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A pioneering virtual reality film transporting you into the memories of strangers on the New York City Subway.
A pioneering virtual reality film transporting you into the memories of strangers on the New York City Subway.
A pioneering virtual reality film transporting you into the memories of strangers on the New York City Subway.
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544 backers pledged $45,150 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

Blackout | A virtual glimpse into the lives of strangers project video thumbnail
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Blackout | A virtual glimpse into the lives of strangers

$45,150

544

Thank you for helping to meet our goal!

Blackout is about understanding those that surround us - and one of the biggest barriers is language. While each language is a beautiful reflection of the culture that created it, the ability to bridge between them is essential. In this spirit, we're adding a new stretch goal in the final hours of our campaign: Translate and subtitle Blackout into other languages!

Continue reading about the Blackout campaign below:

Hear the Inner Thoughts of The Strangers That Surround You

A virtual reality commute on the New York City subway is interrupted by a sudden power outage. Gifted with telepathy, you discover the inner worlds of your fellow passengers.

Imagine a World Without Missed Connections

Everyday we brush past crowds of people, many of whom we will never meet. We think to ourselves: What are their stories and how would it change me if I knew what they were thinking? Inspired by this curiosity, we’re creating an interactive film featuring a subway car filled with a diverse group of real-life New Yorkers during a fictional power outage. Blackout transports you into a hyper-real world where you can hear their stories intertwine.

It's Urgent To Go Beyond Understanding, to Empathy

Today more than half of the world's population lives in cities. As the world’s cultures are displaced and newcomers flood urban centers, it is urgent that we not just educate ourselves, but empathize with the lives of strangers that surround us. Through immersive technology and raw documentary stories, Blackout shows how one stranded group of city commuters has more in common than they ever imagined.

A Story That Can Only Be Told Through The Lens of Virtual Reality

To deepen the relationship between you, the viewer, and the strangers on the train, we've chosen virtual reality as our medium. Part video game, part live action documentary - Blackout takes advantage of a new filmmaking technology that we are inventing to immerse you into the story.

Only through your support will we be able to to finish Blackout. In return, you will get exclusive rewards: be the first to see the film, join our beta testing program or even begin making VR films like this yourself!

$60 - Get the collectible Oculus VR App Installer modeled after a subway card
$60 - Get the collectible Oculus VR App Installer modeled after a subway card
$40 - All you need: A Blackout branded 'Google Cardboard' to turn any smartphone into a VR display
$40 - All you need: A Blackout branded 'Google Cardboard' to turn any smartphone into a VR display

 People Are Talking About Blackout

Check out what people are saying about us on Kill Screen, The Atlantic, Fast Company, Future of Storytelling, Road to VRMotionographer & The Observer.

VR Distribution Platform EEVO will provide match funding if we make our goal!

If we reach our $30,000 goal EEVO will kick in an additional $20,000 in funding to enhance the mobile version of Blackout. Read more about this on the NY Observer.

If we fund this project, EEVO will become the exclusive distributor of the Google Cardboard and Gear VR editions of the film. This will guarantee Blackout gets to as many people around the world as possible, in higher quality than any other VR mobile platform can provide to date.

A Documentary Set In a Fictional Environment

Who are these strangers?

The people in Blackout represent a snapshot of a single subway car in New York. Since this is NYC, our group includes an illustrious international cast of underground performers, artists, educators and scientists.

The project began with in-depth interviews with a group of 27 people for our virtual train. Their stories and observations interweave to create a beautiful documentary portrait of a crowd of strangers struggling to find their place in the city.

Sneak peak from a playable demo:

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Our passengers loved speculating about their fellow commuters – making up stories and creating snap judgements. By the end it’s painfully honest, hilariously raw and revealing.

Blackout’s narrator Liam Finn tells his coming of age story as an ambitious young musician growing up in a small town in New Zealand to move to NYC. Liam transports us from the intoxicating thrill of his first show to the ever-present doubts of a mid-career performer. 

Oneika Mays recounts the subtle personality and perspective shifts that have become a fundamental part of her volunteer work teaching yoga to incarcerated women on New York’s Rikers Island. 

British-Yemeni paleoanthropologist Ella Al-Shamahi discusses her recent appointment as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Meanwhile members of her family are living in a conflict zone. Her life gives her plenty of material to entertain the London stand up comedy scene – even if she does occasionally lose the crowd with her science humor. 

Pioneers of the urban hip-hop dance style Litefeet W.A.F.F.L.E Life (We Are Family For Life Entertainment) describe how they make ends meet and keep NYC vibrant. Using the subway as a stage to perform 2-3 min live shows.

