Vision Summit 2016: first public demo of Pemission VR by Natacha Merritt

Its complicated how it happened but at the first night’s socializing reception I was asked to show some of my sensual Virtual Reality content at Vision Summit. Minor panic gave way to a hunt. Luckily I had packed my Dk2 and Gear VR, then we borrowed another girl's Gear VR and ran to buy more headphones, and into Victoria Secret for our new haptic inputs: silk lingerie. Turns out that Victorias Secret doesn’t have real silk. So the three of us spent a good thirty minutes with our eyes closed touching slips and panties to see how close we could come. This is in Hollywood, so the tall dry and slender blond barely noticed the odd behavior which is what's so wonderful in a land where content creation is king. We chose complex silk and lace underwear for the DK2 experience and a slip for the Gear VR. We headed back upstairs,  and through a thick haze of virtual and augmented reality buzzwords: scene editor, streaming, presence, MVP, frame rate, latency, immersion, empathy, space exploration. The most recurrent word was the classic: "storytelling". This one was the one I heard with the most fervor. I poped into a post mortem about the year in cinematic VR where the speaker listed all the drivers of VR all the while never mentioning porn. I never heard about sensuality or arousal. Porn was mentioned as an afterthought and never on a stage.

So here we are, 3 women (we were barely 5% of the 1400 attended), one tall black french girl with a pink top, one buffed beauty with a silver mohoak and me with a monster truck t-shirt, red lipstick and a bondage bracelet ridding the escalator back up to the conference, in 80 degree heat with a purse full of fake silk lingerie and a suitcase stuffed with equipment. We had a little sign, "Permission VR". Courtney ran up to the room and rolled down our room service table from last night, blue swirl pattern on the wrinkle proof table cloth, grease stains and all. With determination and a racing heart we picked the spot with the most traffic and set up. We kept an air of confidence and batted away any one who dared question our set up. We started to show our erotic demo. Only one man ran away when he hear it was erotic. We showed it to 30+ attendees. One man seemed so blown away after being in the experience where he was masturbating in the body of a woman. He thanked me for the discovery and his eyes were teary. I felt a release in some of them. They were all so happy to discuss arousal and art and frame rates and optimization. All were respectful professional and polite. After awhile I lost my timidity and let the gear VR users float in the hallway with their lingerie in hand. I completely forgot it was Courtney and I in one of the pieces - and no one mentioned it. 

Agency without responsibility: ideal interaction in VR by Natacha Merritt

I’ve been spending months and months living and breathing VR. I’ve developed for DK2, GearVR and Cardboard, from 360 immersive to stereoscopic VR to first person shooters (not the sexy kind). I've also tried nearly a hundred demos. And every now and then something really works, and it's magical and mysterious. Why?

Although 360 immersive videos are nice, interactive content is where all this is going. Everyone who tries VR starts to reach around expecting interactivity. Videos are OK, but we want some sort of control. But what kind of interactivity do we want?

I’ve stumbled upon the answer to this while making love. Let me explain, i'm not about to lay out "best practices of how to make VR porn". I just figured out how to create the best kind of interactivity in VR experiences while I was having sex. This should come as no surprise since the biggest attraction of VR is its intimacy. You feel in ways that screen-bound content can’t touch you. My biggest revelation came during foreplay. The interaction was something like “how’s this?” or maybe it was “how do you want me to touch you” or maybe it was “is this too much…” in all of these moments i didn’t want the choice. I didn’t want the responsibility.The responsibility took me away from the present. It’s not that i wanted to be a completely passive sex doll. No, I wanted some agency, but not responsibility. I wanted to have some choices but ultimately to be part of a dramatic luscious ride. That sense of mystery and adventure was key to my arousal. Making me talk about it killed the magic. It’s the same for VR. UI/UX designers beware:  never do anything to take anyone out of the dream. There is a fine line between a choice and a burden. In this new form of entertainment that is VR - this distinction will become more and more important. Ultimately what will define interactions in storytelling is the dose of control that you give your viewers. The right dose - like a spice- will enhance the magic and the intensity of the flavors, of the moment. The wrong dose of control will make the experience dull.

As a VR content creator I struggle with how to tell stories. I actually am thriving in this struggle because discovery is omnipresent. BDSM has given me a lot of insight into this. The power dynamics between the content creator and viewer in VR are unique. You can create a moment in 360 with options based on movement, but if you lay out an actual choice it breaks the immersion. You arn't actually in a different reality anymore. You want to feel like things change based on what you do, but at the same time you don't want an interface to harass you and steal you out of the virtual, by asking you a direct question. If your logic is triggered the magic dies: presence vanishes. Just like you don’t want someone to ask you in the heat of the moment “does this feel ok”. Choices in VR need to be painted into experiences with a very subtle and deliberate touch.

