Jay Saenz is a gaming extraordinaire, a known amateur philanthropist and an emerging important figure in the city of Boise. His photographic series "Collaborations" was included in the city of Boise's sesquicentennial celebration. His work has also been featured in the Huffington Post and several international publications.
About a month ago, Saenz saw a gap within where the little of city of Boise wanted to be and where it could be, from a technological standpoint. With virtual reality on the rise, he quickly saw the educational and economic benefits of schools and nonprofits utilizing VR tools. Cue idea for The Boise Virtual Reality Project: a one-year long endeavor to raise funds for virtual reality tools and equipment, which will be available to creatives, schools and nonprofits within the city. It's a great model with a lot of potential for helping this small city get on the map in a technological fashion. Here's how he did it:
Hey Jay - to start us off, what's your favorite video game at the moment?
S: My favorite game will probably always be Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. As for current games, I've really enjoyed Fullbright's Gone Home and Double Fine's Broken Age.
Tell us about The Boise Virtual Reality Project; what does it mean to anyone living outside of Boise?
S: The Boise Virtual Reality Project is a few things. First and foremost, we are a yearlong educational outreach program providing local educators, students, researchers, artists, and organizations with access to the tools they need to gain experience in the emerging field of virtual reality.
We also hope to act as a kind of central hub for for VR development in Boise. We recently held our first event at Trailhead - a collaborative professional space that encourages gathering, connecting, and learning. We had about 45 - 60 people in attendance and many of them had VR projects in the works. It was great to watch as different groups met for the first time only to discover they were working on solving similar problems. I heard quite a few people discussing possible collaborations that night.
Finally, we plan on highlighting content made by local creators to engage the public with demonstrations of Virtual Reality and how it can be used to solve real world problems.
I think people outside of Boise will be excited about the kind of content our community will create. We have an amazing community filled with talented individuals that I know are capable of creating meaningful work with these tools.
What could this model offer to other communities?
S: Our model is built around the idea that the community benefits when it provides access to tools like our virtual reality kits to creatives who may not otherwise have access to them. It's easy to imagine any number of people being inspired to build a company or launch a new product because they have access to these resources.
I think other communities are already using this model --- it's a variation on the sharing economy. We share to save money, time, resources, and to inspire!
What impact do you think Boise VRP will have on nonprofits, schools, etc. in the year going forward?
S: I hope we will see a larger emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education. I would also like to see more collaboration between nonprofits/schools and our tech community.
What kind of equipment are you including in your proposal? How did you make those decisions?
S: At the moment we are focusing on providing resources for filmmakers, researchers, and developers. For filmmakers we had to find solutions that were currently available. There are a lot of great solutions - such a new 360° cameras and 360° editing software - in the pipeline but most of them are not commercially available yet. When it comes to developing in the 3D space, a lot of tools are available so we primarily focused on VR toolkits that would interface with the most popular development software out there - Unity and Unreal Engine 4.
Here are some examples of the hardware and software we plan to purchase once we are funded:
Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 - Used for the development of virtual reality software and public demonstrations.
Ricoh theta - A consumer handheld 360 used for quick shoots and educational outreach.
GoPro Hero 3 | 360 Brackets | MicroSDXC | Warranty | - these items make up our primary film camera capable of filming 360 at 1080p.
Computer Systems - These systems will be used throughout the project to help creators edit and render their projects. They will also be our primary demo units used to run the Oculus Rift.
AutoPan Video Pro | AutoPan Giga - software used to combine and edit 360 video from the GoPro Hero 3 Rig.
Zoom H4n - This will be used to capture sound for films and to create in-game sound effects.
Xbox 360 Controllers - Used in conjunction with the Oculus Rift. These controllers will allow users to move around in a virtual world.
Google Cardboard - Used for demonstration
What are some challenges or pitfalls you’ve faced thus far? How did you overcome those?
S: So far there haven't been many. Boise is an amazingly supportive community. Our original plan called for us to have sponsors in place by August, which was too aggressive of a timeline. We quickly realized we had to demonstrate VR and really help potential sponsors and partners understand what VR is and what it can do.
What’s your background? Why were you the right person to spearhead this project?
S: My background is a little strange, but then again, whose isn’t? I have lived at the intersection of arts and technology for a while having been a professional musician, artist, photographer, record label founder, and filmmaker while also developing a pretty extensive background in technology. I've worked and consulted for companies like Dell computers, CompUSA and GameStop, inc.
Why am I the right person? That's interesting, I think because I didn't hesitate to build it. More importantly --- sometimes it's just about having the idea, and being able to surround yourself with smart people who can help you execute that idea. I'm lucky in that I know a lot of smart people, and most of them disagree with me, which in the end is a rather useful thing.
What are your goals? In which ways do you hope to establish yourself in the virtual reality/gaming world?
S: My goal is to encourage others to create and develop applications for virtual reality. I want to shine a light on those already working in the space and inspire others in our community to create.
Who is a person you look up to in the virtual reality/360° arena?
S: It's a tie between Chris Milk and John Carmack. They are both doing really interesting things in VR.
What’s a positive quote or thought you’d like to leave us with?
S: “If you see a need in your community do your best to fulfill it or at the very least, give someone else the tools they need to do so." - Jose Angel Saenz
You can find more information about The Boise VR Project by visiting their website.