"Ship of Theseus" director Anand Gandhi (right) engaged in a thoughtful conversation on "The Power of Awe" with Daqri co-founder Gaia Dempsey (left). Daqri's 4D studio is the first free web-based application for building augmented reality experiences.
Raymond Liu "Ship of Theseus" director Anand Gandhi (right) engaged in a thoughtful conversation on "The Power of Awe" with Daqri co-founder Gaia Dempsey (left). Daqri's 4D studio is the first free web-based application for building augmented reality experiences.

Augmented reality developer Daqri hosted its first annual 4D Expo in Los Angeles last week, where it announced the release of Daqri 4D Studio -- a web-based application that allows content creators to create, manage, deploy and analyze augmented reality campaigns. Similar to QR codes, augmented reality campaigns are designed to combine physical and digital experiences. A physical object is augmented if data has been incorporated into its design. Data is then subsequently revealed through the use of a computer device such as a smartphone, creating an augmented reality experience.

Up until now, Daqri has kept these tools in-house, serving as a consultant to a wide-range of clientele, including but not limited to Lego, Ford, Cadillac and Sony, who are looking to build augmented reality campaigns.

Daqri's 4D Studio is designed to democratize the tools used to create augmented reality experiences so that anyone -- including independent filmmakers -- can enrich the narratives they create over multiple platforms. The application possesses an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop workflow that supports plug-ins from many pre-existing platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo and Unity. While most features are available in the free, individual version, there are certain limitations. At the individual level, users are limited to creating 25 experience targets and they do not have the ability to collaborate in a shared 4D workspace. In order to access these features, users would need to pay for a Pro account, which retails at $500 per month. For an independent filmmaker, however, the individual version would most likely suffice as he or she would still own any additional IP created within the 4D Studio and published through the Daqri application -- a YouTube-like space for sharing and engaging with augmented reality.

Over the course of two days, key Daqri personnel, alongside thought leaders from several different industries including entertainment, participated in a series of demos and discussions that not only interrogated the way that we currently engage with ideas, but also offered alternative methods of engagement that are not far off from becoming standard.

To address how 4D will impact the future of Hollywood, Daqri brought in Luke Ryan (previously of Disruption Entertainment, the production company behind "Pacific Rim" and "Noah"), transmedia producer Zak Kadison of Blacklight and Christopher Bremble of China-based VFX company Base FX. Ryan, Kadison and Bremble were all in agreement that the Hollywood system is broken, citing marketing costs and major shifts in consumers consumption habits, such as binge viewing online, as the major causes of this breakdown. As Ryan puts it quite simply, “Marketing costs too much and doesn’t do enough.” Furthermore, in countries like China, where media consumption is an automatic function, most people, Bremble points out, watch everything on or through their tablets.

When you work in transmedia -- a term Ryan, Kadison and Bremble use interchangeably with augmented reality throughout the course of their discussion, despite the fact that the definitions of both are widely disputed -- Ryan says, "you are spreading out the ways you can experience one singular idea." He goes on to cite Hulu's "East Los High" as an example. Ryan became involved with the project through his relationship with transmedia producers at The Alchemists. Funded by a handful of non-profits and consumer products looking to educate youth in the Latino community about healthy living, the series consists of 24 episodes. The world of "East Los High," however, reaches far beyond just the series. The creators enrich the viewers understanding of the characters via additional short-form videos featuring the characters, such as a sex column, a cooking show and a video diary. "AR," as Ryan points out, "can give you a sense of place."

While "East Los High" is certainly an inspiring example of how an independent filmmaker might go about using transmedia and augmented reality, it was the sole example of original content cited by Ryan, Kadison and Bremble during their discussion. Every other example brought up related back to a project based upon a pre-existing property or brand — a red flag for independent filmmakers working on micro-budgets and are unable to afford to option rights.

Given Ryan, Kadison and Bremble's professional pedigree, however, the emphasis on pre-existing properties doesn't come as a surprise. In fact, as much as they would like to consider themselves disruptors — having exited the studio world out of disillusionment with "the old ways" — they are still very much key players in that world. While it is not incorrect to call them entrepreneurs, it is important to recognize that they are of a particular segment. As opposed to going totally against the grain, they orient themselves towards the future while simultaneously extending a helping hand out to their forgoers. They are, in fact, agents of change.

But when the studios have people like Ryan, Kadison and Bremble guiding them through the evolving landscape, how then, if at all, can the independent filmmaker make use of a tool like augmented reality when he or she does not have the capacity to operate on such a massive scale?

Daqri appears to have attempted to answer this question via a conversation between Daqri co-founder Gaia Dempsey and independent filmmaker Anand Gandhi, whose film, "Ship of Theseus," received much praise upon its premiere at TIFF in 2012. Dempsey’s point of entry for the discussion was "the power of awe," how it is generated through storytelling and how augmented reality might be able to further enrich that experience. Despite the cerebral and abstract quality of his filmmaking, Gandhi was very enthusiastic about the potential of using augmented reality in the near future, for he sees it as the means to "reappropriate a huge amount of ancient wisdom." He conceptualized this opinion by comparing it to the purpose of mythology. Gandhi goes on to point out that man created mythology as a form of "transcendence…to help us deal with death, define systems." Today, however, technology, he says, has provided us with tools that allow us to produce simpler, immediate narratives that "directly translate wisdom that is useable on a day to day basis."

Perhaps then, the potential of augmented reality as a tool for the independent filmmaker is to be used to reveal rather than build. If that is the case, then that opens up the possibility of using it to tell stories across all types of genres, not just science-fiction and fantasy.