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The Magic of Burning Man in VR with Greg Edwards and Athena Demos

station description The podcast for Everything VR & AR!
Everything VR & AR
Duration: 55:23
Tyler and Sophia talk with Greg Edwards and Athena Demos, creators of BRCVR, about all things Burning Man and how virtual reality is the perfect place to experience the wonders of the event.  Connect and participate with BRCVR: Website: Visit the VR/AR Association at www.TheVRAR
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Tyler and Sophia talk with Greg Edwards and Athena Demos, creators of BRCVR, about all things Burning Man and how virtual reality is the perfect place to experience the wonders of the event.  Connect and participate with BRCVR: Website: Visit the VR/AR Association at for more information about how you can get involved with this worldwide organization to help gain exposure and share ideas and best practices with other experts in the industry. Subscribe to the podcast wherever podcasts are found or listen to past interviews at
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and so, Athena, if you could just give us because you have the sort of the richest background in Burning Man. And so we would love to kind of hear from you first, just in terms of kind of give us the backstory of how you got involved initially with Burning Man. Um, and then specifically with this project. Well, my very first year going to the event was 1999. I actually bought a ticket in 97 couldn't go for one reason or another. And the same thing happened in 98 99. I was like, I don't care what is going on. I'm going. And I went and it changed my life forever within the first five minutes of being on player, which is what we call the Black Rock desert. The first five minutes of being on Claudia, I was, um, whisked up literally on top of a Viking ship with a whole bunch of people painted gold who were screaming, raised the man, raised the man, and five minutes later, I'm out at the man. And at that time in 1999 he was on hay bales and had a, uh face down on the ground and like Egyptian slaves, we were on ropes, pulling him up slowly. And they needed a lot of people to do this. And that was my very first burning man. Experience this communal effort of all of us working together to get the man to stand upright. And that was it for me. I was. I was sold I b completely Burning Man 110% in all the way. And I went around helping as many artists as I possibly could that year. Um, I'm amused. That's my purpose in life. And so to inspire creativity fuels my soul when Burning Man is a perfect platform for that. In 2000 and two, I hooked up with five of my friends and we created the L. A Burning Man Decompression Arts and Music Celebration, which is a festival that happens in downtown Los Angeles. And the first year we had about 800 people attend, and by 2012 we edit 1000 people. Um, I produced the event from 2000 and 2 to 2016. Somewhere in there, around 2000 and nine, I became an official regional contact for Burning Man. That's like being an ambassador for Burning Man to Los Angeles. And in 2011 I formed a public benefit corporation and not for profit, called the Los Angeles League of Arts or LA LA for short because we are la la Land And this was a This is an umbrella organization for all the burners in Los Angeles to be able to go to them with their art projects for fiscal sponsorship so they can get grants and funding and help building their art both on play area and off player. And in 2017, I retired from all my leadership roles. I was doing so much that I felt if I retired from those roles that there would be room for new leadership to come up. So I did a one year succession plan where I retired, but I stayed on for a year while they fulfilled everything. All the different jobs that I did, all the different hats that I wore went to different people. So, like I stepped down as a regional contact. But they brought five people in to take my place, and I stepped down as a la la board member. But we added four more board members to the board. And then there were various other roles that went out into the community. So by my stepping down, it created more room for other leaders to step up. And so 2017, I was able to finally step back and I went on a sabbatical all over the world. And then here we here we are back at a virtual, um, burning man. And this is this is where I find myself now. But I feel like I feel like you went on sabbatical to sort of rest up for this new scenario of taking on taking on doing Burning man in virtual. Certainly if I didn't have these past couple of years to just, uh, not do anything burning man. Then I think I'd be in burn out completely and not be able to take on this project. But it's like a perfect storm. And I really didn't know if I was done, like, done done with Burning Man or if I just needed a break, or I knew that the right opportunity would come to me and it would pull me back. Because the last year I went to Burning Man with 2014. I went to the event and I took my mother. And it was her first time. It was her first time being at a rock concert. I mean, it was like her first time. It wasn't the first time seeing anybody naked besides my dad and her two sons and my two brothers. And even then, he never She never saw the naked as adults. So we arrived at Burning Man, and it was the greeter. Uh, it was, uh, greater session for