Listen more than you talk. It’s taken a long time to really be present in other’s company but is surprising just how much people communicate when you stay still. It has helped me feel calmer under pressure and more enjoyable to deal in business.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Taylor.
Martin has been in the XR industry since 2013 with Prox & Reverie being the second immersive business he has built. With skills ranging from filmmaking and industrial design to perception psychology and lucid dream research, XR innovation has become his natural home.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was young, I was always trying to find a balance between my creativity and technical skills. I initially studied a degree in engineering and product design — thinking about how products work to suit human need by marrying form and function. However, after a period of time, I realised I wanted to become a filmmaker and pivoted careers in my mid-20s to start film school. An option at film school was psychoanalysis and semiotics, which is centred around the way people process information. There are physical and psychological perceptions systems — the psychological systems focus on how an individual finds meaning in the world around them and within.
This module related deeply to an integral source of inspiration: lucid dreaming. I frequently have lucid dreams and use them as a creative tool. Over two or three days you can play out a solution that might normally take three months, it’s quite incredible, and I’ve attempted to recreate the experience and process in various formats ever since. However, the problem I found while continuing my career in filmmaking, was that traditional 2D formats couldn’t begin to provide a level of control and immersion found in a lucid state.
But then VR came along and everything seemed to click into place — it provides a direct, immersive experience well beyond the bounds of purely screen-based media. It was also the first technology to achieve that combination of technology and creativity I was searching for, to begin with. Now, I am using a multitude of mixed reality technologies in tangent with one another.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My first experience of using VR was in a meet-up — an artist had created a scene in the game engine Unity. Once you put the headset on, you found yourself sitting inside a flat in a sort of Neo-Tokyo setting with a television set right in front of you. What struck me afterwards was that I now had a memory of being in a place I never truly entered, a fictional, digital world — it was truly powerful.
I wanted to use VR and mixed reality technologies as a tool for the mind, a way of giving people simulated memories and experiences. Whether it’s a memory of a story, a memory for training purposes, the core idea of generating something real without taking someone physically somewhere became my focus as it felt possible to invite someone directly into my imagination.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
There’s a strong basis of industrial innovation in our work at Prox & Reverie — we’re developing a unique production studio concept called a ‘convergence volume’ (that we nickname ‘The Forge’) that opens a permanent bridge between physical and virtual realities by combining cutting edge XR technology and the knowledge of the mind’s powerful ability to ‘fill in the blanks’ and complete an experience.
The goal with The Forge is to have a single studio space designed to allow layered perceptions of outer (physical world) and inner (imagined) realities overlap and intersect to feel like extensions of each other, as a continuous spectrum. This is the creative and technical direction I believe is needed to establish the native format for XR.
Even though it’s early days for The Forge as a studio build, I’ve been working through the ‘convergence volume’ principals for a number of years now and we’re already seeing promising signs of success. As The Forge develops as a new paradigm in immersive creation and experience, we believe it could open up the potential for new combinations of artist function and new intuitive forms of spatial media to express deeper and more complex ideas than currently possible.
How do you think this might change the world?
In one of the first lucid dreams I ever had, I was reading a passage from a book. I fell asleep and went directly into a dream, there was a pinprick of light moving around creating a sort of jumbled pattern. But I had this feeling that I was both witnessing something being made and something I was making myself at the same time. The closest example I’ve ever seen that captures this experience is in the film Inception, where they draw a diagram explaining how you’re both in the dream and the dream’s architect at the same time. It’s a sort of loop effect and it’s what I am trying to recreate using The Forge.
Once we get to that instant loop, you’ll be able to create anything — it will initiate an entirely new form of media.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
When I attend panels, there is often a fear of a dystopian future where people are isolated from everyday life and plugged into a fictional world. But I think that issue is really a debate about the concept of escapism in general, rather than the technology itself. Black Mirror is named to make reference to what it’s reflecting back at you and is centered more around the human condition.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
The lucid dream I mentioned earlier was really the tipping point in my thinking and set me on a thirty-year path, learning about lucid dream mechanics, dream logic and Universal symbols. Over the years I’ve been developing a framework of spatial narrative grammar through trial and error and lots of academic background study. Once VR came around it really felt like my medium and in all my immersive projects but particularly in my recent project AWAKE, I got a chance to test my theories in practice.
Producing AWAKE allowed me to explore some of the mechanics behind lucid dreaming as a phenomenon. For instance, how the viewer moved from scene to scene, how characters appeared and disappeared, how your perspective changes from first to the third person — it feels seamless and natural even though dream logic is difficult to comprehend when conscious. It’s designed to tell you that things are normal and that it’s possible to move from one idea to the next but in ways very different to traditional media.
Since that very first lucid dream, I’ve been led down a path of making films that captured that concept. Film for screen wasn’t doing it, interactive apps on-screen weren’t doing it, but VR made sense — that experience was definitely my tipping point.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
We’ll never be competing with big tech giants that are working hard on headsets, networks and components that will bring about further widespread adoption. So our focus is on aggregating bleeding edge tech and fusing them with familiar ways that the world works.
