Embody was an experience at the Sundance New Frontier that started to blend Yoga movement practices into virtual reality. VR artist and MAP Design Lab founder Melissa Painter collaborated with Lululemon’s Whitespace Innovation team in order to explore potential products of the future. Lululemon sells clothes for movement practices, and they’re looking for ways to both increase access to these practices, but also engagement within their local communities. They’re also using different AI sensing technologies in order to track your movements within VR.
I had a chance to talk with Melissa and Lululemon’s Jordan Goldfarb at the Sundance film festival to unpack the backstory for how this project came about, some of the challenging poses in their experience, and we brainstorming some possibilities of where this could go in the future with more biometric data integration and the possibility of doing live movement practice classes remotely in VR.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So the Sundance New Frontier is an opportunity to experiment with new forms of storytelling. And I'd say that the embody experience that was there is probably the most radical in terms of a completely different paradigm in terms of what a story even is. You're essentially going into a virtual experience and doing a number of different yoga poses that you're seeing these different visual depictions in front of you, these metaphors, a very huge scale. And then there's a multiplayer dimension of it. So you're in there with another person at the same time. So it goes beyond whatever we think of as a traditional story. And if anything, it's about creating a direct embodied experience. And then the story is coming from you as you have some sort of direct experience out of that. So I had a chance to talk to the creators, both Melissa Painter, as well as Jordan Goldfarb. Melissa Painter has been in the immersive community for about six years with Map Design Labs, and Jordan is actually a part of the White Space Innovation team for Lululemon. Lululemon sells clothes, like yoga clothes, and it's part of their brand to facilitate different community classes and to look at how the future of immersive technologies could play a part of these movement practices. And so what does it mean to try to actually catalyze and innovate this fusion of these movement practices like yoga or Aikido within the context of a virtual experience? And how can that be used to increase access or to serve some of the larger brand goals for their clothing company? So this was an experience where I actually like the backstory of how this project came about is just as fascinating as the actual experience. And so we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Melissa and Jordan happened on Saturday, January 26th, 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:08.294] Melissa Painter: So I'm Melissa Painter and I head Map Design Labs and I've been working in the immersive space for six years, predominantly thinking about products of the future, not stories of the future.
[00:02:18.682] Jordan Goldbarb: I'm Jordan Goldfarb. I work for Lululemon's internal innovation team, what we call White Space. And we're new to the VR space actually, but it's a medium that our brand is interested in exploring as we look to be a purveyor of a more holistic wellness offering beyond just clothing.
[00:02:37.188] Kent Bye: Great, so maybe you could give me a little bit more of the context and the back story for how this project came about.
[00:02:42.840] Melissa Painter: So one of the things that I've loved about this collaboration is that Lululemon's White Space team was thoughtful enough to start first with paper prototyping and thinking about a whole series of potential products that might be true to who they are, what their core capabilities are, what they can offer their guests against the space. So we, at the outset, were talking about four potential offerings. We narrowed it to this one as a first step and then jumped in in August and started to build. truthfully also knowing and hoping deeply that we would be premiering it here and so we were also very much thinking about how to start to tell this story inside this particular community.
[00:03:23.955] Jordan Goldbarb: Yeah, you know, just to build on that, Melissa and I have known each other for a while, prior to my days with Lululemon. But when we started on this project, Sundance was an interesting milestone because for us, this is Lululemon's first time to Sundance. We think there's an opportunity to broaden who our guest is and what maybe the world knows our brand or associates our brand to be. And so we looked at big or event activations like this is a really nice first step to kind of test our chops in this space so to speak and partnering with Melissa and her firm who has a wealth of experience not just in VR but at this festival in particular felt like a really smart decision.
[00:04:05.843] Kent Bye: All right, so yesterday was the press preview, and I had the chance to do Embody as my first experience. And I have to say, it was the perfect way to start off the day, because it felt like I was getting warmed up, loosened up, doing some yoga and VR, and just the mashing up together of these different embodied contemplative practices within the context of a virtual reality environment. And so maybe you could talk about how you see this fusion of these different worlds colliding together, and then from your perspective, how Lululemon is seeing how this is a trend of where things are going.
[00:04:36.319] Melissa Painter: So for me, as someone who deeply believes that spatial computing is an opportunity to reintroduce all of us to technology and maybe get it right this time, I think a lot about the importance of the body and body knowledge and just being a human. I'm someone who's always had some sort of movement practice, but I've always had enormous admiration for athletes, dancers, et cetera, and I've had a lot of that in my life. And I think it's really easy to forget that over time humans have learned by moving and also communicated by moving. I mean there's a reason that dance was one of the first forms of emotional communication and that's sort of cross-cultural. And sports have always been a part of our lives collectively as humans. So that interests me deeply and it's at the core of what we're trying to do at MAP is to reintroduce people to their bodies in this context. And so for me, that was the inception point. And the core takeaway that I was wishing for, two things actually. One, remember that your body is a creative tool. And two, remember that your body can change.
[00:05:38.973] Jordan Goldbarb: It's hard to follow her. No, I think that was very well said. And from Lululemon's standpoint, I mean, the company is 20 years old now and was sort of really founded around movement, specifically with its origins in yoga. And so tenets that continue to be really important around the brand are helping people move freely, enjoyably, this amazing opportunity that we see in human potential and in community. And you asked, you know, why VR? So in that and sort of the mandate of my team and in our innovation lab is really to take those tenets and and see if they apply to new medium. You know, for 20 years, our brand has been doing this amazing job within clothing, within accessories, within community activations, but all sort of within the realm of what you might expect from a global apparel retailer. We know that it's important to see and understand how people are using technology for health, for movement, for better understanding themselves. That's what really interests us about this space.
