You’re on a narrow catwalk inside the belly of a flying whale, its ribs and muscles rippling before your eyes.
Actually, you’re in Room 311 of the Interactive Media Building—better known as the MxR Studio. The brainchild of immersive media pioneer Mark Bolas, the studio is the kid sister of the larger Mixed Reality Lab at the Marina del Rey headquarters of USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies.
“It’s a dream come true to have this outpost here,” says Bolas, who is an associate professor in the USC School of Cinematic Arts. “We can build the hardcore technology there, bring it on campus and have people use it in this lab.”
By people, Bolas means pretty much anyone. In the true spirit of the open-source movement, Bolas and his colleague Scott Fisher believe that emerging technology should be shared, not hoarded.
Bolas, who has been nicknamed “the Willy Wonka of VR,” welcomes anyone into his virtual-reality factory, no golden ticket required. Art students, mechanical engineers, journalism scholars, even entrepreneurs like Palmer Luckey, the developer of the much-anticipated Oculus Rift, have sampled his concoctions. The only requirement, says Bolas, is a certain immersive spark in the eye. What if 50 people called tomorrow, asking to work in the MxR Studio?
Bolas glances at project manager David Nelson and shrugs.
“We’d find a way to make it work,” he says. The MxR toolkit—including Bolas’ complete suite of open-source code plus an array of hardware fabrication and modification instructions—can be downloaded at projects. ict.usc.edu/mxr. Just select the DIY menu and explore. We recommend you try the VR2Go mobile viewer. It’s got everything you need to turn a smartphone into an immersive device.