INNOVATORS
Grasping a puzzling reality
Signe Ungermand and Maria Herholdt Engermann stand on the forefront of virtual and augmented reality storytelling in Scandinavia. Their company MANND makes reality a little less concrete, but a lot more fun.
By ERIK SEDIN

Over the past couple of thousand years, humanity has come to prove that our perception of reality is highly subjective. Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis shared his view on reality back in 1961 when he stated; ”Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality”. You can argue that the sixty-year-old quote has aged quite well. Fast-paced technological progress in virtual and augmented reality, also called VR and AR, is helping us to merge reality and fiction in astonishing ways.

VR. AR. MR. XR — as if the physical reality wasn’t confusing enough. Many traditional physical experiences of work, travelling, working out, shopping, going to concerts and the cinema will sooner or later be scrapped for digital experiences (if they haven’t been digitalized already). But how would an AR concert differ from a VR concert, and what would an MR vacation look like? Signe Ungermand and Maria Herholdt Engermann tell us all about it, and what the future is holding for their creative work and the visual storytelling industry as a whole.

MHE: VR, virtual reality, is usually experienced with a head mount that covers your eyes completely. You are immersed in another reality, and surrounded by a virtual environment in 360 degrees. AR, augmented reality, is where virtual objects come into our physical world through a screen. Like an iPad, a phone or glasses. An example for AR is Pokemon Go, where the little monsters come into our world through the phone screen.

”They freaked people out, and it takes a lot of time and adjustments for people to get used to new tech”

SU: XR is an umbrella term for immersive media content. Either VR, AR, MR. You name it. It stands for extended reality. Basically what we are doing at MANND. 

MANND is a Cinematic Virtual Reality company that seeks to rethink, develop and challenge the use of immersive media in order to create the next era of content, film and shared experiences. Founders Maria and Signe met at VIA University in Aarhus, studying film and transmedia. Since her childhood, Maria had always been intrigued by being a part of immersed realities. She loved theme parks, where she could surround herself by the stories and characters that she had got to know in books and movies. When she got introduced to virtual reality at VIA, she saw her chance.

MHE: For me, I was always very inspired by transmedia and multimedia. And when the school introduced VR… It just clicked right there! This is the answer, this is a new exciting technology and we can be at the forefront of it all. And it is still so much open land to explore and dive into. 

SU: It was definitely a chance of being a part of a pioneering field. But I have to be honest, as much optimistic as Maria was to VR, as much sceptical I was. I got involuntarily dragged into a VR project with her. But it grew on me! Eventually, we made a VR bachelor project, Maria got me a little drunk and got me to sign some papers for us to go to the Cannes film festival in 2017, and the rest is history!

The bachelor project was an immersive film about being in a coma, and landed Official Selection awards at Cannes, Venice and Luxembourg film festival. Since then, Maria and Signe have been trying to push themselves to create progressive content beyond our imagination. But they can’t push technology as fast as their ambitions. VR and AR technology is developing fast, but getting the technology to be familiar and comprehensive seems to be the biggest challenge. Locating companies in the world that are ready to integrate XR into their respective business models is tough. Conversely, the market is growing as more companies become ready for this implementation, and MANND says they have the capacity to meet this demand. Just look at the latest iPad that has a built-in LiDAR (Light detection and ranging) sensor that enables impressive augmented reality gaming and furnishing. Impressive as it may be, not many iPad users find use of the sensor, let alone know that it exists. 

”We are following the whole technological development from within, and everyone is working on wearables, some kind of goggles or glasses”

MHU: I think we are waiting for the big players to properly invest in this technology. We are following the whole technological development from within, and everyone is working on wearables, some kind of goggles or glasses for example. But Apple, for example, is very secretive about their stuff. But I think they are waiting it out, it has to be more normal to have high tech AR glasses on. I don’t think people are ready for it. 

SU: Look at the Google glasses that came out like five years ago. Who is the most sceptical? The consumers! I think Google unfortunately skipped a lot of steps in order to merge them correctly into the market. They freaked people out, and it takes a lot of time and adjustments for people to get used to new tech. Google glass we’re unfortunately three or four steps too far in that process. 

MANND still see themselves as something of a mix of traditional movie makers and a faceted VR and AR company that helps any businesses with their storytelling. A lot of companies in VR are working in healthcare and enterprise solutions to earn their money, but MANND wants to stay creative and true to their storytelling, which has drawn them to the fashion industry. But other variating collaborations are popping up on the horizon. If you feel like augmenting and virtualizing your inadequate physical reality, MANND is the company to call.

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