David Francis & Carli Johnston - Virtual Method

8 min read
Blog Author

David Francis & Carli Johnston - Virtual Method

Blog Author
8 min read
For this 10x10 Session, the Co-Founder and CEO of Zappar Ltd (Caspar Thykier) is joined by the Co-Founders of Virtual Method, David Francis & Carli Johnston.

For this 10x10 Session, the Co-Founder and CEO of Zappar Ltd (Caspar Thykier) is joined by the Co-Founders of Virtual Method, David Francis & Carli Johnston.

Virtual Method are a Systems Integrator and Creative Agency, that specializes in Augmented & Virtual Reality. They introduce, analyse, create and integrate immersive content and strategies across three pillars of Enterprise & Brand: 1) B2C/B2B Marketing and Sales driven AR/VR, 2) Operations and Future of Work, 3) Industrial 4.0 and IIoT. 


The Conversation:



Caspar Thykier: I am excited to be joined today by David Francis and Carli Johnston down in Australia. Friday morning over there, Thursday evening here. You know, you're definitely on the better side of that. As you know, it'd be great to start with maybe you both just introducing yourselves and your journeys into the wonderful world of XR, or then we can take it from there.


Carli Johnston: Hello, one I'm Carli Johnston. I'm the co-founder of Virtual Method. I'm head of product here. I'm also the co-founder of Women in AR and VR, which is a not-for-profit I'm excited about. My journey started in 2006, and I actually started when I met Dave at an event that he was running all about AR and VR. At the time I had a biometric startup and I was really excited about that, and ventured from the world of fashion design and fashion styling and food styling. And as soon as I tried my first experience, which was a VR experience, I knew straight away that I wanted to be in the industry. And I knew where I could add value and how my skills were quite transferable in that medium. 


David Francis: And my name is David Francis and I'm the CEO and co-founder of Virtual Method. I've been here now for 10 years. I originally stumbled across a company called Daiquiri out of LA. And they were developing a CMS to allow you to publish augmented reality. They wanted to read the YouTube of augmented reality, which is what kind of got me interested because YouTube is a pretty big platform. And they sent me a link to be able to publish a QR code, and choose a 3D model. I scan the code and then I pointed at it again. So act as a mock-up. And then I saw this spinning three-day solar system and it blew my mind. And at the time in the backend, it showed me as a dot on Google Maps where I was when I activated it. It showed latitude and longitude, and I just went, wow, this is absolutely mind-blowing.

And basically, I just dropped everything and decided to get into the industry, and reached out to them. They sent me a bunch of demos and I started going out and selling it, thinking. This can't be true. Oh my God, let me just pick out the house on the hub that I want to live in. It was very, very early. My goodness. You, if you were doing, if you may, in any aspect by all back then you basically had to very quickly almost develop an engineer's understanding of computer vision and. Game engines and everything, because you were problem solving all the time. And some of those first campaigns put many white as on my head, it was also really exciting. Everything was a world first, you know? And I fell in love with it and just didn't nod and said, full-time somehow created a role for myself in the biggest. One of the biggest print groups in the country and they backed me and did that for a bunch of years and then started visual method in 2016.

But of course, along the way, we met Zappar including yourself, Casper, and you know, it was a client of yours first and then went out and also evangelize the soul on behalf of you guys. And yeah, it was so it's been a really it's been a huge journey and like so many learnings and amazing to see the industry evolve the way it has over a decade, you know?


Caspar Thykier: Yeah, absolutely. It's funny. Isn't it? I do always describe sort of AR years as slightly sort of… it just feels like so much has happened, as you said. I'm having a chat with Charlie Fink on this, and he had the same reaction that first time he saw AI and how it became a moment he remembers. I think that's what's still fascinating about AR is that level of kind of attention and surprise and sort of interest. The soapbox has changed with the technology over the last 10 years. Are there any moments that you've called out for both of you where you go within that journey, where this was a real turning point that kind of helped drive it forward?


David Francis: For myself, I guess one of the initial sort of turning points wa the ability to be able to change things easily in the cloud and like being able to effectively cloud serve your experiences so that you know. That's something that really sort of took a lot of the stress off when you go, okay, we can change this on a dime because you probably want to do testing and everything off the back of that, but sometimes it's required. Why do they. Campaign with Tongan actually way back in the day and the first launch of it was on like page three or something of every major newspaper in the country. And it was an augmented reality sort of target that would bring toys to life. We did it on a paper, as one example. The media agency called me and went, it's not working, it's not working. I went, Oh my God, just, can you just take a photo of it and send it to me? I'm calling to change the graphics on the page. And she went, Oh, just spiked to target on time. And yeah, the last minute they decided to move some things around on the page, the computer vision understood what it was looking at, and it worked across the country.

And that's how I was working with Daiquiri out of LA. And they were using it before. And that was just too late, but missed the opportunity. So once we were able to announce it was, it was huge. Once I mentioned reality, eyewear came out, things like magic leap, wine, and whole ends and all that sort of thing that really started to get the public's imagination, really pumping about where augmented reality was going to go. I think once augmented reality came into social., it was a big milestone as well because I kind of ubiquitous for even just face filters and all that sort of stuff, but it's really ubiquitous now. And, and actually funnily enough, with webVR is COVID and everyone's signing in everywhere with QR codes. 


Carli Johnston: Yes. Great. Anyone who couldn't use it or didn't know how to use them?


David Francis: Yeah, it's it's now like QR codes have gone from being super boring things that just go through the websites that marketers just absolutely did such a poor job of 10 years ago to now leading us through to this next of the web web content spatially locked in the world around us. So. Yeah. I mean, there's been so many big things that have just gradually opened up the flower of opportunity for practitioners out there. 


