Pushing the boundaries
Ulrico Grech-Cumbo, CEO of DeepVR, a virtual reality production company based in South Africa, tells VR Film Pro about his company, the potential of the VR market and developing systems for underwater VR filming.
VR Film Pro: When was DeepVR established? What made you decide to launch the company?
Grech-Cumbo: DeepVR was launched in early 2015 as a sister company to a brand experience agency. We realized the potential for VR content for brands, and were geared up from an activations point of view, but not a content creation point of view. So we started DeepVR to do just that. We currently have 4 staff and are hiring for more!
VR Film Pro: Is there a lot of buzz around VR in South Africa, and much demand for content?
Grech-Cumbo: There sure is. Our phone has been ringing off the hook since our year started on 1 February. In the last six weeks we’ve won six projects – three of which are happening concurrently!
VR Film Pro: Where do you see the biggest potential for VR content (eg broadcast of sports and events, wildlife filming, lifestyle footage)?
Grech-Cumbo: I’d say more appropriately, where do we not see potential? Broadcast is going to be massive; branded content is already huge; real estate and virtual travel is hotting up nicely; and of course our really big passion is short-form wildlife documentaries. We think the value proposition of telling stories from closer than ever is extremely compelling.
VR Film Pro: What camera technology does DeepVR use? Are you filming your footage in stereoscopic VR? If not, do you plan to do so?
Grech-Cumbo: We actually develop our own systems – mono and stereo. When we started out, there were few camera rigs commercially available when we got our first project. We had three days lead time to the shoot and out of pure necessity had to develop our own. My mechanical engineering background has come in handy as we’ve continued to develop our own systems. We’re just about finished on our underwater prototype and we’ve created drones too.
VR Film Pro: What have been the highlights of your career in VR so far?
Grech-Cumbo: Wow, great question. Our first commission this year took us to the tropic island of Mauritius in February which was incredible. While climbing its highest mountain, we got trapped in a violent rain storm – literally inside the cloud – one of us with a drone in hand and one of us with a large gear bag and tripod. We were pretty terrified and hadn’t summitted yet – but we found a crop of plants to squat in for 30 minutes to see if it subsided. An opening to the heavens emerged, we summitted and got the drone up. It was an awesome feeling.
VR Film Pro: What exciting plans do you have for the rest of the year?
Grech-Cumbo: Well, we were in the Drakensberg mountains, a World Heritage Site, a couple of weeks ago filming waterfalls, and shortly after we were in a Big 5 National Park called Pilanesberg for two days, then directly to another. Next we’re off to the wilds of the Botswana salt pans and world-famous Okavango Delta for a client shoot.