Digital Art VRe – A virtual reality content production agency working with tourism, education and real estate

Ajay Parge and Rugwed Deshpande, Directors at Digital Art VRe, a virtual reality agency based in Pune talk about the content they are creating and how brand experiences are integrated

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2 years ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced – Facebook has acquired Oculus VR, the leader in virtual reality technology. Earlier this year he unveiled his 10-year roadmap, with a major focus on artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

The last five years have been about text, visuals and now it is videos. Mark believes that VR is the future. Talking at the annual Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal, the social network’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer elaborated the future is the ability to connect people from anywhere and experience anything with anyone at any time.

A relevant example could be about bringing the joy and excitement of a religious festival right at the doors of an old age home. Ganesh Chaturthi  holds massive importance and calls for statewide celebrations in Maharashtra. For 10 days, along with all other cities in the state, Pune also gears up for the favourite Lord’s festival. Dagadusheth, a renowned and historic center of belief receives the most attention, but not everyone is fortunate enough to visit and pay their respects. However, VR can make it possible.

A Pune based startup Digital Art VRe (DAVRe), founded in 2015, shot an interesting 360-degree video of the celebrations at the temple. Attached with VR headsets, the team took the video and showed it to the old age home people. What happened next can be seen in the below video:

This non-commercial effort earned its due. Ajay Parge, Founder Director DAVRe, recently got the opportunity to showcase their work at Oculus Connect 3, an annual developer conference held in California, US. Talking to Lighthouse Insights over a call, Ajay, yet to recover from the jet lag, informed that the response was quite encouraging. “People were excited to see that we were trying VR in non gaming areas.”

“It isn’t about the technology but an emotion.”

This isn’t the first time that the startup was visiting the developer conference, in fact it was the only startup that got invited to Oculus Connect 2 as Indie Developers. Their efforts were even then recognized by Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR and John Carmack, CTO at Oculus VR.

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Source: Ajay & Rugwed

Serial entrepreneur, Ajay has been into the business of 3D Visualizations for more than two decades. In 1994, he founded Digital Art, a specialist firm in 3D visualizations. “We have been into the business of 3D for the last 22 years. Our first attempt with VR goes back to 1995-98 but then the market wasn’t ready.”

In these last two decades, Ajay has worked with almost all advertising agencies but his relationship with Setu Advertising and especially with Rugwed Deshpande, Director at Setu goes few levels deeper. “Over the years we have worked as a consultant with Setu very closely and the likening comes from the way how they get into the smallest details of a project. Most of our best work has come up with Setu because it was always about the synergy.”

While the professional relationship was on, destiny took its own course. In July 2014, when Oculus began shipping the Development Kit 2 (DK2), Ajay approached Rugwed with the idea of getting hands dirty with Oculus on a client project of showcasing the entire rooftop. “That was the starting point of our VR work and since then we have been working on quite a few projects. It was a very gradual shift.”

The 360 degree rooftop experience got noticed by the Oculus team and even got featured on their website. After which the number of inquiries from customers from all over the globe increased.

Post that both Ajay and Rugwed got invited to the developer conference, an eye opener that eventually led to the formal formation of DAVRe as a company. “India wasn’t an early adopter of VR and had it’s own challenges. However the conference was an eye opener; while people in US were also facing the same problems, they were taking it in a positive way.”

The startup has been into play for the last 10 months with Rugwed getting on board as one of the Directors. He brings his marketing and creative experience for the agency to find a balance between experimental ideas and business fit. An IIT Mumbai pass out in design, he has excelled in communications and design for the last 30 years.

Taking me through an array of interesting client works, he shared he’s looking forward to the work the agency has done for Gujarat Tourism board. The plan is to produce 360-degree immersive VR videos of four locations, for use at tourism expos. If the pilot clicks then there are talks of producing more than 100 videos to showcase different tourist attractions.

Additionally, the team is working with IIT Bombay where the objective is to create a national library of museums in VR. The team has shortlisted more than 30 museums that it wants to document. In the first phase of the project, the plan is to take the final content to the rural schools of Maharashtra. “We are in the initial stages of coming with our first content, once it is done we will also focus on productizing it.”

For this project of documenting museums in VR, Mandar Rane, an Associate Professor at Industrial Design Centre (IDC), IIT Bombay has been roped in. He is one of the strategic advisors to the agency with a vision of providing creative direction to the content at DAVRe. “We have been discussing 3-4 ideas in the education field and somehow the documenting museums idea clicked. It may not replicate the actual experience of visiting museums but it will excite and be relevant for people or students to go visit them.”

