Businesses use Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to design products, to help customers make decisions, to train employees and more. But it won’t be long before VR and AR are a part of everyday life. What will that look like? You can help decide. In today’s episode, Christine Cattano, Global Head of VR at Framestore, shares how VR and AR are creating a new world and how you can help build it.
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The Girls in Tech Podcast is produced by Tote + Pears.
Music By: Adrian Dominic Walther
Featured In This Episode
As a cofounder of Framestore’s VR Studio, now “Framestore Immersive,” Christine Cattano has played an active part in growing this offering into a dedicated Immersive group, which has garnered every major industry award over the years. With a background in experiential and transmedia production, Christine has worked with a variety of entertainment clients and brands — including Game of Thrones, Avengers and The Wizarding World — to bring the never-been-done-before to life. Christine has shared her expertise with various publications, including Contagious, SXSW, Wired, AdAge and Shots, and made Business Insider’s 30 Most Creative People in Advertising.
Adriana Gascoigne (00:00):
I’m Adriana Gascoigne founder of Girls in Tech. This is the Girls in Tech Podcast where we’re discussing the ways tech is always evolving and helping the world evolve too. Listen in, get inspired, and learn how you can use your skills to create the change you want to see in the world. Here’s your host, Zuzy Martin-Aly.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (00:21):
There’s a company that will value you for you. There’s a tech job where your skillset and unique perspectives are appreciated. By inviting you to share the real you, the Girls in Tech Jobs Board helps you find that job so that you can take the next step in your career with confidence. Go to jobs.girlsintech.org today, that’s jobs.girlsintech.org.
Christine Cattano (00:45):
People are already starting to experiment and utilize these technologies in healthcare and finance and education. Everyone is starting to look at these technologies and try to understand how they’re going to fit into their business and their roadmap over the next decade.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (01:02):
When we think about virtual reality and augmented reality, is the first thought that comes to mind gaming? Of course. But these emerging technologies are being used for so much more, from social distancing, to the new way we work, customer service and entertainment. In a post-COVID world, VR and AR are helping us connect way beyond the things and people we love. They also have the power to help us build new worlds, travel to places we yearn for, and learn in new ways that feel like we’re back in the classroom together.
Today, I’m speaking with Christine Cattano, a pioneer in the emerging VR and AR fields, whose passion is innovative storytelling. In 2014, she co-founded Framestore’s VR Studio with the launch of the groundbreaking Game of Thrones immersive experience, Ascend the Wall. Since then, she’s helped grow the department into a full-fledged award-winning studio, focused on creating VR experiences that are highly engaging and truly unforgettable. With so many opportunities in sight, Christine believes there’s not only room for women in this area, but plenty of space for us to thrive and lead in this growing industry. Here’s my conversation with Christine.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (02:15):
Christine, thank you so much for being on the Girls in Tech Podcast today. I am especially excited to speak to you because I’m a storyteller myself, and you are global head of VR at an incredible creative studio, Framestore, who’s won Oscars, Emmy, BAFTA, you name it. I would love to start the conversation by hearing a little bit about your background and just learning, what did you study? Was it a linear or nonlinear path? What led you to where you are today?
Christine Cattano (02:44):
Sure, thanks for having me, it’s really great to be here. In terms of my background, I’ve been in the industry for about 15 years now, and I studied advertising and psychology in school and spent probably the first half of my career working in advertising, working on digital and interactive campaigns, and later transmedia campaigns at an entertainment marketing agency. I started off my career, I worked at an agency called McCann and I was McCann digital employee number three. From there, I went to work on interactive and experiential campaigns, I worked at another agency later called Campfire where I focused on creating transmedia campaigns for brands and entertainment IPs like Game of Thrones.