[00:06:41.612] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you mentioned that you were trying to do something that was much more embodied rather than what we typically think of as a story. And part of the trends that I'm seeing is that there's different qualities of presence. There's like mental and social presence as well as active presence of making choices, taking action, what we typically think of like playing a video game where you're having the situational awareness of what's happening, you're trying to understand what's happening, make a model of it in your mind, and then make choices and take action. And that's typically what we think of as a game, but yet in a story, we're like really receiving these cycles of building and releasing of tension, whether it's through music or narrative tension. And I feel like within virtual and augmented reality, it's introducing our body into the computing in a completely new way. And looking to Chinese philosophy, I think of the Yong archetypal journey and the Yin archetypal journey. The Yong archetypal journey is much more about that hero individuation of you going out and conquering something. And it's something we typically think of as a story that we can watch on a 2D screen and have a great adventure, but yet it feels like the real affordance of these spatial computing platforms is that it's that yin archetypal journey of connecting us to our body and that it's more about dissolving our ego and seeing how us as an individual is connected to a larger ecosystem and a larger whole. So for me, it makes perfect sense why this would be in the context of Sundance is because it's tapping into this real sense of embodied presence where the story isn't being centered in what is happening on the screen, it's being centered into what's happening within your own body.
[00:08:12.572] Melissa Painter: A hundred percent, and I love how you see that. For me, I came out of traditional filmmaking, and the thing that has caused me to commit to the space and never look back is that the opportunity to make things where the last creator is the user, or player, or whatever we want to call them, is so deeply meaningful to me. I think that it's a great honor as an artist to have that opportunity, but I also believe that humans need that as much as we need to move. We're all creative also. So there's something really special about real-time engine and what that can afford about allowing that form of interaction.
[00:08:50.425] Jordan Goldbarb: I agree, and I would add to that, and you being gone through the Embody experience, you can understand this, but I think one thing that this real-time engine allows for is the importance of bringing back a bit of vulnerability for people. Whether you're trying to strike a pose and it's difficult, or you realize that the whole thing is intended to be joyous and playful, and even a little bit silly. And I think that this VR is allowing people, maybe forcing adults who forget that a little bit, that it's important. And even in micro doses in your day, this is now an engine or a medium where you can let the seriousness aside a little bit. And yeah, that's something that I really liked as we start to learn more about this space.
[00:09:33.565] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I'm wondering if you could maybe unpack your movement practices that you do day to day and then how you thought that adding VR into the mix would either change and modulate your own experience or how you're trying to take your own experiences from all these years of movement practices and start to give people a bit of a taste of what it means to move your body in this way to some other established tradition of movement practice or if you feel like there's a new fusion that's starting to happen when you're adding these two together.
[00:10:05.338] Melissa Painter: Boy, you have very good questions. I knew that about you, but all right. I'm someone who has always had a movement practice. I studied gram technique and dance really seriously and have done yoga for many years at this point. And I married a former pro athlete, and so I've had sports in my life as well. I have always thought about that as something that I've done on the side for many, many years. And it's only really as I came into the immersive space that I realized that was not just about me trying to stay well in my own body and trying to stay close to things I admire. It was also me getting ready for this moment as a maker to show up with that side of myself also. We thought a lot in making this experience about how to honor traditions like yoga and Aikido that are very frequently oral traditions in terms of how the communication is passed in real time, in a real room, with real humans, which is a deep and important thing about those practices and something that I think is important to persist. However, It's also inaccessible to many people. And personally, to me, as someone who's a working mom, it's inaccessible in my life, except for three days a week. And so one of the other things I think about is, how can that be in my everyday? And can I use this medium that I love to make it something that could be in my everyday?
[00:11:28.926] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more of the back story in terms of the Innovation Lab and how these movement practices and yoga kind of fit into your larger brand and larger mission and how you kind of see these things kind of fusing together.
[00:11:42.002] Jordan Goldbarb: Absolutely. So our White Space Innovation team is six years old at this point. And really staying true to the brand, I would say at our core, we kind of started initially with our innovation agenda really focused around movement. Focused around the brand being what they call, what we deem, the sweat life, which is encouraging people to have balance, have movement. Again, it was rooted in yoga, but then quickly spread to other forms of how people wanted to move as we realized that the core product, the clothing, was multifunctional. Our brand then looks at these things and tries to figure out what are the universal challenges in order to bring these to many, many more people. So access, as Melissa mentioned, is a big one that we talk a lot about. We've done a lot of research and understood that for many people, objectively people understand the science or the perceived benefit of doing yoga, of moving consistently, and yet we're all busy, we're all stressed, we all have a million reasons why we can't do those today. And so our lab is really on a journey of increasing access to objective practices we know that for anybody, no matter where you come from, will allow you better choice and easier access to living healthier, to being happier. And so, you know, if yoga meditation is an example whereby the current mediums where those are offered are inaccessible, then maybe we look to technology for those other. In this case, looking at immersive as a way where even if I'm a million miles away from someone, I can now be connected in a community sense that is important to our brand and is really only available through these types of technologies. So where we're going, ultimately, is wanting to, at an event level, at our retail stores, and even at home, bring our guests new experiences, new products, and sort of new connections on how they can better piece together, in choice, in a convenient way, how they want to move, how they want to grow and develop personally in the community they want to keep. That over the next three, five plus years is really the focus of our innovation team.