And many others…. If we introduced them all, they wouldn’t be strangers anymore!

Moe from W.A.F.F.L.E dances on the train platform.
Moe from W.A.F.F.L.E dances on the train platform.

Wait – What is Virtual Reality, anyway?

So glad you asked! Virtual reality – VR for short – is a technique that uses a pair of head-tracking video goggles allowing the viewer to look around inside a virtual space. VR experiences give viewers the feeling of being there - a sense of presence - that transcends what can be seen on flat screens.

Oculus Rift vieweing lets you discover the story with your movement
Oculus Rift vieweing lets you discover the story with your movement

By moving your gaze and position through our virtual train car, you will be able to selectively listen to the inner thoughts of your fellow passengers. Your gaze will shape the narrative – protagonists will emerge, themes will expand around you as you navigate your way through the interconnected stories. This type of film is only possible through the viewer driven interaction that VR enables.

It seems like science fiction but, it works on the smartphone already in your pocket through just a simple pair of of cardboard goggles (available with Blackout - see the $40 reward tier). There are also very high end virtual reality technologies like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive - we’ll make sure the experience works for both so the most people possible can experience it!

By supporting Blackout you are helping us develop a new accessible tool for virtual reality filmmaking, DepthKit.

Capturing with DepthKit allows us to place real people into the virtual train.
Capturing with DepthKit allows us to place real people into the virtual train.

In order to make this virtual experience possible, we’re using an innovative approach to virtual reality filmmaking we’ve invented here at Specular. It’s called DepthKit - a technology to capture live-action 3D models of real people that can be placed into our subway train. When a virtual reality film is made with DepthKit, it's like a movie colliding with a video game.

New DepthKit rig designed to attach a video camera to a Kinect V2. We used four of them for Blackout. See $290 DepthKit DIY Package Reward.
New DepthKit rig designed to attach a video camera to a Kinect V2. We used four of them for Blackout. See $290 DepthKit DIY Package Reward.

DepthKit is powered with depth sensors like the Microsoft Kinect. Originally brought to market as game controllers, these affordable consumer electronics contain 3D cameras that when combined with cinematic video cameras create a new medium of filmmaking: a 3D volumetric video. Like holograms, they can be seen from any angle and placed into virtual space.

Debug view of processing footage of Chae Costello in DepthKitVR
Debug view of processing footage of Chae Costello in DepthKitVR

DepthKit began as a prototype to imagine a science fiction future of filmmaking where people and virtual space coexist. That fiction became reality faster than we ever could have imagined! Now we are rising to the occasion to combine DepthKit with the latest virtual reality technology.

This Kickstarter is your chance to join us on this journey - a significant portion of the funds will go to improving the quality and usability of DepthKit, getting it one step closer to releasing it to the virtual reality filmmaking community.

This isn't our first time at the VRodeo

Creating VR experiences is challenging, but we are uniquely suited to do it - and we’ve done it before! Specular Technical Director James George co-directed the interactive documentary CLOUDS, which won the category for Transmedia at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. 

While interactive films like CLOUDS and Blackout are Specular’s raison d'etre, we also work professionally creating world class interactive projects both inside and outside of virtual reality. Check out our online portfolio to see more.

See more of our work at specular.cc
See more of our work at specular.cc

Get Exclusive Access Through Kickstarter

$20 - SMARTPHONE DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 
iOS & Android + Cardboard compatible download (no cardboard viewer included.)

Blackout can viewed on an iOS or Android smartphone, in 3D with Google Cardboard, or in 2D with "magic window" mode
Blackout can viewed on an iOS or Android smartphone, in 3D with Google Cardboard, or in 2D with "magic window" mode

$25 - TAG THE TRAIN
Be a graffiti artist without getting busted. Create your own personal tag and we'll slap it into the Blackout subway car.

Make like KATSU and tag the train!
Make like KATSU and tag the train!

$40 BLACKOUT BRANDED GOOGLE CARDBOARD
New to VR? Get started here! Everything you need to see Blackout – a custom full color printed Blackout branded Google Cardboard adaptor that turns your smartphone into a VR viewer!

Blackout branded Google Cardboard
Blackout branded Google Cardboard

$60 - COLLECTABLE "METRO CARD" OCULUS APP INSTALLER
Your ticket to a ride on the Blackout train delivered on a custom laser etched and full color print USB media installer modeled after a subway entrance card.

$85 - THE EXPRESS LINE PACKAGE: ALL ABOARD!
Diehard straphangers at this tier will receive all the physical rewards: Blackout Branded Google Cardboard Smartphone Digital Download with digital download; Collectable USB card in the same package.