comfort and Joy camp, which is, um, beautiful gay men. And there's a whole bunch of them. So we literally pulled up to the gate and there were all these men naked, and I was like, Okay, Mom, here you go. That's more penises than you've ever seen in your lifetime. Uh, that was her. That was her first burning man experience. And then your And then you take this long sabbatical, and then you come back to Burning Man virtual. Um and and that's really where we kind of pick up where, Greg, where we pick up with your story? Because, you know, Athena did have quite her leadership had quite an impact on you in your journey with Burning Man says So tell us. Take us back to, um, kind of where you started with Burning Man and then leading up to this this new epic journey. Well, so my the beginning My journey I started, uh, came up this idea of back when I worked at CBS. Um, wouldn't it be wonderful if fans of TV shows that they really love could be able to be transported to a world that doesn't exist? Um, it's like fans of the soap operas are very, very invested in the show, and they always want to jump in further and further in the world that they can experience. So that started me on the journey of what about building a virtual world that people can always come into. Um, so I I started learning how to do three D modeling of game development to start building almost idea. And Yeah, the first place that it took off was me. And my best friend pitched this idea to the Coachella Music Festival, and they liked it. It was a cool idea, but there just wasn't a need for it because if anybody wants to go to a festival, they just go There's, you know, this was pre covid, you know? So we said, Well, this is too good of an idea to pass up, so we decided to do it. Rogue and on our own and without their permission. Um, so we snuck camera gear into the festival grounds. Uh uh, through backpacks and stuff. We, uh we rented helicopters and flew over the festival illegally to get the photography and the layout because we couldn't get an auto cad file from them. We needed the layout, and we we need to see it from up top. And we made the project, and we just put it online for free going. Okay, then we're going to get suit, are hired out of this. And 16 hours after we went live, the head of Coachella saw it and saw those articles written about it going. Where the heck did this come from? And they reached out to us. They are you the guys that did this thing that's all over the web, and they're like, Yeah. Do you want us to take it down like No, no, no. We'll get back to you. And that was the month. The exact month that Oculus got paid up got bought up by Facebook. And so they're like, Well, okay, we'll we'll be in touch. We'll get back in about a month later they brought us. I guess Oculus wanted to go. Hey, what could you do with virtuality in the world of festivals, like, Well, these two guys over here just did this amazing thing. So then they brought us in. And that was about the same time that I found myself getting more, uh, into the burning man community. I love the the sense of community. Everybody coming together for art projects, for fun, for support. Uh, really wonderful community. And I started talking to my idea of what I was working with people. And I went You really need to met Athena. And, uh, yeah, so met Athena and and said, Hey, here's a Google cardboard with this thing. I did what would be What do you think would be like if we did this for Burning Man? Her jaw dropped, and she pulled me into a L. A League of Arts meeting about a week later and said this guy is doing the most incredible work I've ever seen of an L A artist in my lifetime or something along those lines. And I got beet red and everybody just turned and took notice. All right, well, I guess the spotlight is on me to pull the pull this off. So that was my first year at Burning Man was 2014. I told everybody was going to make a virtual version of Burning Man. Everybody kind of chuckled it. Okay, that's that's pretty tall order. But then we made it, and we pitched it to the organ about a year later. And it was they were really impressed. They the first time one of the heads put their head in the headset, they went, Oh, my God, I'm back home. And that that blew everybody away. So but there just wasn't a need for it at that moment. You know, if you want to go to burning man bad enough, you can figure out a way. This was so That was five years ago, um, and did what we could. But the project just kind of sat in a hard drive for a couple of years. So, um yeah. So that's that's where that's where Up to date up to about six months ago, right? And so you know, you you and you knew that. I mean, you could see the whole time, just from even just what you'd created for cardboard. You knew that doing doing the festival in this way was going to be meaningful. Maybe not necessarily. Maybe you didn't know how meaningful considering the current circumstance. But you knew that at the time that it was going to be meaningful, even for those who can't go to the festival and who maybe are separated by distance or in some capacity, But so and I just love the fact that, you know, with the same gusto that that, you know, that that had you renting helicopters, you know, you're still creating. You're still creating this regardless, knowing that you know that it's going to be meaningful. And so
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