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Spotlight: VERSE Orlando immerses you in a holographic fantasy world

VERSE Immersive Orlando is located at Boxi Park at Lake Nona, offering interactive holographic experiences.
Talia Blake
VERSE Immersive Orlando is located at Boxi Park at Lake Nona, offering interactive holographic experiences.

If you’re looking to escape into a virtual world that also motivates and inspires you, then you may want to check out VERSE Immersive Orlando.

They’re unveiling The Unreal GardenDecember 21, an interactive stroll through a holographic fantasy world.

WMFE's Talia Blake caught up with Dovid Grant, founder of VERSE Immersive Orlando, at their location at Lake Nona’s Boxi Park to find out more about their virtual experiences.

He said it makes sense to have an experience like this in Orlando, as the city is a growing tech hub.

Listen to the full story in the player above

Dovid Grant is the founder of VERSE Immersive Orlando
Dovid Grant is the founder of VERSE Immersive Orlando

Talia Blake: Tell me a little bit about verse and how it came to be.

Dovid Grant: Verse was the brainchild of Ray Kallmeyer. He was playing around with some fellow creators in San Francisco pre-Covid/2019. Artists, creatives, these kinds of big names, you might have heard like Android Jones, who was very big in the NFT art space. They decided the way that technology was going to be emerging was not in just two dimensions, but in three holographically. In a 3d world, which we live, let's give experiences that reflect that four dimensionality of space. So they built what is now The Unreal Garden experience and have continued to evolve over the last four years. My role really is an investor. When I saw this displayed in Miami about 18 months ago, was to say, the place you want to do this, if you're gonna start off in Florida is Orlando. Orlando is very much position now as the metacenter, the center of simulation, the center of creativity — the center of where the alignment of simulation of creativity of virtual reality of mixed reality —are all building up. It's super exciting to really be at the forefront of what is really a new media type. It's very rare in human history that you get to be kind of a pioneer in the space of a whole new kind of social experience, and very much this is what we're doing here with us.

Talia Blake: I want to touch on something you just said really quickly which was that you saw this in Miami and you thought if we're going to grow this, Orlando is the place to do this. It's really interesting because if you don't live in Florida, sometimes you might think Orlando, you think of the theme parks, but there is a growing gaming, tech, AI and virtual reality industry here. Can you elaborate on that just a little bit more?

Dovid Grant: Orlando has an emergent scene for, what I would call, the bleeding edge of mixed reality and virtual reality technology. It lends itself to that because obviously it has the parks. It has NASA. It has over half a million students at different universities within a two hour radius. And it has Lockheed. It has defense. It has all of these incredible best in the world, best in class, creative expressions, engineering at the forefront. Historically, people look to Orlando as this kind of disconnected, sprawling city without a central connecting point. The Orlando Economic Development community has been working very hard over the last 18 months to change the perception of the city. They've done a fantastic job, but people haven't quite caught on yet. It's true that one thousand people are moving to Orlando every week, but in terms of realizing that this is about to be over the next year or two a tech hotbed is happening and it's happening for us. It's exciting to see.

Talia Blake: We're sitting here at VERSE at Boxi Park and we're in one of the trailer offices. Tell me about the verse experience. What are people seeing, feeling, and hearing?

Dovid Grant: When people first get on boarded, we give them the safety precautions and the build up that they should expect to see this whole new, immersive world. We use the word immersive to mean they will enter a sense of deep flow, of suspended disbelief, and they will find themselves a little bit timeless in the experience. It's not something like bowling, or go karting ,or something which are very bound in the world of time because that's the whole physical orientation. When you're entering this world, for example The Unreal Garden, it's a transformative space somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and Avatar, where you're able to see impossible worlds which have a kind of a psychedelia effect. In my perspective, the experience is one almost of a quest, of a hero's journey. You're meeting all of these creatures from Rudolfo the Dragon all the way through to bunnies and turtles and whatnot, each with their own unique uplifting messaging. We're very much indexing on well being and serotonin development rather than the more game-ish, zombie 'shoot 'em ups' generating fast dopamine hits. We want people to walk out and say, "Wow, that was both entertaining, immersive and had some poignant messaging that I'm happy to share both of my kids at seven and my grandparents at 77." That immersion and that kind of amazement, is just, I would say, a first step in our vision to do deep and immersive programming in this new media format, which is the holographic 3D world. People go in, their eyes are covered, they see their friends and partners next to them in the real world, because that's the nature of overlaying holograms in mixed reality. You can have a drink, and they can walk along and be mobile. But, they also have in front of them these incredible creatures who are talking and communicating giving them a special message with the points and the push and pull factor of a really well crafted game experience.

