Meet Bulgaria-based VR Express, the XR agency on a mission to showcase the revolutionary power of immersive storytelling
Ilian Raykov, co-founder of VR Express, details the XR agency’s journey from virtual reality arcade to content creation studio, and how immersive experiences are transforming the way art is created and consumed
VRWT: What’s the story behind VR Express?
Ilian Raykov: Georgi Stoyanov, our current chief executive officer, and I founded VR Express in 2015, in Sofia, Bulgaria, originally as a virtual reality arcade. When we opened, we were only the third arcade in Europe. There was one in Moscow, Russia, and another in Vienna, Austria.
Our virtual reality journey began with a vision to bring back the popular internet clubs from the mid-1990s and introduce this novel technology to new users. Introducing virtual reality so often to people who had never used the technology before gave us an intimate insight into their major likes and dislikes, particularly the factors that actually influence the experience and what makes it as positive as possible.
Gathering this knowledge about the user experience gave us a solid foundation for understanding what makes an outstanding experience in virtual reality that captures the viewer’s full attention and imagination.
Around three years ago, we decided to pivot our business model completely. We closed the virtual reality arcade and started operating at first as a virtual reality agency and then as an all-encompassing XR agency and immersive content creation studio. As VR Express, we have worked on more than 100 virtual reality activations (both for private companies and for the general public), and have more than a dozen XR content projects for multinational companies.
Our goal as VR Express is to facilitate and accelerate the growth of immersive technologies in our region. In creating custom tailored content for selected brands, we aim to showcase the revolutionary power of immersive storytelling.
VRWT: How are you working with virtual reality to create immersive art experiences?
Ilian Raykov: Our experiments with virtual reality art began with the release of Google’s Tilt Brush. At that time, we saw that it had great potential for creating 3D environments.
At first, most of our projects at VR Express were done in Tilt Brush alone. Since then, we have expanded our use of native virtual reality tools to Oculus Quill, Oculus Medium, Tvori, MasterpieceVR and Masterpiece Motion.
Nowadays, we use Unity to put everything together and make it a cohesive and immersive experience. Depending on the project, we use traditional 3D and animation software if needed.
VRWT: How are artistic virtual reality tools changing the way digital art is produced? Conversely, how are they changing the way art is consumed?
Ilian Raykov: The emergence of virtual reality art tools has marked a key turning point in the overall development of artistic expression as a whole.
The single most important insight in this regard is the super easy transition of traditional artists who find using computer software boring and more importantly, unintuitive, to digital ones.
While 3D and digital animation production have been on the steady rise in the last few decades, virtual reality tools are just beginning to show their potential. Many of the biggest digital production houses, such as Disney and ILM, have incorporated virtual reality tools into their work processes.
In our work, virtual reality tools have proven to be more effective (less time consuming for achieving the same goal) for environment creation, basic 3D character creation, all types of character rigging, and in some cases texturing.
Another important characteristic that puts virtual reality tools at the forefront of modern art creation is that it immerses audiences in artists’ work. With traditional arts, an artist internalises their inner world and philosophy through their art in whatever medium it may be. With virtual reality, the artist creates not merely a piece but a complete experience for audiences to feel and sense it and not merely admire it visually.
I believe that virtual reality arts will become the next big thing in the realm of contemporary arts. In the next five years, we will see the first virtual reality artist celebrities and art pieces being sold for millions of dollars.
VRWT: What do you have in store for the rest of 2020?
Ilian Raykov: Currently, many of our efforts are invested in research and development of both WebGL and XR training and collaboration solutions for corporate clients. We are leveraging the immersive benefits of XR with a streamlined artificial intelligence system that has environmental understanding and voice recognition to provide for a better retention rate of information, in terms of working environments and processes, as well as increased knowledge and skills acquisition.
As far as content creation and internal projects go, we are working hard on a display of the ancient folklore tradition of our people. This project was intended as a physical exhibition with a mix of physical displays and a virtual reality experience. We are looking forward to transforming the format of distribution and launching it by the end of 2020 or early next year.
VRWT: How can interested parties get in touch?
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Main image: This project was created for the Ethnographic Museum and represents an ancient wedding tradition. The experience was shown as a part of the Bulgarian Folklore exhibition