Stuff Innovators 2014: Watch, Listen, Play

These geniuses are going beyond ordinary geekdom to remake the world of entertainment, from making VR video games to changing the face of music
Stuff Innovators 2014: Watch, Listen, Play

Throughout history, entertainment and technology have gone hand in hand.

From the introduction of the printing press to the invention of the film camera, technological leaps have redefined existing entertainment media, and created whole new forms of entertainment. And if you thought that the pace of change was slowing down, think again: these visionaries are reinventing the way we play video games, watch movies and listen to music.

Leading the VR revolution

Palmer Luckey, Oculus

Palmer Luckey, Oculus

When most teenagers lock themselves away in their parents’ garage, they’re normally guzzling illicit booze and fags, not working on the prototype of a device that’ll eventually convince Mark Zuckerberg to part with US$2 billion. But Palmer Luckey wasn’t like most teenagers, experimenting with Tesla coils and lasers in his spare time. Now 22, he’s founder of Oculus and inventor of the Rift, making him almost single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of virtual reality.

Since the Rift was unveiled in 2012 we’ve seen headsets from PlayStation, Samsung, LG and a whole raft of start-ups, but Luckey welcomes the competition: “It lets people know that VR isn’t just this thing that one crazy company believes in,” he told Stuff at this year’s E3 gaming show. “It’s something that a lot of companies, even really big ones, believe in.”

That includes Facebook, Oculus’ new owner. And while some of the company’s early backers felt betrayed by this ‘selling out’ it’s only thanks to the deal that Oculus will be able to sell the Rift at cost price when it eventually goes on general sale. It’ll also be smaller and lighter than the DK2, with a wider field of view, higher frame rate and more pixels crammed into the display.

This is only the beginning. Luckey sees a future beyond gaming for virtual reality: “I think that VR has the capability to replace almost all the screens we use on a daily basis. Let’s go way into the future and imagine it’s built into something that just looks like a normal pair of glasses. Why would you have a phone instead of that?” Why indeed, Mr Luckey.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Oculus Rift

Creating a game the size of the universe

Sean Murray, Hello Games

Sean Murray, Hello Games

One minute Sean Murray’s Hello Games was the tiny studio that created cartoon stuntman Joe Danger; the next it was showing off a space exploration game with an infinitely expanding collection of procedurally generated planets (with dinosaurs).

That means every planet you land on in No Man’s Sky is unique, experiencing its own Big Bang that dictates what everything from the weather to the wildlife will be like for people who land there. Whatever you do on that planet will affect the experience of it for other players, although the universe is so massive you’re unlikely to ever encounter another human explorer. Instead No Man’s Sky is about being a bona-fide adventurer and discovering worlds never seen before. With game development, Sean Murray’s doing exactly the same.

READ MORE: How No Man's Sky builds a universe in your front room

Bringing technology to live performance

Imogen Heap, Mi.Mu Gloves

Imogen Heap, Mi.Mu Gloves

London’s Imogen Heap rose to prominence in 2005 as the sort of popstress you’d hear as the credits rolled on a TV teen drama, later scoring an international smash with croony torch song What You Say. Another Dido, the music press chimed at once, dismissively. Not so, thanks to Heap’s cutting-edge development of music ware.

In 2011, she debuted a pair of gloves that use in-built MIDI controllers remotely linked up to keyboards and synths to allow her to create soundscapes dictated by her hand gestures. It’s the sort of thing seen in experimental electronica communities – Bristol sound artist Shitmat was known for taping Nintendo Wii controllers to his hands for a similar use before retiring in 2012 – but Heap is dragging this technology thrillingly into the mainstream.

Words: Al Horner, NME

READ MORE: Stuff Innovators 2014 - Money

Bringing virtual reality to the multiplex

Tom Annau, Jaunt

Tom Annau, Jaunt

If you think virtual reality is just about gaming, stick your head inside an Oculus Rift and let Jaunt show you otherwise. Tom Annau is just one of three founders of the cinematic VR company but it was his trip to Zion National Park in Utah that inspired the idea of headset escapism.

Filmed with special camera arrays that provide a dome of footage around your head, Jaunt’s more-than-360º movies aren’t just for virtual tourism: movie directors are already investigating ways to use VR to put you right inside their story. Allowing the viewer to look around inside a scene means fundamental changes to the way films are made, and with people from Dolby, Sky, IMAX and 20th Century Fox on the board at Jaunt it won’t be long before you’re picking up a VR headset at the pictures to go with your popcorn, pick ’n’ mix and large Coke.

Breathing humanity into CGI

Andy Serkis, The Imaginarium

Andy Serkis, The Imaginarium

For a man who’s had lead roles in films as big as The Lord Of The Rings, King Kong and the recent Planet Of The Apes reboot, the real Andy Serkis spends very little time on screen. Whenever he appears it’s as a computer-generated primate or jewellery-obsessed goblin with a combover. Serkis is an actor who doesn’t just inhabit other characters but becomes entirely different species, and, thanks to his world-leading motion capture studio The Imaginarium, he’s pushing it to places cinema has never been before.

With each performance, Serkis adds another level of something that’s been missing from CGI-heavy films for so long: humanity. It’s got to the point that he’s being tipped for an Oscar for his portrayal of chief ape Caesar. He’ll also have a not-yet-named role in JJ Abrams’ Star Wars movie.

READ MORE: Stuff Innovators 2014 - Life