Earlier today, on Instagram Live, I drew a winner from the folk who completed the Punch Infinity survey.
For those that don't know, the survey was a way to get people's thoughts and opinions on Punch Infinity, our interactive configurator. We will work through the data, and we hope we'll know what's working well, no so well, and perhaps some future direction too.
Anyway, the winner was Graham, so the £50 Amazon voucher will be heading his way very soon. To see the draw, head to https://www.instagram.com/punchdigitaluk/ and check out the Live / Stories section of the profile.
At the start of this year we completed Punch Infinity, our interactive configurator, to make it easy for customers to easily allow our clients to visualise products.
In this mini series of blog posts I’ll be answering why, what, how and the future plans by picking the ONE thing that really focused a Punch Infinity into what it has become.
What is Punch Infinity?
Punch Infinity is an interactive configurator that helps businesses show their customers their entire product range or variations, whilst generating leads and to help assist marketing and sales.
Often customers can’t envisage different products, variations or finishes, especially when they're only presented with tiny swatches, sample pots or thumbnail images.
You could think of Punch Infinity as an interactive photo, where customers can interact, change and visualise entire product ranges, colours variations and finishes.
Enabling customers visualise their choices is great for customer confidence, which can lead to enquiries and sales.
But Punch Infinity isn’t just pretty and easy to use, it’s also incredibly functional. Punch Infinity can drive enquiries, help build a social following, and assist staff with their sales, but we'll dig into that in a moment.
What is an interactive configurator?
In a nutshell, an interactive configurator is a way for users to visually change and configure a product or product range.
You might use an interactive configurator to help you choose something such as a car or kitchen. A product might be available in different, styles, finishes, colours or components and so on and an interactive configurator could help you to visualise what you're planning to buy.
Interactive configurators aren't generally design tools. You can't re-design a car, or move kitchen cabinets around. For this kind of thing you need a specific piece of software to build the components. These "builder" tools generally lack visual quality (although I'm 100% sure in a few years they'll be near "photo-realistic" in quality). Design tools, unlike interactive configurators, can also be time consuming and require a certain level of knowledge of the thing you're building, and knowledge of the software itself. They're great for making sure you're kitchen will fit, but not great for marketing a product range.
How does Punch Infinity show different products?
We developed Punch Infinity to allow any business to easily show any product range or variation.
Punch Infinity is a system. What's shown in the configurator is completely up to you. In our demos you can see a kitchen, office chair and bathroom set. These all use Punch Infinity, but the imagery is bespoke to that configurator.
For example, if you are a bathroom retailer, chances are you'd want to have a room set that reflects your style, and of course your own products. We can create a bespoke digital room set using our CGI expertise, populate it with your products and create a configurator for your product range.
So, what's Punch Infinity's ONE Thing?
Our ethos is always to make anything we do as easy as possible, whether that's for the end user or our clients. Punch Infinity has been designed, tested, developed (numerous times!) to make the experience as easy and as simple as possible.
And that's been Punch Infinity's the ONE thing.
Punch Infinity had to be easy to use. It doesn't matter how fancy the visuals are or how in-depth the functions are, if people can't use it then it's failed.
Without ease of use, customers can't feel confident in their choices and are less likely to enquire or make a purchase.
What Makes Punch Infinity Different?
Firstly, Punch Infinity is readily available to anyone. Businesses don't have to develop (and pay) for a new configurator. Hiring programmers and developers can be very time consuming and costly (trust me on this!). Punch Infinity is ready to go. We create and upload the CGI imagery, and that's it. No programming or technical input required!
We've also made sure that Punch Infinity works on most modern devices, such as PCs, iPads and smartphones. Accessibility was also high on our priority list when creating Punch Infinity.
Punch Infinity has great functions too, such as save, share, print and enquire built in. These functions make it easier for customers and sales folk to continue down the route to a purchase. Detailed product information can also be shown too, without leaving the configurator.
Punch Infinity is an easy to use, accessible interactive configurator, available for any business selling a product range, or products with variations.
It's an ideal lead generation too, giving confidence to customers by ditching out dated swatches and thumbnails.
