Flat Earth VR started as a thought experiment by Lucas Rizzotto who was skewering the idea that VR is an empathy machine by creating an immersive experience that allowed you identify with delusional perspectives. After invoking some emotional reactions in people who knew it was a joke, Rizzotto took some time off of the project as the moral implications of creating propaganda for flat earthers weighed heavily on him. Eventually, he picked up the project again while framing it more explicitly as a satire and comedy that he submitted to Sundance New Frontier as a joke, but was accepted.
I had a chance to unpack Rizzotto’s journey and process of creating this piece while also reflecting on the challenges of funding VR comedies, his Lucas Builds the Future YouTube channel and that’s funded by fans via Patreon, as well as the six-month, AR House co-living experiment & AR artist residency program happening in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, CA.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
Here it is! The official trailer for Flat Earth VR! 🥞
This game is gonna change the world. pic.twitter.com/bjjoly0GjY
— Lucas Rizzotto (@_LucasRizzotto) January 21, 2022
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So continuing on my coverage of The Sundance New Frontier 2022, today's episode is with Lucas Rizzotto. He's an independent AR VR artist who created a piece called Flat Earth VR. So this is a comedy piece that started from the idea of what would VR be like if you tried to create the opposite of the machine? What if you tried to get people to empathize with the perspective that is from a place of disillusionment that you could be used for abuse or disinformation, fake news? So, it's starting from that, but then he realized that he may be accidentally creating something that may be a propaganda piece for the Flat Earthers, and so he decided to create it into a more explicit satire in a comedy that then he submitted to Sunday N'Such-A-Joke, and it got in, and then it showed there during The New Frontier. So I had a chance to catch up with Lucas to not only hear a bit more about the process of creating this piece, but he's also involved with other things, including the Lucas Builds the Future, which is a YouTube show that he goes into these different AR VR projects and storifies them into different ways. And then also he's a part of the AR House, which is in the Hollywood Hills of California, where he's invited lots of other AR artists to come together in this living space to be able to create different AR prototypes. So that's what we're coming on today's episode of a severe podcast so this interview with Lucas happened on Saturday January 22nd 2022 so with that let's go ahead and dive right in
[00:01:36.582] Lucas Rizzotto: Hi. Um, so my name is Lucas and I create crazy things and I make documentaries about them. That's sort of like the one liner now, because it changes all the time when I do, but you know, do lots of things in virtual and augmented reality. And now I've been like expanding into other emerging technology fields, but ultimately I just like to make crazy things that pose interesting questions.
[00:02:01.237] Kent Bye: Great. And maybe you can give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into this space.
[00:02:06.526] Lucas Rizzotto: Right. My background's a mess. I'm a serial college dropout. I I got into the space totally accidentally by attending hackathons and doing projects for fun, fell in love with virtual and augmented reality back in 2017, released a game called Where Thoughts Go in 2018, kind of just hung out for 2019. And in 2020, I started a series, YouTube series called Lucas Builds the Future, where I create lots of, you know, the futuristic projects that I do. And I wrapped them around this documentary format. And it's been a great deal of fun.
[00:02:39.740] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could describe this pivot that you made because, you know, you were making these different pieces within XR and then it's almost as if when you started to be like a YouTuber as the main outlet of these things, you're still working on these projects, but at the same time, to be able to be an independent artist and have support from a community, you've turn to this form of expanding your storytelling, not just within the context of XR, but also in the format of film and these pieces that you're producing with LucasBuild to the future to spread the word with these different creative technology projects you're working on, but also to engender a community and support. So maybe you could just talk about your pivot into that and your journey that so far as to how that's been going with taking that as a route for being an independent artist.
[00:03:24.916] Lucas Rizzotto: Right. So after I released Where Thoughts Go, which was my VR RP slash game on the Oculus Quest, I was pretty burnt out. And I learned, you know, this is what something that I think most developers learn eventually, that really you spend like the first 15% of the project, this is like making all of the interesting design explorations and discoveries. And then it's like months, if not years of just like polish and bug fixing and work. That's like not creative, you know, in the, at least in the ways that I'm particularly interested in. And I was also just tired of waiting for technology to catch up with the ideas I wanted to execute. So I needed to find an avenue to do crazy projects that I can just like use technology that basically almost no one has access to, but just to explore the ideas I want to explore, even though it's not ready for consumer use at all. but find a way to get those projects and those ideas to people. Storytelling became the format. I can work on whatever project it is I want to work on. I don't have to worry about spending months or years polishing it for a public consumer release. I can focus more on the story and the narrative and the creative process and taking people on a journey with me. LucasPositiveFuture has been a great outlet for that, for me to just basically do whatever I want, not worry about whether this technology is too early or too late, or whether it's ready for people. It removes the pressure of me having to create consumer products. And the question becomes more like, what's something cool that I can do that's a really interesting story, that explores a really interesting set of themes? So it's been very liberating. And it really helped on my Patreon in the sense that it's a really cohesive mission. It's a mission everyone can get behind. It's very simple. I do these projects, and I tell these stories, and I educate people, and I pose these interesting questions. So because of LucasBuildsTheFuture, I think I was able to rally the community in a way that I never did before under a unified mission. And I've always wanted to be a filmmaker, man. It has been my film school, in a way. The next one that I'm doing is, like, it got to the point that I'm like, oh, I could submit this to a film festival, which is interesting. Because, again, just like I accidentally entered VRAR, it seems like I'm accidentally becoming a documentary filmmaker, and I never cared about documentaries. So I don't know what's happening, Kent.