[00:13:52.838] Kent Bye: Interesting. Yeah. Well, I've done enough yoga on my own to see how the breath is so much a huge part of the practice of yoga. And I can imagine that in the future that there's going to be all sorts of ways of recording or capturing what is happening in our breath and give us some real-time biofeedback because You know, I think there's one thing to see the embodied practices It's another thing to see some sort of symbolic reflection of what's happening inside of your body as you're doing it Which I think is something that we haven't been able to see yet as we're doing yoga but to see what that means to be able to actually have a visual depiction of these biometric data that might be happening within our body and how that could potentially be created within the context of an architecture and an environment that is going to help us tune into the deeper subtle aspects of what's happening inside of us.
[00:14:38.787] Melissa Painter: Absolutely. I'm smiling because we talked a lot about breath as an input into this experience. And our core technology mission on this was to get as much hardware off the body as possible. And so we made some choices because of that. And one was that we were not going to try to measure breath or put a wearable on someone. And another was that we leaned into a form of motion capture and AI that was pretty novel that meant I didn't need to be in a mocap suit. But so I love the question because we would have loved to have breath as our third input and just it didn't match with the other sort of technological limitations we'd set for ourselves on this one. But I think your point is really well taken. These guys have explored that before actually in an immersive experience that predates this one.
[00:15:24.012] Jordan Goldbarb: Yeah, and it's actually at our store here in Park City just for this week. And it's a prototype. But what I think is interesting about your comment is this idea that, and Melissa, you and I talked a lot about this, that when we looked at a lot of the content out there, whether it be in VR or just general 2D or 3D content, we noticed that from our company standpoint, a lot of it is somewhat passive, where the user is really an audience, and you're being told to entertain. You're consuming it passively. And this idea that actually the content could be generative based on what's happening in your body, for our lab and for our team, is an area we're really interested in. this sort of choose-your-own-adventure model, but really based on meeting people where they're at, which is another tenet, I think, of accessibility. And if your breath, if your level of stress, if just your general mood can dictate for you a variation or a richness in the experience based on what you need that day, then that's something we definitely want to explore. The technology, as Melissa mentioned, We don't want to start hooking people up to, you know, they're not a science experiment, they're a person. And so what we are actually really pleased to see is how quickly either contactless biosensing or the tech in this space is moving, whereby the body can play a really active role, whether it be in VR or other types of, you know, immersive digital experience going forward. And that's something we're definitely going to try to take advantage of.
[00:16:50.898] Kent Bye: Well, the other thing that I noticed when I do yoga practices is that I'm often doing it in a class with other people, and there's a synchrony that happens within that. And so I think that's one of the things you could potentially start to do within VR is replicate that level of synchrony that happens within a group. So I'm just curious if you could talk a bit about how, first of all, that you were creating this as a multiplayer type of experience, but also where you see it going in the future of whether or not you would potentially have people in real time as these digital avatars following someone who's guiding them through something that could be a practice that starts at a very specific time that's happening in real time.
[00:17:26.122] Melissa Painter: It's something I think a lot about. We know that that community can bind you towards having a healthy physical practice in your life. Part of why you show up is you feel a responsibility to those people, that place, that teacher. And I think it's really interesting to imagine how you pull those threads into an immersive space while never saying that there is something that is completely unique to a group of people alone in a room with one voice. And we played a lot with that in this experience. And the reason that we came out with something that was a shared experience, even just from the outset, was to start to investigate that, to get people thinking about that, et cetera. And I think the inception point for this project was actually a talking head lyric, which says, I love all those kinds of people who have a face with a view. And I was really interested in how we help each other see something in each other that we can't see in ourselves sometimes, and how that feeds into movement practice. Which for me in yoga, it's a teacher saying, stand tall like a mountain, right? I think there's something really nice about imagining how we could build these experiences in a way that would help people encourage each other.
[00:18:36.049] Kent Bye: Yeah, and there seems to be a dimension of this shift towards immersive experiences and people being engaged in real time, but also connected to local communities in different ways. And so I'm just curious how that trend of experiential marketing or community building kind of fits into your larger strategy.
[00:18:53.065] Jordan Goldbarb: Sure. Yeah, I would say as a brand, you know, we do retail somewhat uniquely in that it's completely vertical oriented. There's no real wholesale play within Lululemon. But even more so, each area, so Utah or Park City, for example, is really encouraged to kind of look at their own store in their community and be quite entrepreneurial. And actually, that may even dictate the type of offerings that are in the store based on what they think the community wants. Community and connection is something that has been core to the brand for two decades. It started with free yoga classes in the store. It's evolved into running groups in just sort of social or leisure time where people use the store as a bit of a local hub. And they use the educators, which is our term for retail staff. as almost a local concierge. And, you know, building that trust, not just in our brand on a global level, but knowing that, hey, my loo, I'm in my local community, is somewhat unique and tailored to that community, is important. And so, you know, again, whether it be an example of Embody, where, you know, people are always curious when they go in around, hey, okay, so we're doing this together, so there is an element of community, but there's a bit of an anticipation of how that's gonna come to life. You know, we want people to get excited about, or maybe get excited again about people, about actually connecting in person. And even if that means going back into technology in a way that feels much more intimate than sitting at home behind my computer. We want our stores and their ability, how do they market to the local community and really elevate themselves as that hub? I think this is a tool that they could definitely use.