The built in functions make sure it's not only visually great, but also very practical with you marketing and sales.
If you have any questions, queries or think Punch Infinity could be suitable for your marketing, then get in touch.
Finally a chance to experience one of the first Virtual Reality roller-coasters. It's been 2 years since it opened, and earlier this year as part of a “Funstermind” networking event, I had chance to ride it.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the ride before I visited Alton Towers, but in hindsight this perhaps was an advantage, as I had little expectations, and viewed the ride as the average Joe, rather than the CGI geek I am!
But to give you a bit of context, watch this video for some background insight.
In a nutshell, you’re strapped into a roller coaster, lying on your front, so you feel like you’re flying. You have a virtual reality headset, something similar to a Samsung Gear VR, which you wear throughout the ride.
As the ride starts, you fly through sci-fi buildings and landscapes, eventually leaving the complex for the vast openness of space. The virtual journey lasts around a minute, which synchronizes with physical roller coaster. When the roller coaster goes up, the virtual journey also goes up, and it is sort of believable and quite immersive.
The visual virtual elements are also quite good, but not spectacular. Perhaps I’m use to the high quality produced on high end VR headsets, or maybe it’s just that I know how good CGI can be, so when I see something falls below the current high standards, I’m left disappointed.
Maybe for the average rider, the graphics are more than acceptable. I also completely understand the hardware (mainly the VR headsets) will have limitations as to how realistic the visual elements can be pushed. In future years I expect we’ll see quality across all VR platforms to improve, just like any other technology.
But visual quality aside, there are two massive bug bears for me.
Firstly, if the ride has been open for 2 years, why hasn’t the virtual journey ever been changed? From what I can tell, the virtual world is exactly the same as it was the day it was opened. One of the big advantages of creating a digital, virtual world, is that new content can be added without any physical changes to hardware. Why haven’t Alton Towers tweaked or changed the content? Imagine how much attention the ride would get if you could ride the Millennium Falcon in VR just as the latest Star Wars was film was released?
But even just adding a couple of variations to the virtual world would make me want to go back, to experience something different. Sadly this is missing, and I really do think they’re missing a trick to get people to keep coming back.
Secondly, why is there no user interaction with the virtual world? Why not give the users a virtual cross-hair with a huge laser gun to shoot the bad guys? It would be very easy to do, and would make the experience so much more immersive and interesting. You could even have a scoring system, and play against your friends. Imagine how many times people would ride Galactica just to beat a score?
Again I think Alton Towers are missing a huge opportunity.
So to summarise....
Roller coasters are still amazing and always will be. Is there a need to mix VR with roller coaster? Perhaps. Does VR add to the experience? Again, maybe. It’s all down to the execution in my eyes.
The Galatica is one of the first VR roller coasters, and does show what is currently possible. However with a bit of creative thinking and a more engaging approach the experience could be 10x better, and could make VR roller coasters the main attractions at theme parks, rather than just another ride. Add some interaction or game play, and VR roller coasters will hit a new high.
Virtual reality experiences like the Galactica will continue to grow, and will undoubtedly become more popular. I just hope theme parks and other entertainment industries fully utilise the capabilities of VR and CGI to make the user experience something the user will never forget.
The UEFA Champions League final is this Saturday! The high light of the football season for many, and it never disappoints! But this year will be slightly different, as you'll apparently be able to watch the match in 360° VR!
We have been playing, tinkering and mainly having fun with virtual reality, all in the name of research of course! The sheer number of apps, videos, experiences and games already available is amazing, and we've only really scratch the surface with our research. However one piece of virtual reality content really stood out, and that's "6x9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement"
Created by The Guarding and The Mill (see more info here), this virtual reality experience is a great example of how a virtual reality experience should be! It places the viewer in a horrible 6x9 cell, and gives us a glimpse onto just what solitary confinement may be like. Let's just say it's not very pleasant!
6x9 is one VR experience that really stand out for us and does so for few reasons. Firstly it's based on interesting and engaging content. Real convicts who have been in solitary confinement talk about their experiences. Even if 6x9 had been a news article, or a pod cast it would have still grabbed my attention.
