At this year's awards show and conference, thought-leaders and XR creators from around the globe gathered to explore the future of the metaverse.
The metaverse isn’t just a buzzword. The technology, resources, and talent required to build it are materializing, and it’s up to those at the forefront of the XR industry to make it happen. Fittingly, the metaverse was the talking point of the fourth AUREA Award, a crucial gathering place for speakers, creators, and attendees alike to collaborate and find solutions for years to come. Here’s a brief look at this year’s event.
This year’s hybrid event brought together AUREA community members from across the globe, with live transmissions from Europa-Park. The conference kicked off with a welcome address from Europa-Park CEO Michael Mack, who has long been a champion of immersive technologies and entertainment. In it, he praised the growth of the AUREA community since its establishment just five years ago, and reiterated the importance of collaboration among the XR industry’s brightest minds.
There was no doubt among speakers that the metaverse’s potential is real. In her keynote, Amy Jupiter (Creative Producer and Experience Designer at Virgin Galactic) grappled with the very nature of place, showcasing how new technologies in immersive entertainment can be used to build worlds that connect people in profound ways. Similarly, Cathy Hackl (Chief Metaverse Officer at Futures Intelligence Group) highlighted the need for companies to plan for the metaverse now, so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes of the Web 2.0 era.
While the technologies needed to build the metaverse are developing fast, it’s important that companies and institutions continue investing in innovation. During a panel discussion on the first day of the event, several speakers praised the growth of VR as a tool for location-based entertainment (LBE), illustrating the incredible capacity of the tech currently and the potential it has to enable new experiences. Similarly, Sven Bliedung von der Heide (CEO of Volucap, a previous AUREA Award winner) discussed his team’s pioneering volumetric capturing technology as part of his keynote. Their work on The Matrix Resurrections – which has landed them on the Academy Award shortlist for visual effects – is yet another example of the outstanding technological advances being made in immersive entertainment.
But reaching consensus on what to build it – and ensuring it’s inclusive – is a bit of a tougher question. Kathleen Cohen (XR Immersive Strategist at The Collaboratorium) and Christopher Lafayette (Founder of The Black Technology Mentorship Program) both stressed the importance of seeking inspiration from culture and human connection as we chart the course for the future. By doing so, we can build worlds which are open and accessible to all, especially those from marginalized communities. As Avi Bar-Zeev (CTO of RealityPrime) put it: “We have to elevate everybody for this stuff to really work.”
Throughout the conference, attendees had the chance to experience AUREA’s own virtual worlds in Spatial, designed specifically for the event by Gabriele Romagnoli. Whether discussing hot topics, meeting new friends by the pool, or dancing at the official after-party, these worlds demonstrated how digital spaces in the metaverse can foster interaction and connection.
Day two of the fourth AUREA Award was all about honoring excellence in the XR space. In total, nine finalists pitched their projects to the star-studded AUREA jury. This year, members of the AUREA community were tasked with nominating projects from all corners of the industry that inspired them, and they certainly delivered. In total, the jury more than 50 shortlisted projects to consider!
The jury was chaired by Kathleen Cohen, and featured Athena Demos (Co-founder and Producer at Big Rock Creative), Frank Govaere (Team Manager of Virtual Film Production at ICT), and Thomas Wagner (Co-founder and CEO of VR Coaster). After several hours of deliberations, they decided to award four prizes.
Thomas Wagner introduced the winner in the Innovation category: Tilt Five. Their Holographic Gaming System delivers spectacular, up-close gaming experiences, bringing tabletop games to life in ways that have never before been possible. Chief Business Officer Hans ten Cate accepted the award from the jury, who said they were blown away by what the AR experience offered.
In the Interaction category, Ghost – feel it took home top prize. Jury member Frank Govaere revealed the winner, citing the practicality of their Haptic development software, which helps designers integrate new channels of machine-human interaction into their products. Co-founder Laura Bücheler was one of several finalists to pitch on-site at Europa-Park, highlighting Ghost's suite of tools for designing complex patterns and user experiences, as well as the range of applications it enables.
Jury member Athena Demos, a previous AUREA Award winner in her own right, presented the award in the Experience category to Infinity Experiences, a joint venture between PHI Studio and Felix & Paul Studios. The multisensory and interactive VR experience transports visitors aboard the International Space Station, allowing them to immerse themselves in real 3D, 360-degree footage of astronauts in their day-to-day environment. PHI Group CEO Eric Albert, who pitched alongside Executive Producer Julie Tremblay, accepted the award.
Lastly, OVR Technology’s Scent Device claimed the title in the Impact category. The device compliments VR headsets and virtual worlds by precisely emitting scents to offer a realistic sensory experience to users. In presenting the award to CEO Aaron Wisniewski, jury chair Kathleen Cohen noted how impressed the jury was by the project’s potential to offer real-world benefits. The jury was inspired by the creativity exhibited by finalists across the board, which also included ZAUBAR, Aesir Interactive, Backlight, JOURNEE, and VRrOOm.
In addition to recognizing established players, the AUREA Award also highlighted the work of up-and-coming talent as part of the Young Talent Award, a collaboration between MackNeXT and Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Young filmmakers had the opportunity to present their ideas to industry pioneers, with the three finalists each receiving a €3,000 prize. The grand prize was awarded to NEOSHIN, a narrative animation series combining elements of a musical show with social media, live music, and virtual production. As Young Talent Award winners, the project will now be adapted as a co-production with MackNeXT.
It was quite appropriate that the conference begin and end with performances from Ain TheMachine. His interactive live electronic music show seamlessly stitched together clips of speakers, finalists, and attendees from the two-day event, using them as “instruments” to produce something truly energetic and inspiring. Most importantly, it demonstrated how – much like the metaverse – technology and the human experience can complement each other to create entirely new experiences.
This sense of possibility and wonder was a common theme among all those in attendance. In his award ceremony keynote, Dr. Friedbert Pflüger (Chairman of the Internet Economy Foundation and former German MP) spoke of a bright future for immersive entertainment, and cited the collaborative nature of the AUREA Award as a shining example for supporting innovative creators. Jury chair Kathleen Cohen noted that our shared experience of living in the midst of a pandemic had, in many ways, emboldened leaders in XR to discover new ways for people to connect.
The dedication, innovation, and creativity on display at this year’s event wasn’t a coincidence. These traits are necessary to build inclusive, awe-inspiring, paradigm-shifting worlds in the metaverse. So long as that’s the case, the AUREA Award will continue to provide a forum for the industry’s brightest minds to connect, engage, and learn.