$125 - HARDHAT ZONE: BE A BETA TESTER
Grab your flashlight and venture into the dark tunnels with exclusive access to early builds of the Blackout Oculus Rift experience. We'll rely on you for creative feedback and technical debugging as we refine the experience. 

Intrepid Blackout Beta Testers! (Image courtesy MTA's amazing flickr & altered to add text.)
Intrepid Blackout Beta Testers! (Image courtesy MTA's amazing flickr & altered to add text.)

$240 - +| YOUR AD HERE |+ 
Make Dr. Z proud – put your art or advertisement in the genuine ad spaces on our virtual train. Be careful though - local hipsters love to deface underground ads.

$290 - DEPTHKIT VR - *DO IT YOURSELF* Package!
Exclusive access to the next release of DepthKit hardware & software including support for Microsoft Kinect V2, accompanying camera mount, and Unity 3D Plug-In. (video camera and Kinect not included)

DepthKit V2 DIY Package (SLR & Kinect not included)
DepthKit V2 DIY Package (SLR & Kinect not included)

$480 - TICKET TO DEPTHKIT WORKSHOP
A ticket to attend an exclusive one day DepthKit Kinect V2 workshop in the NYC area.

Participants at a past DepthKit workshop at Eyebeam.
Participants at a past DepthKit workshop at Eyebeam.

Check the rewards panel for even more rewards: exclusive meet ups, opportunities to become a stranger on the train and even host a workshop.

It’s not a Kickstarter, it’s a Kick-finish!

We’ve come far with Blackout – but this Kickstarter marks a critical point. Without it, we can’t go further. We need your support to expand the team and cast. Here's what we've done, and what we still have ahead:

Expanding the Cast
With principal photography and initial interviews complete, we're working with our editor Hannah Jayanti to build the story, to discover and refine how they fit together.

Moments on set from the first Blackout shoot at New Inc.
Moments on set from the first Blackout shoot at New Inc.

We used this project as an opportunity to listen carefully to the thoughts of the strangers on our train. It is rare to get the opportunity to sit down, speak your mind and have someone listen carefully. In doing this with our subjects, what emerged were stories of global importance: dealing with conflicts, learning how to coexist with strangers, and the challenges of dealing with the unknown.

As we looked closer at these issue we learned that we need more voices in our train, we need a broader group to participate in this dialogue. We’re turning to you to help us bring more voices into our conversation. We’re asking for your support to do another shoot, allowing us to involve more strangers and a broader diversity of passengers in our train.

DepthKit Reimagined for Virtual Reality

Through the first phase of Blackout we’ve rebuilt DepthKit from the ground up. For those of you familiar with the current version - we can’t wait to show you the DepthKit VR Prototype. It is entirely geared towards multi-camera capture and processing for volumetric playback in realtime VR & AR environments. We’re staying true to the original dream of DepthKit: to enable artists with an accessible way to explore the format of volumetric capture.

DepthKit and Unity 3D Integration
DepthKit and Unity 3D Integration

All of the development of Blackout is being folded into the tool - and we’ll work to refine the quality of the renders improving calibration and data refinement algorithms. But without this Kickstarter, continued work on DepthKit will be slow and we will have to do more installation work to make ends meet.

3D Design

Renders of the interior of the R160 train car from Blackout collaborator Matt Wilson.
Renders of the interior of the R160 train car from Blackout collaborator Matt Wilson.

Along with the talented 3D artist Matt Wilson, we’ve meticulously measured and virtually reconstructed the R160A type train car to scale and we’ve begun adding our passengers to it in the game engine Unity. Right now we have the shape and scale of the train right but in order to really make it feel like you’re there we need to work on the lighting and the surface materials in our virtual train. Your support of Blackout will enable us to make a lush and believable R160A train car complete with the scratched graffiti on the window to the scuffs of thousands of feet on the rubber floor.

Debugging layers of our train in Unity 3D Game Engine
Debugging layers of our train in Unity 3D Game Engine

 Immersive Sound Design

Recording audio in the train with Fritz the Neumann binaural head wearing a headdress made of 3Dio mics.
Recording audio in the train with Fritz the Neumann binaural head wearing a headdress made of 3Dio mics.

We believe that good quality, immersive audio is a vital and often overlooked ingredient for any compelling VR experience. We've recorded multi-naural sound in the train with the brilliant team at Antfood, who are working with us to design a 3D audio playback experience. What it means to you is that if you support this project, as you look around the train you hear all the nuanced sounds that the train makes, the low rumbling of the undercarriage punctuated by the hiss of the vapor door motors of the R160A.

