Exploring the Details with Virtual Wonders

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The first time I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, it was a jaw-dropping moment. The solemn placement of the tomb’s edicule within the church’s vast, subterranean rotunda; the warm, inviting glow of the candlelit lanterns; the way you have to stoop to get through the tiny door into the tomb itself; the intuited sublimeness of the original limestone burial bed, laden with the hopes of centuries of believers. It was an incredibly moving experience and one that only ended when I removed the VR headset I was wearing, snapping me back to the Thinkwell studio in Los Angeles. Our partners at Virtual Wonders were giving us a tour of some of their magnificent datasets, environments scanned to the most infinitesimal degree using the latest technology and their own in-house proprietary wizardry (ok, they’re workflows, but still, it feels magical). 


Several Thinkwellians chatted with Joe Zenas, Thinkwell’s CEO, and Mark Bauman, the CEO of Virtual Wonders and friend of Thinkwell’s since his days as Chairman of the Cross-platform Committee at National Geographic, to get to know more about the company, our partnership with them, and how we could each leverage their expertise in our work. As it says in their mission statement, Virtual Wonders is a multi-platform media company that seeks to democratize exploration by syndicating immersive cross-platform experiences from the most iconic cultural sites and wildlife landscapes on the planet, creating a high-end boutique library of “must have” 3D spatial data for VR, AR, mobile platforms, console games, film, 3D printing, education and science. But what sets Virtual Wonders apart from the rest of that multimedia pack is a one-two punch of extraordinary access and their proprietary hardware and systems.

When it comes to their success, Mark’s stance is clear: their greatest asset is their people. Because of their seasoned professionals, industry veterans, technologists, inventors, and award-winning adventurers, and their combined years of successful expeditions completed with demonstrated concern for the world’s most fragile and sacred sites, they are entrusted by government, cultural, and religious leaders with extraordinary access to places that most people would otherwise never have seen. No other company in the world can go where Virtual Wonders can. 

Then there’s Virtual Wonders’ cutting edge proprietary technology and software, which means they can capture rare sites down to the tiniest details – say the individual hairs trapped in the grout of an ancient temple or the minute brushstrokes embedded in the paint of a wall fresco. In technical speak, they are capturing fully photorealistic point clouds in .25 millimeter detail exceeding 30 billion points or 60 billion triangles (For reference, typical visual effects point clouds range from 1 to 4 billion points); this translates into ultra-realistic digital worlds with nearly limitless possibilities.

Their LIDAR scanning techniques and equipment are built to operate in the earth’s most challenging environments – from the depths of the sea to the ceiling of the world. It’s no wonder they’re the first one to receive a call to join an expedition to scan the crumbling wreck of the RMS Titanic or the legendary slopes of Mt. Everest. But what good is that literal mountain of data if you don’t have a use for it? Marrying that precious, important data with all the ways Thinkwell can bring places, spaces, and ideas to life opens up whole new realms of possibility, creating new avenues for Thinkwell’s mantra of connecting people to brands in physical space.

Delivery of virtual film and television sets through Thinkwell Media; curation of a library of data for ultra-high resolution next-gen video game environments; development of touchless, crowd-driven, AI-interpreted walk-through environments for cultural events, Thinkwell’s museum practice, or our design of thoughtful, care spaces for Thinkwell Health; concepting virtual, shared experiences – all supported with the most authentic data foundation available. As Mark said, there’s nobody better than Thinkwell to imagine what is possible … and if we can create real opportunities for others while we’re dreaming? Even better!

Part of Virtual Wonders mission is to increase underrepresented groups in the fields of engineering, science, and media in the production and public presentation of cutting-edge immersive experiences; whenever possible, a portion of their revenue is dedicated to the training and empowerment of rights holders, stakeholders, and protectors of the sites that have been scanned, further cementing the preservation efforts with local talent. If there is one thing we’ve learned from our legacy of work, it’s that our clients and guests are seeking both authenticity and meaningful impact in the content they consume; this is content that genuinely matters as it has a direct, positive impact on people’s lives.

And if there’s something we need right now in the midst of lockdowns and travel restrictions and contagion, it’s to feel like what we are doing matters even when we’re at home, perhaps while we’re enjoying the ruins of Petra or the halls of Chichen Itza in stunning, authentic detail. 

So let’s explore the world – together – thanks to our partners at Virtual Wonders and their work in preserving our most critical and sacred sites. Imagine what we’ll discover next.