I highly recommend checking it out in YouTubeVR’s app, or you can watch it on your phone in a portal window view.
The piece attempts to invoke the “Overview Effect,” which was first coined by astronauts who gained a more holistic and global citizen perspective after witnessing the Earth from the perspective of space. The Ørsted 360° VR Space Safari is the most successful attempt of this I’ve seen so far as it features a stunning scale shift that’s reminiscent of the famous Powers of Ten film from 1977.
I talk with Khora VR CTO & Cofounder Peter Fisher at the Impact Reality Summit about the production journey for this piece, their collaboration with sustainable energy producer Ørsted, and some of the unique approaches that Khora VR has been taking to evangelize VR in Copenhagen, Denmark.
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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 continuing on in my series of looking at the VR for Good movement, today's episode is with Peter Fischer. He's the CTO and co-founder of Quora VR. Core VR is an agency. They work with a lot of different clients creating different virtual reality experiences. They actually have like a public facing aspect in Copenhagen, Denmark, where they allow people from the public to come in and get a taste of virtual reality. And then they produce a lot of different experiences for a number of different companies there. One of the pieces they produce for Orsted is called the 360 degree VR space safari. You can look up on YouTube and there's going to be a link in the description here of the podcast, but it's trying to induce this overview effect, which starts as a 360 video and you kind of get shot up into space and you see the whole world around you. It's one of the best 360 VR experiences that I've seen and actually does a really great job. Highly recommend checking out the experience. It's really quite well done. So, thanks for coming on today's episode of the Wastes of VR podcast. So this interview with Peter happened on Friday, January 10th, 2020 at the Impact Reality Summit in Seattle, Washington. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:01:23.637] Peter Fisher: So my name is Peter Fischer. I'm the co-founder and CTO at Quora. We're an XR production house based out of Copenhagen, Denmark. We're a team of 20 full-time employees, a mix of 3D artists, programmers, 360 film producers, business development, and administration. Hardworking, passionate team.
[00:01:42.814] Kent Bye: So maybe you could give me a bit more context as to your background and your journey into immersive technologies.
[00:01:48.632] Peter Fisher: So my background is in computer graphics and animation. I'm from Chicago originally. Studied out at DePaul University and started my career in Denmark. Founded the company with a friend of mine, Simon. So we started Cora four years ago. And I think the idea, both of us were super passionate about the technology, what it could do and what the limitations were as well. So we had a unique concept where we have a public facing company where you can come in off the street and try a free demo of VR and AR because we believe you got to see it before you understand what it was and what it can do. And that's really how we've grown our network locally in Copenhagen and a bit outside of Scandinavia as well, is by just having this very show it, don't tell it mindset. And here I am telling all about it. But yeah, so over the years we've done a number of projects within healthcare, contemporary art, lots of commercial projects, but all focused on trying to get value and some purpose behind this medium. What can this medium do that other mediums can't? and we're trying to have a critical eye but also really ambitious and creative in our approach as well.
[00:02:56.635] Kent Bye: Now, when you say it's open to the public, do you have a location-based entertainment office where you have people come in and see demos? Or what is this interface with the public look like?
[00:03:05.503] Peter Fisher: So we're based in the Meatpacking District in Copenhagen. So for those that don't know, it's quite a popular area. It's where there's a lot of restaurants, a lot of nightlife, and a lot of foot traffic during the day as well. There's shops, and there's startup companies. And it's a preserved area, so it all has the same identity. It's old butcher areas. So it has this kind of unique feel to it. All the tiles are original. There's drains in the floors from where they used to sell meat. But that being said, the front half has a separate staff and we have shop staff that is there. You know, we're open seven days a week. We have opening hours and you can come in and put on the goggles and try a free experience. Some projects we've made, we have this arcade license with Valve where you can try some arcade games. So that's the front facing, that's half of the space. And then in the back is where our production office is. So it's all in the same building. And in the back is where all our computers are stacked up, our 20 people are working very closely and intimately on all the projects. But that mindset is just that you can come in, try it, free of charge, and tell your friends, let them know we're here. And then of course, with the mindset that if you're interested in doing a production or doing something professionally, you can book a meeting with us, have a cup of coffee, And then from there discuss the project, we're of course an agency, so work with budgets. And from there we just take a lot of meetings, we have a lot of workshops as well. Some people want a more soft start, so we host workshops where companies come in and get a presentation about what AR and VR is. what it can do, what it can't do, which is also quite important sometimes, and then just take the dialogue in that direction. We have a very broad approach. We work with many different industries, but we consider it quite a focused approach on the medium and why people should and shouldn't be working with this new technology. We're trying to cut through the hype as well. That's a goal of ours.