Secondly the visual experience is good. OK the graphics aren't photo-real, but to me that doesn't matter. The room is dark, dirty, and not a very nice place to be all. The room changes, weird effects happen to suggest different feelings or even hallucinations that an inmate would have. The user is guided through the experience, and one thing I like is that you can look behind you, but the content is delivered in front of the user, so you can sit comfortably on the sofa without having to break your neck or stand up and turnaround to see the content! Sometimes you almost forget about the quality of the CGI as I found myself listening to the audio or reading the graffiti style text.
Thirdly, and perhaps the most important reason why this works so well in my opinion, is that the creators have taken great content, and then chosen the best medium to tell the story through. In this case they've used virtual reality, and by doing so they've enhanced their content and experience. Too often I see people with the thought of "we have VR, how can we use it?". This can lead to badly built experiences, and people simply trying to force their content into virtual reality. Look at how many best selling mobile games are being butchered to use VR, simply to jump on the band wagon to be part of the VR scene. It's lazy, cheep, and will damage the reputation of virtual reality as a medium if we're not creating brilliant content.
Anyway, back on topic. The 6x9 is a lesson in how to produce virtual reality experience. Please check out the app, all you need is a smart phone, Google Cardboard, GearVR or something similar. There's also a little trailer if you can't get your hands on a VR headset....
Virtual reality is here, and there's no hiding from it!
As we all know, the tech world doesn't stand still, new devices and innovations are constantly being brought to the market place, and it's very easy to become overwhelmed by the constant stream of new tech. However one area of technology we're very keen to get our hands dirty with is Virtual Reality!
For those who are less acquainted with the concept, virtual reality is essentially a way to immerse yourself in digital environments and content, via a wearable headset. In the past, the term "virtual reality" has been used for numerous 3D based ideas, such as interactive walk-thoughs, but it is now being commonly used in context with the headsets.
Anyway, why are we excited by it? Well firstly we love new tech! And secondly I believe this is a step towards fully 3D content for everyone. 3D TVs came and have almost gone (fantastic!), and virtual reality should be the next big thing.
There are many headsets on the market now, such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but the one we have gone for is the Gear VR. Out of those 3 we have perhaps chosen the least powerful, weaker graphics, and not quite the cheapest even, but what it does have is the ability to go anywhere, it's fully mobile, literally.
The Gear VR is essentially a Samsung smart phone (ours is the Galaxy S7), coupled together with the gear VR headset. The viewer inserts their phone into the headset, and straps on the Gear VR, and they are immersed into Virtual Reality! The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift both need to be connected to a powerful PC, for which gaming is a must, but we feel this limitation will be a huge sticking point for a lot of casual users.
The Gear VR Headset.
Most people now have smart phones, and just about any modern Android phone can be turned into a virtual reality headset with either the Gear VR or Google Cardboard, and I'm sure the likes of Apple and Microsoft won't be too long in releasing their own versions.
So what can you do with a virtual reality headset? The easiest, and perhaps one of the most interesting things to do is go and watch some amazing 360 videos. Youtube, Facebook and others now host 360. There are also 100s of apps and games to play and use, from simply watching Netflix in virtual reality, to engaging, playing and meeting people in virtual social worlds; even Facebook has plans to turn their social network into a VR experience!
But what about what we plan to do with VR and the Samsung Gear? Firstly we're going to have some fun! We're going to fire up some VR apps, watch some 360 videos, and research (yes researching can be fun!), and we'll see what grabs us, and what doesn't. There's no point in diving straight in and producing content that either doesn't work, doesn't engage, or isn't useful.
After that we'll know more about the direction we want to go in. At the moment we see two paths, 360 video, and interactive environments. 360 video is become quite well established, with YouTube and Facebook both supporting 360 videos natively inside a web browser (essentially all you do is load the page, and the video will play, so no need for any software downloads). 360 videos are relatively straight forward to create, similar in a way a CGI image or animation is created, however ensuring the user is engaged, entertained and even guided by the content will be just as important as the content itself.
