October 11, 2023 XR Creators

Please give us an overview of your background, what inspired you to get into immersive tech, and your journey into the VR industry.

I originally studied graphic design at the prestigious University of Buenos Aires program, which gave me a strong foundation in visual communication and design principles. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my pathway into the world of virtual reality truly began when I started working on website design projects after finishing university.

Creating websites required me to deeply consider the user experience – how people would interact with and navigate the site. I had to focus intensely on details like mouse hovering, clicking, inputs, and how to guide the user journey. While websites tapped into my graphic design skills, I was drawn to crafting these user interactions. It awakened something in me that I wasn’t consciously seeking out at the time.

My early website design work opened up an unexpected new pathway into the world of animation and 3D graphics. I soon transitioned into working for various creative studios in Buenos Aires which allowed me to cultivate my natural fascination with computer imagery. I found great joy in crafting 3D environments, assets, and motion graphics, though I did not focus on complex character animation. My projects for television channels required mastering CGI and motion graphic animation to bring visual concepts to life. For instance, I had the opportunity to produce broadcast packaging and branding for Turner Broadcasting’s channels, which enabled me to hone my talents for vibrant 3D work. This early foundation prepared me well for what was to come later in my fascination with virtual worlds.

While I had strayed from my initial interactivity instincts, the seeds had been planted during my website work. Several years ago, my business partner and I realized we had to pivot our studio’s offerings to remain competitive in a crowded market. After some unsuccessful experimenting, we decided to craft an early virtual reality prototype to expand our capabilities.

This first independent project was a non-interactive, stereoscopic 360-degree film called The Last Dream that users could visually immerse themselves in. It was extremely basic technically but awoke my passion for VR’s unique immersive strengths. Most importantly, this speculative demo reel piece ended up grabbing the attention of an agency in Canada that hired us to work on an interactive VR project called Homestay.

Homestay for the National Film Board of Canada became my baptism by fire into real VR development. The agency required us to use Unity, which my team had almost no experience with. The technical hurdles of bringing our artistic assets into a game engine felt immense. I’ll never forget the pains of trying to replicate our carefully crafted 3D work inside the interactive Unity environment. We desperately tried to mimic the original look and feel, but the translation was awful in those early phases.

What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while on any project?

Without a doubt, that initial struggle to adapt our workflow on Homestay was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career. In many ways, it was like learning 3D animation all over again. Interactive VR adds many layers of complexity versus linear filmmaking. Suddenly we had to think about scene optimization, draw distances, frame rates, user testing, accessibility prompts…the list felt endless

The core problem was getting assets from traditional 3D software like Cinema 4D to work properly once imported into Unity. We’d model these intricate graphics and environments, but they would look atrocious once brought into the game engine. It was demoralizing to see our hard work distorted and broken. We had to problem-solve issues like textures not appearing correctly, wonky lighting, objects colliding unexpectedly, and simple animations tanking the framerate.

The only way we powered through was by maintaining constant communication with the agency’s development team. They provided invaluable direction and code solutions that slowly got us closer to mimicking the original quality. We probably sent hundreds of build versions back and forth for testing and tweaking. No matter how frustrated I got, I forced myself to embrace it as a necessary learning process. The end reward was developing core competencies for tackling interactive projects moving forward.

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

Studio Soup is currently working hard to develop an educational VR experience called Astro Park that allows users to engage with astronomy principles through entertaining mini-games. Users navigate this virtual galaxy-themed park full of interactive attractions that secretly teach core astronomic concepts. For example, one mini-game called Newton has you alter simulated gravity levels to launch different-sized asteroids into orbit around planetary targets. This creatively reinforces the impact of gravitational forces.

We’ve been iterating on Astro Park for over two years now after initially conceiving it during quarantine. I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy, so I imagined how exciting it could be to combine learning about the cosmos with the interactivity and sense of presence only VR can provide. Early prototypes showed promise, so we recently rebuilt the entire project from the ground up to truly do the concept justice.

