An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be able to problem solve and think on your feet. This is brand new technology and many projects are doing something that has not been done before.

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 Raed Al Tikriti.

As Chief Product Officer for visual storytelling company disguise, Raed is constantly keeping his eye on the market to understand how best to move disguise forward. He combines a deep technical understanding of how and why products get made with excellent relationship management skills, to help disguise exceed customer expectations. Raed has an extensive background in product management, having previously held similar roles across broadcast technology and digital media on both sides of the Atlantic, including Grass Valley in Canada and Ventuz in Germany.

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 the UAE well before the boom that reshaped the country into what it is today. My parents are pharmacists, and my sister and I grew up regularly going with my mother to help out in the lab. There was always a strong interest in science in our house but if I ever had any plans to enter the medical field, they all fell by the wayside on my 10th birthday. That was the day my father gave me my first computer, and I was instantly hooked.

After high school, I moved to Canada to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering and then started my career working on real-time graphics for airplane simulators. I was still hooked!

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 Star Wars: The Mandalorian series had a major impact as it was one the first examples of Virtual Production being used in a major production. Instead of using green screen technology, The Mandalorian used LED volumes and real-time graphics from Unreal Engine that, through camera tracking technology, could be updated dynamically as the camera moved. This created an immersive virtual scene visible to actors on set in real-time.

Seeing such a major franchise like Star Wars using real-time graphics for VFX was a sign to me that the virtual production workflows and technology we were working on at disguise were going to change the game for the film industry.

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

My journey in this area started slightly over 2 years ago when I joined disguise. We had developed an extended reality (xR) platform that leveraged real-time graphics engines such as Unreal Engine, LED walls and camera tracking to create immersive environments for live performances. Our solution was based on the pioneering work done by Epic Games on the production of The Mandalorian and offered an integrated and productized system. I remember being amazed by the solution and evangelizing how this would be an important part of our future.

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

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tremendous shift we experiences when then the pandemic struck.

xR turned into a lifeline for content creation during the pandemic. Movies and TV shows could be filmed without the need to travel on location. Live music could be performed on stages with rich visuals and streamed to fans. xR adoption took off and continues to accelerate to this day.

It turns out the future we envisioned arrived earlier than any of us anticipated.

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?

My first job was as a software engineer working on real-time systems for airplane simulators. These simulators are big 2-storey machines made up of airplane cockpits propped up on giant, powerful hydraulic jacks. I had just completed some software updates and, even though I was quite new in the role, I was feeling confident about the updates and decided to integrate them with very little testing.

I jumped into the cockpit and started flying the simulator to test my modifications. Within moments the simulator started shaking violently in all directions and it took me several minutes to find the reset button to stop the simulation and get down. My colleagues who were watching from the outside couldn’t stop laughing. I was feeling embarrassed and extremely motion sick!

Lessons learned: always double-check your work and always know where to find the reset button.

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? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful to the CTO at one of my previous companies who mentored me and helped me grow. He generously put in the time and effort to work with me over the years. I learned a few important lessons hands-on:

● How to simplify and present complex technical topics.

● How to zoom out and look for out-of-the-box solutions. Sometimes the solutions were counterintuitive or were best achieved with less, not more, tech.

● What font size to use in Powerpoint presentations.

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

At the moment we are looking at expanding the capabilities of our extended reality (xR) platform to allow our users to start creating memorable experiences linked with the metaverse(s).

Our extended reality (xR) solution is currently powering over 300 stages in 35 countries around the world. These stages allow creative and technical teams to place talent inside infinite virtual environments for films, TV, live broadcast and more.

This vast network of stages has already been used to power some memorable metaverse experiences where we have streamed some live xR concerts directly into metaverses such as Fortnite. Looking forward, we see a future where such live stage performances can trigger actions in the metaverse and where metaverse avatars and content can teleport into the on-stage performance.

We believe that connecting the physical world with virtual worlds can produce new and exciting experiences.

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?

The first thing that excites me is that extended reality (xR) is changing traditional production workflows in film, TV and broadcast. Virtual production has VFX professionals taking graphics that would traditionally be applied in post-production and instead of having these virtual scenes appear in real-time on camera and visible for the entire cast and crew. This allows for creative decisions and changes to be made in the moment and for additional control while shooting (for example, productions no longer have to wait until sunset to shoot a night scene or for the weather to cooperate). Broadcasters and filmmakers can also cut their carbon footprints as extended reality immerses actors in any scene imaginable, negating the need for scouting and travelling to locations.

I am also excited by the sheer growth of the industry. This was partly accelerated by the pandemic but it’s clear that growth is set to continue, with some estimates pegging the market at $300 billion by 2025. We have seen widespread adoption and have continued to focus on democratizing access to these solutions by lowering the barriers to entry for creative and technical teams working with these technologies.

The third exciting aspect is that the opportunities for extended reality are limitless. Most are using these tools to enhance already existing entertainment forms like film, broadcasts, brand launches etc, however, we can use this technology to completely reinvent what we experience. We have seen partners use our hardware and software to power new experiences like Illuminarium, which are, essentially, “VR without the goggles” as 4K video content immerse visitors in a whole new world where they are transported to an African safari. We are also seeing new and interesting metaverse experiences with this technology and we can’t wait to see what disguise’s creative community comes up with in the next few years.

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?