[00:04:58.462] Kent Bye: And so, yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to this piece that you just show me here at the Impact Reality Summit.
[00:05:03.453] Peter Fisher: Yeah, so our most proud project among many others, we've done close to 75 projects last year, all within VR and AR. We have a quite big mix of 360 film along with interactive 3D projects, and this project is a perfect merge of all of our skill sets. Besides augmented reality, this is combining 360 film with 3D CGI rendered project. The client is Urastel. They are the world's most sustainable energy company, which is a great tagline and very well deserved. They have the largest windmill park in the world, wind turbine park I should say is the correct term. It's in the UK and it's where you land in this film. To give a brief description of what this project is, it's of course it's a brand film promoting them as a company and they're working with green energy and obviously trying to save the planet so it's a mission that we really stand behind and it was quite motivating to work with them. The idea with this project is to try and induce the overview effect and that's when an astronaut goes to space they see this little tiny beautiful blue planet and have a more profound impression of this home that we all share. And what the client says, Niels from Ursa, they want to democratize this feeling. So get it out to as many people as you can and try and change people's mind and give a different impression of what this place is. And the way we approach that is you start with a 360 drone shot. It's in this tiny little island in Connecticut. So you're surrounded by these large trees, and then it's narrated by astronauts, four different astronauts, Helen Sharman from the UK, Mike Massimino from the US, and then a German astronaut and a Danish astronaut as well. So those are all localized, but they're saying basically the same thing, their impression of what it was. So you shoot off straight up from this little island and it shrinks into this little tiny dot. As we transition into the clouds, we transition into a rendered universe. We put a lot of work into trying to make that as seamless as possible. And then you basically go out to space. You go out to the position of where the moon is and slowly see the Earth shrink in this seamless way. No cuts, no transitions, just all seamlessly rendered together. and then you take a four minute journey around the planet, see the dark side, see all the night lights turn on, see the Aurora Borealis, and the northern lights, and the galaxy behind, and again, this is one of these things you really gotta see, so it's hard to put into words, but you do hopefully get this profound experience and see the planet for all its beauty, and you see no borders on countries, and it's just this beautiful, planet, basically. And then you pass the International Space Station very closely, which is quite an immersive feeling, and then begin your journey back through the atmosphere, through the clouds, and land right above a windmill, wind turbine.
[00:08:00.860] Kent Bye: Yeah, so it reminds me of this powers of 10 where you go and you scale up to the largest aspect of the universe and then you come back down and you go super tiny and in this case you're not going to the microscopic but you go into the macroscopic of going into the change of scale. I thought it was really powerful and effective and really great use of VR and be able to have that experience. I know I've experienced other films that are like that, that explore that scale, but not one that starts with the groundedness of a 360 video and then seamlessly kind of going into the CGI. But maybe you could talk about that process of trying to get the scale to be representative of what that would actually look like, because it did kind of feel like I was getting shot up into space, which is a really cool feeling.
