Entering a New Reality ...
It takes a pioneer spirit to work on the frontiers of entertainment. The speed of innovation is so fast it can make you dizzy. (Note to self: sit down when playing StarBlood Arena.) But the rewards are many when you’re willing to take the risks. And if you’re someone like Grant Viklund, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Grant’s currently responsible for the design, creation, and marketing of cloud-based tools for games. His main mission is extending the experience of users while increasing monetization for publishers and developers. But it hasn’t always been that way. Before arriving in LA two decades ago, Grant got his early professional start in Boston as an Assistant Production Manager on PBS shows such as Nova, Frontline, and Scientific American Frontiers, flexing his geek muscles on “pretty much science documentary stuff, which to me was totally fascinating and cool.”
Somehow Grant managed to do all this while earning a mass communication degree with a concentration in television and film from Emerson College in Boston. Oh - and a minor in animation. Luckily, doing practical work for the PBS shows allowed him to pay for a good chunk of that formal education. Based on this promising career start, it’s easy to see why he’d eventually move to sunny Southern California.
A gig as an assistant to the Director of Acquisition at Miramax was Grant’s big break into Hollywood. Soon after, he got his first taste of CG graphics at Digital Domain as a Technical Assistant on The Fifth Element, Titanic, and Dante’s Peak. He tells us, “Those were interesting bridge films because that was the transition for going from model work to CG.” Grant says even his tech-focused mind misses working with physical models. He wishes everyone could have a more hands-on experience these days because: “What are you going to see inside of a computer? You don’t get to touch it. You don’t get to see it. You don’t get to see it physically built, which is pretty cool.”
As crucial as those big studio days were to building Grant’s technical acumen, his entrepreneurial chops were strong from the start. He and several partners formed Station X Entertainment, a successful visual effects studio focused mostly on commercial and feature film production. There he served as Digital Coordinator and worked his way up to Visual Effects Supervisor. In those days, a shift away from expensive workstations to consumer PC hardware gave his startup an edge over the competition.
There are also challenges for developers in the new technology: “Editing's a lot harder in a 360-degree experience. It's not like VR's going to suddenly take over film, because in film, the goal's the story.”
Today, Grant is very excited about his newest venture: backCODES' merger into WhiteMoon Dreams. The studio recently developed the previously mentioned head-spinning game StarBlood Arena, a VR-first person 6DOF (Degrees of Freedom) e-sport shooter. Plus, he and his colleagues are cooking up a whole new way to monetize the gaming industry no one else has ever dreamed of yet. “It’ll be big when it comes out, pretty much.” Pretty much? Don’t be so modest, Grant.
But the visual effects industry was changing and Grant saw some of the writing on the wall, as the bulk of visual effects started to become a commodity. And so, he landed a spot as a Senior Technical Director at the legendary Dreamworks, basically switching teams from effects to feature animation on films like the critically acclaimed Flushed Away.
What about a world where everyone wants to do it all on their phones? How will VR translate? There’s a small problem with that Grant says, but we will be there sooner than we think. “There's limits to what you can do because of batteries. Eventually, when those technologies catch up, I think a more lightweight, portable thing like VR and the headsets will start to really pick up on the gaming side. Right now you can get away with doing 360 video on the headsets, because that's relatively low power. But when you start getting into full immersive 3D movement, it's still a couple of years away for that.”
In the end, Grant thinks VR might be really about a shared experience that ultimately sets it apart from the cinema world. “Frankly, sometimes people just want to sit there and watch a movie. They don't want to be interactive. I don't think it's going to ever replace it.” But he says VR opens a new opportunity for different types of experiences. In one of his facilities in Shanghai, he’s used five separate rooms to digitally bring five separate people together. He compares it to playing paintball with your friends in a completely new environment. It’s this kind of cutting edge stuff where the consumer VR experience is going.
How does First Entertainment fit into the plans of a pioneering artist-entrepreneur? Well, it’s been part of his entire 20-year career of creative twists and turns. Grant puts it this way: “They’re much more understanding of issues that come up with the entertainment industry.” He also appreciates that at First Entertainment he’s never felt like a number in someone’s spreadsheet: “You literally feel like you have more of a stake. It's a much more personal experience.”
And being the leader he is, Grant never hesitates to dabble in financial advice by recommending First Entertainment to everyone he knows. “My friends were like, ‘Wow. They made it so much easier for me to get a car loan,’ because they’ve been freelancing, and any other bank wouldn’t do it.” You’re a good friend, Grant. Because even a tech pioneer like you can admit that, for now, a reliable car is more useful than a VR headset when you need to get down the 405.
• Founder & CEO, backCODE
• Partner, Head of WDI Labs (Head of Whitemoon Dreams Inc.), Director of Platform Operations
• First Entertainment Credit Union Member, 20 years
• StarBlood Arena
• Mechwarrior IV: Vengeance
FILM & ANIMATION CREDITS
• The Fifth Element
• Dante’s Peak
• Scooby Doo
• Flushed Away
• Monsters vs. Aliens
• Kung Fu Panda 2