My number one concern is the availability of skilled xR talent. Right now, as this industry is so new, we need to find the best way to support emerging talent. Those who can create virtual graphics in tools like Unreal Engine and use disguise to deliver projects are in high demand and we must nurture them and also encourage more talent to pick up these workflows. At the end of 2020, disguise launched our free eLearning platform and we have a dedicated team for training. We are also working closely with universities so they can start teaching these workflows to students. For example, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is using disguise for their film studio’s xR stage so the next generation of filmmakers can learn and become adept at xR workflows. In addition, we launched the xR & VP Alliance which includes creative studios and technology providers working together on standards and on training the next generation of talent.

The second challenge we see is related to the complexity of deploying xR solutions today. For this technology to hit its stride, deployment needs to be simplified so that creative teams can truly focus on creating compelling content. We offer one of the easiest to deploy solutions today, and we continue to enhance it to further simplify deployment and operation. We are also improving integrations with creative tools and workflows to lower the content creation barriers. In parallel, with the xR & VP Alliance, we are working across the industry to define interoperability standards.

Another concern is around how the metaverse industry will overcome some of the pitfalls we have seen in the internet age — particularly with access to and sharing of personal data. In the metaverse, the data that platforms will have access to will go beyond information like search history and linger time, and will encompass facial expressions and body language captured by the technology. This data is even more “personal” and so much richer and therefore more likely to be in demand. We look forward to robust industry standards that ensure protection for those interacting within these virtual worlds.

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?

During the pandemic, we saw how we can leverage platforms like Zoom to stay connected at work even though we are far apart. VR, AR and MR will allow us to continue to stay connected like this but also mimic the experience of seeing each other in person.

Educational institutions have used xR stages to host remote learning sessions that were more engaging than Zoom calls. We also saw corporate customers leveraging xR stages for richer corporate communications and presentations. The feedback from both educational and corporate users has been very positive and we are seeing an increase in their demand and use of these solutions in the future.

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

A key benefit of this technology is its ability to reduce environmental impact through enabling virtual experiences.

I have already touched on how production teams in film, TV and broadcast are using extended reality to reduce their carbon footprint while still creating amazing productions filmed in exciting locations without leaving the studio.

AR can also be a step forward in reducing costs for bricks and mortar shops as well as allowing people to make more conscious decisions that eliminate waste when buying. Makeup brands like L’Oreal and Sephora now allow consumers to virtually try on their makeup from home; furniture brands like IKEA are using AR to visualise what a product might look like in their room. Fashion brands are using AR to allow customers to try on their clothes virtually. Research from Growth from Knowledge has found that 42.8% of global consumers want to use AR and VR to shop like they’re in a real store and 38.2% to experiment with new products. We have also seen famous fashion brands use AR, VR and MR to create virtual garments and even use our extended reality technology for virtual fashion shows. All of this promotes less waste and more environmentally conscious behaviour.

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

The number one myth I see is that the industry is just about wearing headsets. Blurring the line between the physical and virtual has many different technology components and headsets are only a part of that. At disguise we are creating virtual environments by integrating graphics engines like Unreal Engine, LED canvasses and camera tracking technology into an immersive experience. This is inherently complex, yet the results we see from this have been amazing. The first memorable application was during Katy Perry’s performance of ‘Daisies’ in the 2020 American Idol finale where she performed on an LED stage in real life yet was transported to a cartoon house that morphed and moved dynamically during the performance. This was all done during a live broadcast. It is so much more than putting a headset on.

Another myth I would like to dispel when it comes to the metaverse is that it is just an online gaming platform. Although games like Fortnite and Roblox have been crucial in showing the potential of metaverse platforms and that they are most likely the closest thing we have to a metaverse platform right now, the metaverse is for anyone who wants to connect with others and experience something different to reality. An example is “Party Royale” within Fortnite, where attendees can interact and experience concerts, movies and other events together. Roblox and Fortnite concerts have attracted tens of millions of attendees with performances by Lil Nas X and Ariana Grande.

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

There is so much opportunity in extended reality, not just when it comes to the technology, but also when it comes to the creative and content side as well. You truly can do anything!

It’s challenging to narrow it down, but in order to be successful, you must:

1. Be curious and willing to explore new technologies, methods and knowledge.

2. Be able to problem solve and think on your feet. This is brand new technology and many projects are doing something that has not been done before.

3. Be able to link both the creative and technical elements together so the technology can be used to the fullest of its ability.

4. Work together with a highly motivated community who are all pushing boundaries both technically and creatively. Our network of partners does amazing things and often collaborates with each other to make a project successful.

5. Dream big! Extended reality and the metaverse is not a place to limit our imaginations. There is a solution for everything if you are willing to look for it, so don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild!

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. 🙂

There’s already a focus on this topic, but I would encourage dedicating more energy to growing and diversifying enrollment in science and technology. Industry can help by working directly with schools to reach students early and by growing technical internships that can offer a gateway into these fields.

Many of the challenges that we face today and will face in the future require innovative approaches and solutions, and we will need all the scientists we can get!

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 🙂

It would have to be Serena Williams. She’s widely considered to be the greatest tennis player of all time. But after becoming more aware of her life story, I am even more in awe of how she overcame all the challenges to rise up and completely dominate the sport. I believe that grit is critical to success and it’s clear that she has it in spades.

Serena Williams is truly inspirational and a great role model.

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

Makers of The Metaverse: Raed Al Tikriti Of Disguise On 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.

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