[00:20:30.755] Kent Bye: Yeah, and the other thing that's really striking about yoga is that there's so many visceral metaphors that can be translated into nature and an ecosystem that while you're in VR, you can actually see some of these metaphors that they're referring to. And so just playing off the principles of embodied cognition is that we don't just think with our minds, we think with our entire bodies and that we also think from embodied metaphors but also spatial metaphors that we have experience from and that as we have these spatial metaphors and how they're connected to these different poses within yoga, there's a lot of ways that you can start to play with that and see how you could use the virtual reality experiences to start to amplify what those metaphors mean and then how eventually in yoga there's often like real-time correction and so how does this correction aspect can the AI start to then show symbolically in this either tree pose or whatever. Oh, this part of your body needs to do this type of different shift and variation. So I could see how that could be happening in the future, but at least for right now, there's so much to work with with those embodied metaphors.
[00:21:29.885] Melissa Painter: Absolutely. And to both points you were just making. So inside this experience, you are driving it with your pose and you're driving it with your position. So that was a very simple way of starting to give that kind of feedback in a way that wasn't prescriptive. But we thought a lot. We even did user tests where the movement expert who helped us with this particular project came in and was doing adjustments on people while they were in headset. That left very quickly as an idea. as you can imagine. But it stayed in the experience in a certain way, which I won't give away. So I think that's super, super interesting. But the visual metaphor piece, I have a teacher who says, using the physical body as representation of the unknown is what we do in yoga. And that's how I feel about the practice, right? Inner space and outer space. There's a lot of inner space to explore.
[00:22:20.065] Jordan Goldbarb: I mean, the short answer is there's much to explore. There's a lot to explore, even with just this whole theme around nature. And we talked a lot about, OK, so what could nature mean metaphorically or even quite literally in terms of offering people a bit of an escape from the mundane, the day-to-day, bringing back play and joy for those who certainly, and not to give it away, with the experiences and the types of nature that are in embody are not the norm. For most people, it's not their environment. It's something that is definitely sort of transformative. And I think there's a lot to that that forces introspection, forces reflection. And to your earlier point around where tech was going in terms of correction and the teacher, I think there's something really interesting there. When I think of yoga, And really yoga is nothing more than a series of spinal alignments or adjustments mixed with breath. And the technology right now can't let us do, or at least not easily, is the smoothing of it. The idea that as I practice yoga, I want to become less jagged. I want to go from one pose to the other in sort of a state of fluidity. And the teacher, and maybe to your point around what AI could do, is how do I smooth out the rough edges as I'm either rushing because I feel I need to, or I'm trying to keep up, or I recognize that actually the surroundings of others is forcing me to want to make sure that I'm not sticking out. Immersive has the way, I think, of easing some of these worries and maybe leading to a more calm practice. And I think that's really interesting.
[00:24:00.612] Melissa Painter: thing, which is that, I mean, we have a mental map of our body, right? And for many people, it's very limited. I think a lot of Americans in particular feel very trapped in their body and feel like their body can't change. And so these visual metaphors, which have hundreds of thousands of years of oral tradition in them, are rich. There's a lot to be explored in those metaphors. They've stuck around for a reason. And we want to serialize. Map wants to serialize in body, though I haven't told him that yet. So more poses to come.
[00:24:33.037] Kent Bye: Well, I think one of the things I noticed when I was doing the tree pose in particular that there's a lot that is about balance and I didn't know if that would be normal for me to have that level of imbalance or if it was being amplified to not have all the visual feedback of my body and I'm cut off from what's actually happening and I there's these subtle ways in which my body can see what's happening in the earth and Look at the horizon and all these different cues that are probably happening at some sort of unconscious level not the least to say the periphery of your visual system that could be having all sorts of impact in terms of just orienting ourselves and especially with balance and So when you put yourself into a headset, I feel like there may be ways in which that's kind of throwing off our normal baseline for how we do some of these poses and balance and I'm just curious if you found that for yourself and then how you deal with that.
[00:25:26.311] Melissa Painter: Well, it's interesting, too, because we tried to set ourselves up with the challenge of movement phrase that would not be long. I mean, it's a six-minute experience where you would feel somewhat physically altered when you came out of it. But when you think about some of the poses in yoga that get you there the fastest, a lot of them are inversions, turning upside down, et cetera. There's a ton of stuff that does not fit the space in terms of what's comfortable to do in a headset. We left the balance piece in because we were interested in the challenge of it. It is hard. And there are great yogis that get in there and cannot do it. I'm leaving myself out of the equation. But I do think it's really interesting in that challenge moment to be reminded of how you can ground yourself in your feet, in your core, like all those tools that you have that you can sort of almost forget in the headset. Does that make sense? So that's why that stuck, even though, yeah, we have some awkward video of people.