Bringing educational content to life requires even more careful user experience considerations than typical entertainment-focused VR. Our goal is to design interactions and challenges that feel magical and engaging but secretly impart knowledge along the way. When you make learning fun and interactive, the educational content sticks. We’ve playtested Astro Park extensively with friends and family of all ages, and it’s extremely fulfilling to see how absorbed they become while mastering principles they previously struggled with.

I sincerely believe VR has immense power to make education more experiential, immersive, and enjoyable. Astro Park represents the first step on a journey I’m committed to keep exploring. Whenever you can successfully blend learning with moments of wonder, you unlock something special. That sense of curiosity and discovery is at the heart of what excites me about VR’s potential.

What’s your vision for the future of VR? 

Based on the rapid hardware advancements I’ve witnessed first-hand, I believe mixed reality will be a dominant transitional stage as the technology evolves further. Major players like Apple and Meta are investing heavily in this hybrid approach that overlays virtual elements into your actual surroundings. I think for many consumers, blended reality will feel like a safer first step compared to being fully immersed in a synthetic world.

The ability to anchor digital objects and information into your real-time environment has incredible utility across sectors. But adding that spatial awareness and freedom of movement takes it to another level compared to current AR apps on phones or tablets. I can already envision some amazing possibilities for merging physical and virtual art installations as the tech advances.

But ultimately, I see mixed reality as a stepping stone on the road back to full VR immersion. Once headset comfort, graphical fidelity, and motion tracking improve even further, people will embrace total immersion again. I predict that within 10 years, headsets will look and feel like ordinary glasses or contacts. At that point, innovators like myself can finally explore the highest potential of simulated environments and experiences.

When technological constraints disappear, our only limit will be creativity. I firmly believe VR still holds secrets yet to be uncovered that will transform how we interact with computers and information. We’ve only scratched the surface.

What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

VR is still in an early stage right now, it’s coming fast for sure and everyone knows now that it is a format that is here to stay. There is still a lot to work on to establish standards across the industry. For example, on the input side – are we going to settle on using touch controllers, or will we eventually just use our hands? We need clear universal rules in VR or else user frustration creeps in. Right now there are like 4 different ways to walk or teleport in VR games and apps.

On the business side, we need to figure out how to better monetize VR creations. The market is fragmented across Meta, Steam, Pico, and more. I’d love to see a new unified platform emerge that brings together all the players, because that’s how you attract more consumers and call the attention of big brands with budgets to fund projects. More users plus more brand investment equals bigger productions and a healthier ecosystem overall.

But overall I’m quite optimistic about where VR is heading. We have to enjoy the ride and grow alongside this amazing immersive and interactive format. VR reminds me every day why I got excited about interactivity and 3D graphics in the first place. Sure there are complex challenges still ahead, but if we collaborate and set standards that put users first, the future is tremendously bright for VR. I can’t wait to see how the industry evolves in the coming years!

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

With the proliferation of cameras and sensors required for VR and AR, very real privacy questions have emerged that deserve thoughtful debate. As an early adopter, I’ve been willing to overlook potential downsides because the technology genuinely inspires and empowers me creatively.
However, I realize many consumers feel less comfortable with the idea of headsets mapping their behaviors, physical spaces, facial expressions, etc. The unknowns around how all that data could be exploited make people hesitant. I do agree companies have an ethical duty to be fully transparent about how they handle and secure user data. Trust is paramount.

At the same time, I would argue privacy concerns around headsets are not altogether new. Smartphones already contain many sensors and cameras that can be invasive if misused. Every technology carries potential benefits and risks. I hope that prudent privacy policies could allow us to enjoy VR’s creative positives while mitigating the negatives.

I don’t consider myself an alarmist on these issues, but I also acknowledge more public debate is needed. I’m willing to sacrifice some privacy in return for the tools VR provides my craft. But consumers deserve to make that choice for themselves based on transparent information from manufacturers. Trust and good corporate stewardship will ultimately determine if VR achieves mainstream success. I think some solutions responsibly address privacy while also unleashing VR’s potential.

