Just over a year ago, we met a new company called Wevr when they brought the HTC Vive to VRLA. VRScout was a fledgling publication at the time and they had just changed their name from Wemo Labs to pursue VR. We have been chronicling their progress ever since. Today, as both the Vive and Rift begin to make their consumer debuts, we thought it would be fun to look back at Wevr’s progress over the past year and take a tour inside the walls of the company today.
Hollywood Meets VR
LA is home to more artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers and musicians than any other city at any time in history. It’s only fitting that one of LA’s first VR startups would be a company like Wevr with a mission to create groundbreaking experiences and enable others to do the same. Their brief history has been filled with a pretty incredible list of creative endeavors.
In 2015, the Wevr studio first became known for theblu: Whale Encounter, a room-scale experience for the HTC Vive. It was one of the demos HTC and Valve brought to GDC ’15 when when they unveiled the Vive. Shortly after, HTC disclosed a $10M investment in Wevr. They followed suit with a couple high-profile mobile VR projects for Adult Swim and CBS as well as an announcement they had created a $1M fund for immersive storytellers called onWevr.
It was at Sundance this year where Wevr planted themselves firmly at the intersection of Hollywood and VR when they introduced a new batch of cinematic experiences. The pieces included Hard World for Small Things, Gone, Reggie Watts’ Waves, Crown by Run the Jewels, and Ben Vance’s Irrational Exuberance: Prologue, which we recently featured at the VRScout Art Show.
Humans and Capital
After Sundance, Wevr announced that they had just closed a $25 Million funding round and would be launching their own technology platform called Transport. The first thing they did was take it on the road for the Kaleidoscope World Tour, where they used the platform to house the festival’s traveling content showcase.
When we spoke with CEO Neville Spiteri about the news, he said Transport had been in the works for a couple years. Completing the investment round took about a year. According to him, the big win was more about the people they were able to bring to the table than the money itself, with participation from HTC, Samsung, and a collection of established investors in technology and content, which he covered in more detail in his announcement on Medium.
The company now consists of the Wevr studio and the Transport platform, much like Valve and Steam. The current team is split roughly 50/50, but the new money will be used primarily for advancing the Transport platform.
That isn’t to say humans won’t still be their biggest cost. Transport is as much about community as it is about technology. In Spiteri’s words, “you don’t get community just by building software.” So in addition to an increased investment in software and engineering, money will continue to be spent on community building and content. The $1 Million fund still exists, but has been rebranded as an onboarding fund for Transport creators.
Making a name for Wevr by creating great VR content has been no small feat. Creating a lasting VR network is far more difficult. If you check out the Transport Beta, which just launched on Steam, you’ll see the platform described as “an independent VR network that curates exceptional content creators and extraordinary simulations.” Living up to that claim and building the Transport community will be Wevr’s biggest challenge yet.
While we don’t yet know what will become of Transport, we do know where it will take shape. Since we’ve known Wevr, they have been working out of the very office you’d expect from a VR startup in Venice Beach. A big, open loft on Rose Avenue with cinderblock walls, communal workspaces stacked high with HMDs, a resident dog, and by my count, more craft coffee brewing options than bathrooms.
But with Wevr’s growth over the last year, that place started to burst at the seams. Every inch of office, garage, closet, kitchen, and hallway space was spoken for.
In the Hopper
With the new funding, it was time to expand. Real estate around Wevr’s office on Rose Avenue had been spoken for by businesses specializing in everything from intention-based vegan cuisine to surf film production and couples stretching. And Google. So they had to expand their search a few blocks South toward Abbott Kinney, once called the coolest block in America.
They found something pretty spectacular. A little parcel once belonging to the late Dennis Hopper. It’s exactly as fantastically weird as you would want it to be. When you enter the compound, the first thing you see is the Hopper yard, pool and putting green. His old weathered bocce balls scattered across the lawn.
To the left is the studio where the actor, filmmaker, and acclaimed photographer produced some of his art. That studio is now set aside as a place for the Wevr audio team to be as noisy as they need to be without bugging everybody in the main building.
As I walked in, I couldn’t help but imagine what kind of weird shit went down in that little warehouse. In his hay day, Hopper was rumored to have been able to put down a half gallon of rum, a case of beer and three grams of cocaine in a single day. Now it’s big, relatively empty, and plumbed for vast amounts of data. The perfect canvas for Wevr to paint their future.
One of their employees said he felt compelled to make a peace offering to Hopper’s ghost before throwing their first party there. His spirit certainly lives on in the building. There are all kinds of interesting touches, like an upstairs room with glass on all six sides, which is surprisingly well suited for room-scale testing, despite all the glass and sunlight.
One of the best features is a big, geometric, glass bathtub in what was the master bedroom, and what will be someone’s future office. It isn’t very comfortable. But I like to believe it’s because it was built to conform perfectly to Hopper’s pointy body for maximum comfort during his ayahuasca baths.
That’s it for the tour. Thanks to Wevr for the for keeping it weird and helping lead the charge for VR in the land of creativity. Wherever they’re going, they’re going in style. May the ghost of Dennis Hopper smile madly upon them.
Rest in peace, Easy Rider.