Carli Johnston: Yeah, I think as I wasn't in it, I guess in the earlier days, I don't have those huge big lessons that Dave has, but certainly a lot of little lessons certainly from a con a production perspective where he would the client. And I'll go, just go back to what you said, Dave, about cloud serving having the ability to bring them on the journey and in a sandbox environment. I might even just reference a campaign that we just did with News Corp and Discovery Australia having the ability to earlier on you know, send them a code. So then they can see in the backend what's happening. And when we felt really confident to do that, we gave them very clear expectations about what happens. It's a different type of production system than they maybe they used to. And they love that. They were like, yeah, I saw what you built overnight. I love it. I love where it's going or they had feedback straight away. And that's been really useful to build trust and also to educate the customer at the same time. I mean people initially when we spoke to them about this, they're like, well, people understand how to do this. You know, where people think about QR codes, but yet straightaway. Everyone knows how to do it. Lift up your phone, put it into mice. Boom. Yeah, 


Caspar Thykier: Yeah, absolutely. With your Women in AR hat on, how has that developed over the last 10 years?


Carli Johnston: Oh, certainly. I mean, when I started in 2016 every time I'd walk into a room I was the only female for a long time, it was really eye opening because I came from a fashion background and everyone that I worked with was probably a female there weren't too many males in that space. So it was really a stark contrast. I think when I first started with the women in VR, there were four of us. And since then some of the other girls have actually taken on different career paths just because it's been so hard for them. And that's been hard to watch, you know? So certainly it's about leadership and standing up and creating a space for women and a platform for that for women to talk and meet and connect. We've seen some really new faces come in that have been a bit nervous to speak. And they've been on our panel. They've been contributing in different ways. Me. I'm not a big speaker as you well know, you don't see me often you know, doing big talks and things like that, but the communities vibrant and I certainly think coming together and the more we talk about these sort of issues the more women come in and they feel like there's a safe space for them to, to join and be part of it.


David Francis: Yeah, absolutely. And if I might add to that, just because it's so important and the time is now I get the time was in the eighties for. Computing really started to reach consumers and lots of the time for the internet in the mid-nineties, coming into the noughties and the .com era. And that's the thing, the time is now to do it right. And to ensure that this medium is a medium, I'm telling stories of diversity, of telling of human cleanse stories. You know we can do it right this time round. If it's, if the right moves are made in this moment, otherwise it's going to be like all these other tech industries that just go male, heavy male-dominated, and women then trying to come in and, and take some chunk out of it which is incredibly hard.


Carli Johnston: I think sometimes people don't realize that skills are so transferable, you know creating spatial content requires a lot of people and a lot of thinking. And you can enter from any aspect. I mean, for me, I had a fashion background. So while I've had to learn a significant amount about you know, What it takes to achieve a really great experience. You know, I had a design background so I could apply designer, set it to the content that I was building. I really enjoyed understanding consumer culture. So you know, understanding what checks and what makes things work. You know, often people are holding up in short form content with a mobile phone. You know, their attention span is limited. You know, so no one's going to stand there all day and hold up their phone. Some people do, but you know not everyone will, so you, you have to be able to capture their you know, capture the spirit of something and, and make it interesting for them in a short amount of time. That’s the other thing; it's a window through a portal, but you can still see people moving around you, so you really have to engage them. So it's in some ways, a lot harder than VR. 


Caspar Thykier: Yeah, no, absolutely. So, I guess the final question, then I'm sitting where we are today, in sort of 2021. Over the last ten years there have been a tide of technologies in XR; which ones are you most excited about? 


David Francis: Me I mean, I am, I am excited about the wearables space. I think there's so many challenges to overcome in terms of how to do proper governance of someone's field of view. I am personally really excited to see where, where they are guys, because I think where my eyes are just beginning in, it's just, even with Apple. Furnishing companies and all that, something that I've really taken on and used up e-commerce and are, according to some of those who I've spoken with, it's paying massive dividends. So I think it's really the web. Our spaces really is still gonna massively explode. I think also volumetric capture, I think now that we have light detection and ranging in a lineup in our funds the ability to be able to create 3D content. And I think very soon we'll be able to create volumetric video through our phones, through other devices too.

Pretty mind-blowing that you'll be able to effectively broadcast someone in full 3D. You know, I think when, when not far off that I think also AI coming into the 3D space. With like procedural understanding. So once I can map the environment and understand where the chair is in less. I think it could recognize a chair volumetrically, and then it can, and then swap it out with, it will tell you where there's a three-day chair online that is seamless so effectively, like a three days search engine. But then also I only just understand it. Being able to find me, able to understand the scene, understand the depth and understand that you are maintenance from something. I think there is so much that is going to add to this place as well. I think that we are at a real tipping point right now in terms of client understanding of consumer adoption and all of so many companies working. And I think in 10 years time, we won't recognize the time right now. 


Carli Johnston: I think for me I'm really, really excited about the idea of digital identities and representation of yourself in 3D space. So however that looks like if it's a souped up version of yourself, or if it's something altogether different, a series of thoughts a character, anything, you know it's really interesting how people choose to represent themselves Before we were looking at face filters and it's evolved now into like avatars and, you know kind of puppetry. But people are gonna be able to take it further and customize further on various platforms. And that's super interesting. Equally interesting is the way that brands start to build their special brand guidelines, you know what does their logo look like in 3D? Can you put your logo in front of, say for instance, if you're KFC, can you put your. Your logo in front of McDonald's when you're walking past, can you mask the store when you're in a certain eyewear in the metaverse or that's really interesting how do you capture people's attention and how do you deal with brand warfare? I'm super interested in that. Yeah. 


Caspar Thykier: Very good. Well, look, I said we could go on for hours but it's been just brilliant to to hear your views.