January 30, 2012 · Success Stories

Exclusive Interview with Bryn Oh — Virtual Worlds, Real Success


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Have you ever felt like you were in a world of your own? In our exclusive interview with Bryn Oh, we talk to an artist who lives in the virtual world of Second Life. As a virtual avatar, Bryn has created serious art recognized all over the real world. Now, Bryn has launched an IndieGoGo campaign, Bryn Oh—Support for an Artist, to fund a virtual art installation that will bring the art of Second Life into a gallery setting.

The punchline is that Bryn blew through her initial $5,400 goal in a matter of hours. Today, we have the chance to speak with Bryn and her anonymous creator to see how they did it!

Q1. Can you tell us a bit more about your virtual art installation?

I create a variety of installations, but the main one I am currently working on is called “Standby.” It is the third part to a 3D narrative that was begun three years ago. I am not sure how familiar people are with virtual environments, but essentially a company called Linden Labs created one called Second Life several years ago. What makes it unique is that the user is able to create content within this virtual world using native in-world building tools or working offline in programs such as Maya, Blender, or Zbrush and importing them. It has a population of 25 million and even a functioning economy.

What I do is try to create immersive experiences whereby the user gets caught up in something I create. Imagine opening a storybook and instead of turning the pages you go inside the book and explore on your own. Or imagine creating an exact replica of your grandparents’ home, which was demolished years ago. Going back to this house and sitting at the kitchen table, opening drawers to find old recipes, then going into the back yard to look at the garden or sit on a swing.

My interest is in seeing how deeply I can immerse the viewer by using things such as sound, narrative, interaction, and so on. My plans are to incorporate virtual reality headsets, scent, and sound for the gallery visitors. 

Q2. You have quite a following in Second Life. Was the way you reached out to that network any different than the way that you might reach out to, say, your friends on Facebook?

Yes. Both are quite different social platforms. Residents of the virtual world of Second Life are embedded into the environment and tend to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic to its potential as a medium. For example, you have professors in most major universities worldwide bringing their students into the virtual space and explaining its history and encouraging them to see the art aspects, but also to evaluate it from all angles such as the use of avatars and their relation to one’s identity. 

While Second Life users are connected to me by use of the platform, Facebook users are connected to me by varying degrees of personal friendships or friends of friends scenarios. In fact, a huge portion of the people I know on Facebook are strangers. I don’t provide content to them nor would they necessarily be familiar with virtual world art, so if they were to contribute it would be more because their imagination has been captured by the concept rather than having experienced it themselves.

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Q3. People pay for things in Second Life. Why did you choose to use IndieGoGo rather than just selling there?

If I was going to ask for donations, then I wanted the process to be transparent. I think it is important for people to feel comfortable that a third party is involved, such as IndieGoGo, because it adds a certain legitimacy to the campaign. Your website is quite straightforward and that appealed to me as well. I also liked the idea of having perks in exchange for donations. Really it is just much cleaner than had I tried to do it all myself.

Q4. Your work bridges the real and virtual worlds. How much of your success do you contribute to work you did offline vs. online?

I created Bryn Oh to see if an anonymous digital character could succeed as an artist in real life galleries. I have kept my identities separate to ensure that Bryn Oh’s success is derived without influence from her creator. It sounds strange but let me explain it like this. If you have ever gone to a marionette show, you will have seen a character held up by strings made of wood, wire and glue. The lights then go down and the curtains raise. The person controlling the marionette is in black and not part of the narrative. In a short amount of time you will forget that the marionette is made of wood and wire and instead see them as a living being. If someone were to suddenly turn on the lights then the magic would be broken and the marionette would again become wood and glue. Bryn Oh’s success is derived almost solely from what she has created in the virtual space. It has nothing to do with me the oil painter.

Q5. You had huge success upfront and cleared your goal really fast. Do you have a plan for how to keep the momentum up for the rest of the campaign?

No. It has happened so quickly. 

Bryn Oh is currently raising on IndieGoGo!