[00:08:44.715] Peter Fisher: Thank you. So I have to give full credit to our client. Niels Rahr is the creative director at Aristel. We've been working with him for the past three and a half years on smaller scale projects and all built up to this one. And he's had this idea that I want to use this medium to induce the overview effects. And we've just been talking for a few years now about how could we approach this? How could we make this work? And also waiting a bit for the technology to advance the drones. You know, the cameras that you can put on a drone have gotten much, much better. If we did this project three years ago, we would have, you know, low resolution shot. Now we have a stereoscopic 360 video shot on the ground and we're able to mask the drone out in much better ways and stabilize stereo footage. So timing was quite relevant, making sure the technology is up to par for what this project really deserved and needed to convey this important idea and concept. But I think The bulk of the work is just pure labor and a ton of hard work from our hard-working team, together with Urstel, of course. They put a lot of time into this and facilitating the whole project. So I think it just took a lot of creativity, a lot of passion in it. But I think some of the core elements were we acquired this satellite image of the Earth. It's 512,000K. It's available online. Anyone can purchase it. But it's based on satellite images, super, super high resolution. and that's what allowed us to zoom into a certain scale of resolution. But it wasn't enough to make this seamless journey down, so we had to fill in the gaps. That was a huge part of the promise that we said, that we could do the seamless trip, was filling in the gaps. So, you know, of course, we learned so much about drone height regulations in different countries. We are experts on that now. and our partners are as well. But there's different rules in every country about where you're allowed to film, how high you're allowed to film, how you can apply for higher permissions. We looked into helicopters, hot air balloons. We did a number of tests as well, so we got very sharp on that. And the end result is we were able to get a smaller permission in the US, which was fairly quick to go through and go as high as we could there. There are higher permissions that we could have gone for, but the timelines for approval were too slow of a turnaround. So that just meant filling in more of a gap with 3D work. So we just got quite skilled at generating volumetric clouds that you could pass through. And then from there, as you pass through these clouds, it transitions to a CGI universe that's all rendered. And the end result is a combination of over 100 layers, all composited in After Effects, pieced together very carefully by the team. And yeah, then you land back in the UK, the largest wind turbine park. And that was also facilitated by Aerocell. They trained our staff. You have to go through all these trainings and regulations to be allowed to go up there and to film up there. So that was also quite an interesting learning process to do that together with them. So yeah, a lot of real-world things that we had to navigate around and learn and work together with others on. And then, of course, a ton of digital man and woman hours on the project.
[00:11:56.520] Kent Bye: Well, maybe you could talk a bit about the premiere that you had and some of the reactions that you had from showing this and where it showed up.
[00:12:02.743] Peter Fisher: Yeah, so Urstel premiered at the New York Climate Week in September and that was the goal was to show it there too. They had a presentation and during the presentation afterwards the CEO asked the people in the crowd which was full of I think it was 150 delegates, politicians and decision makers from around the world all focused on the climate. So after the presentation about who Urstel is, what they're doing and how they're trying to make the world a cleaner, greener place, running on green energy. They asked everyone to pick up the headsets under your chair, put it on, and it's all synchronized, so they all started at the same time. And they got this experience, four and a half trip around, you know, from the ground up and around the earth and then back again. And it was all live-streamed. which was quite cool because I wasn't physically there, there was Earth still running the experience and the reactions were quite strong. People were gasping as they take off and applauding while the goggles were still on, which was quite a cool sight to see. So it was really well received and just a big proud moment for us. And then it's had this really strong life on social media. It's generated over 6 million views on YouTube and people just watching on their phones or on a headset as well. But it's had a really high retention rate and the most rewarding thing has been looking at the YouTube comment section, which can be a really negative place and most commonly is. And this was promoted as a film so people would get it popping up. unexpectedly which is usually another time for people to be super negative but you can see for yourself look it up on YouTube the comments are just extremely positive which is just really heartwarming for us to see that people are on the mission and totally get the concept and they're just describing how I never stop and watch an ad this is the first ad I've watched full Some people even say this has changed their mind, which is obviously the goal of this project. It's to change anyone on the fence to swing more in the direction of caring for the planet. Yeah, talking to the decision makers and saying that we need to make some changes to fix things while we still have a chance. But yeah, the comment section is really our proudest moment for this among many other things. But the only negative comments are from Flat Earthers, which is quite interesting. They're commenting on why didn't you send a camera all the way around Earth if it's really not flat. But that's just entertaining for us.
[00:14:27.690] Kent Bye: Well, so We're at the Impact Reality Summit right here. It's a collaboration between Kaleidoscope VR and Vulcan Productions. And so looking at experiences in films that make an impact. So you said there's a number of delegates there. How do you start to quantify what type of impact these type of experiences might actually have?