[00:05:48.217] Kent Bye: So, I mean, you do have your latest piece, Flat Earth VR, in a film festival, The Sundance New Frontier, but you're saying that the piece that you're making about making the piece, the 2D film, is a documentary that you think is maybe on the scale that it could be entered into a film festival.
[00:06:03.269] Lucas Rizzotto: There's another project actually that I think is at that level already in terms of like quality and script writing. But the Flat Earth VR, it was actually created, I always imagined it as a Lucasfilms The Future episode. It just happened that the project itself got so good. that it acquired a life of its own, and now it's at Sundance, and I have no idea how this happened. I submitted it as a joke. I did not expect them to say yes, but they did. So, you know, now we're here. But yeah, I built Flat Earth VR with the intention of making a documentary about it because, again, at face value, it's just a really, really silly VR satire about Flat Earthers, but it explores a lot of really interesting themes, and I think it's some of the stuff we're going to talk about today.
[00:06:43.860] Kent Bye: Okay. Yeah. Well, maybe before we start to dig into that a little bit, I want to help just maybe set the larger context, because I think your journey is quite interesting. As I watched all the different pieces from Sundance New Frontier this year, you had a little shout out to your Patreon community saying, you know, this wouldn't have not been possible without the support from your community. And I think a lot of times the challenge that I've seen, at least within the larger context of New Frontier, is that these artists create these pieces, And then a larger distribution network of these pieces is far less mature than, say, video games. If you were to make a game, you'd have no problem of having many outlets to have people get access to these. But for narrative pieces, even though the same mechanism is there, it's almost like the curation or the distribution or the focus of meta as a company hasn't emphasized it and it's kind of everything's treated still as a game and rated as a game, which I don't know if you've experienced that with where thoughts go as well, because you were able to get that on to the quest. But so there's this challenge of distribution of getting the work out. And it sounds like that by having your Patreon and having early access to things that can be a little bit more rough. You can do most of the work it needs to get to the point where people can experience it, but you don't need to spend all this time polishing it and getting it to the level of professional release. And you can kind of move on to the next project, but also tell stories around it. So that's a very interesting path that you've ended up at. And I'm curious if you could maybe take us back into some of the big projects that you worked on with LucasBuilds of Future. It's been a while since I've had a chance to catch up with you. So I know you did the Time Machine, you've done a number of really kind of interesting projects, but what was the first big one that you think was a turning point for you with the LucasBuilds of Future when it comes to this idea of building these prototypes within VR and AR and then making a YouTube piece that then becomes the mechanism as which it gets out into the world?
[00:08:34.931] Lucas Rizzotto: It was a time machine. Yeah, it was my first episode. Actually, 2019, I spent the whole year trying to fund a bunch of VR comedies that I wanted to do because just no one's doing virtual reality comedies. And I think that is a genre that's so underexplored and would be very popular. But everybody keeps telling me comedy is hard. But at the same time, it's like, I'm like, hi, I can do it. And I have proof and people would just say comedy is hard and they walk away and they don't fund anything. It's really weird. So I was so upset after spending an entire year trying to get these things funded that I was just like, I'm just going to make my TV show and do whatever I want. Actually, there's an aspect of the story. It wasn't just strategy. It was also me just being like bitter. and be like, I'm not going to ask permission from anyone to do anything anymore. I'm just going to do this YouTube channel. So now I can do projects in three months instead of having to spend two years working on something and asking for like hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I had to prove myself, I guess, that I could make the experience of the story compelling and a project in of itself. And yeah, the time machine, I spent several months working on it, trying to figure out a style and my own personal voice. That was the hardest part about it. And it did blow up. I mean, on Reddit, it got over 10 million views and it was proof that it could work. And then I made three others that have not worked. People love it. The comment section is like, literally the most enthusiastic comment section I've ever seen on YouTube, but it's not picking up and I don't know why, and it's been kind of frustrating. But it worked once, so I know it can happen again, but I've been just struggling to replicate the success of the first one, even though the quality of all of the work has been improving from episode to episode.
[00:10:17.505] Kent Bye: Well, the metrics for success are interesting because going viral is a one thing, but being able to find supporters of your work to be able to join your Patreon seems to be a whole other metric. And by that metric, it seems like that is successful. So even if it's not going viral, you're able to then work as an artist and sustain yourself, which to me is maybe more valuable than having things go viral every time, but not have anything to show for it at the end.
[00:10:41.871] Lucas Rizzotto: Yes. So the Patreon has been doing very well. And it's been the one metric that keeps me going. If I didn't have the Patreon response, I would have stopped after a couple of videos that are not getting this much attention. But ideally, you're trying to make things that can resonate with a large number of people. But there is a niche that really loves my stuff so much that they're willing to, I guess, put a very reasonable amount of money so I can keep doing what it is that I'm doing. And that's cool because I thought before doing this YouTube stuff that the only way to be financially sustainable is if everything you make has millions of views. But you can actually be financially sustainable by getting 10,000 views of the right people and the group of people. And this is the one thing that was really interesting about my Patreon is like, it doesn't matter how many views each one of my episodes gets, if it's like 500,000 or 10,000, the Patreon increase with every video release is the same. Which means that every time there's a video out, there's a small group of people that loves it and they are always watching it and they're always like putting more money so it can keep on happening. And then the other people are just like people who stumble upon it, they're amused and they like it and they like disappear and never come back again. So I guess that's been the one good metric that I've been able to cultivate this niche audience that's really passionate and it's been pretty fortunate. So I don't want to sound like I'm just like complaining, but the struggle of appealing to the algorithm And the dissonance of making something that's like, I mean, that could be on streaming services in terms of quality and having some people tell me every day that you should have more views and this is amazing. Why doesn't this have more views? Like every day it kind of gets to you and it's kind of upsetting a little bit, but I'm very fortunate and I'm happy with how things are going.