[00:26:20.097] Jordan Goldbarb: Yeah. I mean, I found it tremendously challenging, in a good way though, but it's because although your eyes are open in the headset, you're blind to some degree. And intentionally, the idea behind Embody is, you know, if you noticed, we didn't really put a person's body the way you might expect in other VR experiences. We did that with a lot of thought and consideration as to what that would mean. When I go to an analog yoga class in my local neighborhood, and the balance poses come up, I find that I focus on a spot that isn't moving, and that has become easy. And the moment that I take vision away, I fall. And immediately, even when we were just here setting up with the crew and doing the final version, that feeling came rushing back as soon as we got to that part in the experience. And I thought, wow, some people are going to either hate us or be like, you know what? This has really forced me to think about my reliance on things I take for granted, the fact that without visual cues, I have to re-get acquainted with my body. And that's kind of interesting.
[00:27:21.894] Kent Bye: Yeah, I definitely experienced that myself. And there's also the fact that when you're in VR, you have maybe an accelerated amount of proprioception of knowing where your body is, especially because you can't see how your elbows are tracked a lot of times because it's just hard to do with three different joints that you have. Holding a hand controller, it's often hard to really match what's happening with your arms and your elbows. But you develop a sense of your body, your proprioceptive awareness. which means that I think that there's a lot of room to be blindfolded and unveiled into this virtual environment and potentially use different aspects of computer vision or ways that you're tracking your body so that maybe you could have some level of that or have people dialed it up or down in terms of the difficulty level where if you want to be a ghost it's going to be harder than if you have these Virtual representations, but you maybe you'll be able to have a little bit more of a game progression curve Let's say like in video games where you're able to like start with that skeleton But eventually get to the point where you're just relying upon your body awareness
[00:28:26.705] Melissa Painter: Yeah, I love that. I think it's a really, really good point. I also think when you think about the mindset shift that we were hoping to take people through, a lot of it is literally remapping your mental image of your body multiple times inside the experience. And I agree, that's an area to investigate more and to explore more. And I think there's a lot of richness there.
[00:28:49.205] Jordan Goldbarb: Yeah, I think so too, and you know, my team is, you know, we're only kind of at the beginning of this, but looking into things like the power of gamification, the power of, you know, what is it about, you know, I'll say traditional video games and the concept of leveling up. that one encourages prolonged engagement, that encourages maybe a more richness of the experience than one-offs. And I say that in the sense that even in a singular piece of work, we try to design anything we do with sort of longevity in mind. The idea that, you know, an embody, although it's a short experience, and even if I've done it five times, there is something new in there each time, and there is almost a progression that if I look, I can find that's maybe unique to me. I think that's really important.
[00:29:36.575] Kent Bye: I think that's one of the brilliant things that Beat Saber was able to do, which was to be able to come up with a scoring system that allowed you to play the game every day and you could see an increase of your score based upon how you were being able to react faster or with more lead time. and swing with larger swings in order to do that you have to be able to have a situational awareness and connect what is happening in the environment with how your body is moving and you can't like cram it in in eight hours and go from like zero up until like being an expert especially Because so much of the gameplay is embodied. There's a emphasis on that daily practice And I think that is the other thing that has been missing to some extent within the VR community Is that there hasn't been as many games like beat saber that encourage that type of like hey? you can play this for like an hour a day or 30 minutes but that's kind of like you have diminishing returns after you try to cram it in and so you're probably better to do it every day for like 30 minutes than if you were trying to play it for like six hours and so I feel like that's a trend of that started to get people within the headsets each and every day because they started to see that they were getting this improvement to the point where two or three months down the road, they have almost like these superhuman qualities of perception and being able to move their body. And I just, I see that there's this line of how so many of these contemplative practices from these Eastern traditions are going to be perfectly well suited to be able to make that transition into getting people into these practices every day.
[00:31:05.043] Melissa Painter: I absolutely agree. But I think your point about the VR community is very well taken and that we all need to wake up and realize that we're actually prototyping the products of the future here, not just the stories of the future, because this is the community that's experimenting with this technology. So it's important for us to think about what's useful to people. What do they want to touch every day in exactly the ways that you're talking about? And I think this space has way more offering against that than people are digging into.
[00:31:34.594] Jordan Goldbarb: Yeah, and I would just add, I love the analogy around Beat Saber, and I think when I was listening to you speak, the thing that came up for me is, my team and I, one of the most interesting things, and I go back to when I talked a little bit before around our bigger picture of why we're in this space, And also one of the most challenging things is the art and science of behavior change. And that we undoubtedly, you know, so finding analogs in the world, whether it be in the VR space or other, of products, of companies, of individuals who have figured out, maybe not the entire thing, but formulaic elements that lead to true stickiness, that lead to engagement in an increasingly complex world where I would argue it's harder than ever to change ingrained behavior. That to me is one of the keys, not just to our success, but maybe any company who is making anything or trying to do something for a purpose that leads to the betterment of people's lives. And so really trying to understand the complex cobweb of behavior change and what works and what doesn't is something that we have dove fully into and continue to be fascinated about.
[00:32:45.652] Kent Bye: Great. So for each of you, I'm curious to hear some of the either biggest open questions that you're trying to answer or biggest problems that you're trying to solve.