[00:14:48.267] Peter Fisher: Well, so I can't speak on the client's behalf. We're just tasked to do the production, but of course we've worked very closely with them. And I know they have different target markets, of course, as a giant company like that does in their marketing department. Who are they targeting? The goal with this was to target everyone. There's no specific audience that this isn't relevant for because it's an amazing experience and you can leave with this profound impression that hopefully will motivate you. Whatever capacity take better care of the planet. So the short answer is I don't think there's any quantifiable way I think if people walk away in a positive way and these are very important people who are in the audience They hold all the power. I think that that is the goal in itself is to leave them with a more, you know, they're sitting through all these presentations there and We're probably bored sick at the end of it just watching all these presentations about who's presenting what they have to offer and our goal was to leave them with something stronger. Put the goggles on and you just pull people in in a much stronger way than sitting and watching a PowerPoint slideshow or wandering around all these different booths. I think that's where VR can really stand out is in a convention type setting. If you get people in there, you can really engage with them. They're just filled with brochures and all this information constantly, and screens popping up, and everyone's trying to sell something. Not this New York Climate Zone, but in general, just conventions. And I think VR can really have a good home there, where you can have this very intimate moment in a very busy, crowded, chaotic environment. So that was the goal of the project. It's difficult to quantify but I think in terms of social media the numbers are outperforming the expectations and that in itself is a very tangible quantifiable thing and seeing the comments section as well. So a happy positive reaction is quantifiable as it gets for this project and that's the goal.
[00:16:44.532] Kent Bye: I think that what's interesting is that this is one of the first projects that I've heard of that is really working with the company that has direct financial interest. Sustainable energy is obviously a solution, but there's more of market dynamics that are associated with that. So then you have it more of a piece of marketing that they're trying to put out there to be able to allow people potentially to change their behavior, to make a different choice for where their energy is actually coming from. I know that Lawrence Lessig has talked a lot about how there's like these four vectors that you can shift collective issues. We have the culture, which you can do through art and storytelling and education to be able to drive different collective behaviors by whatever those normative standards are. There's the economy, so there's the market dynamics, which I think this is really starting to play into different aspects of those market dynamics. There's the law and the policies that are trying to drive the different decisions that are happening at the governmental level. And then there's the architecture and the technology. So the other ways of building architectural systems that could facilitate different types of change of the behavior. So this feels like this is in the economic vector of this is where the energy is coming from. And it's a little bit different than a lot of the other social impact projects that I've seen, at least in this space so far.
[00:18:00.139] Peter Fisher: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think that is what allowed this project to come to life, is that this is their mission as a company, and we stand behind that 100%. So yeah, I think they're covering all fronts. You should check them out. They're quite a globally minded company. They have for many years been working in the sector, one of the largest companies in Denmark. But yeah.
[00:18:23.436] Kent Bye: Have you had any anecdotal feedback where you were able to actually invoke the overview effect in the people that were watching it?
[00:18:30.594] Peter Fisher: No research data or anything, if that's what you mean. Anecdotal data, like any stories of people saying that they... I think the one that stands out the most... I mean, every time I show it, I haven't had anyone have a negative impression. I think everyone is so unexpected that this is actually how this plays out. That it is seamless and you get this impression, so... All the physical reactions when I show people are quite strong and very positive. But the one that stands out the most, because this was the goal of the project, was to change the people I meet in person are always quite like-minded. I have shown some relatives that are on the other side of the fence and yeah, they've also had a quite strong impression and didn't comment on anything negative politically. But getting anyone who doesn't believe in global warming or think we should take care of our planet, getting them on to the side of taking care of the planet, that is the goal. And there's one comment that stands out. I think it's on Mike Massimino's YouTube video, where someone just says exactly that. Like, I haven't cared about climate change in the past, but this video has actually made me want to look into it more and take it seriously. Just voluntarily putting that out there publicly on YouTube, that single comment for me and for us working on this was the goal of this project. And to see anyone voluntarily admitting that, that this has swayed them in any way, is a huge takeaway for us and brings a ton of value to the project. And we hope that's way more than one person, but anyone skeptical, This is not a pushy film in any way. It's done very subtly and it's done quite accurately. So the goal is to just state the facts as they are and show you where it is we're all living and sharing in a very all-encompassing way. And if we can change anyone's mind, that means a lot.