Christine Cattano (03:31):
And fast-forward to Framestore, I came into Framestore about eight years ago, at what at the time was called Framestore Digital, as employee number two in the New York office within that team. Framestore is a great company and has always really pushed people that have specific creative and strategic ambitions to go after them. It’s kind of grown into a larger umbrella term, which we call Framestore Immersive, which encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, as those platforms have sort of come into play and become more mature, and it also includes rides and themes entertainment. We do a lot of work with theme parks and also digital signage and large-scale installations.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (04:19):
Wow, that’s so exciting. That’s only six years ago. So as global head of VR for Framestore Immersive, what do you specifically do in this role today?
Christine Cattano (04:30):
So it’s a funny old title, and as I said I head the Immersive team at Framestore New York, and really I oversee the projects and teams that are working in centered reality and experiential. In addition to overseeing those projects and expanding our team and capabilities, as I said, we started out as a team of three people and just in our little New York office, and we now have going on 50 people worldwide. In addition to helping to expand our team and our capabilities, I spend a lot of my time really building relationships with our clients and helping them to strategize on how to use these emerging platforms to reach their audiences in new ways.
Christine Cattano (05:12):
So a lot of times clients will come to us and they won’t know exactly what they want to do. They know that these mediums are becoming more and more powerful, and they want to reach their fans and the audiences that are starting to interact with these platforms and they really just want to give their audiences new entry points into the stories that they’re telling. That’s something that I really have a lot of fun doing. My everyday job is just working and strategizing with them to plan out those roadmaps.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (05:45):
How has COVID shift… I feel like it’s probably catapulted your space forward. In your opinion, what has this time done for the industry?
Christine Cattano (05:55):
So I think it’s been quite interesting because people are just using technology a lot more to interact in their everyday lives. So I think some of those barriers are starting to break down in terms of some of the preconceived notions that people had about getting excited about some of these technologies. COVID has really changed that. And I think once we get back to a world where we’re feeling confident about being in public spaces and sharing spaces or equipment with people that have come before you, I think it’s going to be really interesting because the technology will also have matured by that point as well. So you’ll have that push and pull between the state-of-the-art experiences on location and then the experiences that can be delivered at home to the consumer as well. So I see nothing but promise for a lot of different areas of this industry. I just think this year has taken a very interesting turn that, of course, none of us could predict, and it’s probably accelerated certain aspects and certain technologies taking off sooner than they might have if this had never happened.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (07:06):
So with the rise of these technologies, especially now with people being stuck at home, and like you said being more open to trying VR, AR and I now 5G, how are these technologies changing the way we experience the world, and what do you think it’ll look like in five years? I’m afraid to ask you 10 or 20 years, but this is the world you live in, you’re supposed to imagine way into the future and be a visionary to what could be, things that people aren’t thinking about yet. So I want to get into your brain, what does the future look like in your mind?
Christine Cattano (07:44):
Right now, it’s looking at similar complementary technologies that are evolving. These technologies are really transitional technologies; they’re introducing people to new technology and behaviors, but they’re still within the constructs of our existing technology. So, for example, we’re being introduced right now in a big way to augmented reality through our mobile phones. We all use our mobile devices every day, but we’ve gradually been introduced to using augmented reality through Instagram filters and Snapchat filters. I think those are things that started to get people used to the idea of virtual content that interacts with our real world. I think those are things that start to prep people both from a behavioral perspective, but also from a creative perspective, starting to think about as the technology matures, how they’re going to use and consume content created in this way.
Christine Cattano (08:43):
So I think if you look at complementary technologies besides XR, I think you look at 5G and edge computing, you look at the Internet of Things and the idea of everything around you that is constantly talking to each other and the idea of ambient computing, I think you start to see how those things might converge to become really powerful and enable one another to be the next way that we start to interact with our technology and the next generation of computing.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (09:17):
You mentioned some of these things just now, but VR mostly we’ve thought of historically in the gaming world. How’s this technology being used in other scenarios?
