✨ Inspiration

Kickass women of VR interview 1: Emily Eifler, the Oculus Feminist

The first in our series of interviews with the women of the virtual reality industry

By Samantha Kingston September 8, 2015

The virtual reality industry has taken huge strides in the past two years, and with the Oculus CV1 set to be released in the first quarter of 2016, we’re finally close to virtual reality becoming actual reality. VR has driven huge amounts of people to explore, develop skills and teach others – and I’m proud to say I’m one of them.

However, in my time in the industry, I’ve come face to face with some very harsh words and comments because of my gender. It’s horrible, but it drives me to continue getting up every day, progressing and encouraging more women to join the industry. I’m always on the lookout for women that are creative and passionate. Women I believe in.

And I’ve met some incredible ones. Amazing ladies who are putting their stamp on VR, who motivate me daily to carry on and make a difference in this industry. And I wanted to introduce them to you.

This will be the first of many interviews – and what a one to start with. Meet Emily Eifler, the Oculus Feminist.

Emily is a researcher working at the Communications Design Group (CDG). She works in a team of women called eleVR, where she focuses on spherical video and the future of real world capture. In her time in the industry she’s built spherical camera rigs, designed post production workflows for making mono and stereo video, and created VR talk shows.

Emily has worked on closing the space between game and video experiences. A large part of her job is helping people translate 100 years of film editing history into something usable and elegant for spherical video.

Emily attended Oculus Connect last year, where she stood up and asked the all-male panel how they intended to deal with the gender gap in VR. The video was passed around the internet, and Emily received months of death threats. Here’s her response video, designed as an open letter to Sheryl Sandberg:

What was your first introduction to VR?

My first time trying VR was at GDC 2014. I even made a video about it. I used an omnidirectional treadmill which was hilariously bad, then watched a long pseudo-spherical video from Zero Point, then played a knight and a shark tank diver on Sony’s Project Morpheus. I only remember being very impressed with the air flow in the Morpheus after the Oculus, which doesn’t say much for how far along the hardware was at the time.

What inspired you to join the VR industry?

My friend Vi. We had both been making online video and she wanted to figure out how to do it without the limitation of tiny rectangles. She asked if I could help, and I said ‘Yes, of Course!’ I had never done it before but I figured it out. I guess that’s my special skill. I can figure out almost anything with enough work.

How has working in the industry changed your first thoughts on VR?

In the beginning I was focused entirely on hardware and software and workflows and just getting things to function was a major achievement. But now because of that hard-fought research, an underlying infrastructure of spherical video is being taken up by a lot of companies. Just recently I was able to really ramp up the iteration speed of my content side research.

I’m making a spherical video every day just to explore what spherical video wants to be, fail a lot, and keep playing. One of the first pieces I was involved in that really surprised me was a dance, sound, and stereo spherical site-specific piece I made with Arletta Anderson and Mike Rugnetta at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts here in San Francisco. You can see a mono version here.

Originally we showed the piece to people in the same space that it was shot in, giving them an eerie sense of layered location: instead of being in two places at once, the same space was layered on itself, crowded into the digital crevices. Then, as the video progresses, the virtual duplicate splits in two with different sections of the room moving through time at different rates. It was a very simple idea that affected people in really surprising ways. It was many of the viewers’ first time in VR and this was the first time I really saw how physically tracked emotionally immersive VR could communicate with people.

What would you like to see happen within the industry and your career in the next year?

Personally I’d like to show more VR work in galleries, museums, and other social installation settings outside of VR industry events. I get better feedback when showing work to people outside of the VR context who aren’t biased by the industry’s current obsessions.

Any interesting lessons learnt so far?

Tonnes! I’ve written extensively about what I’ve learnt about VR and spherical video. (Check out eleVR.com for all the art, tech, and research goodness including a whole series on editing in the round). One of my favourite things about VR is that spherical video has a special ability to simultaneously elicit feelings of power and powerlessness, intimacy and distance. It’s a fantastic tool for an emotional and bodily communications.

Have you had any difficulties along the way with being a woman in VR?

You mean besides the death threats and doxxing and gender-based trolling online and getting groped at 99% male conferences and guys trying to turn meet-ups into meat-ups and the constant underlying grind of not being taken seriously because of the way I look? Nah, it’s been unicorns belching rainbows the whole way.

With 2016 set to be a huge year for VR, where do you see the tech heading in the next couple of years?

Amazing art. Bland ad-speriences. Look bait. Spherical editing tools for videos. VR-narrative browsers. More VR games than you can shake a stick at. A bubble, a bust, a more thought out stronger resurgence. Phone makers upping their processing power. A hundred million zillion VR Kickstarter. A VR web series. VR addicts. ‘Does VR cause violent behaviour’ scares.

Demands for 10-gigabyte internet speeds as we try and serve larger and larger websites to people. Launch line campers. Apple eventually making a shiny aluminium headset and pretending like they invented VR. Diets that pretend to cure sim-sickness. South Korean Mukbang will go immersive. A Periscope clone will do a spherical livestreaming app after a phone manufacturer makes a Theta/phone combo and it will immediately be called the killer app for VR.

Would you encourage other women to look into starting a career in the VR tech industry? Do you have any advice for them?

Sure, go for it. It’s fun to work in a field that is both new and open as well as deeply rooted in computer and art history. If you’re interested in starting, just make something – anything really, a VR website, a few spherical videos, a basic game in Unity.

Which women in VR do you admire?

Andrea Hawksley and Vi Hart, the other women on my team, who make working in the field not just bearable but effervescent.

Which VR products get you really excited?

The Ricoh Theta M15, because man do I love having an all-in-one spherical camera.

HTC Vive, because the first time I put it on, I tried to put my hand on a virtual counter to balance myself – only to realise my body has been tricked into thinking it was really there.

ThreeJS because making Hyperlinkspace has been an amazing first step into coding and it’s all thanks to ThreeJS and the awesome VR web infrastructure Andrea wrote.

EleVR Player, because Andrea make it and because we used it to introduce a ton of people to spherical video who are now off propagating the awesome.

Hypernom because where else can you play 4-dimensional VR Pacman?

And finally, Way To Go, which is an interactive spherical video piece created by Vincent Morisset, Phillippe Lambert, Edouard Lanctot-Benoit and Caroline Robert, because it’s a fantastic combination of concepts from film and video games and just a beautiful piece of art.


Want to hear more from Emily? Follow her on Twitter here: @emilyeifler

We’ll be back soon with another interview with one of the awesome ladies putting the V in VR. Watch this (virtual) space.

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