[00:12:33.594] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, there's a saying, I forget who came up with it, but finding your 1000 true fans, if you can find your 1000 true fans, then you can make it as an artist. And so I think, and by that metric, you think you're still reaching to that point where you can really continue to make this work. And the fact that you're able to continue to do this as a conceit and then produce a project like Flat Earth VR and submit it, I think is also a testament to the process that you're in. Before we start to dig into this latest project, I wanted to also just talk a little bit about this AR house that's been going on because it's a little bit of like this AR artist residency that you helped to start up. I don't know if it's still going. It was like a six month deal in the Hollywood Hills where you have a bunch of virtual and augmented reality artists, maybe more AR artists since it's the AR house, but maybe you could set the context for, it looks like you're still at that house and that you've been surrounding yourself with other artists who are tinkering and prototyping different things within the medium. So maybe you could talk a bit about that as a thing that you also are in the middle of and how that may be playing a part into your creative process.
[00:13:34.000] Lucas Rizzotto: Right. So a couple of months ago, I started a creator house called Air House here in LA. And basically it's a one month program. You know, we invite a bunch of artists and people in the XR space that are like talented and to come here, hang out, build stuff. We do lots of events, hackathons. fireside chats, panels, prototype pool parties. And we just try to create an environment where people can just be creative and try out new things, learn new skills, make connections, and hopefully make one or two or three lifelong friends that they can take forward for the rest of their careers. And yeah, it's been really gratifying with the quality of the people and the space here is amazing. And especially AR, people who are interested in AR for now, like are very pure. And I think it's because there's not money in it yet, but Like a lot of my life and my work has been putting a great emphasis on community because that's what indies kind of like rely on. I don't have big tech companies that are paying me a salary or old institutions and grants. So I guess focusing on community and trying to create a tide that rises as many people as possible has been pretty great. And then for everyone, myself included, The house, I don't think has changed. I mean, it has changed my creative process in the sense of the quality of the conversation that happens here is insane. So people are having ideas all the time and it's kind of amazing just to sit down for five minutes with someone, have this amazing idea, which could totally be a company and then just never talk about it again and just like throw it in the trash and move on to the next one. It's kind of fun. It's a really nice environment. I think the best way to encapsulate Ayer House is summer camp for nerds, Ayer nerds. Summer camp for nice nerds.
[00:15:19.553] Kent Bye: Nice. So, and you were able to get enough support to be able to get resources. You're able to, I guess, I don't know if you have sponsors or how, how were you able to pull this off to get a house?
[00:15:29.182] Lucas Rizzotto: I just asked for money on Twitter. I just posted like, hey, I want to do this thing for six months and see if it's going to work. Does anybody want to give us like $100,000 to cover rent? And we didn't raise the full amount, but we got pretty close. And people just came up and just gave us money to do this. They just wanted to see this community exist. They didn't ask for anything in return, which was beautiful. And we were able to get this place for six months, conduct this experiment, and find out if it's going to work. But I think it's working. But it's been, yeah, people will step up for community. It's really great from all directions. And we are trying to move into play with sponsorship, but you know, the more community funded things, I think the better.
[00:16:13.047] Kent Bye: Yeah. Cause I know that there's been like influencer houses with big craters of Tik TOK or Snapchat or people coming together and having these group houses. Was that part of the inspiration with that? There was other people that had been doing something similar to this of like renting out a house with a bunch of people who were in that context, usually influencers within a social media platform. But in this context, it seems like more experimental artists for augmented reality, which is a medium that really hasn't. I mean, church at the point where you have much other opportunity to have something like this even exist anywhere else.
[00:16:45.273] Lucas Rizzotto: Yeah. So I've been doing this kind of stuff for fun since like 2018, I did something called the reality caravan in which me and a bunch of VR artists would just go to a distant country and live there for a month. What happened is that, yeah, I saw some of those houses, especially up here in the next year, it gave validity to this as a business. Cause yeah, I was like, Oh shit, the thing I've been doing for fun, you can structure it as a business and try to unify the community with something that's like sustainable and could maybe help everyone get paid and just have better lives in general. So yeah, these other houses served as inspiration in the sense that they gave market validation to something that I was doing for fun, but never thought about turning it into a business. But in retrospect, I should have done this a long time ago.
[00:17:31.766] Kent Bye: Well, cool. Well, maybe it's a good segue into talking about the flat earth VR. And before we start to dig into it, if people want to get access to it, they can either see it at the Sundance new frontier, which you can pay $50 to get access to it there. Or if they want to join your Patreon, what level do they need to get to be able to get access to be able to see this experience?
[00:17:51.317] Lucas Rizzotto: Right now it's the second tier. It's the $20 tier. But if you ask me nicely, I can give you a build. That's fine. But yeah, it's the story mode that's available. So what you played, Kent, was the story mode. There's other modes planned. And it all depends on, you know, as long as the joke is still funny, I'm going to keep pushing it. And the moment it stops being funny, I'll be like, okay, this is it, launch.