Christine Cattano (09:28):
I think it’s definitely gotten pigeonholed as with early adopters and gamers, and I think it makes sense that gamers have picked up these things first. But VR is not new, it’s really been around for ages. A lot of its primary use is before gaming and are still some of its most powerful uses now are in healthcare and education and training across multitudes of industries. A couple of years ago, I saw a physical therapy VR app. It was a gamified application where it was designed by physical therapists. You were able to implement elements of control to it, but you’re able to do your physical therapy exercises in an immersive gaming environment. And that’s just the beginning of the use cases there at home, you can have a therapy session without leaving your house. All of those sorts of things are really interesting. Training using mixed reality, those are all things that are happening in engineering fields and in more enterprise use cases as well as in healthcare situations.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (10:35):
We all love media and entertainment and really fascinated by how VR is being used in this space that is really changing. Can you give us a little detail into behind the scenes of what’s happening in media and entertainment?
Christine Cattano (10:50):
Yeah, for sure. It’s definitely something that our team has used quite a bit as a way to extend the story after you see the film or the TV show or you read a book or consume media in that more traditional linear way. But we’ve also seen VR be used quite fluidly by creators of film and TV shows. We do visual effects for film, TV and commercials. A lot of the people that we work with are using VR to pre-visualize environments and CG environments that they’re building. Using game engines has become a much more common workflow in filmmaking in general. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen some amazing videos that I encourage everyone to check out with how The Mandalorian was made, the Star Wars series. I think you’re starting to see VR and AR really impact the creative process and the filmmaking process in the way that we create this content, but it’s also something that can be used in its own right to really help extend the stories and the narratives in a more powerful way.
Christine Cattano (11:57):
Right now, media and entertainment companies are really starting to talk directly to consumers through app-based ecosystems. We’re not all going through cable providers and stuff. There’s your HBO Max app and your Disney Plus app. I think it’s really interesting to think about how that might evolve over the next five years or so as you start to have mixed-reality devices, like what is the Disney Plus app on your mixed-reality device going to look like? Even if you’re still consuming traditional 2D linear content, are they going to have supplemental content that is in your environment as you’re watching that? Are there characters or avatars that are going to stay with you throughout your day that are going to personalize your UI to be Game of Thrones-themed or whatever it is? I think some of those things are really interesting to think about as you look at the trajectory of these platforms and how media and entertainment companies are coming into our lives on a regular basis.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (13:00):
So there’s not that much information out there for those of us who are new to VR and AR. Any suggestions for where we should go to learn more?
Christine Cattano (13:11):
Yeah, going back to the idea of learning by doing, get over to Best Buy and get a Oculus Quest and try it out. It’s definitely the best way to experiment with some of these things. But also I mentioned before Snapchat and a lot of iOS devices as well are all equipped for AR, and there’s plenty of AR apps out there that are totally free that you can start to play with and understand what the medium is capable of.
Christine Cattano (13:41):
If you’ve tried it out and you are interested in AR and VR and that world of things, there’s great courses online that are starting to introduce the fundamentals of creating VR content. They give you introductions to using game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine and creating 3D content. There’s plenty of great courses out there online, and Udemy I think is a great resource for some of those types of classes as well if you’re interested in learning about it without diving in to do a full major in it or anything. But I’ve seen too a lot of universities are really starting to pick up VR/AR classes and start to use them as well within the context of other coursework, not just in engineering, but across other areas of expertise.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (14:28):
Oh, that’s great advice. I know there’s so much that we can just learn and so much that’s free out there right now. And you gave the best advice, that learn by doing and don’t be afraid. Just get in there, get the context, and then there are plenty of courses that are out there that you can take; don’t be afraid, right?
Christine Cattano (14:45):
Yeah. VR and AR they’re all experiential mediums, and the best way to understand how powerful they can be and how they might be utilized is just to experience it firsthand. And if you’re interested in being a creator, there’s plenty of different ways into that that don’t necessarily involve programming or 3D graphics. But that is definitely a fundamental of how that content is going to be created going forward.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (15:15):
So what’s it like being… Should I call you a lone woman? I’m sure you have other women on your team. What’s it like? Do you actually? You have other women on your team?