[00:20:21.984] Kent Bye: Well, the film has quite a provocation in the beginning because you're saying, look at this place. You may not believe it, but this is your home. And there's this reaction. It's like, no, this is not where I live. But then there's this invitation of saying, well, just you wait. We're going to show you. And so there's a bit of an experiential argument that you're giving of trying to recontextualize this deeper context of we are all living on the same planet. And I thought that was really quite interesting to see how you create this some sense of narrative tension provoking people into saying like, even though you don't live here specifically in that location, but this overall is our home and I'm going to show you why.
[00:20:59.126] Peter Fisher: Yeah, so that's Niels, the creative director at Urstel. He wrote the script as well on this project and those were some of the first words that we started with on the project was, you may not recognize it, but take my word for it, this is your home. And yeah, that's exactly kind of the whole overarching theme of this project is give it a minute, you'll see. This is where we all share the same place. Doesn't matter if you're in your own house or whatever. It's a tiny little planet that's a precious blue dot once you get out there. And that is the narrative that's trying to be conveyed in this project.
[00:21:36.907] Kent Bye: Well, for you, what are some of the either biggest open questions you're trying to answer or open problems you're trying to solve?
[00:21:44.343] Peter Fisher: So, I mean, we're four years old now as a company, 20 full-time employees. I think we're seeing a lot of growth and a lot of interest in this medium. And I think we're really just hunting for these relevant cases. We've seen a lot of hype in the beginning. You know, six years ago, seven years ago, I started working on the first Goggles and the promise was just exponential of what VR could do. And then we saw the same thing happen a few years later with AR that AR is going to take over VR, but the reality is these are just new mediums and there's reasons to work with them and there's also reasons why other mediums are still quite relevant. This is just a new tool to use and I think that's our goal as a company in our approach and why we have such a broad approach with all these different industries is that there's many use cases out there and we have the skill sets about how to apply the technology and develop really high-end content but we can't find these use cases without good collaborations and good partnerships with companies. So that is our goal is to find true value and potential within AR and VR and make relevant cases. That's the only way we're gonna sustain our company and that's the only way we're gonna get companies coming back hiring us in the future. So we're just hunting for these important cases and It's so great to be here because this has such a focus on impact. So we want to have an impact with our projects in every way that we can. So it's just been a great angle. So I think the question we're trying to answer is why VR and AR or why XR? And also why not? I think we don't want to push this any harder than it needs to be pushed. If there is true value there, it should speak for itself and be shown in the end result of the project.
[00:23:27.183] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of immersive technologies and immersive storytelling might be, and what it might be able to enable?
[00:23:39.114] Peter Fisher: Ultimate potential. I think, especially after meeting all these people here and seeing all the presentations around Impact, I think changing people's mind, that is a huge potential and a very difficult thing to do, and it's quite relevant in today's time. If you can change people's mind and get people to bridge the gaps from the polarized way things are. I think if this technology can do anything like that. And just educate people in a better way, keep people more informed. We do a lot within training and simulation, so very simple practical things. Having people learn different tasks in a more effective, efficient way that stores things in their minds using muscle memory. I think there's many answers to the question, but those are too few things. If we can help bridge the gaps, the divides in the world with this technology in any way, I think that's a huge win.
[00:24:31.316] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?
[00:24:37.656] Peter Fisher: So we're an XR studio based in Copenhagen. We're very internationally focused. We're working within many different industries. So feel free to reach out if you're interested in collaborating or working with us. We're all ears.