User Testing
We've made a playable scene from Blackout and had a party, er serious user test at our studio to validate the interactivity. We learned a lot from doing it and your support will allow us to take the time necessary to carefully build and test the experience until it really works for all of you.

Our Team

Our Collaborators

Blackout is a labor of love and we’re very lucky to have the generous involvement of some incredibly talented collaborators who are inspired to create meaningful, immersive stories in this format.

Primary Cast
Andrew "Goofy" Saunders, Moe Black & Johno of W.A.F.F.L.E.
Chaelon Costello
Ella Al-Shamahi
Liam Finn
Ess Stargo of Unicorn Smack
Oneika Mays

Credits
Andrew Levine | Documentation + First Assistant Camera
Ansh Patel | PA + Lighting
BJ Allan | Lighting + Camera Assistant 
Eli Mavros | Contributing Kickstarter Editor
Julia Irwin | Lighting + Camera Assistant
Marissa Adele | Makeup
Matt Sutton | Sound Recordist
Mike Tello | Designer
Miles Peyton | Development Intern
Christian Richardt | Research Advising
Alexandra Marvar | Community Relations
Kyle Kukshtel | Kickstarter Support

Your contribution to this Kickstarter means we can realize the dream of Blackout together. Thank you!

Special Thanks to Julia Kaganskiy and Sheiva Rezvani from NEW INC, Nora O'Murchu, Daan van Hasselt, Lisbeth Kauffman and Kristina Budelis at KitSplit and all the rest of our beautiful passengers and extras. 

Risks and challenges

Virtual reality is an emerging medium with limited existing methods for content creation and distribution. We're a small team working in largely uncharted territory and setbacks can be difficult to predict. We believe deeply in a process of research and development driven through trial, error and open exploration - which means Blackout will take time.

Luckily we've got an incredible team of dedicated collaborators with the proven skills and artistic talent to successfully create this experience. We’re looking forward to this journey and excited to invite you along through this Kickstarter.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

FAQ

  • Blackout is best explored in VR, but the smartphone digital download application will also work in 2D as is. This takes advantage of what we like to call "Magic Window" mode, where your phone becomes an interactive window into the virtual world of Blackout. Just by holding the phone in front of you and moving it through space you can explore the interior of the train.

    Last updated:
  • Yes, and no - Our mission with the next release of DepthKit will be to help support it much more actively than we have been able to so far. In order to do this, we will be introducing different levels of licensing and support for advance features. But there will always be a free version of DepthKit! While we are still waiting to release more details on this, we can promise that backers at the DIY Package level will be converted to the appropriate license when it is released.

    Last updated:
  • Nope. This is an independent project describing life in this great city and isn't endorsed or supported by the city in any way.

    Last updated:

Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    BLACKOUT PRODUCTION JOURNAL

    Follow along with exclusive, private production updates through Kickstarter as we work on the next phase Blackout.

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    Pledge $15 or more About $15

    3D ANIMATED LENTICULAR POSTCARD

    Thanks to the optical magic of 85-year-old lenticular printing technology we can offer a physical 3D animated portrait of one of Blackout's strangers in the train on the back of a postcard.

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    Pledge $20 or more About $20

    SMARTPHONE DIGITAL DOWNLOAD

    Downloadable copy of Blackout that works on a smartphone (iOS & Android.) It will be compatible with VR via the Google Cardboard viewer (not included in this tier.) It will also work in 2D "Magic Window" mode by just holding the phone in front of you and looking around.

    + Blackout Production Journal

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    TAG THE TRAIN

    Be a graffiti artist without getting busted. Create your own personal tag we'll slap it into the Blackout subway car. KATSU would be proud!

    + Smartphone Digital Download
    + Blackout Production Journal

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    Pledge $30 or more About $30

    OCULUS RIFT DIGITAL DOWNLOAD

    Oculus Rift compatible digital download - the most immersive way to experience Blackout. Consider upgrading to the $60 tier to get it delivered on a collectible USB and avoid the hefty download.

    Requires an Oculus headset and a Windows PC computer meeting Oculus' minimum system specifications found here: https://www.oculus.com/en-us/blog/powering-the-rift/

    + Smartphone Digital Download
    + Blackout Production Journal

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    Pledge $30 or more About $30

    THE NIHILIST DEMOS on 10" vinyl.

    With only 1000 copies worldwide, Liam Finn's "The Nihilist Demos" features six demo tracks and two previously unreleased songs, “Within an Inch” and “Salt on the Wound”.

