What would you say to a web application that allowed you to share in an immersive, worldwide, collaborative art experience that is also entertaining, and educational, while also very much helping real issues affecting a large part of our planet? And what would you say if I told you that you could take part in this experience absolutely free, but also have the opportunity to earn money from what you create?
What I'm talking about is theBlu, a very real experience which is everything I just described...and more.
"TheBlu is a global mission to create a collaborative art and entertainment project on the web on a scale that has never been done before. It is an interactive online world where every species and habitat is a unique work of art created by digital artists and developers around the world. TheBlu is created and sustained by us – people around the world connecting across the Internet and cooperating in a globally shared experience. TheBlu is a geo-social Web application where people connect across the Internet and explore a vast and growing Ocean on the Web. TheBlu celebrates art, the web, and the Ocean."
-Description from theBlu website
Based on Unity3D, theBlu is a web application supported in the popular browsers: Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari. You will, of course, need to download the Unity3D plug-in first. TheBlu will also very soon be supported on iPhone, iPad, and Android.
"TheBlu is spearheaded and curated by a group of passionate artists and developers at Wemo Media. But it's actually being made by anyone who wants to participate; developers and artists all around the world who are contributing towards the mission of creating the first globally shared media inspired by the Ocean. We are rallying media makers – artists, animators, programmers, & composers - from all walks of life in the mission to co-create the Ocean's flora and fauna as global collaborative art and entertainment. As a maker in theBlu you pick the species and habitats you want to create and submit your art. You get to showcase your work to a global audience and connect with a community of peer makers. You receive feedback from world-class digital makers and you get paid for what you make whenever people purchase your art."
I've had the chance to explore theBlu a little bit myself and I find it to be a very enjoyable experience. Right from the cool opening 'dive' into the oceans of the world, to following fish in their habitats, the view is outstanding on my widescreen monitor. It will be a real thrill watching this project grow and connecting with people around the world through this shared experience.
But, the really cool thing about theBlu and the ocean life in it, is that it's being created and added to each day by anyone wishing to participate...and that could be you! And what's more, theBlu, as a worldwide project, will actually help in the preservation of the world's oceans, through education, collaboration, and contribution.
After exploring theBlu, I had the chance to speak with Neville Spiteri, founder and CEO of Wemo Media and creator of theBlu. Neville himself is a digital media professional with a long history in the industry. Starting as a 3D software engineer with Wavefront, he moved on to technical director and effects supervisor for film, commercials and video games, and most recently leading production teams at Electronic Arts.
What follows here is my interview with Neville on the creation of Wemo Media and theBlu.
With your extensive experience in film and game projects, how did you come to form Wemo Media, and how did the idea for theBlu originally start?
There are many factors that contributed to the formation of Wemo Media and the idea of theBlu. I’ve wanted to build a next-generation media studio ever since my early days in digital Hollywood. While my background is mostly in film and game production (Digital Domain, Electronic Arts) I've been influenced and inspired by the internet, and the tremendous potential of the web for collaboration at scale. In the late 90s I was living in Hawaii working on a CGI film project – Final Fantasy. Being in Hawaii, I became more and more inspired by the ocean. That’s when I met my dear friend and now cofounder Scott Yara.
We connected through a mutual friend - Andy Jones – who is the Academy award winning animation director on Avatar. Scott wanted to build an online studio, and had a specific interest in aquatic life. Shared visions. We experimented with a concept similar to theBlu ten years ago. We were too early. One of the many lessons learned along the way is that timing is key. I founded Wemo Media, the studio that is producing theBlu, in early 2009 after having been a senior development director at the video games giant Electronic Arts for 5 years. I knew the time was now right to start up the digital studio.
Scott joined me as cofounder last year and we’ve assembled a great team building out the foundation of theBlu. We wouldn’t have been able to get this far (and we’re just getting started) without lots of history. Personal lessons learned from working with James Cameron at Digital Domain, and with Steven Spielberg at EA – best practices from filmmaking, video game design and software development. And my partner Scott already has two internet software companies under his belt which he successfully helped build.
What can you tell us about the Maker Media platform?
The Maker Media platform is an online digital studio that allows media creators - 3d modelers, animators, painters, musicians, software developers - from all around to walk into the studio through their browsers from wherever they are in the world, and to collaborate together to create next-generation media titles. TheBlu is our first title we're creating on the platform. The Maker Media Platform provides a variety of services for media creators we collectively refer to as Makers.
As a Maker on the platform: a) you get to showcase your work to a world-wide audience on the web and get discovered, b) you connect with a community of peers in a social network of creators, c) you get mentorship and direct feedback from Academy-award winning makers, and d) you get paid for what you create.
There is no doubting the incredibly talented and accomplished team that has been assembled so far to take part in this project. But, how was this team of industry professionals first put together?
We have been so fortunate to put together such an amazing team of world-class talent, and it's been a long time in the making. Some of the team members like Andy Jones (Academy Award Winner, Avatar) and Kevin Mack (Academy Award Winner, What Dreams May Come) I've known for over 15 years. My co-founder and partner [and I] have worked together and been friends for 10 years. But, I think the main reasons why we have been able to assemble this team is: a) the vision of the company to build this next-generation online collaborative studio tapping talent from all over the world, and b) the mission of theBlu, which, inspired by the oceans, is a commitment to create online entertainment on a scale and caliber that has not been done before.
As theBlu is the first thing to come out of the Maker Media platform, what else might be in store for the future? Anything you can hint at?
So many possibilities! There's a lot of interest in similar projects to theBlu. You can picture a similar project about flying creatures - birds, butterflies…, or outer space… We are also considering very different collaborative projects that may be less about CGI. And we're also being approached by independent directors/producers who are interested in leveraging the platform for their titles. But… we are squarely focused on theBlu and will be for quite a while.
Ultimately, what do you hope can be achieved through theBlu?
As a studio, our vision is to enable hundreds of millions of people around the world connected and experiencing globally shared art, in the moment, on the world wide web, together. We hope to establish the world wide web as its own medium for artistic expression and storytelling. We are building a commercially viable model for media production where artists and developers around the world can monetize their works, and collaboratively create media on a scale that has not been done before. And that in the process of doing all this, ultimately, we hope to raise awareness about our Oceans on a global scale.
What do you yourself find most exciting about theBlu?
People love theBlu. The most exciting thing is that it is actually happening and resonating with people all over the world. Artists and developers are seeing the potential of the platform and the studio. Educators are seeing the potential of theBlu as a teaching vehicle in schools. And users tell us that they find theBlu calming and relaxing.
These are the things we set out to accomplish. It is still early days, but it's very exciting to see this already happening.
As theBlu no doubt will help to share the wonders of the ocean and educate and delight millions, how might theBlu project actually benefit the real world's oceans?
In the words of two ocean advocates who I have great admiration for and who we are fortunate to have on our board of advisors:
"One of the biggest problems that the oceans face is that people don't see what's going on in the Ocean. This project is a way for people to put their head under the water without getting wet. I think theBlu is a beautiful way for people all over the world to not only see the underwater world but actually create it."
- Louie Psihoyos, Academy Award winning Director, The Cove, Executive Director OPS
"With every breath we take, every drop of water we drink, we are connected to the Ocean. It is our life support system. The Oceans deserve our respect and care, but you have to know something before you can care about it. TheBlu is an extraordinary way to enjoy the Oceans and learn about all the individual species that interdependently form our life support system and make the Oceans so vital to our individual well being and our planet as a whole."
- Sylvia Earle, Times' Hero of the Planet, National Geographic Explore, TED Prize Winner
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