Cardboard VR pipeline at 75% by Natacha Merritt

Its 3am and my baby work me up with endless needs. Now I cant sleep. obsessing on the latest VR tech pipeline that seems to be in reach at last. Today we tested our cardboard pipeline and it’s nearly ready. Here are the gritty dry specs: 

the custom hardware is held together by screws - huge improvement from rubber-bands and zip ties. It has true Stereo 220 Field of view, 30 frames per second, mounted on a 3D printed rig. the entire thing took an extra day of testing because the rig holds the cameras upside down for this new player. It requires me to run 4 python scripts: to stitch, produce, pack and then upload. It uploads to a server that the Android based app can download from. Apparently erotic content of any legal kind won’t be blocked. It’s hilarious how serious the warning messages are though when you install an apk file on your phone. It basically says you’re risking the damn thing imploding. Anyways, we did fun tape measure tests to determine best practices for optimal immersion and stereo effect as well as exact FOV. 

Anyone with a cardboard -currently selling at 7$ - can view the content!! Yippee. They click a link and download our Permission app and start to view the content. This is super exciting and impressive. A little under a year ago we didn’t know cardboard would be our first target market, but given that all the other headsets aren’t consumer ready, this path makes sense. So now we are daring to start over making content. 5 shoots are unusable on this new pipeline due to different lens calibration. Some may be salvageable down the line, which makes me think i may want to try to flip the streams of this one sexy shoot and run it through processing to see if it magically works. Anyways, we’re amassing a great skill set of best practices and knowledge of what work best in the medium. 

Next, we have to shoot next test with 3 takes, 2 to cut together in final cut and then one to connect when you look behind you. Light should be studio light -stable and even. Need to give some love to binaural sound. Then mess around with some codecs and run all through steps 2  through 4. We decided that 10 more tech rehearsals will get us to a green light to focus on the content: the oil massages, caresses, leg and foot fetish, story telling, and secret baths… so much to look forward to. 

Altruism and mixed reality by Natacha Merritt

NOV, 2015

I spent the day chasing my tail. Trying to figure out where these great experiences that I know exist are. they are nearly all only on PC. So many conversations and assumptions, but where is the art?

I know it’s here but it’s still so hard to see. Yet there is a confluence - a whirlwind of energy around this. So many people reaching out to me because I’ve posted some articles about VR. so much to discuss about it all. Tilt brush, photogrametry, mono, stereo, stereo pairs and arrays and even 3 sided green screens with custom roof to recreate the experience of being in VR in a film. So much information exciting information. I chew on new vocabulary like sticky salty caramels. I try not to get caught up in the magic of the technologies. I’m focused on the larger mystery. I’m trying to find the emotion that I can taste everywhere but just can’t describe yet. 5 skype calls with VR artists from around the world. From Neurologists to sculptors. I even end up in a conversation about building sexual avatar animations with the only other woman on VR Chat. She offers to give me a tour of the cybersex market, she’s been around for while. We have a quick unscheduled exchange via skype. She’s struggling to get her orcas to swim around the bay. Someone called her a cunt, which was amazingly the first time she’s experienced that in VR Chat. I’m not sure how to react. Part of me wants to be a smart ass and say it could be kindof sexy… but I know it’s not. She didn’t ask for it and no safe word applied. She tells me that sex with avatars is so great because the visuals satisfy the men and the women love it because the men are forced to talk. I stay silent. Silent meaningless sex still sounds wonderful

Our new mixed reality world sprawls out in front of me with such force. And then a bunch of my non tech world friends reach out because they just got their first carboard VR headset with the sunday edition of the NYtimes.The problem with the experiences is that even though in theory it’s great to feel empathy for others, but in practice it’s never the right time to sit and watch it…How will we all make emotional space for so many more strong feelings? If this medium creates empathy, will we co-evolve alongside it to have a larger capacity to care for others? And will this in turn lead to greater altruistic action?