    + Oculus Rift Digital Download
    + Smartphone Digital Download
    + Blackout Production Journal

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    Pledge $40 or more About $40

    BLACKOUT BRANDED GOOGLE CARDBOARD

    New to VR? Get started here! Everything you need to see Blackout in VR - a custom full color printed Google Cardboard along with the smartphone digital download.

    + Smartphone Digital Download
    + Blackout Production Journal

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    Pledge $60 or more About $60

    COLLECTIBLE "METRO CARD" OCULUS APP INSTALLER

    Your ticket to the most immersive way to ride the Blackout train - delivered to you on a metallic laser etched and printed USB media installer modeled after the classic MTA Metro Card.

    + Smartphone Digital Download
    + Blackout Production Journal

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    Pledge $85 or more About $85

    THE EXPRESS LINE PACKAGE

    ALL ABOARD! Diehard straphangers at this tier will receive all the physical rewards.

    + Collectable Metro Card Oculus Installer
    + Blackout Branded Google Cardboard
    + Smartphone Digital Download
    + Lenticular Postcard
    + Blackout Production Journal

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    PRIVATE SCREENING PARTY

    See Blackout before everyone else at a private screening party in NYC exclusively for Kickstarter backers organized by Specular.

    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $125 or more About $125

    HARDHAT ZONE: BLACKOUT BETA TESTER

    Go off the rails with exclusive access to early builds. We'll rely on you for creative feedback and technical debugging. If you are in NYC, you'll also be invited to our in person user tests at the Specular studio throughout the development process.

    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $175 or more About $175

    LENTICULAR FINE ART PRINT

    Become the proud owner of a fine art print from Blackout's virtual subway. Watch the WAFFLE Life crew get lite and Liam shred on a high resolution 3D animation print you can put proudly on your living room wall.

    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $175 or more About $175

    REAL LIFE BLACKOUT RENDEVOUS

    We'll turn virtual reality into actual reality. This exclusive group will all agree to meet a predetermined time and place in NYC and enter the subway to experience Blackout on the actual train.

    Reach out and feel the cold metal of the pole meet your palm and we'll meet some real strangers along the way.

    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $240 or more About $240

    YOUR AD HERE

    If the city capitalizes on ad space in the subway, then why can't we? This is your opportunity to put your art or advertisement in the genuine ad spaces on our virtual train. Be careful though - drunk hipsters love to deface underground posters when no one is looking.

    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $290 or more About $290

    DEPTHKIT VR - *DO IT YOURSELF* PACKAGE

    Exclusive access to the next release of DepthKit software and hardware. This includes support for Microsoft Kinect Version 2, accompanying camera mount and a Unity 5 Plug-In for embedding your scans in virtual reality applications. (Video camera and Kinect not included.)

    This is will be the first place to get this yet unreleased software and we'll hook you up at the beginning of next year, well before Blackout is complete so you can get updates along the way.

    NOTE: This pre-release version is capable of single-camera filming only. This reward will convert into a genuine software license when the official DepthKit is released.

    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $425 or more About $425

    THE COLEMAN SPECIAL

    Don't want to be forced to make amazing interactive DepthKit experiences without a lush Gifpop lenticular print on your wall? This one's for you.

    + DepthKit VR DIY Package
    + Lenticular FINE ART PRINT
    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $480 or more About $480

    TICKET TO DEPTHKIT WORKSHOP

    Learn how to shoot DepthKit with us in person! This reward secures you a spot in an exclusive one day DepthKit Kinect V2 workshop in the NYC area.

    + DepthKit VR DIY Package
    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $950 or more About $950

    JOIN THE BLACKOUT CAST

    Become a stranger on our train - we will interview you and take your DepthKit VR portrait on our next shoot in NYC. We'll add you as a stranger on the train so viewers may encounter your story.

    This reward requires you to be present in NYC. We'll give you one month advance notice to make sure our schedules line up.

    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $950 or more About $950

    JOIN THE FILMMAKING CREW

    Want to be a part of Blackout production but prefer to be on the other side of the scanner? Come on set with Specular on our next shoot as a part of the team!

    This tier offers the quickest way to see our our multi-camera workflow in action and cut your teeth as a Volumetric VR Filmmaker.

    + DepthKit VR DIY Package
    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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    Pledge $5,000 or more About $5,000

    HOST A PRIVATE WORKSHOP

    We will conduct a private 1 day DepthKit workshop for you and 9 friends & colleagues at your home, production studio or agency.

    + 5x DepthKit VR DIY Packages
    + Everything in the EXPRESS LINE Package

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Funding period

- (30 days)