An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Stop running from pain and hurt by making yourself ridiculously busy and distracted. Siit in disappointment, frustration, and grief. Reflect on it, process it, know who you are despite it.
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, as a part of our interview series called “Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Michaela Holland.
Michaela Holland is a consultant and creative strategist who blends traditional media with XR (Extended Reality), VR, AR AI, motion capture and 360-degree film.
Michaela is not only a leader of creative teams on storytelling projects, she is also a producer, public speaker, and documentarian. She acts as a consultant for various corporate and creative firms to introduce them to XR technologies and how they can be used within their business.
Based in New York City, Michaela began her career in XR working on TIME Magazine’s LIFE VR project and has since produced multiple immersive non-fiction films which have won her both an Emmy and a Webby award.
Throughout her work, Michaela focuses on ‘compassionate storytelling’ and collaborating in a truly inclusive way with underrepresented communities. She always aims to honor her Filipinx heritage by championing the stories of Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI), immigrants and mixed-race people.
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?
From a young age, I learned adaptability. Growing up, I constantly moved back and forth from the West and East Coasts of the United States. During this time, I went to private schools, public schools, and even homeschooled for a few years. I also experienced accountability and leadership as the oldest of six children. When I was twelve years old, I took my first jazz class and fell in love with the physical rigor, creativity, and performance expression that I felt while dancing. Unfortunately, my parents would not let me pursue dance at the professional level, fearing that I would forsake a university education. Despite their wishes, while I attended University of California Irvine, I signed with a dance agent and continued to audition and perform.
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?
Spark & Fire: Epic Creative Stories by WaitWhat. It’s a podcast that takes you into the process of incredible creative projects from the perspectives of the creators. From Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief” to Bill T. Jones’ “Afterwardness”. It takes genius awe-inspiring work and brings it into a unique lens of human vulnerability that is often laced with humor. The podcasts help to ground me in times of uncertainty, exhaustion, and frustration. It reminds me that while no creative process is perfect, the end experience will still be impactful to the audience.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the XR industry? We’d love to hear it.
I realized in high school that I wanted to be a part of storytelling, no matter how that manifested, whether in dance, business, journalism, or some other form. At the beginning of my second year in college, I booked a Disney Cruise Line contract, so I took a personal leave of absence from UC Irvine, completed the nine-month performance contract, and then returned to UC Irvine to complete my degree. While I continued my Literary Journalism degree and Digital Filmmaking minor, I continued to audition. I would go on to perform and dance at Disneyland, Legoland, and SeaWorld in Southern California. During my time on Disney Cruise Line and in the theme parks, I saw firsthand the power of immersive and interactive human centered storytelling.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
In October 2016, I volunteered for a trivia event organized by the Los Angeles chapter of the Asian American Journalist Association. One of the trivia attendees was Rober Hernandez, a Professor at USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism, who taught a course on virtual reality. I made it a point to introduce myself, explained my passion for virtual reality, and showed him the Samsung Gear VR headset I kept in my backpack. He sent me an email a few days later and invited me to join a Google Group with other journalists in VR.
Little did I know that he had already introduced me to the community, encouraging someone to hire me. The group consisted of folks from New York Times, BBC, Washington Post, and more. Less than a month later, I found myself moving from Los Angeles to New York City to work for TIME under their LIFE VR initiative. In almost an instant, I had gone from a virtual reality journalism enthusiast to working for an incredibly well-known news institution with a focus on virtual reality and augmented reality, and none of it would have happened without a trivia event and Rober Hernandez.
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 already mentioned Robert Hernandez in earlier questions, so I would like to use this question to highlight Lauren Ruffin.
Ruffin is one of the first people I met that did not just speak about financial abundance and stability for creatives but also put it into practice. Ruffin invited me to join an XR co-operative that she founded and mentored me in the realm of finances and valuing your work. She fully trusted me to lead, produce, manage, and create in any and every project. When I vocalized my discomfort with a client. She would advocate for me. She even allowed me to fully remove myself from a project due to an unsafe conversation I had with a collaborator. No questions asked. To be managed by someone as considerate, caring, and courageous as Ruffin is one of the most impactful experiences of my life.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now and how do you think they will help people?
The latest project I am a part of is called, “On the Morning You Wake (to the End of the World)”, a virtual reality documentary that captures the voices of the people who experienced the real and imminent threat of nuclear weapons. For this three-part virtual reality experience, my role is Games for Change’s Creative Strategist and Impact Producer. I oversee everything outside of the virtual reality documentary, so the website, social media, installation, festival activations, programming, and more.
For most, nuclear threat is unimaginable — out of sight, and out of our control. “On the Morning You Wake” makes that threat proximate and uses the first-hand experience of citizens in Hawaii to make clear the fundamental injustice of a world held hostage by nuclear weapons. The Games for Change team and I developed a multi-media impact campaign centering on the human cost of global nuclear threat. Story is the most powerful agent for change that we have as a society, and the intersection between art and technology has never been more important in shaping the opinions of the public, and our political leadership.
Plans are underway to screen the experience at policy maker gatherings, as well as a tour with museums, cultural institutions, universities and public spaces. In the near future, home viewers will be able to download the experience to their Oculus VR headsets or watch a 360 version on their computers. Other iterations of the work will also be broadcast, streamed, and podcasted.
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?
- First, the expansiveness — the ability to learn, build, and create using the power of software and hardware in technology has given us the worldwide web. Now with VR, AR, and MR, we can make the worldwide web permeate our physical world, as well as create a digital experience that is 3D.