[00:32:54.437] Jordan Goldbarb: You're talking about embody specifically, not just my life. Because I got loads, too. So biggest open questions we're trying to answer are, one, do non-VR users see this as a gateway into a consistent practice sorts. Another one is for extremely, I'll say, seasoned yogis or users of mindful content either from our brand or somewhere else. Do they trust this? you know, often understanding that, can yoga and immersive technology live in harmony? That's an interesting open question for us. And then problems we're trying to solve. That was the next part of the question. So I mentioned accessibility, a bit of a forcing mechanism for renewed in-person connection. And even if it's just at the end, and again, I won't spoil it, but, or the intent that, hey, this is a multiplayer experience, so I'm actually going to go with someone. It's an excuse to get together. Another problem we're interested in solving is, maybe not a problem, but almost a fishing for what are the right solutions and mediums that are going to allow our brand to bring our product and service mission to life beyond cloth. And that's something that really is the mandate of my team and our group within the White Space Innovation Lab.
[00:34:17.455] Melissa Painter: I'm going to answer this not just against embodying, I'm going to answer it as an immersive maker. I think my deep open question is Are we collectively going to take this moment seriously enough to really try to design for a better future for all of us? I think it has the potential to reframe people's relationship to technology. But there are a lot of drivers pushing in the wrong direction. And so as someone who's been in this space for six years, I still have tremendous optimism. But each year I come back to Sundance, the critical nature of the moment is clearer to me. And, you know, we're in a moment of backlash, digital backlash against so many things that went wrong with the first digital revolution. If we think about how we all feel about how our personal data is being used, et cetera, et cetera. A lot of those things happened because not everyone was paying attention when those decisions were being made and not everyone was at the table. Places like Sundance are fighting really hard to change that. But I think sometimes artists and makers get so wrapped up in their own navel, they forget that it's our job to show up right now and not let it go wrong.
[00:35:28.600] Kent Bye: I get a lot of reaction when I talk to people in terms of like technology and where technology has been and where it's gone and that there's a lot of fear that we're gonna be like escaping into even more technology and I feel like in some ways the peak of that dissociation could be like the iPhone in 2007 and that all of the technology that's happening since then has been trying to reintegrate the body reintegrate the breath and reintegrate this sense of of lived embodied experiences that go beyond the dissociation that can happen within the phone. But I'm just curious to hear from your perspective, because I'm sure that comes up a lot.
[00:36:00.500] Melissa Painter: It does, but also, and there's a lot of sort of death stars out there in the tech world that will be really happy if what's happening right now is we design the metaverse and they own it. Like, there's a whole drive in that direction, which is why as a company, we're out looking for strategic partners that care about the human body, the real world, and human potential, because we can't fund this work or make this work or even show up with this kind of project without that association. And that's a problem. There should be tech companies funding into this kind of experimentation. And I take that back because we have some very strong tech partners. I mean, Microsoft is a consistent supporter. But I don't think that there is enough funding and thoughtfulness going into this kind of work right now.
[00:36:46.728] Jordan Goldbarb: Yeah, I agree. And for our brand, you know, the importance of playing a role in this space, knowing that we are, yeah, we are very much trying to take a stand for the human and needing to align ourselves with with partners, with makers, with all pieces of sort of the ecosystem that allows these things to come together. You know, our brand is also aware of, you know, what sort of like what our swim lane should be, where our strengths are, how we can contribute to I don't even pretend to have an educated point of view on the overall sort of implications of the technology curve, but I would say that we still very much believe that content will continue to rule. And what I mean by that is that the tools will get more and more sophisticated, but ultimately what we're concerned about is whether the tool is the the clothing products that we make, or an activation like Embody. It's the intended use case that we're going to continue to obsess over, and making that use case accessible, enjoyable, intended to be shared with others, and repeatable.
[00:37:54.963] Kent Bye: So there's been a number of movements within the technology and consciousness realms. There's consciousness hacking, Mikey Siegel, who's trying to blend technology with biometric feedback in real time to be able to deepen different contemplative practices. There's Orpheus self-care, which is doing sound self and other experiences that are very much about trying to create this embodied sense of practice and exercise and whole exercise movement that's happening within VR. I see these types of technologies and practices as transformative. They're contemplative, but there's also a transformative potential that's there, both in transforming consciousness, but also transforming our relationship to the world around us. And so I'm just curious how you see this technology that you're working on, these experiences, how it kind of fits into some of these larger movements that are happening within the cautious attacking or transformative technology movements.
[00:38:48.059] Melissa Painter: I mean, I think it's very aligned to a lot of that thinking and work. And it's one of the interesting things about the space right now is that we can't all prototype it all at once. You know, you have these threads of people focusing on one area of it. We're focusing on one very specific area here. In the end, for it to be truly great, those things are all going to come together. But there's so much challenge just in the actual production at this point. in terms of making and engaging in emergent tech, that it's exciting to be part of a community where those kinds of experimentations are going on, completely different than what we're doing and touching, but work that I admire, and I'm excited to have an influence where this goes.
[00:39:30.032] Jordan Goldbarb: Yeah, I would say that the mandate for our, specifically our team, so White Space Lab within Lululemon, is really to think about what it means to push the boundaries of human potential. And that's a big question to ask, but really what it comes down to is the individual, or a collective of individuals, and their ability to live in effective choice. And they're going to do that, they're going to either intentionally manipulate their state of mind, their state of body, their surroundings and stuff, hopefully in order to achieve what we want to lead them to, is not necessarily a longer life, but a life better lived, for whatever that means for them. You know it's interesting to see that as we try to understand even what conscious attacking is or the different interventions that people are using in body and mind in their biological health that there is you know a company that started with where our roots of there's actually an important role and maybe responsibility that we have to play in Again going back to what we really stand for which is the human which is community and people's potential
[00:40:37.342] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality? And what am I able to enable?
