Heather Raikes

Immersive media artist Heather Raikes is the founder and creative director of Neopoetics, a catalyst for innovation in immersive media and kinesthetic experience design. She is also creative director for augmented and virtual reality at 8ninths. For the past two decades, she has pioneered innovation in art and technology, probing, discovering and creating next-generation sensory experiences.

What inspired you to start Neopoetics?

Heather Raikes: I have actually been working with immersive media for a little more than two decades. I have a Ph.D. in digital arts and experimental media with a focus on mixed reality and immersive media composition. I have a deep background in media arts and performance and been creating 3D media experiences in art and performance contexts for many years.

When it became evident in early 2015 that VR was ready to emerge as a mainstream and commercially viable platform, I was just incredibly excited and thought that this is the medium that I have been waiting for and, in many ways, preparing for.  I then joined 8ninths as creative director for virtual and augmented reality and also began the initial process of developing Neopoetics.

At this point, my work with 8ninths is a bit more mature than my work with Neopoetics. Neopoetics is in an early development stage. I would describe it as a dynamic framework that I have been using to experiment with VR as an emerging creative language. In many ways, Neopoetics is inspired by virtual reality. I focus on exploring and discovering experiences and composition techniques that are completely unique to VR and couldn’t be actualized in any other medium. It’s also very much an extension of the creative process and body of art work that I  have developed over the past two decades. In essence, my work is based in kinetic flow; it explores myth, metaphor and embodied poetics. In VR, I am currently developing a series of kinetic immersive experiences that revolve around the body and embodied poetics. It is still in “stealth mode” in terms of specifics but I will be launching the first concept title in the spring of 2017.

Futurismo in Lenticular is a series of 3D lenticular prints created using Maya. (Image courtesy Heather Raikes.)

Can you tell me about some of the challenges you have faced in the virtual reality industry?

Raikes: I am someone who has always been professionally focused on innovation and I tend to perpetually work in spaces that are kind of unchartered territories. Creating experiences in a medium that has few predecessors to follow or model is a type of challenge that I really enjoy and thrive on creatively.

That said, I think VR is still very much coming into cultural awareness — people who have experienced VR know what it is but you really have to experience it to understand it. There is still a dichotomy between communities and groups of people who understand it and can grasp its potential and those who don’t. I think people working in VR have the challenge of constantly being evangelists for VR. We’re still at a stage where we have to educate people about the medium and its potential and simultaneously get the support needed to create work.

I would say that in my experience professionally, particularly through my work at 8ninths, which is more enterprise-focused VR,  I have found VR and AR to be largely male dominated industries. I find that surprising and a bit disappointing in the year 2016.  But, it is one of the reasons why I am a huge supporter and fan of Women in VR. I think it’s a really important community and we need to continue to be really conscious and proactive about creating and encouraging more diversity.

What is your vision for women in the virtual reality industry?

Raikes: I believe that women have so much to offer VR because fundamentally, this medium revolves around holistic experience and holistic awareness and being able to synthesize a number of different sensory modalities simultaneously. As a creator, I think the holy grail is to harness that potential to produce an exquisite experience in which your senses are simultaneously and harmoniously activated.

I think there is something unique about feminine intelligence — and that could be an expression of either a man or woman –that aligns with the fundamental nature of virtual reality, and that can really unleash its potential as a medium. So, I would love to see as many women as possible working and thinking and brainstorming in the space, to be a part of it emerging and coming of age as the next major computing platform and communications medium.

What are you currently working on?

Raikes: I am currently working on new enterprise-focused AR/VR projects for 8ninths and finishing the first concept title for Neopoetics to launch in spring of 2017. In the very near term, I will be heading to New York on 6th December to speak on 360 video panel at the Nikon Innovation Forum at the launch of their KeyMission 360 camera.