[00:18:14.851] Kent Bye: Very cool. Yeah. So it's featured at the Sundance Film Festival, which, you know, like you said, there've been maybe one or two comedies each year at these festivals. There's not a lot. It's majority documentary. So how did this project come about? What was the point in which that you thought that this would be a good topic to explore within VR?
[00:18:34.395] Lucas Rizzotto: Right. So this project started as an exploration of the idea that virtual reality is an empathy machine. So every time I went out to festivals and I saw pieces of like artists that referred to VR as an empathy machine, they were always kind of like doing the same thing. It's like, oh, see the world through the perspective of this different culture or see the world through the perspective of this minority. And it makes sense. You know, VR is really powerful as a tool to let you experience the perspectives of other people. The only thing, though, is that I've never seen someone explore what would it be like to see the world through the perspective of someone who's entirely wrong and even delusional. And the idea of the Flat Earth VR just came about just me feasting on this idea of what would it be like to be in the mind of one of these people and see the world as they do, in their head. And what would that feel? So I built a prototype in a weekend. And it was not a comedy at this point. It was honestly me just exploring really what it would mean to be in the delusion of someone else. And I showed it to a couple of people. And some of them were crying. Like they were emotionally affected and touched by the beauty of what they had seen. They knew it was stupid, but they still were like really emotionally moved by it. And that's when I realized that I accidentally created the most compelling piece of Flat Earther propaganda probably ever. which got me really scared. And I quit the project for a year because I didn't know.
[00:20:08.626] Kent Bye: So just to clarify, the people that you showed it to were self-identified as flat earthers.
[00:20:13.048] Lucas Rizzotto: No, no, no, no, no. They were not. No, they knew it was stupid, but they still got emotional over looking at it because I tried to create a model of the flat earth that was beautiful. I wanted to have that sort of like pure romantic perspective of flat earth that would actually have. But as a consequence, I created something that touch people emotionally in ways that I didn't anticipate. And I realized that I accidentally made flat-earther propaganda. So I quit the project for a year because I was like, okay, this is something that could actually be damaging. And flat-earthers could use this to recruit other people. And that is what I would consider bad satire. But I spent basically the year just thinking about this in lots of video essays. I'm like, what makes a good satire versus a bad satire? How can I make this in a way that is not damaging? And as the Sundance deadline was coming up, in basically a week, I redid the whole thing, but as a comedy from the ground up. I made it kind of ridiculous. I added a bunch of crazy sequences that makes it very clear that what you're playing is very tongue-in-cheek and that, without trying to spoil the experience, but one of the things about Flat Earth VR is that the worldview kind of collapses in on itself and you get punished. And the Flutter Society is portrayed as a very nefarious, dark organization. So, I rebuilt it as a comedy to the point that I was like, okay, this can't be taken out of context. If the Flutterer shows this to someone else, maybe if they're really dumb, they won't realize it's a joke. But come on, the stars in Flutter VR are ninja stars. Yeah, I mean there's a lot more about the creation of this because I did infiltrate the Flat Earth Society forums and I had calls with lots of Flat Earthers to build the piece and we can talk about that. Yeah, this has been a wild ride. And I think one of the things that I want to explore in Lucasfilms the future is really looking at this as a bigger exploration, especially the earlier prototype as a exploration of what the future of propaganda could be and how virtual reality can be used not to show us the world as it is, but as it isn't. And as you know, you want people to see them or as you know, the way you want people to see it. And if I made people cry over a flat Earth, yeah, you can use VR to push things to like really, really intense degrees and manipulate people at a really insane scale. So that's what I'm hoping to explore with the video piece. But for now, Flat Earth VR is just a nice little piece of satire that allows you to relish in the fantasy of someone who's really stupid.
[00:22:56.340] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a YouTube algorithms that kind of create these rabbit holes for people that have this kind of self-reinforcing epistemology of the set of knowledge that's very closed in the way that it is able to make it feel convincing by people just watching a series of videos. And so there's something about the algorithm nature of these platforms that can create the illusion of lots of people outside of themselves and that they're participating in something that's Um, you know, so it's not just, I, I'm reluctant to saying everybody's just too big. Cause I think it's actually an issue of the fake news and propaganda and everything else that larger things.
[00:23:30.941] Lucas Rizzotto: So I regret it saying that immediately. I kind of, it was just like a comedic way to end a phrase, but yeah, this piece as a whole, ironically, I have a lot more empathy for flutter through this now and making flutter. If you are has completely changed how I see them. And I don't think it's stupidity at all.
[00:23:47.487] Kent Bye: And we can talk about that more, but yeah, I regret it saying at the moment, uh, the moment I did it, I think the thing is, is that flat earth is probably an extreme thing that how they think about how the world is constructed is kind of like, it doesn't make any sense. And they don't have. The flat earthers themselves don't have like comprehensive math models to match our observations about the heavens. They just think it's like a projection of something. That's all like we're living in some sort of illusionary world, like Descartes, evil demon, that's constructing this world to make it feel like that. but it's sort of like this extreme of global skepticism, but with not really a lot of details for how things actually are working out. So I loved actually how you had the sun rotating around the earth, because it's sort of like things like that, where they try to explain the day night cycle. And then it's just like their explanation doesn't really even make sense for me how that would even work beyond something that was constructed by some sort of, if you're living in a simulation, there's some sort of entity that is architected in that way. So anyway, I think the larger point, though, is that there's a ways in which that the flat earth is an extreme, but there's lots of other issues where there's a lot of misinformation or propaganda that has created these echo chambers of, let's say, delusion or disillusionment or epistemological bubbles of knowledge that are not connected to the outside world in a way that is able to believe truths and avoid falsehoods. Agnes Caller talks about how the process of having a truth means that you have to believe that it's true, but also avoid the falsehood, and that those are actually two different algorithms that one individual cannot do by themselves. Believing truths and avoiding falsehoods are mutually exclusive. You have to, in some ways, participate in a larger community that allows some process to allow you to understand what the truths are and what the falsehoods are, Right. Not something an individual can do. So because of that, people can fall into these epistemological bubbles that have these knowledge that they're putting forth, but are not being peer reviewed or not having critical discourse. And then it creates these reinforcing worldviews that get to the point where they're so disconnected from reality that they become delusional.