[00:24:51.045] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. Thank you. Thanks. So that was Peter Fisher. He's the CTO and co-founder of Core VR. And he produced a VR piece for Orsted called the 360 Degree VR Space Safari. So I'm going to never try and takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, I first met Peter a couple of years ago at VRLA and I have a unpublished interview with them where they talk about how core VR is across all these different disciplines where they're doing medical applications and doing these different types of, you know, 360 videos and collaborating with artists that really interesting model for a company. And, you know, the fact that they have this like public space that they can invite people in from the public because they have the philosophy that as a virtual reality company that they kind of have to like show people what it is and evangelize it a little bit and by having that Location for people to just come in and try it out for free then they just start to network and see if people want to have experiences created for them and it sounds like they've been really successful and be able to do that, but This piece by Orsted is probably one of the best 360 videos that I've seen in a long, long time. And I think the reason why it's so powerful is that they're, they're playing with a scale and the scale shift. This whole experience of the powers of 10 is a famous video where it kind of goes out, you know, starting at a small scale, shoot out into space, you zoom back in and you go into microscopic space. This doesn't go into the microscopic space, but it's probably the best executed, like scale shift that I've seen in any VR experience, because it's just, Really quite seamless. I mean they're they're starting with 360 video and then they go through the volumetric clouds apparently because of the limits of how high that the drones can fly and so they needed a way to Seamlessly transition into more of a CGI version they go up and out and you see the whole earth and you see the moon and you see aurora borealis and you kind of zoom back into the earth and I don't know if it's giving me necessarily overview effect. I think maybe I already have a little bit of a sensibility, but it definitely, it shifted me because there was this moment where at the very beginning where they're like, this is your home. And it was like, nah, this is not my home. You know, I don't live there. But as they zoom out and they zoom back in, they set a deeper context. And I think that's the thing that's so powerful for astronauts as they go out into space and they see the earth without any of the boundaries or anything, and it just gives them their new perspective. And so, yeah, just no matter where you're at on the earth, this is our home. And so I just really love the piece and highly recommend you check it out. For people that are skeptical about the 360 degree video as a medium, This is a good one to check out. It's on YouTube VR. Fire up the YouTube, download it, and just search for the 360 degree VR space safari. It's from Orsted. Check it out. It's just a really well written and a great piece. And, uh, yeah, they premiered it at the New York climate week, uh, back in September of 2019, when they showed it to 150 different delegates. And so again, this is a piece that it's an advertising piece. So I guess that's a different thing from a lot of the other pieces because it's, it's actually supported as a, as a piece of advertising for sustainable energy, which the company core of VR, Peter, they, they fully back and support that. And that's just a thing that we need more of. And so. to be able to create immersive experiences that are advocating for sustainable energy just becomes a part of the marketing strategy for companies like Orsted that are trying to promote their sustainable energy production. So there's a couple of things. One is that Orsted was at the New York Climate Week where they were showing it to the policymakers and so trying to leave them with something more than just another PowerPoint presentation, but to give them a direct embodied experience, trying to evoke this aspect of the overview effect. The other thing is that it's an advertisement and it's on YouTube. And because YouTube has implemented all these different aspects of 360 video, if it's pushed out as a film and people start to watch it, then, you know, as they move their phone around, they're able to get this whole sense, even though they don't have virtual reality within itself, you can still have access to the 360 video. And I think this piece in particular does a really good job of kind of hooking in with the narrative. And then, you know, you kind of shoot off into space and, It's instructing you to kind of look around. And so for a lot of people, this is introducing them to the capabilities of being able to look around on your phone on a 360 video. For me, the phone is not the best way to watch a 360 video, but I think it's a good stand-in if you can start to design the experience in a way where it becomes interesting, even if you don't have a VR headset. I think they actually do a good job of doing that 2D translation. And so it's worth checking out for that reason as well. So definitely check it out. It's, uh, like I said, you know, just talking about the whole process, all the logistics and, you know, the Adobe after effects with over a hundred different layers, you know, just really quite seamless and, uh, really enjoyed it. And, um, as far as like change, you know, their, their metrics for success is that this is like basically a branding and advertising. And so that's kind of left up to Orsted to see how they. get different engagement from the YouTube video. It sounds like that it's a type of video where people really watch a long way through, which is pretty rare for a lot of ads. It's engaging enough and it's different enough and it's kind of, it's got a nice hook. So it's a great way to use the immersive medium to be able to start to push out these larger messages. And the other ways to look at it is the engagement and the different qualitative feedback of people sharing it. But I think Peter's approach is that they just want to be able to create an experience that is moving for people and to be able to show it directly to people and to see how impactful it can be. He's seen a lot of really good positive feedback from that already. 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-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to renew this coverage. So, you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.