Talia Blake: They truly will be feeling like they're in a game because I do see this wide array of glasses behind you. Can you tell me a little bit about these headsets that people wear throughout The Unreal Garden?

Dovid Grant: The experience is primarily lived through the lens. This is what NASA uses when they're trying to train up their pilots on the space station. They are the Microsoft HoloLens 2. They retail for about $3,500. They are a tool which allows us to project holograms, sounds, and music for the experience in front of people's eyes, but simultaneously people are there in full bodily presence embodying as they're walking along and experiencing the lights, sounds, and projections into the ceilings.

Talia Blake: The Unreal Garden will be starting on December 21. You mentioned that there's going to be art with positive messages. Talk to me a little bit more about these positive messages that people will be seeing as they walk through the unreal garden.

Dovid Grant: The first of these impossible creatures you're going to meet is going to be Rudolfo the friendly Dragon. He is the first step in your quest. He's going to give you some uplifting messages about what you might find if you really listen to the wisdom that comes with the animals because each animal has its own creaturelyness, that teaches us a lesson that we can bring into our own kind of human realm. Each one will have koans, which is an idea of the Zen tradition of a phraseology, which teaches both wisdom, provokes thought, and requires a little bit of a deeper understanding than the first superficial perspective that you might assume. That's just one of the experiences. As I say, The Unreal Garden is our flagship holographic theatrical experience, but we have other experiences, some which index on space, such as Star Walk, which is a walk through the solar system and magic school bus through the solar system.

Talia Blake: What do you hope people take away? How are you hoping the VERSE experience impacts people here in Central Florida?

Dovid Grant: That's really at the heart of most everything we do, trying to make sure that people that come, a long way very often all the way from Jacksonville or Tampa down to here, have an experience which is unique. We want people to walk away with a sense of both immersiveness, which is a kind of a phrase to mean that they entered flow, well being, and amazement. And also in the know, like, 'oh, wow, I didn't know that technology was there right now." Most people that try out say wow, even though these glasses now have been around since before COVID. Most people that come here have used this for the first time like 'wow, that's the way the world is going. That's the way that entertainments going.' It's not going to be a 2D screen, or even your IMAX, it's going to be a fully immersive sight, sound projection and eventually scent, touch, and all the other essential inputs. I would like people just to understand that this isn't your grandmother or even your mother's kind of theater. This is a prototype for what I think a social, ambulatory, meaning people are going to be able to really experience it with motion and movement, and immersive experience will be like through the decade and beyond. Just to say, 'Wow, this is cool, this is cutting edge, but it's also thoughtful. This isn't just empty dopamine for quick hit.' This is hinting at what's going to be curated some of the cutting edge of wellbeing. I keep coming to this word immersive but what it means to me is that people are going to leave it happier, more attuned to themselves then they went into it. Rather than escaping into the dystopia of the metaverse, they will have had a much more positive, uplifting and inspiring experience of the potential for a 3D world which doesn't digitally castrate people so much as amazes and surprise and cause them to kind of play in the creative space that we have. We would love people to take the opportunity before we close down. We're envisioning closing in January, before we pick back up again in Q1 in an as yet unsigned location but we're pretty excited for. So, please if you if some downtime over the holidays, reach out we'll do what we can to accommodate. If you miss us in the next 2-3 weeks, then we hope that you will keep your eyes peeled and you will take the opportunity to experience this technology as we continue to develop the options, the different movies so to speak the theater experiences, and build out Orlando as the metacenter, as the center of innovation and bleeding edge technology for mixed reality.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she was an intern for WMFE’s public affairs show, Intersection. In her spare time, Talia is an avid foodie and enjoys working out.
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