On the real estate sector, the agency has been quite aggressive in delivering interesting content with a mix of new products. One of the recent projects executed for a real-estate client was done in HTC Vive and Un real Engine. The aim was to incorporate a 3 BHK apartment in a VR set-up, so prospective buyers could freely move around the space and really experience the flat. The event was met with a great response, with over 300 people viewing the tour, and over a 100 flats sold!

“In real-estate till the time you don’t build mock structures, you can’t sense scale. Working in this sector for sometime, I have realized making people sense scale is a difficult task. Even if I print a 10 feet long prospective on some sheet, I still won’t be able to give any indication of the scale.”

“VR is making real estate decisions simpler for customers.”

Another real-estate project recently provided a comprehensive VR experience for a thousand prospective homebuyers on a single day. For this project Samsung Gear VR was followed by an interactive immersive experience using HTC Vive. The 360° views were intended to provide a snapshot of the project and its overall look and feel.

On the other hand, HTC Vive rendered the premises to an exuberant life. Audiences could walk around, explore the amenities, inspect features and take mental notes for future reference.

According to the agency: “The customised solution of using Gear VR and Vive has helped achieve the booking of over 75% inventory in a single day. The immersive nature also resulted in the average viewing time of about 5 minutes.”

“More than 275 people booked flats, where there was not a single brick on the wall.”

Real estate market has been encouraging for VR possibilities as they are seeing newer possibilities and results. “One can build a demo flat but you can’t develop a landscape garden or club houses or 4-5 buildings from day one to show customers. But VR is making it possible.”

Along with Indian clients, global real estate clients are working with the agency. “Earlier there was a challenge with motion sickness but latest product updates have solved the problem. It is all about the experience and the content that is now the only deciding factor when it comes to brand acceptance.”

However the seriousness from Indian brands, except few categories hasn’t been that great. It is also to do with the high costs of the devices and lack of the thought process behind the objective of doing it. Open up any YouTube page of a renowned brand, you will find at least one 360 degree video but that’s about it. It has been more about ticking the box of ‘adopting new technologies.’

Rugwed accepts that brand managers in India are not having a long-term approach. “I believe they are not looking from a brand perspective. They just want to create some buzz about it and then stop. But there are people who are ready to think but then they are also in the experimenting mode.”

“People in India still focus on mass communications and VR is one-on-one.”

Ajay added to Rugwed’s thoughts: the first problem in 360 is that brands are creating 360 and putting it on YouTube or Facebook. “360 videos are not to be consumed on YouTube or Facebook. It is meant for a VR device.”

The other deciding factor is the VR content. “With VR content you are cheating your brain. If the content experience is not great or the device, then your brain is going to send out negative signals. So it is very important to experience good content on good devices.”

Going forward in the next 6 months or a year, Ajay thinks the 360-degree cameras will get cheaper and easily available. However, it will give rise to a lot of bad VR content, Ajay fears.

DAVRe is going to complete its first year very soon. According to both the directors, the exciting times have just begun and the possibilities are endless. Two streams that the agency is very bullish are education and medical.

I was informed that India could become a medical content hub for a lot of VR initiatives. One of the projects the agency is already working with a global client in healthcare is showing the open-heart procedure with VR. “In Europe and America, if a pediatric heart surgery is being done on a child, the doctor has to sit and explain him the entire process. Right now this is shown via a book but with this VR project going live, a doctor and a child will see the entire process in real. In doing so the child not only sees everything but also becomes more confident about the surgery,” Ajay added. He even showcased it at Oculus 3.

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Source: Ajay at Oculus Connect3

Another field that Rugwed is excited to see innovations in VR content is in entertainment. “The idea is to have web episodes in VR.” The agency is already working with classical singer Rahul Deshpande, in documenting his shows on VR. Named as Baithak it is a way to bring audiences closer to Indian classical music and its artists. “It will be a first-of-its-kind concert shot in 360 degrees and the VR footage will be accessible on mobile through an app.”

There are number of possibilities, India has been late in adopting VR but people are recognizing the efforts remarked Rugwed. And before we winded up our conversation, he also mentioned that VR will scale up and lead to more possibilities when marketers look beyond simple marketing.

“VR is not here to give you numbers but it will give you qualitative experience followed by numbers.”