Virtual reality start-up hopes to turn customers into one-person movie studios

Virtual reality start-up hopes to turn customers into one-person movie studios
A Mindshow screenshot shows a user embodying the character of an alien-like creature that's meant to scare the man in front of him. Hand-held controllers can alter the creature's facial expression and begin recording of body motions and sounds that will animate the character. (Visionary VR)

It will require a couple thousand dollars’ worth of equipment and a spare room, but otherwise a new app should be the only other thing you need to create Pixar-style movies.

Mindshow, a virtual reality app in testing mode from downtown Los Angeles start-up Visionary VR, casts users as the director, actors and voice-over artists of their own computer-animated stories.

Pick a set. Choose characters. To animate them, move around and talk in front of motion sensors and a microphone that come with virtual reality headsets. Invite friends to play other characters if desired. Satisfied? Save and share on social media.

With the simplified process, Mindshow brings a low-budget Hollywood motion capture studio into the home. It’s the type of app that could entice masses of people beyond gamers to pick up virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. There are no outside characters today, but just imagine being able to entertain Facebook friends with animated spoofs of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Visionary VR declined to address when a full version of the app might be released or how it would generate revenue. But sponsored virtual props, ads in between videos watched on the app or upfront fees are all possibilities.

The company spent the last couple of years working up to the one-person movie studio idea. Starting in a home garage, co-founders including a music video maker and a visual effects veteran set out to develop software to produce their own virtual reality films. As it turned out, they found the best approach was doing the production from within the new-age headsets. And as they observed people’s behavior, they decided on letting anyone take advantage of the software.

“People come out [of the headset] activated with ideas and possibilities about what they can make,” co-founder Jonnie Ross said inside the company’s 43rd-floor skyscraper suite. “The way to communicate in VR shouldn’t be the province of a small group of people.”

The company unveiled Mindshow last week at Virtual Reality Los Angeles, a meet-up turned regular conference that it helps organize. The app is ready to go with about a dozen sets, but the plan is to add more customization and creation tools over time. People can watch the creations in near-3D in the headsets, or just pull up the videos in two dimensions on YouTube.

Brothers, inspired by mom, launch jewelry rental service

Called Thirdeye, a bracelet designed by the mother of Switch's sibling co-founders is a big hit on Switch, the company says.
Called Thirdeye, a bracelet designed by the mother of Switch's sibling co-founders is a big hit on Switch, the company says. (Switch)

Adriel Darvish recently finished law school. His brother quit a job in investment banking.

Now, the 20-somethings are trying the business of high-fashion necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings for women.

The Santa Monica-raised brothers have bet their savings and family money that their West Hollywood e-commerce business can entice people who spend $1,000 a year on jewelry to swap buying for renting. The Darvishes’ Switch charges $29 a month for people to receive an expensive piece of jewelry by mail and trade it in for something else whenever they want. For up to $40 more a month, people can hold onto two additional pieces.

Switch’s collection includes Chanel, Hermes and Christian Dior — mostly purchased from jewelers — along with some ruby and diamond items from their mother’s Chains and Pearls hobby line.

It was, after all, Farnaz Darvish and her clients that birthed the idea for Switch. Like anyone making a big purchase, her customers often hesitate. Or they come back asking for an exchange. About two years ago, the brothers started talking about how to rid the buyer’s remorse. Rentals seemed logistically challenging, but they decided to go for it anyway a year ago. Switch launched this summer, with help from freelance software developers.

Adriel Darvish says they should be able to succeed where many clothing lenders haven’t because jewels hold up well financially and physically compared with shirts and dresses. If something goes out of style, there’s still bound to be a good return for jewels. The average retail price for Switch’s listed items is about $500.

But clothing rental services including Rent the Runway are expanding into accessories, offering formidable competition, Darvish said. Other start-ups such as Rocksbox and Haute Vault serve different jewelry buyers than Switch is targeting, he said.

Switch also could differentiate itself by renting handbags or other designer accessories.

Still, the company, which is turning to online stars and ads to promote its service, has a long way to go in figuring out how to hold onto users for extended periods and how much profit it can squeeze from each piece. It also doesn’t yet have the items insured (putting users on the hook for damage) or offer a way for someone to buy a rental they’ve loved.

But Darvish said the response from friends suggests they’re mining in the right spot.

“We’re finding that these price points are working well,” he said. “The millennial experience values sharing over owning.”

Former Whisper and DogVacay PR reps form agency ‘with a mission’

A new Los Angeles public relations firm serving tech companies is aiming to work mostly with clients from backgrounds underrepresented in the industry.
A new Los Angeles public relations firm serving tech companies is aiming to work mostly with clients from backgrounds underrepresented in the industry. (Ellephant Partners)

Aishwarya Iyer, former head of communications at social media app Whisper, and Rachael King, who most recently held the same position at pet-sitter search app DogVacay, together launched Ellephant Partners on Tuesday.

They want at least 50% of clients at their new national public relations agency to be start-ups led by someone other than a young white man. White males tend to get quoted and spotlighted more in the media than their peers, reinforcing to future generations what an entrepreneur looks like, Iyer said.

Human resources departments at tech companies and countless nonprofit groups are trying to shake those stereotypes. But Iyer said she and King wanted to try increasing diversity through their own skills.

“The mission is championing underrepresented entrepreneurs,” Iyer said. "That tends to get looked at mostly from an HR perspective, not a communications tilt.”

Their roster already includes intimate apparel seller Third Love, which has a female co-founder; shopping service ReplyYes, helmed by a black man; medical claim dispute service Remedy, which has a woman and Latino man as co-founders; and home tech support provider HelloTech, run by a 54-year-old man.

In addition, Ellephant Partners is operating from One Roof, a Culver City co-working space that describes itself as a women’s club. The company’s name, Iyer said, is a nod to elephant’s "ability to think about other species and beyond themselves.”

Elsewhere on the web

Google acquired Orbitera, a West Hollywood start-up that helps online software companies handle sales, according to VentureBeat.

The founders of Veggie Grill and Zico Coconut Water have teamed on a new venture capital firm, Powerplant Ventures, according to Forbes.

Los Angeles music start-up Bkstg, which enables fans to connect with artists, has changed CEOs after just a year, according to MusicBusinessWorldwide.

Trial Funder, a Los Angeles company, helps people pay for lawsuits through online crowdfunding, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Online video company Funny or Die shut down its San Mateo office, according to the Wrap.

Chinese photo-editing app maker Meitu has opened an office in Santa Monica, according to the Washington Post.

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Several years into a multiplatform, multimillion-dollar effort that seeks to transform politics through technology, campaign cash and a few big ideas, the renowned Los Angeles rule-breaker Sean Parker is finding that the rules of politics are not easily broken.

If John Hanke, chief executive of “Pokemon Go” creator Niantic Labs, had his way, gamers would wear Internet-connected contact lenses, spend big at businesses promoted in his games and clean up neighborhood parks.

With more than 15 million players and 500 million hours played, the record-shattering release of team shooting game “Overwatch” lifted Activision Blizzard Inc. to its best ever second-quarter sales.

Coming up

UCLA hosts a conference Friday on advancing the role of women in the tech industry. Speakers include BuzzFeed Chief Executive Jonah Peretti, Uber labs head Charlene Wu and Google global diversity director Yolanda Mangolini.


Twitter: @peard33