Interactive environments and worlds are more complex to create, and are quite comparable to computer gaming and interactive walk-thoughts. An entire environment is created, and the user can play, explore or even learn through interacting with the virtual content. How the user interacts depends purely on how the game or app is created. With some apps you can look at an object, and press the button on the side of the headset to "click" the object, and other you may need a gaming controller to move easily though the world.
Both 360 videos and interactive environments have their pros and cons, and as I've already mentioned, once we've done our research and had chance to digest what we think works and what doesn't, we'll then start to take steps to produce demos and really get our hands dirty!
For now, all I can say is we're excited and really can't wait to get stuck in and start creating brilliant VR experiences!
360° video gives us a view into pre-historic life!
360° video is on the rise, and it's becoming a fascinating way to engage with viewers. The technology is very new, and as such people don't quite know the best way to use it, or even produce it, but this 360° video is one of the best examples I have seen so far. David Attenborough stars in the video where a giant dinosaur appears to walk past him, but the beauty of using a 360° video is that it allows the viewer to look around and really feel like you're there.
The video is hosted on Youtube, which is brilliant as it's accessible on PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones, so go ahead and watch the video.
If you're on a PC use the mouse to click and drag on the video to look around, and if you're on a phone or tablet, hold the device up and turn around (and ignore the odd look from others!).
If you're using a smart phone and the YouTube app you may have noticed this symbol in the bottom right corner...
When watching the video on your phone, clicking this button will make the video will split in 2, which allows the user to strap on their VR headset, such as the Google Cardboard or Gear VR and fully immerse themselves in the 360° video, brilliant right? OK it might take some time to get use to viewing content this way, but it is fun, trust me!
Anyway, back to the video. In my opinion what this video does, which other 360° videos perhaps haven't quite mastered yet, is the ability to direct the views whilst telling a story. Other 360° videos they can be visually great, but not really engaging or have any purpose. Take for example the Star Wars 360° video; it looks great, and ties in well with the movie release, but it really doesn't tell a story, and as such it doesn't engage with the viewer. You don't know where you should be looking, and as CGI nerd I find myself picking apart the 3D and finding errors, which if I was engaged I may not initially notice. Others might simply just stop the video after 10 seconds, either way it hasn't fully reached its potential.
When we create 360° videos we will have to be very mindful to engage the viewers. With 360° videos the user can look anywhere, so directing the viewers without being forceful will be the key to a successful video. Creating beautiful videos and CGI won't be enough, and although the technical challenge to create visually great videos is the first hurdle, it wont be long before 360° videos are mainstream, and we'll see where content and story telling really set the good and bad videos apart.
360° videos, I hope, are here to stay, and only time will tell just how successful and useful they can be. We're working on plans and ideas to bring 360° videos to our services, we're already experts in creating virtual environments, so the next step is to take our expertise from 2D images and animations to 360° videos and other virtual reality content. We've already tested the Google Cardboard and YouTube 360° video with this little interior apartment test, and we have plans to create something quite exciting, so watch this space!
It's of no real surprise that massive organisations such as NASA are using virtual reality to help test, train and develop their environments and users, in fact you'd expect them to be the leaders in new tech, and demoing things which we hadn't even heard of.
So when I saw this short video, showing a user controlling a robotic arm to simulate lag in a zero gravity environment, I was a little surprised to see them using an off-the-shelf Sony VR headset (Project Morpheus), which will be available to buy in 2016, presumably to be primarily used with the Playstation 4.
For myself, this is quite a big deal, the virtual reality headset will probably be priced at around £500, and to consumers who only want to play games this may seem high and hard to justify, but if you think about it, the price is much lower than a new TV, and will likely give you a much more immersive experience than a TV or monitor.
Playing games is one thing, and ultimately gaming has really driven this technology to this level, but what about the other possibilities for this kind of hardware?
Of course we can look to use the headsets for interactive architectural walk-through, or to visualise new products in full 3D, and I'm sure we'll see an increase in demand for these types of projects. Selling a housing development "off-plan" may be replaced by selling "off-VR", allowing potential buyers to walk around their future neighbourhood, and explore their future home.
The VR headset and controllers in action.