[00:25:53.813] Lucas Rizzotto: Yes, and the thing about flat earthers, and this is one thing I didn't expect going into the project, you know, I was talking to a lot of them to try and to make sure that I got things like the model right, and the quote unquote right that the physics of it all. immediately clear is that they all disagree with each other. 100%. There's no coherent Flat Earth model. Every person has, they pick and choose. Some people believe there's an icefall, other people's think it's just like a waterfall on the edge, others think it's just a bunch of snow and then there's another Earth. And some people believe Australia is not real. And they were kind of upset when my father left Australia. And that's when it became clear to me that Flat Earthers are not united in their beliefs, they're united in their disbelief. That is what brings them all together. It's their skepticism of institutions and power and everything. So this was actually creatively good because the model was so inconsistent. I could just pick and choose like the best things about each interview. Like when someone told me that one flat earth, it was like, Oh, the stars are sharp. You can probably cut yourself in them. And I was like, Oh, okay, cool. I'll take that. But yeah, that kind of shocked me. I thought it would be a lot more coherent than what I saw. And there'll be a lot less infighting about basic things, but yeah, they all disagree with each other. It's very strange.
[00:27:17.102] Kent Bye: So maybe take me back to the point where, well, first I want to just comment as well. When people have an emotional reaction, there's a whole effect called the overview effect, which when you see the earth from afar, you see that we all live on this planet together and that it is actually like a proven effect that happens to astronauts where it's like this consciousness transformation experience to see that we all live on the earth. And so it's not a surprise to me that when people were able to go from the ground level and go up and look down on the earth, you may have been tapping into the overview effect rather than tapping into some sort of deeper thing about flat earth as a thing. I think it's probably more to do with the overview effect.
[00:27:56.047] Lucas Rizzotto: Um, yeah, perhaps. I really like the overview effect and the story it tells, but I also heard a couple astronauts be like that, not feeling like that anymore. Now that we have so much high quality footage from space and like images and it's less of a shock, right. Then it used to be, especially in the sixties and seventies of where I guess, We didn't have JPEGs. We have very low, low resolution photos, satellite photos that were for the most part, not accessible to the public. But I do think there's still something here when it comes to using VR to make people emotional over things that are completely absurd and using it as a propaganda tool and using it to misinform and misguide people through emotional manipulation. And I just think it's interesting. I didn't think it would happen. Not with something this dumb. And not while people have awareness that they weren't laughing, they were crying. That's weird.
[00:28:54.616] Kent Bye: Yeah. So you have this reaction of people who watch it, they get emotional. You get afraid that you may be inadvertently creating the world's best propaganda for the flat earth society, and then you drop it for a year. And then when you picked it back up, you know, what point did you start to actually reach out to some people who identify as flat earthers?
[00:29:14.765] Lucas Rizzotto: I actually did that like the year prior after I made the prototype, you know, like I didn't quit right away when people were crying, I was like, Oh, this is interesting. And then I started talking to flight earthers and trying to put some pieces together and improve the model. But then at one point, you know, yeah, as the more I showed it to people, the more I realized it was like, kind of like a potentially harmful thing. And eventually it fizzled out and I was like, I don't want to work on this anymore. Actually, it was more like, I want to work on this, but I have no idea how to not make it evil. So I stopped. And I guess I reached out, oh my God, the timeline to this is so messy in my head. But yeah, I talked to them right in the beginning, right after I made the first prototype and got the reactions that I did, because I was compelled by what was happening. And then I did a second round when making the second version, just more as, especially like when I knew I wanted to make it a comedy, I had to talk to Flat Earths, it's just digging for fun, ridiculous things, right, that I could implement in the satire. Also, by the way, Flat Earth is, for the most part, believed that other planets are spherical, which, what? I don't, I don't know. It's weird. But yeah, they've always been in the background as part of the process. And I think they're not going to like the piece though.
[00:30:32.700] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, I was going to ask, cause there's a certain way in which that you're reaching out to them. And how are you presenting yourself? So you're saying I'm a comedian, I'm a, I'm interested, or like, were you just trying to understand, or like, how did you, what was, how did you infiltrate the fire?
[00:30:46.071] Lucas Rizzotto: I made, I made a persona. This is part of the story that I'm doing a documentary. I, I was like, pretended to be the 17 year old developer with the hook for a hand and like a beard. I took it too far, but they still kind of like went with it. It was quite ridiculous kid. I took it too far. Um, yeah, I was just pretending to be someone else.
[00:31:07.785] Kent Bye: Were you ever doing live video calls with them or was this all through like internet forums and texts?
[00:31:13.248] Lucas Rizzotto: I did video calls with a couple. Yeah. It's, it's painful to watch, but it's going to make for a good story. I mean, it is comedic and I did learn a lot and I think that this piece simultaneously is respectful towards them while also mocking them, which is the fine line to thread, but I don't know.