recovering from a VR shoot by Natacha Merritt

Karoline is a bitch. She's amazing and wide and shinny and yellow but she has her own set of issues that almost make me miss Rickety. She sits bravely on her butt  spread appart, she’s tied down with screws and zip ties tied to my scuba gear head mask. But she really really worked us over. Everything was set up - the day scheduled down to the minute. The confessional booth was perfectly lit, with just the right amount of red tint. And thats when she started to get pissed. She couldn’t handle the scene in the booth, she couldn’t manage to record through the grate. Every time the erection was perfect, the oil shinning just right and everything starting to roll the camera would cry, beep and stop recording. With the frustrating message: slow. turns out the system couldn’t manage to complex data focal planes and write fast enough to the card. We changed cards, formatted, trying everything to not loose this moment! Dripping with sweat, sizzling hot lights and horny models whose excitement was visibly evolving into annoyance. We took emergency measures, threw the blushing flustered muses down on a futon at the center of the chapel. Time to improvise to save the magic of the moment. The cameras then worked just fine. We made passionate love, played the piano and yes, it was worth the wait. We all held our breath as she came without a beep. 


VR Magic by Natacha Merritt


I had my magical social VR moment yesterday. That kind of pivotal moment that has the strength to shape my motivation and drive in different new ways. It started days before in a Parisian apartment when I was invited to join a VR chat meet up. Confusing talk of needing to create a avatar and a level, and the ominous fact that it involved work in the all powerful Unity. I've been developing 220 stereo cinematic VR experiences but have zero CG experience. So i put it at the top of my to do list and ventured back home to the bay area. I came home to the biggest heat wave of the year, so strapping my thick DK2 to my head was a sweaty proposition. I spent the day fumbling around following instructions and learning about importing assets  and camera angles. I then connected with the Parisian friend in question -creator of Synthesis Universe, and very timidly asked for help. The rest was magical. We spent an hour discussing the importance of the right avatar, and looking for one in the Unity store. At first it was just a technicality to me and then i slowly realized the philosophical importance of the choice. He offered me one of his girls, to be one of his perfectly sculpted creations. Via screen share i watched with wonder as he worked out the mechanics of skirt movement and humanoid skeletons. The moment reminded me of watching documentaries of Picasso painting, the sheer wonder of watching clicks, like a paintbrush, create bone structure, curvature, and ultimately desire. The aesthetic of the character sensual in subtle ways, defying cliches but still pulling on my emotional strings. My sexual receptors responded vividly. Curves mixed with jagged edges creating the most seductive of thighs. And as he was guiding me to upload - or embody my new avatar- my overheating computer made me want it all even more. The VR chat app hijacked my other apps, silencing other conversations and information. I used my phone to Skype desperate pleas for help, while peering out of my sticky HMD. And just as I was starting to want to back out he spoke the most magical kind of words “you can do it”. And a few keystrokes later i looked down I saw that I was her. It was like a painter had clothed me.

A few hours later I attempted to join an event on the VR chat. Once again everything was new. My mac laptop’s fan was yelling at me furiously as I pushed the graphic card to its limits. I remember struggling to enter the group. Doing a few hard resets on the machine, and then suddenly I was somewhere, somewhere with the power of a giant redwood forest.Unforgettable. I could hear voices, spread out in layers of space, and transparent blue humanoids with names above flashing. I said hello in french. It all felt so warm. They jumped up and down and said hello. The french sounded alien to them. Let me help you, come this way, the organizer Gunter feel bad that the gathering was hard for beginners. The empathy oozed out of the digital and straight into my real body. Real and unreal merged and nothing else mattered. I was truly immersed. I was walking and trying to keep up with this new clan. I kept falling down geometric valleys and caverns and new sensations built up around me.

Rickety - first VR creation by Natacha Merritt

San Francisco, 1/ 2015. Creating first person Virtual Reality content with handmade camera: “Rickety”

I have a hard time going to bed without him. I wear him when I masturbate, or when I take a bath. 
So sexy with his exposed parts, barely covered in rubber. His lenses nicely spread apart, thick and just a little bit askew. You hold him and you know that a machine didn’t make him, someone’s hands did, and imperfect analog measurements with rulers. 
I’m charmed by his power over the present. the fact that he may be able to transport me back to now - to the moment I’m using him. He’s as impressive as one of the first cameras must have felt in the hands of some one who had never seen a photograph. 
I’m as inspired as when I shot “digital diaries” (Taschen 2000) using the first digital cameras. It reminds me of when I first downloaded digital images to my first generation iMac. (or macII?) the scripts to bring its content into unity don’t work yet for mac. 
it has taken me most of the day to get Rickety to even record on both left and right microchips. I finally understood that a flashing orange green on the left side and an solid orange on the right side is the only way to know that both streams are actually recording. The time code is a little off but can be  synced in both. With this camera - no this tool, I am master of time. I have all my models wear it, and then I can enter their bodies and be them, or one day enter my own again, and feel these beautiful fleeting moments again.