What advice do you have for people (entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and students) looking to enter the XR industry? And how can they best position themselves for success?

My first piece of advice is simply to plunge into creating as soon as you can. Don’t get trapped in analysis paralysis. There are plenty of accessible VR/AR creative tools out there for beginners like Spark AR, Lens Studio, or 8th Wall. Experimenting with these will expose you to many core challenges that carry over to advanced projects. The only way to build familiarity is through active creation attempts.

On the technical side, I’d advise focusing your learning on Unity as the primary interactive 3D development platform. Mastering how to import assets, customize materials, code behaviors, and optimize scenes will equip you with the core skills needed for XR content creation. Of course, this requires diligence and patience to learn. Be willing to make lots of small test projects to acquaint yourself with the workflow rather than attempting some towering first endeavor.

However, I always emphasize that technical prowess should complement, not override, creative vision and storytelling. Wonderful user experiences transform technological potential into something meaningful. Treat your initial VR experiments as opportunities to explore what types of narratives and interactions truly speak to you. Let your creative instincts guide the path as you refine your technical skills.

Lastly, summon the courage to fail often and see each failure as a valuable lesson rather than a defeat. VR development is a constant balancing act of trial and error. Embrace the journey of incremental problem-solving. Perfection comes from accumulating many imperfect attempts. Stay resolute through setbacks and trust the process of iterative growth through experience. If you persist through failure positively, you will ultimately achieve success.

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

I didn’t have any specific mentors per se, but I learned invaluable lessons from coworkers and peers over the years. The collaborative studio environments exposed me to many talented individuals with diverse skill sets. It was often through side-by-side collaboration, seeing how others approached challenges, that taught me the most.

For example, during the demanding Homestay project, I learned so much from the developers at the agency we partnered with. Their guidance and code solutions were critical to overcoming the hurdles of bringing our artistic vision into an interactive Unity environment. I’m thankful that the agency put its trust in us and forced us to push our technical competencies further.

I’ve also learned a great deal from the many remarkable artists I’ve had the privilege to work with on VR projects. Seeing how they envision ideas and translate them responsibly into virtual experiences has shaped my perspective. Collaborations with innovative artists like Leandro Erlich have enabled me to find new intersections between technology and creativity for example the Swimming Pool. Rather than formal mentors, I’ve been fortunate to learn from so many gifted peers over an exciting career. Their diverse talents and commitment to innovation by doing have profoundly impacted my outlook and abilities.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I genuinely believe virtual reality holds secrets yet to be uncovered that will positively transform society and human creativity. Even after a decade of working professionally in VR, new possibilities and applications still inspire me daily.

I advise the next generation of VR innovators and developers to push the boundaries relentlessly. Never settle for replicating what already exists in other mediums. Strive to unlock VR’s true participatory power that transcends passive observation. When you have a presence within a virtual environment, you gain the ability to explore difficult concepts in profoundly deeper ways. Find ways to harness that hidden power to drive human imagination and progress.

At its core, I view VR as a tool to expand what it means to be human. Our senses and realities are not fixed—VR grants us the ability to temporarily transcend physical and mental constraints in service of creativity. Even in its primitive form today, VR development has tremendously pushed my imagination and skills. I hope in some small way my life’s work contributes to fulfilling VR’s vast untapped potential. We stand on the cusp of a creative revolution. The future remains unwritten—let’s build it together.

What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?

Sagan’s Cosmos dazzled me with poetic overviews of the universe’s grandeur.

More than any quote, his outlook resonated with me. He embodied tireless curiosity and reverence for nature’s wonders. Sagan saw each day as a chance to understand our vast cosmos. This eternal student mindset still motivates me.

Sagan elucidated complex concepts through vivid metaphors. He conveyed the magnificent scale from galaxies to cells. I aim to capture that sense of wonder in my latest project, Astro Park.

VR can transport us beyond boundaries, revealing deeper truths. Sagan awoke this potential in me. We have only scratched the surface of what immersive worlds could enable.


Find Juan on LinkedInTwitter, Instagram and learn more about his Website


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Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

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