“It's not about promoting a technology, but a new narrative” - Sönke Kirchhof (INVR.SPACE)
At Stereopsia Europe 2021, Sönke Kirchhof was everywhere. On the VR headsets, in the conferences and discussions, and even at the awards. XR producer and content distributor, the tireless German entrepreneur also supports many events in terms of logistics and programming. Portrait of a passionate person who does not stop!
Cover: AFRICAN SPAKE MAKERS
From 360° stereoscopy to virtual reality
Sönke Kirchhof - I originally started my first company, reallifefilm international GmbH, in 2005, which was focused on stereoscopic content production. This could be described as an immersive production before its time! We did a lot of research and development there, because it was really the early days of these technologies. Around 2010, we were able to test the first high-definition 360 cameras, which were not or hardly intended for consumer use but proved to be very effective for us - but very expensive. This led us to develop stereoscopic 360 projects for some customers, for domes too. And then the Oculus DK1 came along, and of course we were almost ready to produce content for the emerging virtual reality.
S. K. - It was very exciting to see that 360 video finally had its own support! But the market didn't exist yet... We had to build our entire services, from producers (documentaries and fiction) to distributors, developing new hardware or software with scientists or academics. And understand the reality of this new industry! So I founded INVR.SPACE (link) in 2015 (year of starting the company as a brand of reallifefilm) / 2016 (registration as a seperate company in March 2016) to accompany this, and invest as best as possible in what seemed to us one of the creative technologies of the future.
INVR.SPACE is everywhere
S. K. - Today, as a producer, I'm mostly interested in impactful XR projects, and anything that can expand the immersive creative space - especially but not only in the 360 film format, which is getting better every day. Above all, it's not about promoting a technology, but a new narrative: when we talk about virtual reality we are often reduced to technological innovation. But we are above all content producers or storytellers, even if we manufacture our own hardware and sometimes software. There is still a lot of work to be done in and promoting our activities.
S. K. - And we are constantly looking for partners, for co-productions. There is tremendous energy in the world. Having partners on a project allows us to enrich our point of view, our methods, our editorial line. This is very important! The exchanges and generosity of the XR community is relatively unique for a creative sector, and we must preserve this.
S. K. - In the same way, we did not hesitate to accompany events, festivals (like Stereopsia or VRHAM!), to provide them with our services and our contents. There too, it is an important part to explain our jobs and passion to the public, to diffuse the works. And to make up for the lack of equipment in certain places. We take great pleasure in supporting festivals, some of which last for several years. It's like our extended family! We try to do the best we can to respond to all requests, and it's a pleasure every time.
S. K. - On the distribution side, it's the same thing. We now have a catalogue of content, whether we have produced it or not, that we make available to platforms and LBE theatres. We had a network of contacts all over the world through our first stereoscopic activities, and when VR emerged, questions arose about the availability of works. So we created a venture company with 3D Content Hub: Virtual Content Group (link). Later we also started other services and ideas, just to try it out. Such as a “VR Headset with preloaded Content home delivery” style models, for example with synthesis gallery (a venue in Germany) to specifically distribute immersive content: immersiVR (link).
S. K. - I understand the questions that people have when they work with INVR.SPACE the producer, and then the distributor. So that's why our distribution department exists on the side; I don't mix the two, I find different partners, outside skills... We have built up a real portfolio for that, which we sell to Meta, HTC and others, such as Festivals and Installations. It's a real field of investigation in the making.
Latest projects (production, coproduction)
Believing in the XR field
S. K. - There is a trend in the industry to move towards larger, longer interactive works. Same applies to us, we started with a lot more linear 360 Video projects but not only since the pandemic forced us to work more from home, most of our projects are non-linear, interactive and CGI work. But I'm still very interested in 360 films, and linear immersive works. It's a real market in itself, and an audience! For example, take a look at all the Film Festivals that integrated VR during the last years. The proof is also that platforms like Oculus are signing deals for this type of 360 content to feed their store, even some films that are a bit dated. Creatively, this is still young content, even if the technical capabilities have evolved. In terms of business, there is a real potential for 360 movies.
S. K. - The immersive industry is growing rapidly, and it's nice to see several companies well established - and around the world. The foundation is there to grow the community. I can see that you can start working on your own content, without necessarily having to do advertising or institutional work. Obviously, this takes time but the signs are very positive. The financing is also being built, and ideally we are seeing competition emerge between the existing players. This is proof that the market exists!