[00:31:32.205] Kent Bye: Well, there's a whole documentary about Flat Earthers on Netflix. I'm not sure where that fell into the timeline because it seemed to be in some ways really trying to dig into the psyche of these folks as well, but in a way that was featuring them within the documentary and a lot of the people who are leaders. I'm not sure if you saw that and if that influenced your piece at all.
[00:31:51.594] Lucas Rizzotto: Not really, actually. Yeah. I have no idea why I was so interested in this, to be perfectly honest. Yeah, I think I was just really, really interested in the concept of designing a delusion and using VR to show you the worldview of someone who's wrong, which is something that I've not seen be done before. And then the evolution of it into a comedy, I think. The fact that the perspective of someone can be the source of the comedy is also interesting to me. So yeah, I don't think there were any external influences. I think the most I've seen, I haven't seen the documentaries and I kind of like, especially when I start working on it, the only places I wanted to get my information from was from flat earth communities. I didn't want to just think about other people's criticism. I wanted to just like listen to them, you know, in their own habitat and understand how their mind works and not be too worried about, you know, just sit down and have them talk, not placing judgment, at least during the early stages of the creative process and just trying to listen to them and trying to understand how they work. But one of the things that I really wanted to also explore with this is that there is a certain beauty to stupidity. And I think this is something that, you know, there are moments in Call of Duty VR in which like you have full awareness that what you're looking at is silly, but there is a beauty to it. And that was one of the main things that happened to me that I didn't expect to happen while making this project is that I cannot find common ground with Flat Earthers rationally. I can't. I don't understand how their mind works. It's in spirals. It's very confusing. But after making Flat Earth VR and playing it so many times, I have an emotional understanding of how they feel about the planet now. Because, again, If the Earth is this beautiful little snow globe that's just the center of the universe and basically handmade by God for us, it's a worldview that eliminates chaos. The Earth goes from being this random rock in a chaotic, ever-expanding universe and it becomes this perfect snow globe built by God where we have purpose and we have meaning. And I got to see that while making Flat Earth VR, and that these people were just really trying to hold on to this view of the world in which things are simpler, in which things are easier, in which all they have to do is believe their eyes and nothing else, in which the world was handmade for them. The universe isn't chaotic. Life has purpose. Everything's going to be fine. So that's something that I think Flat Earth VR has taught me, which ironically, empathy machine, I feel more empathetic towards them now, even though I made fun of them. I feel like I understand a little bit how precious it is for them. Because again, if the world is not flat, if the world is not this perfect little snow globe that's the center of the universe, it means the universe is chaotic. The earth is not that important, which means we're not that important. And that's something that's really hard to accept as a human person.
[00:34:52.223] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, you, you've been getting ready for the Sundance Film Festival. You've put out a trailer yesterday about this, and then you released it to your patrons. And then now I guess there's the video piece. You know, what, at what point are you at with this piece around the making of what the LucasBuilds, the future episode of this, like, where is that at?
[00:35:11.588] Lucas Rizzotto: I haven't started shooting yet because I do have another LucasBuilds, the future episode that's coming out next week, which is something to be working on for six months. It would definitely be the biggest thing I've ever done. And I'm doing a premiere on Monday. If you want to go to LA, we've got a guest room here at the air house. But yeah, I haven't shot it yet, but I've told you many bits of the story. And I think the story is really figured out of. Subverting the empathy machine and then infiltrating the flattered forums and finding out more about the inconsistencies of the thing, building the prototype, getting people to cry, going on this crisis of, am I harming the world? And so on and so forth. Um, yeah, the story is really set in stone. I just have to shoot it.
[00:35:52.141] Kent Bye: Oh, okay. So when I heard that you were having a premiere, I assume that it was your Sundance piece, but it sounds like a completely different project.
[00:35:58.625] Lucas Rizzotto: That's not even both. It's it's a triple premiere. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, I haven't like posted anything or done anything in like seven months, but now it's all like, I'm finishing all these things at once. So this Monday, I'm premiering, you know, there's a new episode of Lucasboats the future that I'm going to do like a preview screening here at my house on Monday. That's a completely different thing. It's artificial intelligence focused. Then there's like an augmented reality NFT project. So BR AR and AI projects all coming out at the same time might be too much, but it feels good, man. I haven't, I haven't done anything in a while.
[00:36:34.738] Kent Bye: So, okay. Wow. Okay. So this is quite a turning point for you. I'm glad we had a chance to catch up. I know you've been really busy with all of us.
[00:36:42.451] Lucas Rizzotto: Yeah, I'm really curious how you're going to feel about the AI thing. I've managed to explore some concepts that I feel like haven't been touched on by science fiction enough when it comes to AI, and that's something that's kind of rare. But yeah, I'm excited to get your thoughts on it.
