Future House Studios created a virtual concert for Justin Bieber
What do Justin Bieber and Sonic the Hedgehog have in common?
They’ve both hosted virtual concerts since the start of the pandemic, designed in part by Future House Studios. The Pleasant Grove-based company believes in the longevity of the metaverse—so much so that they’re helping build it.
“We’re all about stretching the imagination,” says Adam Sidwell, founder and head of studio at Future House Studios. “What we’re doing is creating new ways to meet people, to understand ourselves better, and to see more of the world.”
That’s why they jumped on the opportunity to form a production partnership with Wave, the virtual entertainment company behind “Justin Bieber – An Interactive Virtual Experience” hosted in November 2021.
The making of Justin Bieber’s virtual concert
The event kicked off Bieber’s world tour for his new album “Justice” and featured Bieber in avatar form performing multiple songs from the release. After the concert aired live, fans could watch re-broadcasts of the free live show on Wave’s website throughout the month of November.
“Wave is responsible for the entertainment, start to finish,” Sidwell says. “They were one of our very first clients when we originally launched as a company, and the bulk of the work we did in our early days was for and with Wave. We signed on because we’re super excited about putting the physical world into the metaphysical one—to see performers motion-captured live.”
Bieber’s virtual “concert arena” was a big part of what Future House worked on with Wave. “We helped with the concept art, with bringing the environments to life,” Sidwell says. “Our modelers, VFX artists, and animators were all working together side-by-side with Wave’s existing teams to help make the experience feel tangible.”
That was Wave’s goal, too.
“Our partnership with Justin Bieber combined his forward-thinking artistry with Wave’s technology, giving fans a futuristic look into the metaverse,” says Tina Rubin, CMO of Wave. “Justin’s live musical performance merged gaming and real-time motion capture into one immersive, interactive experience.”
Redefining interactive events
This new way to interact with artists and other concertgoers——and how they bring people together—was what Sidwell and his team loved the most about the virtual concert experiences.
“When you go to a traditional concert, you have to get on a plane, book a hotel room, match a bunch of your friends’ schedules to get together,” he says. “And that’s if you can even get tickets —even stadium tours in large arenas can hit capacities. What’s cool about the metaphysical environments that these concerts are hosted in is that you can be with people from across the globe all at the same time, and there’s not some cap at 30,000 people. There can be—and usually are—millions and millions of people in attendance.”
While concertgoers at Bieber’s virtual show couldn’t reach out and touch the person next to them in the crowd, they were granted more interaction with Bieber himself—something that’s really rare at an actual show. “That’s one of the most exciting parts to me,” Sidwell says. “The audience became part of the show instead of passive observers.”
Interaction at a traditional concert is often limited to shouting over the din of the crowds or holding up signs that you hope the artist can see or read aloud. Not so in the metaverse, Sidwell says.
“At these concerts, you don’t just fade away into a crowd,” he says. “Here, you’re able to participate with more visibility. That’s what is so cool to me about all of this. People from around the world are up on stage with Justin Bieber, chatting with him, sending him heart emojis and messages. We can even put posted messages on people’s signs, and then they show up on the stage. So in this world, at these concerts, not only are you actively contributing but you’re known. That’s just not always the case at physical shows.”
It’s also not the case in lots of traditional VR experiences. “Instead of putting you inside a game, putting you into a movie or television show, we’re putting you together with other real people,” Sidwell says. “It’s interdimensional, it’s an experience, and you can take it with your friends or with strangers from across the globe—all from your house.”
Will anyone want to go to anything in person anymore?
All of this isn’t to say that the metaverse will replace live events, Sidwell says. They’ll just be better.
“I think a lot of us had this idea that if we could get every movie on Netflix, then we’d never go to the theater again,” Sidwell says. “And then Covid shut everything down, and suddenly we were yearning to get back into a theater with our popcorn again, right? We crave human interaction; we want to experience things together in the same physical space.”
This craving considered, Future House anticipates a future where live events incorporate some of the additions the metaverse has to offer.
“Virtual entertainment offers us the ability to affect situations,” says Kenton DeSanti, Future House Studios’ business development manager. “At the shows we’ve worked on with Wave, the audience can vote for songs the performer will sing next, the background, and they can even launch virtual pyrotechnics and shoot their username across the screen.
“What we’re imagining in the future isn’t a far stretch from that. With concert-goers able to download an app when you’re at the physical concert, you can press buttons there to have some say in the concert and change outcomes.”
There might even be VIP exclusive potential.
“With the success of the virtual experiences we’ve worked on, it’s totally possible that virtual events like these continue to kick off live tours, like in Justin Bieber’s case,” DeSanti says. “Or as a different kind of package altogether that only some purchases come with. The room for customization is endless.”
And Wave seems to be on the same page. “Our Bieber show is just a taste of the types of experiences that fans can expect to see in the future,” Rubin says. “The metaverse allows for limitless, virtual opportunities for artists looking for new ways to engage with their fans.”
