Hi Ana! Thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you please give us an overview of your background?
Growing up, I had three brothers, so video games have always been a part of my life. My journey to working in the gaming industry took a bit longer. After attaining a degree in psychology, I went on to work in the divorce arena at the Justice Court, but, as a creative person, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. My mother’s family is filled with artists, and I think I got my artistic side from her.
In addition to gaming, I grew up drawing, creating, and, since a big side of me is an entrepreneur, selling stuff. When I was five, I would draw really ugly drawings and sell them for 10 cents at my mother’s job. I would then take the money and buy whatever I wanted.
Later on, I would bring pies into the Justice Court. Eventually, my colleagues began to buy my creations, then the office nearby started to buy them, and before I knew it, I was selling them to the whole corridor. In six months, I had created a pie business, selling thousands of baked goods and contracting people to help me cook. Friends and customers started asking me, “why don’t you open a shop?” So, in 2009, I applied for a one-week startup course. As I took the course, I realized that I was in the wrong business.
The course instructor asked me a question: where did I want my business to be in 5, 10, and 15 years? After that, he said, “Okay. Forget about your business. Forget that you have a career, expertise, and even your family and friends, and imagine you are born today. Where do you want to be in 5, 10, and 15 years?” I had never allowed myself to ask what I wanted to be and what I wanted with my life. Every time I made a decision, I was thinking about my degree, my limited options, and my pie business. The result? I didn’t see all the opportunities I had in life or the big picture.
I realized that I’d been playing video games my whole life when I could be making games. So, I threw it all away, and I started my life. You can listen to my TED Talk about this life-changing question here.
What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey to getting into the VR industry.
It was love at first sight. In 2013, my colleague at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) had an Oculus Rift DK1 headset because he was doing a VR project (lucky me). After I tried it, we talked, and he told me where to buy my own headset, which I did that year. After that, during every school project, I only thought about VR. For my final project, I wanted to do something that wouldn’t be possible without VR.
Then, I had an intense dream about a game. I dreamt that I was playing a game with Atari graphics on the living room TV. As the game began to evolve, the whole living room pixelated along with the TV. At some point, the game got so good, and the graphics evolved so much that the whole world became realistic. This dream inspired me: what if I made a game that shows the evolution of video game history? And thus, Pixel Ripped was born.
Huge congratulations on being recognized as one of the best VR games in 2020. Can you tell us a bit about the experience and your motivation for creating it?
My biggest motivation was recreating my childhood. Here in Brazil, we didn’t have Nintendo until the mid-80s because of the government, so I grew up playing old games.
As for the game creation experience, the great thing about NFTS was that I got to work with other students with master’s degrees. People already working in the industry making film and animation were there. I had the opportunity to work with a producer, sound designer, composer, writer, and more. However, when it came to voice acting, programming, and making art assets, I had to do it myself.
If I hadn’t gone to NFTS, I would have never made Pixel Ripped. My course coordinator was always asking me, “are you pushing boundaries? Are you making something different, something new that no one’s ever done?” I was really lucky to have all these people. I learned how to pitch, inspire others, and describe my idea to someone else. I trained to be a director, which is what I mostly do today. Now, Pixel Ripped has a publisher and a bigger team.
What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while creating this project?
There were so many! Every project has hard times, the usual culprit being funding. But for a person who likes to do it all, it was tough to move from a student project where I was doing practically everything to a director role for a business project.
I enjoy doing art, but you can’t make bigger and better games if you don’t let other professionals do the work. When I started to see the results of what we were doing together compared to what I was doing alone, I became much more trusting. Now, I have personal projects on the side, like game jams and other activities, that I work on when I feel the urge to create. It’s good to have that for yourself as an artist.
Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?
The company is taking somewhat of a break from Pixel Ripped for about six months, but we are working on an internal VR collaboration tool, and we’ve been doing game jams. I’m taking time to rest my mind with other projects and different games before going back into Pixel Ripped. I also want to work on my YouTube channel and create videos about building stuff on various social VR platforms.
What were some of the most considerable challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?
Staying up-to-date is a big challenge. When I started developing Pixel Ripped, head and hand tracking didn’t exist. Then controllers began to arrive, and Unity changed. Big changes would break the game.
Everyone is adapting themselves to the industry, which is growing all the time. It’s both the best and worst problem to have.
What’s your vision for the future of VR?
Today, I feel that we as an industry are five years ahead. I’m in Brazil, working in VR and using VR to meet friends and go to events. Everyone has a VR headset at our company. We wouldn’t be where we are right now if the pandemic wasn’t happening.
What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?
Heavy hardware that makes you feel like you’re walking isn’t something I would invest my time or money in since VR locomotion sickness isn’t really an issue anymore. I think that’s the only area that isn’t going to go forward. I believe using software as a solution is a better idea.
What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?
I feel that, unfortunately, we don’t have privacy in VR, and it’s going to get worse. Nowadays, our phones have cameras, and they see everything. With VR, companies can get so much more. For example, I don’t feel comfortable being naked in my headset. Companies are tracking your position in your house, and there’s a lot of data there.
What advice do you have for people looking to enter the XR industry?
Developers: try to create something that you’re passionate about. I believe that when you’re passionate, you will be more out of the box and go farther than if you didn’t have a connection to the project. Choose something that you’re passionate about because the VR industry is always changing.
To build something in Unity, you have to learn a lot to get to the point where you’re making VR. But if you want to learn the fundamentals quickly, I suggest going to Rec Room or AltSpace. Rec Room is available, and the code there is much easier. After learning the fundamentals, you can then take the hardcore step towards using the Unity engine.
Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?
My mother was a big mentor in my life. John Weinberg, my director, and another great mentor, helped me make Pixel Ripped because he pushed me when I was writing down ideas for my final NFTS project.
I had other ideas, but because John really pushed me, I didn’t give up, and I eventually came up with Pixel Ripped. He would ask, “how is this innovative?” Because if it was something that had already been done, and it’s not innovating, what’s the point? Every time I create something, I still remember his teachings, and that helps me motivate myself to make things that are different than the ones done before.
Anything else you’d like to add?
VR is helping us survive the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the safest place I have right now to see my friends, and for that, I’m grateful.
Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?
I love that quote from Back to the Future, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” I feel like that’s the future: we don’t need screens where we’re going.
Find Ana on LinkedIn, Twitter and learn more about her company, Pixel Ripped, Inc.
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