Darc Fusion Sheds Light on Virtual Reality in Dusty Tucson

August 10, 2015

A Behind the scenes photo from "The Killing of Frank Stilwell" short web series that was shot at Old Tucson and is on YouTube with QR codes at the Tucson Train Depot.

A Behind the scenes photo from “The Killing of Frank Stilwell” short web series that was shot at Old Tucson and is on YouTube with QR codes at the Tucson Train Depot.

By Simon Brimmer

Tucson entrepreneur Tony Ford likens the video product market to the Wild West, and he believes virtual reality technology is the Pinkerton of the business model. He hopes Darc Fusion, a Downtown special effects company, is on the right rail as marketers of viewable merchandise try to figure out what works.

As is the case in any of a number of enterprising undertakings, the Internet and technology age has dramatically changed the entertainment content nature of the business. In short, what are people watching, and how will they pay?

Well, sure they’re watching webisodes and subscribing to YouTube channels and checking out high-profile programming through iTunes and Amazon purchases, but the imbedded ad structure isn’t really benefitting marketers. Further, the YouTube model might be great for some individual content providers, but there isn’t enough to support an entire business.

But is the time right for virtual reality as a viable entertainment option?

CGI helmet created by Darc Fusion.

CGI helmet created by Darc Fusion.

Ford believes so, and notes investment in the technology’s potential has ballooned.

“Every company that had a pile of cash and was sitting on it during the recession, including Facebook, Google, Apple, Sony, Samsung, they are all putting a half billion to $2 billion into developing virtual reality hardware right now,” said Ford, who believes smart phones will be a driver and predicts many of the devices will be equipped with 4K screens in under two years. 4K is a necessity for the next step in phone-based virtual reality.

“Facebook bought Oculus; Google invested in Magic Leap, everybody has put their money in. The current business projection is virtual reality as an industry will grow 13,000 percent in the next three years. That’s five times faster than the iPhone. We’re looking to go from $5 billion globally now to $152 billion in the next five years.”

Darc Fusion wants a piece of that industry pie. The company also recognizes there’s a gap between the emerging technology and the material that needs to be produced to help make the virtual reality platform a viable commodity.

The Earth, as created by Darc Fusion.

The Earth, as created by Darc Fusion.

“Content is needed,” said Ford, “and that’s the space where we believe it will really pay off, and we want to be the creators for that space.”

Darc Fusion is in the process of creating some virtual reality projects related to regional historic events. Furthermore, it is near completion on a feature length endeavor.

“We’re about a month out from our first major VR cinematic piece, which is a reworking of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot for virtual reality headsets,” said Ford. “It’s a chance to be immersed in a flyout from Earth through the solar system, out of the galaxy and (beyond). It’s 3D and CGI driven.”

And it all but blew up the company’s computers. Because when you’re on the cutting edge, sometimes the material available doesn’t allow for a smooth transition into what it is you’d like to accomplish.

The lower city of Kalipse.

The lower city of Kalipse.

“We’ve burned through a lot of pieces of software designed for movie making. It’s too complex for the software to handle, so we have to invent our own pipeline based on different pieces of software,” Ford said. “We adopted some of our own hardware to help handle that data. We find a way to piece the software together to make what we have work.”

The impetus of Darc Fusion was as a joint effort between Ford, the entrepreneurial mind instrumental in the Startup Tucson small business incubator, and partner Christian Caballeros, who made a superlative first impression.

“He walked in one day and asked about potentially partnering for a business,” Ford said. “There are a lot of young guys who want to start a business, but they don’t all want to work hard. So the first thing I did was ask for his help on a video to try to get Tesla to move here. I’ll write the script and do the voice-over and you go shoot the footage and do some of your 3D animation. We’ll get that out and see if we can work together. He showed up three days later with a finished product, so I figured we could probably work together.”

The Outlands.

The Outlands.

Since then, Darc Fusion has been busy. Among its more traditional ventures, the company donated nearly $20,000 in effects footage to the Star Trek: Renegades pilot, a Kickstarter driven project which has a number of August screenings scheduled along the west coast.

“We did the holograms, the cityscapes of San Francisco in the future, the ship plating, all that kind of stuff,” Ford said.

But just as Star Trek is about exploring strange new worlds, Darc Fusion is about navigating the uncertain landscape of technology-based entertainment. In that regard, Ford seems to liken himself to a modern-day Magellan, or the VR version of James T. Kirk.

“Nobody really knows what’s going to work, and I’m actually pretty comfortable with that,” Ford said. “I don’t have to worry about being behind the curve. There’s an old saying: ‘if you’re worried about being too early, you’re too late.’ I think that applies in this new participatory narrative.

“Anything ranging from webisodes to driving fan fiction, all of that is new but we have to figure it out. The old model about a Hollywood studio producing giant movies and charging you 15 bucks to go sit in a room to have people watch it is dying. Everybody is aware of that.”

That’s where the awareness ends. If the old model is in trouble, what will fill the void? Ford is banking on Virtual being a prosperous Reality.

“There is no Scorsese. There’s no Spielberg for this yet. There’s no director,” said Ford. “Everything you’ve heard about film is dead. There’s no pan shot. There’s no closeup. There’s no jump cut. The audience is essentially the camera with 360-degree viewing space. They can look wherever they want. How do you tell a story when you don’t control a vision?

“It’s a return to the Wild West. We’re in it early enough that dusty old Tucson can create significant business. We can be innovative anywhere. That’s exciting.”