More than enhancing actual events, Sidwell says the virtual worlds they’re working on now might be better at getting people to show up. “Instagram hasn’t replaced live events any more than Netflix has,” he says. “Instead, you see these quick snippets of Instagram stories and posts, and it makes you want more. Those snapshots make you want to be there and experience it in real life. They inspire you to get the ultimate thing—be there in person. That’s something else we think we can do with virtual experiences and entertainment.”
For now, if you can’t be there, DeSanti says the VR space is a pretty solid second-best.
“We did a corporate event in the VR space for MX, another Utah company, earlier in the pandemic,” he says. “It was essentially a party that we hosted in virtual reality—MX sent headsets to their employees. The test trial with the executives is something I’ll always remember. In that space, there were all of these big-name people with very high-powered jobs all in this VR space we’d built. They hadn’t seen each other in almost nine months, and once they got in there, they were all just giggling like little kids. I’d never heard so many people so happy at the same time, just giddy to be around each other again, even if it wasn’t in person.”
The stickiness of virtual entertainment and the metaverse
While Future House isn’t limited to just virtual concert productions (they have experience in film, gaming, VR studios, television series, commercials, and more), the team has found their fastball in virtual entertainment.
Working with Wave, they had a hand in the Weeknd’s virtual concert and John Legend’s performance in the metaverse. And after Bieber’s concert, Future House Studios took on the task of providing character animation for the Sonic the Hedgehog and Steve Aoki concert hosted at the end of 2021.
“We helped on the character animation for Sonic, Tails, Amy, and Knuckles,” Sidwell says. “It’s something that we have a lot of fun doing.”
While it’s fun for Future House, it’s also a big chunk of their bottom line. “We’re a well-rounded company, but we’re still discovering new verticals,” Sidwell says. “We found our strengths through the work our clients provide, and a lot of what’s needed right now is in the virtual concert and entertaining sectors—somewhere between 25 to 30 percent of our business right now is there.”
And they don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon. In fact, Sidwell believes the metaverse—and VR, and everything else that comes with it—will only grow in popularity in the coming years. “There may be setbacks and slow periods,” he says. “But this is one of those technologies where once you’ve tried it, once you’ve really experienced it, you realize it’s the future.”
One of the setbacks this tech has faced is accessibility. But as prices continue to fall, Sidwell says it’s more accessible than ever, in part due to Covid. “The pandemic helped to accelerate the development of this technology,” Sidwell says. “But the tech and world-building is definitely not new, and the pandemic isn’t the only reason it exists. We’ve been working on building the metaverse for years.”
What’s really changed, he says, is that it now has a name. “It was really nice when Facebook gave a name to the work,” he says. “And put money behind it too. Their confidence in it and the number of people they brought with them that understood our passions meant a lot to us. More people getting behind the idea also meant more vertical growth opportunities for companies like ours.”
Sidwell plans to see this growth come from people who have historically been shut out of the VR spaces. “VR was very expensive until this last year, from the headsets to the glasses, all of that wearable and untethered technology,” he says. “Now that it’s easier to use and cheaper to purchase, there’s an open avenue for more and more adopters.”
Sidwell’s talking about new adopters—those who aren’t traditionally into gaming or other original VR uses. People who might be more interested in seeing Justin Bieber in concert, for example.
Diversifying the metaverse
“We’re showing people that there’s more than one way to use the metaverse and the tech associated with it,” Sidwell says. “What we care about the most, what our focus is through all the avenues we’re working in, is bringing people together. That means all kinds of people, interested in all kinds of things, can find a place here.”
The bigger the tent, the better, Sidwell says. VR technology is expanding quickly enough to be a basic part of day-to-day life soon. “We’re on the cusp of mass adoption,” he says. “That day is right around the corner.”
The compatibility of different kinds of entertainment in the metaverse is what Sidwell thinks will help it win over new audiences. “The metaverse is reliant on cross-pollination,” he says. “Now, you can watch a concert with Sonic the Hedgehog and Steve Aoki in one place, and then you can turn around and play the game, you can go to the Justin Bieber concert and buy merch in the same area. We’re overlapping related experiences and bringing everyone in with us.”
At the heart of it all is—well, your heart. Sidwell says his goal—and Future House’s—has always been about increasing connectedness. “No matter if you’re watching an immersive documentary, are at the Weeknd’s concert or at a work party, we want you to feel a sense of closeness to something or someone new,” he says. “The level that VR is at now offers the same emotional rewards as being present in the same room as someone.”
The silliness of it all helps, too.
“In the spaces we’ve helped develop, you get to pick an avatar to represent you,” Sidwell says. “So, you’ll be experiencing whatever form of entertainment from anywhere in the world, and a big bear might wander up to you and start talking before you realize they’re your friend. The number of times we’ve heard ‘No way! You’re a bear now?’ is astonishing, and it’s funny every time.”