Interview with Stephen Black
Augmented Reality Consultant @ Blacksteps

Stephen is an Augmented Reality Consultant with experience teaching and speaking at major Universities around the world including MIT, PolyU, SASIN and TEDxYouth on the emergence of AR.
Hi Stephen! Could you please introduce your work with Blacksteps and tell us a bit more about what led to your working with the company?
My name is Steve Black and thanks for your question! I went to Rochester Institute of Technology, I have a degree in photography - Bachelor's degree in fine art, illustration, photography. As far as augmented reality, that's a direct extension of my work as a visual artist and as a freelance producer. I've worked for Fuji TV, CNN, Cartoon Network, MTV and Fox. I've worked as a producer, as a writer, but as an artist, I've always been interested in video art and video techno- or visual technology. So Blacksteps is actually me - Stephen Black - and it's so far one-man company. I have plans for a startup, I have all kinds of ideas, I'm working on some books, but Blacksteps is my company and it's me at this point. And it's founda-not a foundation - It's the start of my startup. It's me, it's my writing - so basically, I am Blacksteps. I love making things is what it comes down to. Art - I have exhibited in galleries, I've exhibited in museums, I've worked for network TV, I've done documentaries, I've worked with a documentary of Kenzo, I've been in Singapore Biennale with Michael Lee... I like making things! And A.R. is a frontier full of so much potential. Feel free to check Blacksteps.tv for my A.R. and writing and visual art projects. V.R. too - I've also made a 360 V.R. movie called Beach Road and that is on Veer, which is a 360 web movie site.
What are some of the biggest projects you've consulted on during your time with Blacksteps?
Consultation for augmented reality - there was one very serious attempt with a number of restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions and government agencies in a place called Ipoh, Malaysia. Ipoh, Malaysia, is not as well known as some of the other cities in Malaysia, and they have a lot of attractions there. I attended meetings there, they were also doing a branding- trying to brand the town, so I was involved with that as a writer. And it was about a two week period of time I visited them. They have a mine - Ipoh used to be involved with tin mining, so I visited mines, restaurants, historic part of town and nothing ever came of it. And that's fine. I think in the case of Ipoh, it's still very early in Malaysia for augmented reality to some extent, and the town, the people on the committees, I think was a bit early for them. But we have a great relationship and I hope to come back there to act upon that. But that would have involved target-based augmented reality - pointing out tourist attractions with A.R., possibly digital avatars to act as tour guides. Other than that, I've talked with many, many people. My primary purpose is to work on my own A.R. app, but I'm always meeting people and happy to consult informally. But as far as semi-formal contract discussions, Ipoh, right now is the only example that I have. Lots of things have been talked about, but not - informally I should say.
What are some of the capabilities of today's AR that were but a figment of imagination, say, five years ago?
I wouldn't say figment of imagination - I think there were many, many ideas that are just happening now, that were not imagined, but there were technical limitations. For example, occlusion: occlusion is the ability of an A.R. object or a character, for example, let's say a dog. A dog can walk behind a tree and appear from behind the tree. Now the dog's a 3D model, and that requires a lot of computing power to even make it move, but five years ago, there was no way that that dog could come out from behind of an object, meaning that the dog would have to be in front of the object. The ability to work with real objects and 3D objects is incredible. Another example is lighting: before a model was a model, but now the lighting will actually simulate, or replicate, or look like the light in the room. So for example, shadows: you have shadows, like everything, all of the the 3D model will have shadows, exactly like the other real things in the room. So I'd say shadowing, occlusion - the ability to interact with real physical objects, to walk in and between physical objects - and just computing power in general has added so much potential all across the board, for example, better detail, more realistic characters. So it's an exciting time, but many of things before were not imagination, just there were technical limitations.
What are some of the biggest innovations and trends affecting the world of spatial computing cinematography today?
I think what we need to do to answer that is to look at gaming, and basically whatever's happening gaming, will eventually happen in A.R.. I don't really see that many filmmakers actually doing A.R. filmmaking yet - and I am a filmmaker, and I'm excited about that a lot. I see because of computing power and other issues, I don't see any real storytelling, what we see are like battles. Or Minecraft, I think will be exciting, and because when Minecraft comes out in A.R., I believe that they do have characters. Magic Leap has some games which involve characters, but in terms of actual cinematography - where we're talking about filmmaking terms and scene construction - I don't see that yet. I am interested to see what's gonna happen at AWE, which is an event happening today and tomorrow. Today is today is Wednesday May 29th, and Augmented World Expo is happening today and tomorrow. But in terms of filmmaking, I think this is a whole frontier that really is just waiting to happen. And I have a character called Bubiko Foodtour, and she is our actress who's just waiting to start making movies and experiment with cinematography. But yes, I think the simple answer is just to look at what's happening in game making, in 3D, and that will soon be happening in A.R., it's just a question of time and computing power.
What's next for your work with Blacksteps, as well as your academic career? What will be your main focus for the next year?
Our main focus right now is Bubiko Foodtour - we have an app, a 3D model - we're working with Nova B, an excellent 3D model making company. Bubiko is a character and we've got a very interesting little app, I don't want to talk about it too much. But we need to find a developer who can help us do that and that involves financing - not a lot of financing, but our main issue is getting the Bubiko app out as soon as possible. Second, I'm becoming very involved with the idea of augmented reality and bicycling, and writing a short e-book about bicycle safety and how A.R. can be can be a factor in improving that. Another e-book ideas about A.R. and art, drawing upon my background as an artist. So again: Bubiko Foodtour app, augmented reality and bicycle safety, augmented reality and art e-books, and talking to as many people as possible. I'm doing a live presentation in the next month at a gathering of bicyclists, at something called the Great Ohio Bike Adventure. I'm hoping to line up more speaking engagements because I think, in general, the level of augmented reality among the general public really has to improve and come up before it can start to even mention A.R.. I think Pokemon Go is a huge success, but you don't hear people talking about that in terms of A.R.. So let's try to improve the level of awareness of the word of the letters A.R. and I think that's something that anybody in the industry could be involved with. But yes - presentations, books, and Bubiko Foodtour!