To this end, we’re focusing on ideas such as bridging and integration. Essentially how to smooth out the journey into an immersive world experience and back and then have it stick as a truly integrated memory.
An area to work on here is how we currently reach out and touch the virtual world and how it meets us in return. Because the foundation of VR technology is gaming, interactions are often based on game controllers and the user interfaces of mobile phones. But I don’t think it’s very intuitive and doesn’t simulate how the physical world works.
What’s needed for the wider public is new types of tactile interactions and micro-infrastructure that replace VR controllers and air pinching with affordances that mirror reality. The aim is to anchor the experience in familiar learned reality while giving the imagination superpowers to express itself and share those ideas directly with others at scale.
This is why we’re developing and enhancing familiar everyday objects such as doors, practical mechanisms and life props that are both familiar and metaphoric which have a bonus psychological impact. A door, for example, is as much a psychological experience in your life as it is a physical one. If a door’s closed because someone is busy, it means ‘don’t enter’; if you’re trying to avert danger, it’s your means of escape. It’s these core elements that appear on repeat in your dream life and real life, it’s a universal language that can be anchored using The Forge. Once we’ve achieved this, we’re able to truly bridge the virtual and real worlds, leading to true widespread adoption. An out-there approach to some perhaps but we’re already witnessing in The Forge how users instantly know how to act around these XR-enhanced systems and how we can control the experience with more nuance and surprise. It’s exciting to explore.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I actually have a very weird story that changed everything. Before VR was an industry, I needed to make a leap of faith and invest in the right computing technology to run VR to test my dream theories. At the time, I was a freelance filmmaker. I was between jobs while living in Sydney and I had AUD$2,200 in a savings account. I had to decide on whether I saved it or invest it into a computer powerful enough to run the original Oculus Rift. I was agonising over this decision, but crunched the numbers and decided that if I could make money from it quick enough it would be worth it.
The very next morning after I ordered this laptop, I woke up to find an email from an anonymous stranger I’d never met, saying that he’d found and watched a personal documentary film I’d made some years ago about going to a consciousness expansion retreat. My film had inspired him to go to the place and during his visit, he’d had an idea that earned him a large amount of money and said he wanted to pass it forward.
The truly strange part was that it was the exact same amount I’d spent on the equipment the day before, which felt like some crazy ‘Universal refund’ letting me know I was on the right track to switch careers. I made the decision right then to fully commit and a week later, another larger cheque arrived and I was able to make the leap and set up my first dedicated VR company!
Since then, I’ve worked as hard to ensure that his gift was worth it and to try and turn it into something meaningful — I’m pleased to say we’ve stayed in contact and I’m still on the path I set out on that day.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
This is more than entertainment to me, this is trying to bring a ‘magic machine’ into reality. To have someone walk in and instantly create what’s inside their imagination — it’s something I’ve been striving for. Do you help a million people with small things or do you try and help individuals spread their creations? I want to help people better understand their perceptions, provide an experience that allows them to question the veil of reality. Personally, I subscribe to the idea that reality might be the best-designed simulation ever, and in my own experience, this is proving to be true.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1 — Business leaders are people first, so relax and don’t think others are ‘above you’ just be yourself and talk to them as a person.
2 — Success goes both ways — both up and down but rarely stays the same. Don’t become complacent or arrogant with success thinking it will last forever but also hang in there if it’s not going your way either. Gratitude with the present is the best footing you can give yourself to handle the swings.
3 — Don’t burn out. Rest is as important as work for processing ideas and solutions.
4 — Start earlier. Don’t wait until the ‘right time’ — I feel as though I am hitting my stride quite late and would have loved to have been where I am now earlier. I’d tell my younger self to buckle down and work out how to leverage where I wanted to get to.
5 — Listen more than you talk. It’s taken a long time to really be present in other’s company but is surprising just how much people communicate when you stay still. It has helped me feel calmer under pressure and more enjoyable to deal in business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be a movement designed to wake people up a little that feel trapped in physical life or heavy personal narrative. That there is much more to life than the physical, to give them a peek behind everyday reality. The overview perspective people get when they’re in space is a great example, it’s a singular moment that brings up a million questions about everything previously assumed. The movement I want is based on providing people with a new perspective without the need to almost die or have to travel into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘The greatest illusion is that mankind has limitations’ — Robert Monroe.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
As technologies converge, we are completing the loop, with ‘The Forge’ a new paradigm of content creation system that transforms the perception of reality for entirely new forms of media, experience and creative expression. We’re commercialising this master plan along the way, but I would love to meet a VC bold enough and with enough vision to help us enhance human potential with The Forge. Once something like this is built, an accessible machine where people can capture and recreate entire inner realities and share them with another person, the applications are quite literally endless.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.