let other people’s judgment and comments stop me or put me down. Most of the time, deep down, most people are actually curious I would say and there is something really beautiful and pure about that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?

We shot Mercury XX in August 2020, when most of the filming locations were still closed. I was incredibly nervous, because I had planned 3 hours for the location shoot in the desert, but there was a big car crash on our way to the location. I couldn’t afford to postpone the shoot to another day and we were also stuck in the resulting traffic jam in a canyon, where even turning around is a risky option. So we were stuck for hours, and when we were finally out of the canyon, I calculated, that we only had around 30 minutes left for the shoot, if the rest of the drive goes well. Leaving the canyon, we saw ash cloud emerging above and it began following us from the canyon pass all the way to our shooting location two hours away. It became bigger and darker. My DP assured me, that a cloudy sky might look better on camera than harsh sunlight. Inside, I was a mess. When we arrived, we found our spot and we had to start shooting immediately. After 5 minutes, the large gray cloud spread all over the sky and the sunset started to paint this ugly ash cloud into a deep red, orange and pink- the same colors as the AI-spacesuit I had hand-made for the protagonist. We shot the last frame about 10 minutes before the place was pitch dark and we all got silent. The cloud did not only color the movie frames, but also our drained souls with peace and calm. We later learned that the cloud was a result of the forest fires going on in that region, a phenomenon I had never witnessed before — there are no seasonal forest fires in Germany. So it actually turned out to be the first fire cloud in my entire life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I guess, taking my first break after an 10 hour VR session I started to feel nauseous and stumbled around like a sailor stepping off their boat for the first time after months at sea, hitting my head pretty badly. However, luckily I didn’t end up breaking the monitor like you see some people do or dive for their 5000$ TV taking an imaginary leap of faith.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Of course, I had help from a lot of people on my way, too many to name here really but I am eternally grateful for each and everyone: my mom and dad, my brother and his kids who mean the world to me, my godmother who has always helped me out when I was struggling, my best friend, friends from high school and uni, people I met while traveling and working, and of course my mentors and professors.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My brain always brews more ideas than I can handle, and wants to delve into new territories and explore the boundaries. Right now, I am marinating on combining different media and find funding for another short, which I am excited about. I am also working on further AI explorations with Metahuman and 3D-Scanning technology this time, which I hope I can include into my work. I also strive to encourage others, especially women, to find their voice within the entertainment industry which tends to be very tech-heavy these days. Women to this day have been extremely underrepresented in tech, and I am glad, that this is continuing to slowly change more and more.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?

I am super excited about the new kinds of visualizations coming out of the AI space these days like NeRFs and GANs. I am also looking forward to dive deep into Unreal 5 which came out just a couple of weeks ago, and then finally of course the Metaverse which I guess is really going to have a more long-term effect on how the industry is going to evolve. I hear Epic Games is working on an interesting project in that space as well, and with movies like Ready Player One and books like Daemon by Daniel Suarez it’s not hard to become excited about the new kinds of ideas, stories and experiences that such tech would enable, because there are very little restraints in the digital 3d world. One thing in particular I really enjoy right now already is the combination of AI and VR in the fashion space, which actually has a wonderful mental and profoundly practical impact on people.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

I am concerned about Vr etc technologies, because they eat a lot of our time, which would not be a problem, if it didn’t require a constant state of isolation. Working on a dress for instance in the olden days would be something where you can easily walk over to a colleague and show them, let them take part in the process, ask their opinions or just chat about it over a coffee. The tools we have right now are so great and addictive and immersive, but they aren’t really very collaborative. In the end they require spending a lot of time isolated which I feel not only takes a toll on people’s mental health but it also limits the creative process and it’s really easy to become stuck inside a bubble. So I wish, there was more exploration and education about that aspect in tech. Another challenge of the constant sensory overload is that people may be desensitized to certain types of beauty in the world. People always talk about the desensitized towards violence, but I think, that the virtual world can be so beautiful, that it is hard to readjust and find a balance because it overstimulates your brain, which in the end evolved in the natural world. As a second point, and this has been a concern throughout the internet, is that there is no law and moral code in the VR/AR/Mixed technology world. People have been murdered for fun, get raped and abused mentally every day on multimedia platforms. The victims suffer real consequences, but the online world is like a parallel universe, but planetary, and it runs itself with very little oversight, transparency, or accountability. Another concern I have, is that maybe someday the real world is not going to be enough. What if it hurts to wake up and see the lack of things, that you have in our virtual bubble? That would be awful.

I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?