[00:36:56.816] Kent Bye: Yeah, I look forward to checking it out whenever it's available. Yeah. I just did an interview with David Chalmers about reality plus his new book, talking about the future of not only our relationship to virtual reality as a genuine reality where real experiences happen, but there are some sections in there where he talks about AI, his thoughts on consciousness and AI. So yeah, I'll be curious to see your take on all that. But yeah, just as we start to wrap up here, you know, like I said, the piece is probably best to be experienced. There's not too much that I have to say about it other than, you know, I thought that It was a fun experience and it's sort of like, there hasn't been a lot of VR experiences about comedy. So I don't know as a podcaster how I even cover a comedy piece, you know, cause it's like, do you just like analyze the joke? I mean, I think it's sort of like you see it, but from my own experience, I got a good laugh out of it. And there was a lot of little Easter eggs in there of just like, you know, it's all lies from NASA, you know, just a lot of things that are from the flat earth culture that are kind of like spray paid graffiti on this rocket ship that they acquire. And, oh, one thing that I did want to mention, though, that I really appreciated from an experiential design perspective was the ways in which that you were showing the photos at the end and that some of them were blacked out. And I did it twice. And I knew that that was a decision that you made to show that there are things that didn't quite get developed in quite the same way. So I thought that was a nice touch that you had there at the end that as a callback from your interactions from the piece that I thought worked particularly well of kind of emphasizing the larger points that we were making. Once people experience it, I think they'll understand, but I really appreciated the way that you architected the credit sequence to be able to have that call back in there.
[00:38:32.817] Lucas Rizzotto: Thanks. I literally did it like, uh, yeah, I did it like last weekend. Yeah, it was ending a little bit too abruptly. Sundance was like, Lucas, where's the build? What are you doing? What's going on? And yeah, I just, I have a hard time stopping when it comes to creative things. So I'm glad you appreciated it. Yeah. Especially when it being comedy, it's like comedy is hard in the sense that it always wants to be bad and it's your job to stop it from being bad and just tinkering it until it finally works. Yeah, it was interesting that some of my friends, they didn't like Flat Earth VR a couple months ago and they played it last week and they're like, oh, this is great. So the only thing I made were like very small changes. And maybe that's why it's hard to get comedy funded. Maybe it's because you need to have that degree of polish. for it to work and for people to get it. It's like, you know, reading a comedy script. It's like, sure, it can be funny. The script can be funny, but comedy so much more than that, right? It can be like just the cinematography and the editing and the music and everything coming together. And it's really hard to translate it on a page. So maybe that's one of the reasons why it's not happening. But yeah, as far as the comedy goes, this is the most low budget, simple, all by myself thing I could make. There's a lot more that could be done, especially with the budget. So maybe there's somebody out there who would like to fund bigger, crazier comedies. I'm all for it.
[00:39:59.277] Kent Bye: Nice. Well, just to wrap things up here, I'm curious what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and augmented reality might be and what it might be able to enable.
[00:40:11.070] Lucas Rizzotto: Well, I'm going to keep it in theme, Kat, because again, there's so many different ways you can explore this answer. But I do think that the ultimate potential is still, and this is maybe something that I said, I think the first time we talked together, is these technologies as basically introspection machines, right? In the sense that they give us an avenue to understand ourselves better and understand the world and understand how we function. And I do think virtual reality and VR AR storytelling is particularly well equipped to give us new ways to look within. And this is what I explored way back when with Where Thoughts Go. And I think it is still, I think, one of the biggest opportunities with virtual reality is enabling people to to understand themselves better and to understand how they work and how they function. The more we can make introspection accessible, the less people are going to rely on cults and things like the Flat Earth Society to find meaning and explain the world and explain what's happening around them. Maybe we can make introspection mainstream and easy and fun. I think that could change the world. And of course, you know, VR is still an amazing way to experience perspectives and to expand your mind and understand the world a little bit better. And all of that stuff.
[00:41:33.227] Kent Bye: Nice. Is there, is there anything else that's left inside that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community? Um,
[00:41:40.157] Lucas Rizzotto: Yeah, do more weird stuff. VR has been kind of like boring to me lately, especially now that we found out what works financially, commercially. You're seeing a lot of developers just, you know, kind of like do the same thing. I don't know. I haven't been very creatively stimulated by a lot of people's work. And I just wish that people push boundaries a little bit more and did things that were like unapologetically weird. And the fact that social VR, that everyone's doing the same thing, Six years later, all social VR startups are basically doing the same thing. It means there's a problem. And I don't know if it's just people like got too caught up with science fiction and everybody just agreed that science fiction movies are like literally the future without really thinking about it. Or if there's a deeper problem, I don't know. I want to understand why there's not more creative explorations and why there's not a lot of more people like me actually in this space. Maybe it's just a matter of time. I don't know.
[00:42:36.209] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, even you, when you were trying to fund the comedy, there's a certain paradigm that gets bit into people's minds as to what is viable and what's not. And so there's probably that expanded out there may be a part of it as well, but yeah. I see that festivals like the New Frontier and South by Southwest, Tribeca, Venice, you know, those are areas where people can start to experiment a little bit more. And so I'm glad that a piece like this could appear in that context. You know, I get a lot of inspiration by going to these festivals and seeing these pieces. So, but in the larger market, yeah, I agree that there's not as much stuff, but I'm also not focusing on seeing everything in that. So I can't claim to say that there's nothing out there because there certainly are little innovations, but yeah.
[00:43:17.780] Lucas Rizzotto: Film festivals are always very interesting and you can get kind of like get a really good sense of where the medium is going in terms of like language. And it's particularly sad that a lot of the pieces you see at festivals, they usually, a lot of them never make it out to the public or they become part of some museum exhibition somewhere. And the wider world is not able to access, you know, that kind of culture and those kinds of experiences, which is a shame, but it's cool that we get to experience it.
