Pietro Gagliano and Ryan Andal are bringing people to places they might not otherwise reach through the magic of virtual reality (VR). Pictured above at their Toronto studio, Secret Location, are Gagliano (right) and Andal (left).
Pietro Gagliano is rarely seen without an old clipboard, paper and pencil. This wouldn’t be so unusual but given that his company is on the vanguard of interactive technology, the image is a striking one. A quick look at his clipboard reveals not words but drawings and diagrams, offering a glimpse into Gagliano’s origins as a designer.
“Being a visual thinker, I find the easiest way to convey abstract ideas is through sketches and diagrams. Particularly when multiple people collaborate on a vision, drawing is the best way to build common ground for complicated concepts,” says Gagliano, Partner and Executive Creative Director of Secret Location and a 2006 graduate of the York Sheridan Bachelor of Design (Honours) program. He and fellow alumnus Ryan Andal have been partners in the studio with Founder James Milward since its inception in 2009. Andal, who also serves as the studio’s Executive Technical Director, graduated from Sheridan’s Interactive Multimedia program in 2005.
Gagliano, Andal and their team are reinventing storytelling through the rapidly growing medium of virtual reality (VR) which allows users to create one-of-a-kind experiences. With studios in Toronto and Los Angeles, they work with leading entertainment companies and a broad spectrum of corporate brands and non-profit organizations.
With roots in interactive multimedia storytelling, Secret Location has been recognized with dozens of awards over the years but the studio truly put itself on the map by winning the first ever virtual reality Primetime Emmy Award in 2015 for the Sleepy Hollow: VR Experience. It is the studio’s second Emmy, having won in 2012 for Endgame Interactive, an original online episode for the Canadian drama.
Among Secret Location’s current crop of projects is a short-form scripted series Halcyon with Syfy International. It is a 15-episode hybrid series that will have 10 episodes available on Syfy linear channels and websites, along with five VR episodes on the Oculus Rift VR headset. Past VR experiences produced by the studio including Project Literacy, CrowdRise and an immersive documentary for PBS on the Ebola crisis are changing the face of philanthropy and education. In spring 2016, the Facebook-360 documentary project, Ebola Outbreak: A 350 Virtual Journey, won the inaugural Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Award.
There will always be disruptive technology on the horizon - so in this industry, you can never truly rest.
Although the 65-person studio (home to many Sheridan grads) continues to focus energy on its virtual reality projects as the technology enters the mainstream, Gagliano and Andal have their eyes firmly fixed on tomorrow.
“There will always be disruptive technology on the horizon – so in this industry, you can never truly rest,” says Gagliano. “As we look to the future, we anticipate that a large number of VR companies will appear. But it’s to our competitive advantage that we still honour and leverage our interactive storytelling roots.”
Secret Location’s recently launched Innovation Lab is designed to do just that. Based on Google’s 20% policy which encourages employees to devote 20% of their time to projects outside the company, the Innovation Lab is like an R & D story incubator.
“We want to leave the door open to new ideas and take on projects that don’t necessarily have an end goal. We never try and do the same thing twice. While that doesn’t seem like an ideal business model, it creates ongoing opportunities for unique and creative work,” says Andal.
“Regardless of advances such as virtual reality and other technologies that are around the corner, storytelling remains front and centre” he adds. “The technology is a conduit for the story which remains first and foremost. From there, we decide which best platform is best to tell that story.”
Watch the case study for the Emmy Award-winning Sleepy Hollow: VR Experience below.