Ask Sebastien Motte and John Howard about the post-smartphone future of computing innovation, and the two Seattle-area technology industry veterans will happily talk at length about mixed reality and holographic interfaces.
Indeed, these ex-Microsoft employees — Motte, the former head of Xbox first-party business development, and Howard, a former Microsoft HoloLens creative director — are such big believers in mixed reality computing they left Microsoft to strike out on their own in the space. The result is their launch of Loook, a Seattle-based holographic mixed reality design and development studio.
The studio — which has teamed up with France-based Asobo Studio, an independent studio that’s been developing content for the HoloLens for the last few years – will offer things like prototyping and application development services for businesses. It’s also come along at an opportune time, making its way into a slipstream that’s filling up with other studios, companies and technologies racing to capitalize on the possibilities inherent in mixed reality.
One such example is the secretive Florida-based Magic Leap, with its HoloLens-like device which has attracted so much investment funding it’s currently valued north of $4 billion. A few days ago, a pair of VR industry veterans who formerly worked with DreamWorks Animation also launched a new VR and mixed reality company called SPACES that’s already working on content for companies like Microsoft and NBCUniversal, and it’s raised $3 million in initial funding led by Comcast Ventures.
Motte — whose LinkedIn profile image is of him smiling and wearing a HoloLens headset — says holographic computing is going to change everything. He’s already integrated the HoloLens into his home, where he says the resolution and luminosity are impressive even in his brightly lit house.
The three O’s in his new company’s logo form an infinity loop. Motte, who’s also a Kundalini yoga teacher, says the O in the middle is also a symbol of the “third eye” — the source of intuition and creativity, which speaks to the creation of content and applications that Loook wants to be part of.
“Microsoft is really a platform company,” Motte said, by way of explaining his and Howard’s creation of Loook.
“The content is there to drive the platform, but there’s only so much the content guys at Microsoft can do. We decided that the only way to make happen what we want to see happen is to go out on our own, where we wouldn’t have to seek approval of budgets and all that. It’s like in the gaming industry, where being indie has a lot to do with being in charge of your own destiny.”
Motte, as well as Howard, had a front row seat at Microsoft for a few tidal shifts in consumer computing behavior. During Motte’s time with the company, according to his LinkedIn profile, he helped launch and manage the Age of Empires franchise and other first-party PC games; led content strategy and acquisitions of action/adventure and MMO games for the launch of the Xbox; led a global business development team responsible for first-party Xbox games; and negotiated partnerships with independent games studios and consumer brands for Microsoft Studios entertainment content exclusive to platforms like Xbox LIVE and HoloLens, among other platforms.
His Loook cofounder, meanwhile, has a similarly expansive CV. Howard, among other things, led design and production for HoloLens enterprise experiences during his time with Microsoft, in addition to helping secure HoloLens partnerships with companies like Autodesk and Trimble.
Prior to that, Howard was creative director on Xbox Fitness and held lead design positions on several games, including “Halo: Combat Evolved.”
In mixed reality experiences, users see and interact with an interplay of virtual and real-world environments. Within the context of Loook, the team will sit down with clients and figure out where mixed reality applications can fit into their workflows or solve a particular need.
That will result in a storyboard, visuals and technical outlines from which can be developed a proof of concept, prototype and fuller application.
“What we bring to the equation is years of experience working with this technology and with the learning curve that’s gone from flat apps to real-time 3D,” Howard said. “Bridging that chasm and having the core skills to get stuff running in 3D and make it perform in real time. Just basic things, like building a basic application that’s going to actually be a mixed-reality 3D application, is often the first place organizations need help or expertise.”
“If you think about it, we’ve all gotten really used to interacting with 2D screens and pulling information off of those 2D screens. Books were before that. What’s interesting is how much of that information is trying to tell us something about the real world. Like Google Maps. All of that is 2D trying to express something about the real world. The opportunity to merge the digital with the physical is transformative in terms of how we understand things.”
He points to the “cognitive load” associated with using something like Google Maps. Using it while driving in a car requires mental processing, he explains, translating the 2D facts into three-dimensional real-world insight you can use about where you need to go.
“But when you can see it on a scale where you’re no longer spending that effort, now that effort can go to something else,” Howard says. “It can go to having an insight you didn’t have before.
“That will transform how we work and play going forward.”