However I also see a massive use for VR in development, simulation, testing and training, which is what the video explores. Again architecture and product design may find virtual reality useful to develop and preview architecture and prototypes, uncovering potential design flaws, or perhaps even for user testing and focus groups, which could potentially mean architects and designers could trial several designs in a much more cost effective manor.
Training and simulation could also be a great use for virtual reality. As the video shows, the software can be programmed to different scenarios for any environment. A factory could be tested before it's built, and any design flaws could be rectified before actual construction of the building, saving companies a huge amount of money and time.
Virtual robotic arms.
Staff could also be trained to use new machinery, even before it's physically there. This could cut down on training time, and also allow users to familiarise them selves with the machines in a very safe way.
Simulations can also be run, perhaps allowing users to experience an emergency situation. The software could be programmed to record and feed back on the users decisions, speed and alertness. The information could then be analysed, reviewed and acted upon, perhaps making the training more valuable and useful for both trainers and trainees.
The technology behind the VR headset is of course cutting edge. We haven't really seen any consumer based VR head sets before, OK there's the Samsung Gear, Google Cardboard and arguably the Oculus Rift, but with 2016 looking like it will be a bumper year for virtual reality and headset hardware we could see the use of VR rocket and become almost mainstream.
For sure, a VR headset is on our wish list for 2016 and there's quite a choice of headsets too. There's the Sony VR headset, HTC Vive and the full release of the Oculus Rift, all of which look impressive, and should in theory be around the same price range, so the choice looks like it will be down to software compatibility and personal preference.
The future of VR is looking strong, and we can't wait to become a part of it, pushing and playing with new technology whilst creating new virtual worlds and environments! We simply can't wait to get our hands on a headset, and see where we end up!
We're almost at the end of 2015, and I find it's always great to look back at what we've done over the past year. We can smile and pat ourselves on the back at the great work we've produced, but also to reflect on the hurdles and obstacles from the year!
I hope this year has been a great one for you, I know we've had a good year, producing some great work for you guys! As usual we've focused on creating architecture, interior, and product CGIs, but we also explored other area such as 3D printing and virtual reality. I find it's always great to explore and play, even if it's just to glimpse at what might be!
So I'll leave you with a short selection of our interesting 2015 projects for you to browse with a mince pie and sherry....
Student Mattress Room Set -
The student mattress room set was a continuation from 2014, but is still worth of a mention. We really enjoyed working on this project, partly down to the fact we were given a lot of creative freedom with regards to the set design, and also to how well the final image turned out. It was technically challenging matching the CGI with the real mattress, but the end result was worth the extra effort!
New Broadway -
2015 saw an increase is architectural visualisations for us, and the New Broadway project was perhaps one of the more interesting projects to work on. The images were photo-composites, set at dusk, which meant we could play with light and colour much more than a typical day-time CGI.
Construct & Configure Interactive Application -
The Construct & Configure app finally went live this year, and although it's not 100% finished, it shows the potential of what we can do, and the direction we see things going in the next few years! We will be finishing and improving the app, and it will be used by clients to interactively visualise their products. Give it a go if you haven't already!
3D Printed Miniature Figures -
As part of our need to explore and play with new tech, we have been busy with the 3D printer and scanner, turning folks into miniature figures! We honestly didn't know what would happen when we bought the printer, and it still feels very novel, however the miniature model railway guys have been taking advantage and we've been producing miniatures to go along with their trains, platforms and scenery!
There's been so much more happening in 2015 which I haven't mentioned, from virtual reality, to kitchen CGIs, along with all the other little things which crop up, and perhaps get lost along the way!
In 2016 we of course want to continue to produce amazing CGIs, animations and interactive projects, and as usual we will continue to play and explore! On our "wish list" is a VR headset, perhaps an Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive, which will allow us to really see what the future may hold! Also we will most likely launch another website, dedicated to the 3D scanning and printing, as the interest in this niche is definitly something we want to expand.
Also, away from the "doing", we want to attend more events, exhibitions, and such to make sure we're surrounded by new and exciting things. We'll be travelling all over the UK to various cities and events, so if you want to meet-up for a brew, chances are we could be passing by some time soon!
So that's it for 2015! Time to step away from the PC for a week, re-charge, rejuvenate, and hit the ground running in 2016!
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