[00:40:46.707] Melissa Painter: For me, we actually design in a completely multi-platform way. So this is showing up as a virtual reality experience. But what drives me as a creator is the advent of spatial computing, soft computing, sensing, body sensing, and multi-platform delivery of spatial computing. So I think about mixed reality. I think about my new potential relationship to my digital twin. And I think about how this space is the opportunity to give me and others a lot of tools to live out our potential in new ways. And I think the only way that's going to happen is if it doesn't become the next opiate, if it doesn't become the next escape mechanism, which, frankly, most media has become, right? There's a reason binge watching Netflix feels like eating a bag of potato chips. It's not that great for you.
[00:41:39.557] Jordan Goldbarb: I think the, that's a very good last question. Well, I'll say this. I think the potential of spatial computing, or VR specifically, lies in this idea of providing intelligent assistance. And I think tools is the right way to look at it. But whether it be our guests or just the people that I've come across even in my own life, it seems like, although I said before we want people to live in choice, that there seems to be an overabundance of choices or of marketed choices. And the onus continues to be on the individual to wade through the noise to find the right ones. And I think this space has the opportunity to effectively, conveniently, without being overbearing, lead me to find the N equals 1 choice with whatever my intent in doing is. And I think that's really powerful. And I think eventually that can happen certainly outside of a headset. And that can happen almost synonymously or ubiquitously with how I would live my day-to-day life and not have to think about, OK, there's the immersive part of my day, and there's the non-immersive part of my day.
[00:42:48.578] Melissa Painter: One other thing to say on that, which is that I feel like if done properly, this emergence of digital off the screen into our worlds has the potential to cause people to need less stuff, actually. I think it's a really interesting moment where a lot of my personal design, for example, in my living space could be coming in digital delivery, and it means there's just less junk.
[00:43:15.171] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:43:19.473] Melissa Painter: I would just like to say thank you. Your questions have been amazing, though a little bit challenging to tackle at 9 AM after a late night party. But I'm grateful for your thoughtfulness, and thank you so much for talking to us.
[00:43:30.671] Jordan Goldbarb: Yeah, I echo that. Thank you. This has been really fun. And to the immersive community, yeah, I would just say thanks for sort of welcoming us to the party. We may be sort of an odd invitee initially, but I'm hoping that more and more new types of people will find something they need or something they can relate to in Lululemon. And that's, yeah, thank you.
[00:43:54.064] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much.
[00:43:55.224] Melissa Painter: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.
[00:43:57.050] Kent Bye: Okay, thanks. So that was Melissa Painter of Map Design Labs, as well as Jordan Goldfarb of the White Space Innovation Team of Lululemon. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, just the fact that there was this clothing company that was sponsoring this content to do these different fusions of yoga or Aikido to spread virtual reality to new markets and seeing the potential of seeing how these movement practices that people are doing now Is there a way to democratize access to these through these immersive technologies? Or is there ways that you can actually do things you could never do? You know, in the context of storytelling, this is probably the most radical experience at the Sundance New Frontier, just because it's so far deviating from what we would typically consider of what a story would be. One of the things that Melissa said is that the actual participant of this experience is the last creator within the experience, meaning that they're actually generating their own story for what this means for them. to have this experience. And so it's about this world building and this architecture and this series of different movements that you're being led through and your cultivated experience that then at the end of it, you're taking away your own story, which I think is actually one of the huge strengths of the virtual reality medium is that it does have this capability to generate and cultivate this sense of embodied presence and emotional presence. And also on the spectrum of authored narrative and generative narrative, that it's trying to shift it away from the authored narrative and have it more of generating the larger context and then you're able to actually generate the meaning of your experience. The movement as I was actually moving, I don't know if it was broken or not, but I didn't see a lot of actual movement that was happening within my avatar. And so the connection between what was happening with the visual depiction and what was happening with my body was actually pretty static through most of the time. And that generally there was a number of different, you know, spatial metaphors that were happening that were symbolically reflecting the different poses. And Melissa said that yoga is the physical body as a representation of the unknown. And so these are these very powerful spatial metaphors that have existed for a really long time for a really good reason. And they're starting to actually do these different visual depictions of that while you're actually doing the different poses, which I think is super fascinating. And I I'd love to see even more connection to what's happening inside of my body with what's happening within the yoga experience. Now at the end of the interview, I stopped it and I asked Melissa, I had like a complaint that I wish I would have asked during the actual interview. So I feel a little weird bringing it up here, but in yoga practice, you typically do a move on both sides. And so if you were to do the tree pose on your left leg. then you would switch and do on your right leg as well and they actually didn't do that in this experience which to me kind of violates one of the fundamental philosophical principles of yoga and I expect that they wanted to create this crafted experience and try to get through more poses over a short period of time six minutes but But after doing a lot of yoga, I know that my body actually wants to have a symmetrical experience of some of these poses. And so I think it gets to a deeper question here, which is like, if you're going to be taking some of these traditions, then I think it's vitally important to understand the philosophical foundations for some of those principles, and that you have to do a bit of an authentic transmission of that into the virtual technologies. there's a desire to want to try to either change some of those aspects of those movement practices in order to work better with the technology. And I think, you know, like Melissa said that some of the inversion poses are just not all that feasible. I mean, if you start to actually flip upside down where your head's actually below a lot of your body, you know, very easily your headset could come off and it just starts to introduce additional problems and, and more of a blocker of actually exploring some of these different poses and techniques. Then if you were to just do it without mediated through the technology? Because one of the open questions that Jordan is saying is that is the established yogis going to be skeptical of this type of fusion