[00:43:44.654] Kent Bye: Yeah, Eric Cohn from IndieWire, he's an executive editor there, just published an interview featuring some quotes from Chris Milk, who's had 13 projects at these festivals, New Frontier of the Years, and said that he realized that the impact of these pieces, that even though they'd have really meaningful and transformative experiences in the context of the festival, they weren't going home and watching them at home through his distribution app of Within. And so he realized he needed to make a product that ended up being Supernatural, which is a, exercise experience, but in order to really carry forth the transformative change he wanted to bring with the medium, he needed to move from creating these art projects into creating a product. So that was just interesting to hear that reflection just posted this morning by Eric Cohn from Chris Milk, who's been a big part of those communities, but criticizing the insular nature of it not getting out into the world as much. Which I think part of it is probably the larger economic priorities of meta and Facebook, not emphasizing anything other than games, which is a part of it. But hopefully we'll be moving into a future where there will be more weird stuff. And maybe something like WebXR and the web as a platform will make it easier to tinker and do these experiments and get it out into people. As the distribution aspect, I think has been the thing that's been lacking of making something, having audience see it, and then getting that feedback loop and the lack of those viable distribution options. It's been difficult for people to do that. So anyway, this is some, some reflections on what you said there.
[00:45:09.532] Lucas Rizzotto: Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's hard to find people who are like, you need to marry creativity and sheer force of will with strategy. And it's rare to find people, I guess, that can combine all these things. I mean, even in 2020, I think was the first year where I was above the poverty line. So, you know, you have to be willing. And I was kind of like on the poverty line for several years, you know, doing this stuff and I was just like making it work. And not a lot of people are into that, which is cool. Yeah.
[00:45:38.295] Kent Bye: Yeah.
[00:45:38.837] Lucas Rizzotto: But you know, if you do it long enough, I think there's hope.
[00:45:42.298] Kent Bye: Very cool. Well, Lucas, thanks so much for taking some time out in your, what's going to be a triple premiere here coming up next week and all the stuff that you're working on, finishing up all that stuff. And, uh, yeah, just thanks for coming on and unpacking your journey on flat earth VR and all the stuff that you've been doing with the Lucas books.
[00:45:58.024] Lucas Rizzotto: Yes, it was really good to catch up and yeah, I'm going to, I'm so tired and there's a hackathon that starts in 40 minutes and send help.
[00:46:08.702] Kent Bye: All right, take care. Thanks.
[00:46:10.424] Lucas Rizzotto: Bye, Kent. Have a good one.
[00:46:12.145] Kent Bye: So that was the Closer Soto. He's an independent AR VR artist who created a piece called Flat Earth VR. It's a satire that premiered at Sundance New Frontier 2022. He's also got a YouTube show called Lucas Builds a Future, and he's supported by his fans on Patreon and also co-founded the AR House Residency program that's happening in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, California. I have a number of different takeaways about this interview. First of all, this piece is an enjoyable piece. I enjoyed watching it. It's got a number of good laughs. But I think the process of creating the piece is also quite interesting to hear how it started as this exploration of VR as an IMPING machine, created the opposite, and then unexpectedly showed it to someone who they knew it was a joke but ended up being very emotionally moving. That was disturbing enough for him that he said that he took a year off from working on the project. After that point, it sounds like he connected more with different Flat Earthers to get a little bit more information into the different things that they believe. I guess one of the things that was really striking was that there wasn't a consistent or coherent vision of the Flat Earthers and what they believe. It's more that they're united in their disbelief that we live on an Earth that is round. So in this piece, it allowed Lucas to experiment with some of the things that he thought was the most interesting aspects of some of the different theories of Flat Earth society. It's got some satisfying experience of you being embodied into this spaceship that you're getting to see the Flat Earth and what it looks like and a really beautiful depiction of the Flat Earth, I must say, just because it's interesting to see the celestial mechanics that the Flat Earthers believe in. But then there's also a camera mechanic within this piece where you're taking photos. Part of the idea is to be capturing evidence for the Flat Earth and that it's skewering that aspect even through the experience of this piece. I'll be very curious to hear what people who self-identify as Flat Earthers think about this piece. You know the other interesting aspect is just that he's an independent artist that's using Luke's built the future as his other Project to be able to do these more narrative based summaries of some of the projects He's been working on and his time machine went viral got a lot of hits on various different platforms And he's got some other pieces that are definitely worth checking out I recommend that you go check out some of the different videos that he's doing because it is a unique approach of how to sustain yourself as an independent artist with an XR especially especially because it's still very early days when it comes to the industry, but he's been able to make a go of it there with his program of both Lucas Builds a Future and a program that he's having at his home of the AR house where he's currently living. It's a kind of residency program inviting one month of different artists to come in and have a more collaborative environment there in terms of just sharing ideas and working on different prototypes and different projects there. And yeah, I'm curious to see the episodes of Lucas Build the Future, of not only the project that he was working on in terms of the artificial intelligence, but also this specific piece on Flat Earth VR, which he's kind of sharing different aspects of the story here in the evolution, but just to see how he starts to tell that story. He's got some interesting hooks in there that I'm very curious to see how that all plays out. But like I said, the experience itself is very enjoyable. If you do want to have access to see it, if you've listened to all this and you haven't seen it yet, you can still get access to it on Lucas built a future patreon where he's making available different projects for folks and it was also interesting just to hear him talk about this to process of Being a creative technologist and to be in that creative phase and that you know by doing this Storification of these projects and putting them out there through his YouTube he's able to focus on the things that he finds more interesting which is the more creative process rather than the 80% of the bug fixing and all the other stuff that he's not as much of a fan of so I Just a unique way of support that sweet spot that he likes to live in So that's all I have for today And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the voice severe podcast and if you enjoyed the podcast and please do spread the word Tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the patreon This is a nice to support podcast and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash which is VR. Thanks listening