TheBlu 10 Years Later- A blueprint for the Metaverse
May 20, 2022
This month, May 2022, Wevr’s iconic experience TheBlu celebrates its 10-year birthday, a wonderful feat of creativity, and a journey that is far from over.
Considered by many to be one of the most iconic immersive experiences to date, it began ten years ago as an artistic merging of technology and the instinctive pull of the ocean. Created by what was then called WemoMedia (and now Wevr), it started as a combination of interactive peer-to-peer screen saver and undersea 3D simulation. Users were able to explore a vivid underwater environment populated by a variety of digital life forms that would swim from screen to screen. As co-creator Neville Spiteri explains, “In the beginning we were really excited about the potential of a global creator platform enabling the creation of a 3D virtual ocean on the web. When people saw what we were doing, they described it as being like social media meets 3D simulation meets creator platform.” Co-creator Scott Yara adds, “We challenged ourselves that a still evolving internet could actually be something really beautiful.” Even in its earliest form, TheBlu hinted at what was to come, allowing 3D artists to upload their personal creations and sell them to one another much like contemporary NFTs.
Shortly after its inception, TheBlu appeared on the screens of Time’s Square while the mobile app allowed digital fish to swim on to visitor’s mobile phone screens. As Lead engineer Scott Reeser says, “It’s humbling to know that we predated the current Metaverse trend by a decade. We built a globally connected, location based, multi-device, maker publishing platform for experiences that promote environmental causes. Getting to see our underwater simulation run on those giant screens and people’s phones was wild.” In 2012 TheBlu won the Best Startup Accelerator award at SXSW and that same year, at the WildAid Gala event, a virtual blue whale from TheBlu was auctioned off with proceeds going towards ocean conservation.
With the release of the groundbreaking Oculus Rift VR headset, Spiteri and Yara, with the addition of tech pioneer Anthony Batt, decided to migrate TheBlu into the newly emerging VR space. As Batt explains, “I am alway trying to catch a glimpse of what the future will be. And when we got our hands on one of the first DK1 headsets, I was convinced audiences would eventually move past flat screens into something immersive and TheBlu was a perfect world for that.” As Wevr’s creative director, Luis Blackaller recalls, “The new headsets looked surprisingly good. When you put the Oculus Rift on, all of a sudden you were in the middle of the ocean.” Samsung commissioned TheBlu for the debut of their Samsung GearVR in Berlin.
Wevr’s ongoing exploration of the medium led to the now iconic “TheBlu: Whale Encounter ” featuring an up-close encounter with a massive blue whale.. Having experienced the transportive power of VR on the original Vive “-1” prototype hardware from Valve, Spiteri partnered with Jake Rowell, who joined Wevr to co-create and direct the piece. Rowell quickly found VR an ideal medium to express his unique artistic vision. As he explains,“From the beginning, we aimed to create a dream-like experience, where you are able to dive deep into the ocean and come face-to-face with these highly sentient and majestic beings. The whale is going to be coming in over your shoulder, then slowly pass by and look directly at you, eye to eye or soul to soul, wait for a moment and then gently swim off.” The whale itself was initially animated by two time Academy award winner Andy Jones who also collaborated on the original version of TheBlu. TheBlu Encounter was the first demo on the Vive HMD with Valve at GDC and with HTC at the 2015 MWC (Mobile World Congress). The experience soon captured the imaginations of millions around the world who were introduced to VR for the first time with this vivid undersea encounter. Partially inspired by a personal experience Spiteri had years earlier in the ocean when he encountered a massive whale and made eye contact, and the creative collaboration with Rowell, TheBlu Whale Encounter remains one of the most iconic and popular VR experiences to date.
The subsequent Blu series – which came to include Whale Encounter, Reef Migration and Luminous Abyss – proved equally popular and was exhibited on site at the storied Natural History Museum of Los Angeles as their introductory virtual reality program, attracting sold-out audiences and an extended run. In 2018, Wevr partnered with location based VR innovators Dreamscape Immersive for a new experience called TheBlu: Deep Rescue, an even more immersive experience directed again by Rowell that allowed multiple participants to engage with one another in a 10-minute interactive deep sea mission to retrieve an endangered baby whale, complete with an exhilarating aqua scooter ride. “We explored human scale multiplayer interactions in VR early on” Rowell explains. In creating this new incarnation, Wevr pioneered principles of avatar representation and behavior that are directly relevant to an increasingly immersive and interactive future. Rowell adds, “As we approach the beginning of what’s being called the metaverse, I’m absolutely convinced that what we’re doing with TheBlu will have a significant place in that future.”
Reflecting back on the very first version of TheBlu in 2012, the species and habitats were created by 3D artists and animators from around the world. Even then, the platform was developed for creatives and an early form of PUGC. It was crucial that creators were paid directly for their works with content licensed through Creative Commons to ensure creator attribution in derivative works. Today, as the virtual creator economy becomes increasingly prevalent, Wevr is developing a next-generation version of a creator platform, called Wevr Virtual Studio – that enables interactive creators to collaborate on a global scale. As Marcel Samek, Wevr CTO, explains, “The WVS platform makes it easier for distributed teams of virtual world engineers and artists to collaborate and iterate and publish/share game-ready assets, or, Metaverse-ready assets.” Wevr is now developing the next iteration of TheBlu on the Wevr Virtual Studio platform. Going forward, creative collaboration by decentralized, distributed teams will be front and center. Shane Robinson, Wevr’s EVP of Business Development, adds, “TheBlu, considering its origin story and evolution across new mediums, has all the makings of an extraordinary Metaverse product, not only for its potential appeal to collector culture, but also because of its power to raise awareness for a genuine social cause like ocean conservation. We are excited for its next incarnation and how we can engage a community of virtual creators on WVS to bring that vision to fruition.”
At Wevr we believe that the Metaverse is a network of persistent interoperable 3D virtual worlds with shared creativity and economy. It is emerging at the intersection of two major developments – the shift to 3D spatial computing, and the shift to decentralized computing. In this context, Spiteri explains, “TheBlu is really our blueprint for the Metaverse. The next phase will bring forward the pillars of the original vision with insights gained from VR/AR, and embrace an open decentralized community of developers and creators, with composable open source and open content.”
While taking this moment to celebrate all we have accomplished in the previous 10 years, we couldn’t be more excited about what the next 10 years will hold. We are both humbled and thrilled to share more about that soon.
The term “virtual” is increasingly used today to describe all things digital versus physical, especially since Covid. We have virtual meetings, virtual events, virtual machines in the cloud, and of course virtual reality. The definition of “studio” is “an artist’s workroom”. The word “studio” is typically used to describe a creative space, as in a music recording studio or a film production studio.
Sharks are way cool. They are incredible creatures, some of the oldest on planet earth. Why do we think it is ok to chop off their fins, and kill them en masse? (The recent U.S banning of shark fin sales is a step in the right direction).