Christine Cattano (15:27):
No, there are definitely other women in the field in general. But gaming, visual effects, tech these are all heavily male-dominated fields still. My company, we’re blessed in that we have a lot of women in leadership positions. Our CTO and COO and our managing director of film — they’re all women. You see a lot of women and I see a lot of women historically that are in these industries, they’re often in production management roles, which is fantastic. I want to see more women in lead developer roles and VFX supervisor roles. Those are the areas of the industry where they’re still pretty scarce in terms of female representation. I think that level of technical expertise and creative expertise are things that just need to see more women coming into those positions. And, unfortunately, in the current generation, there’s more of them than there were before, but it’s still not an equal amount. I think we still have a lot of work to do to encourage the next generations of females to get excited about being in the technology field. That’s something that I really hope we can overcome in the next generation of women coming up the ranks.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (16:53):
So, where can we start specifically with roles or skills? What do you think is most needed for someone that wants to get into this beautiful space?
Christine Cattano (17:05):
The first thing to do is really just experience as much of it as possible and build an understanding of what the technology is capable of. I go back to what I said earlier — I only think over time what’s going to become more and more important fundamentals is computer science background and an understanding of computer graphics. Those are the things that are going to make people the most bulletproof in this environment. Even if they don’t ultimately get into a programming or engineering role, over time, that’s only going to be something that’s more and more desired. Those are really wonderful skills that I really encourage more and more women to be looking at, especially as you have girls in high school considering what to study in college. Yeah, there’s a lot of resources out there now that can really help people get the tools and the knowledge that they need to take advantage of this next generation of technology.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (18:04):
That is wonderful advice, definitely inspiring for women of all ages that want to get into this space. Speaking of ages, you have some little ones with you — you’re a mother, a 18-month-old and a 4- year-old.
Christine Cattano (18:19):
Zuzy Martin-Aly (18:20):
So this space, I feel like when you have kids you remember how to play again, and I want to know how it’s influenced your work. Has it brought you back to playing and made you more creative? How has motherhood changed your perspective?
Christine Cattano (18:35):
I think motherhood probably has taught me some more valuable, holistic life lessons. Like for some of us, especially a lot of women that have gotten to a certain level in their career, a lot of us are perfectionists and overachievers. I think motherhood has really taught me that my perfectionist nature probably needs to take a back seat as I prioritize things. We’re having a major health crisis, you realize that the most important thing is your health and the health of your loved ones. Yeah, it just helps you put some of those things into perspective a little bit.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (19:11):
I couldn’t agree with you more, absolutely. On that note, any final thoughts that you’d like to share with the Girls in Tech community after such an inspiring interview?
Christine Cattano (19:24):
It may seem really daunting, and it might seem uncertain, but there’s a lot of really exciting things that are happening across so many different areas of technology that I think are going to over the next decade really change the way that we interact with our devices and also the world. I think a lot of us have the responsibility too of trying to make sure that there’s amazing representation across everybody’s point of view, not just men, not just women. It’s really important to make sure that as we start to look at new technologies, we have that representation in different viewpoints so that the technology can benefit everybody. So I really encourage people from different backgrounds to learn new skills and to be interested in these areas because they’re really going to start to transform every area of our lives over the next decade.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (20:13):
Christine, thank you so much for being on The Girls in Tech Podcast and for inspiring so many women to check out this emerging space that’s been around for a while but that is just really booming right now. So thank you.
Christine Cattano (20:25):
Thank you so much for having me. It’s my pleasure.
Adriana Gascoigne (20:31):
Thank you for listening to today’s episode. The Girl in Tech Podcast is a production of Tote + Pears. For you inspired by what you heard today, head over to girlsintech.org to find more resources for starting and advancing a career in tech, including a job spot and personal and professional development programs designed to help you excel. Be sure to tune in every other Tuesday for new episodes. See you next time.
The Girls in Tech Podcast is produced by Tote + Pears.
Music By: Adrian Dominic Walther