It’s already overtime for businesses to adapt the new normal. It is now simply essential for companies to build flexibility into their processes. I have worked in architectural and design offices before, and the further I pushed the visualization of an idea, clients respond respectively. There is a large difference between the emotional response to abstract, conceptual images than to realistic images or videos for example. Simulated walk throughs for living spaces or exhibition environments can be extremely useful for the clients to design their signage and product displays without fully committing to the build like you would in the real world. For clients being immersed in the project and the vision of the designed is a whole other level of understanding. They are able to take part in this process on new levels and discussions can be more meaningful, before any decisions are made. The difference between having to hold a presentation about a design with flat imagery, and the ability to virtually experience the product is like going from black and white to color TV. For the designers and artists who develop these ideas, there are no sensory distractions as well, which obviously improves productivity but also creates a new way of shaping a space, that is a pretty rewarding feeling.

Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?

I do not know, if improvement is the right word, I would say they extend it. Technology can enhance, immerse, stimulate. For instance, I would have never guessed that VR can help with criminal cases. But a couple of years ago, I went to an exhibition in Germany, where an artist built a crime scene and simulated possible outcomes. I guess there are all kinds of interesting opportunities like that, that we are still missing out on. We can certainly do better than just experiencing things that we are not able to in normal life, like jumping from a High rise or flying through digital mountains or launching into space in VR. Not to diminish these wonderful experiences, I think there is a deeper, more meaningful way to approach VR by using it collaboratively. Additionally, I would also like to encourage trying out tools that help personal development and mental health, such as learning new languages, workouts and meditation. I think it would be wonderful if we could teach kids or even young adults remotely, who would otherwise not have access to education.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?

Working with VR is not just fun and entertaining, it can actually be really lonely and hard work for months and years, not only to create something, but to understand the technology and understand how to use it to maximize the impact of your work. I have seen a lot of projects through the years, that just wanted to use VR for the sake of using VR, and it is usually pretty obvious. If an idea is not profoundly researched and executed, people will know and feel it. People in the industry usually know this, but the magic for someone coming from outside can easily overpower the judgment. Another myth is, that working with VR is expensive. Actually it is really accessible. The biggest expense I would say is the time it takes to learn how to create a scene, but even that is becoming easier. Unreal Engine and Unity for instance are completely free and come with lots of 3D assets and online documentation. VR goggles are also not that big of a price tag anymore. For the basic design and creation process, you don’t even necessarily need goggles, for instance, you can test out your work easily with a phone and a paper frame for 20 bucks if you really want to. Of course I would not recommend hour-long sessions.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”

You definitely need to be persistent. Your pain threshold to frustration and patience needs to be extremely high, having good relationships and a sense for selling your work and business making doesn’t hurt, and you certainly must love the process of creating.

Furthermore, I think you need to know, what is realistic in a given time frame, what other projects are out there and you need to want to push the boundaries either of the technology or your way of storytelling through the new technology. Last but not least, staying motivated and inspired, and that is the wonderful challenge, that everyone is more or less confronted with. The most important thing though is to also have fun at what you do and give yourself the space to experiment.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see more women leaders in the tech industries, and I would love to build an “old girls” network somehow. I would love for young girls to have a vision of accomplishment and hope through building skills and their ability to master a craft; Hope is the most freeing and liberating gift that you can give. There is a lot of hopelessness in the world, and women often have to work much harder to be recognized for what they do. There is just this large barrier that every human faces, that can seem unattainable.

I do think we can learn a lot from the old boys club and how networking and sharing insider knowledge can catapult individuals but also provide safety for a larger organizations. I do believe, that women deserve to not be played against each other, but learn from and inspire each other. Seeing women nowadays to thrive, step into their power and speak up is wonderful, but it is even more wonderful, if they are supported by a network and are not only seen as competition.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have breakfast with Jack Grapes. He seems to be a wonderful teacher and mentor. Everyone sometimes has a hard time being vulnerable and getting to that point of converting the essence of an idea into something tangible. The way he describes concepts techniques is one of a kind. I would also gladly meet Grimes. I do think, she has Pippi Longstocking vibes. I admire women, who do not wait for someone to allow them to do something. I feel like she is just fearlessly telling her mind, doing her thing, trying out, she seems to love to collaborate and I think I could learn a lot from her. In terms of thinking out of the box, I would love to talk to Yuval Harari or Adam Curtis. After watching a lot of Curtis’ films, I think I learned a lot about how I can use film making to express visions and ideas may seem confusing or incoherent at first. I also would love to pick Marina Abramovics brain because of her impactful concepts. She truly groundbreaking and to me the epitome of pushing the boundaries fearlessly.

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!

Makers of The Metaverse: Miriam Kuhlmann On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Recommended Posts