Speaker Q&A: Jim Toepel explains how ‘Mindshow’ encourages players to express themselves in VR

Jim Toepel is the Virtual Experience Designer at Mindshow and will be at VRDC 2017 to present his talk Fostering Creative Play with ‘Mindshow’, which will discuss how the tool ‘Mindshow’ has been used to teach players to embody different creatures, act with their pre-recorded selves, respond to improv prompting, explore their playspace and frame their own camera shots. Here, Toepel gives us some information about himself and his work.

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Tell us about yourself and your work in VR/AR

At Mindshow, I focus on design challenges around Interface + Play design.

Before VR, I spent 5+ years at Harmonix working on alternative interfaces (plastic guitars, Kinect, etc.) which turned out to be an incredibly helpful springboard into VR.

Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at VRDC

At Mindshow, we want to unlock the creativity in everybody, especially people who see themselves as too old to play anymore. By placing you into humorous roles and situations, Mindshow lowers the perceived risk of expression and results in some strange, wonderful behavior. I want to share some of the surprises we’ve discovered along the way. (ProTip: People always pick the cat)

What excites you most about VR/AR?

I’m fascinated by software that reaches into and impacts our corporeal world. I’m really excited to see how positive experiences with alternative realities can change our behavior for the better. (I’m also worried about the converse, but that’s a different interview…)

What do you think is the biggest challenge to realizing VR/AR’s potential?

Getting a critical mass of GREAT experiences on a single platform is going to be a challenge. Without a robust ecosystem of creative, fun, productive applications, I worry that people will poke their head in the door and decide this party isn’t for them.

How would you describe ‘Mindshow’ to someone who has never heard of the application before? What was the inspiration behind the software?

Mindshow is a platform that lets you “hop-in” to characters, perform scenes and share your performance with others. Originally the team’s focus was on professional creation tools, but when they discovered the magic of 1:1 embodied animation, something happened. Non-technical folk were putting on these alternate bodies and becoming different people. We’re now focused on nailing the creative potential of the “puppeteering” experience and building out from there.

How can designers utilize ‘Mindshow’ in their own projects? Has your software been used by creators in a way you hadn’t expected?

There are always people pushing the limits of the software. (Please keep those experiments coming!) We’ve heard of people integrating us into their creative process as an accessible pre-viz solution. I have seen posts in our community about people importing pre-mixed audio files and animating over them. My personal favorite are the stories of people using Mindshow as an improv party. Each person takes a turn in the headset, fields suggestions, makes a quick change to a show, and then hands things off to the next person.

The team believes that creativity isn’t exclusive and that play is an engine for innovation. We’re working on fun ways to realize, remix, and share new ideas. We can’t wait to see what people make.

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