of adding a bunch of technology onto something that is perfectly well for them to not have any of the technology? And so what is it about the technology that's actually changing or modulating the experience in some way? So I think there's a lot of sticky open questions there in terms of how do you ensure that you're maintaining the integrity of the spirit of these practices as you do this creative interpretation of what it might look like as you start to add in different technologies and What are the deeper ethical responsibilities to ensure that you're maintaining the deeper philosophical principles of the practices that you're trying to translate in order to ensure that it's being either validated or given the same approval of people that are from these established lineages? I think that's something that is going to be a conversation that's unfolding over time. And I think that will actually happen. And I just, would hope that there'd be a little bit more of a dialogue and conversation that's happening between these different traditions and to see how the immersive technology is actually going to potentially evolve the practice into ways that we can't even imagine right now, which I do expect will actually happen where we'll be able to have these yogic experiences within virtual reality that we could never actually have because you're going to be able to do this translation of All this stuff that's actually happening inside of your body and having a visual depiction of that. I think there's just a huge potential for what's going to even be possible when you start to marry the biometric data that's happening in your body. And then having an experience that actually deepens and amplifies your experience because you have these visual depictions of what's happening inside of you that you can see. And then as you see it, it's allowing you to correlate that to your own direct experience, which I think can deepen this sense of embodied and emotional presence as you do these types of practices. So I feel bad for not having that debate or giving them an opportunity to respond to that in real time. It wasn't until actually I stopped the interview that it was kind of bugging me that I should have known as an interviewer that I should have actually asked them during the interview so that they could have responded to that. But it's something that I'm left with. And finally, I think some of the messages that Melissa is saying in terms of there's got to be this deeper awareness of the importance of the body, the importance of the real world, as well as the importance of the human experience. There is this desire, I think, for a lot of the companies, like there's a couple of different philosophies of either owning the platform or supporting and facilitating these open ecosystems. And I think in large part, a lot of the major players are trying to own the platform through their app stores and you know, this idea of the open metaverse is being preserved through things like WebXR, WebAR and the open web in general. But because things have to be created with Unity and Unreal Engine, most of these different types of experiences are going through this more App Store model. In the future, though, this open metaverse, there's going to be this closed world garden, very curated types of experiences that are going to be controlled. And so there's this tradeoff between the consistency of that user experience versus the freedom that you have with being able to have a whole variety of different experiences. And so, yeah, there is this tension between the commercial interests of what is driving these platforms, which is very much into some of these very commercialized experiences, a lot of it in the realm of gaming. But I do think that there's value of going to places like the Sundance Film Festival, which is based upon these independent spirit of creators that are not necessarily thinking about necessarily these huge commercial market opportunities, but What are some of these experiences that are going to be a little bit more in the public interest or in the interest of you as an individual and not trying to just profit or make money or exploit your data in some different ways? And so there's some deeper threads there that I think are really important, just in the sense that it's amazing that there's a company like Lululemon that's willing to have this connection to their brand and their whole business where they're willing to invest and innovate within the virtual reality space. And that it takes that type of entrepreneurial innovation and exploration that could be paying off huge dividends, where if this does actually start to take off, which I personally think that embodiment and using technology in the body is going to continue to be a huge trend within the virtual and augmented reality space. So I think they're on to something here and that there's going to be something that is super compelling, especially if they take this approach of this hyper local, like using their local stores within these different communities to be like these central hubs for some of these different types of experiences. Or I think eventually in terms of access, what they want is not for you to necessarily go into the store, which I think, you know, obviously Lululemon wants, but. What would it mean that if you would put on a headset and it would make you feel like that you were actually in a yoga class with other people doing it live in real time with somebody who's there actually live presenting the class. The fact that yoga is such a live oral tradition, I think there's something really compelling there. There's something that is qualitatively different when you're having like that live interaction at live transmission with somebody who is giving the class live versus if you're watching a yoga tape. I mean, you can do yoga, watching yoga tape on your own, but it's different than actually feeling like you're doing it with other people and having that live transmission. And so that's something that I would be curious to see how this continues to involve. Are they going to have these prerecorded equivalent of a yoga tape where maybe you're doing it with other people? live in real time or kind of blending this you know what's recorded and what's live what needs to be live what's the difference between it being a live transmission versus something that is pre-recorded there's something about you know being live in the quality of the moment and being able to add different insights that are emerging in that specific moment, that I think are important to have that quality of that live experience. And I think it's a bit of an open question for what is the importance of that in the context of these yoga classes, both philosophically, but also in your direct experience of that, like, what is the difference that you see? And I think one of these other experiences that I saw at Sundance this year, which was not in the new frontier, but it was being put forth by Oculus and Tender Claws was this experience that had live immersive theater actors. And I could definitely tell that there was this live interactive component that was me engaging with these different characters in real time, where I could totally tell that they were reacting to what I was doing. And so it just had a completely different feeling of that live experience. element. So what is the live element to this in the future? I think is another big question to see where this heads. But I think for me personally, that's going to be a huge component for what's going to make this successful. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list of supported podcast. And so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash wishes of vr. Thanks for listening