- Second, the connectivity — the world wide web has allowed people to meet each other, reconnect with one another, as well as bridge the differences between each other. This connectivity will only expand with VR, AR, and MR industries as new hardware tools are introduced for people, as well as new software and content for people to share experiences with each other.
- Finally, the access — VR, AR, MR industries can lead a movement in access. With the rise of technology that utilises specific hardware and access to certain levels of high speed internet, my hope is that these industries will also move forward with democratization of access to these portals in and out of the digital reality, like wifi, headsets, and apps.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? And what can be done to address those concerns?
- First and foremost, you cannot have a conversation about any technology without addressing the issue of data and security. If companies have the ability to track your movement through the internet, imagine the increase of finite data that they will be able to access when they can gather and track your physical movement in a virtual reality headset. This can make someone easily identifiable not just through their digital footprint, but now also through your physical footprint. It takes whistleblowers, activists, and organizers to hold companies creating these technologies accountable to the data they collect, how they store the data, how they use the data, and whom they allow access to the data.
- Second, turning a blind eye to the cost of the physical reality at the gain of the digital one. Beyond the worry of people living solely in the metaverse and fully abandoning the physical universe is the concern of how this digital reality is being built. With the rise of higher speed wifi and larger data collections, our impact on the physical world has also increased. I am concerned that the VR, AR, MR industries will allow pollution from electricity-powered data centers to continue, instead of exploring and investing in wind or solar powered data centers. We can also use this industry to decrease and eliminate the use of material like plastic, versus using it to support the continual sales of products and services that increase harmful wastes.
- Finally, the inaccessibility — VR, AR and MR industries can lead a movement in inaccessibility. With the rise of technology that utilize specific hardware and access to certain levels of high speed internet, the industry can restrict access and create paywalls to these portals in and out of the digital reality, like only servicing high-speed wifi and expensive hardware, headsets, and apps. Instead, we need an industry built around the mindset that access to hardware, headsets, haptics, and wifi is a human right in accessing the emerging digital reality, not a privilege sorter accessible only to those with wealth.
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?
As VR, AR, and MR begin to enter our day to day life, I would compare it to the rise of the at-home-computer and smartphone. The technology will take time to integrate itself into day to day life, and will rely on the audience’s adoption as well as the usefulness of the technology.
Currently, VR is being used by companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon for training incoming employees for on the job skills. It is also being used in the education of students within medical fields to train and practice surgical procedures without the need to access equipment.
There have been incredible studies around how the embodiment of virtual reality allows for the learning of a skill to become akin to muscle memory that creates a deeper line of understanding than a 2D computer training course or a training film.
AR and MR are also being used within consumer based mobile apps. For example Ikea Place now has a feature that allows the potential buyer to see the scale and color of the item within their physical space before confirming the purchase.
Let’s zoom out and talk in broader terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? If not, what specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I am speaking specifically to the United States’ technology industry, when I say that I am not satisfied with the status quo.
One powerful change is re-inventing the status quo around the work week. Instead of continuing our current work structure, I advocate for an additional day to be added to our current two-day weekend and shortening the 40 hour workweek to 30–36 hours. Nordic countries, like Iceland, Finland, and Norway have tested and begun to implement this structure with overwhelming success. It allows more time for people to recover and moves them farther away from burnout. This can lead to better decision making in leadership, stronger motivation in support roles, and a healthier environment for both male and female identifying people in STEM.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry?
At the end of the day, digital reality, otherwise known as the metaverse, already exists! If you have any sort of social media account, email inbox, or use text messaging to communicate with others, you are a part of the digital reality. The growth and expansion within technology are how we can make digital reality mimic or take on aspects of physical reality. This is the root of industries like artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, virtual reality, and augmented reality. No one should feel isolated from technology because they do not have a technical background or education. The immersive and interactive expansion of digital reality is meant to serve people first. It is needed by all sorts of people from all different backgrounds and expertise, including performers, artists, storytellers, activists, and more!
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech”?
- First, opportunities, projects, and collaborations will come and go. Release the ones that do not serve you. No need to hold on so tightly to something that is just not working out or serving your higher self.
- Second, you are not valued because of what you do or how you perform. You are awesome, valued, and loved because you exist. There is no need to be so competitive and sharp. What is meant for you is already yours.
- Third, stop running from pain and hurt by making yourself ridiculously busy and distracted. Siit in disappointment, frustration, and grief. Reflect on it, process it, know who you are despite it.
- Fourth, there is no such thing as lost time, only lessons to learn and lessons learned.
- Fifth, make the internal team’s experience as ethical, equitable, and enjoyable as the external audience’s experience.
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. 🙂
While working at TIME, I realized that my work is aimed at both the digital and physical dimensions, and I always consider accessibility and equality as a foundation in creating a new era of media. This in turn led me to realize that traditional journalism viewpoints are too constrained and distorted by colonial and capitalist mentality. My passion lies in telling stories about, and for, people who struggle to be represented in the media.
Compassionate storytelling is the rediscovery of ethical journalism through non-traditional mediums and honors the collaborators and the audience. The first pillar of compassionate storytelling is for journalists/performers to work with individuals/directors that have lived or have written powerful stories in a deeply collaborative manner. The second pillar of compassionate storytelling is to not only take special care of the story/performance but also to the guests/audience members experiencing the story. I strive to make compassionate storytelling and the hyper fusion of old and emerging storytelling techniques available to well-known storytellers. And also to push the emerging and diverse narratives to be accepted in the mainstream.
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.
Vicki Dobbs Beck, iLMxLabs
Wendy Anderson, Disney Imagineering
Cynthia McCaffrey, UNICEF Innovation
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work.
Wisdom From The Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries, With Michaela Holland was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.