Ninja Mueller is a marine biologist and environmental scientist. She won the first prize of sustainability at the Dies Academicus 2015 in Lüneburg and worked in multiple marine conservation projects, pioneering in researching the use of 360° video monitoring to assess coral reef ecology. She is part of the Board of Directors of the Kaleidoscope Femmes Future Grant, advocating for diversity and equality in the XR industry.
Michal Lovecky is a creative XR technologist, founder and CEO with more than 60 delivered immersive media projects, among others, for example, the first-ever 8K VR live streaming over a 5G network for Deutsche Telekom. He founded the first immersive media production studio in Prague, Czech Republic, and was awarded by Deloitte for high standards in innovation. Together with Ninja Mueller (COO, director and lead researcher), he founded Cyan Planet – XR for Ocean Protection and is director and producer of Cyan Planet’s immersive media projects.
Cyan Planet’s mission is to evoke empathy for the ocean through deep emotional experiences. Cyan Planet uses the power of virtual reality and immersive media to inspire, educate about the science of marine ecosystems, and to create a global community that acts for marine conservation. It is a global organization with headquarters in Munich, Germany, and Delaware, USA, with a team coming from over 10 different countries.
1. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Once, while freediving in the waters of Fernando de Noronha National Park in Brazil, we found a green sea turtle that had gotten stuck in a shipwreck. We carefully pushed it out, and it swam immediately up to the water’s surface to breathe, and at this moment, the way we saw the world shifted.
We saw the immediate effect that our actions can have on other living beings, and we wanted to find a way to bring similar self-transcendental experiences to other people. Michal is a creative XR technologist and founder of the first immersive media production studio in Prague, and Ninja is an environmental scientist and marine biologist – so, using immersive media for marine conservation was the logical outcome when we joined our forces.
2. What’s your company’s vision?
To elicit empathy for life in the ocean and spark a change in the behaviour of humankind. We aim to evoke an intrinsic motivation in everyone to protect the ocean and contribute to healthy marine ecosystems.
3. What is unique about your business?
We combine immersive entertainment with real-world impact and science. We collaborate with people across continents and our solutions are built by interdisciplinary and international teams. Our approach helps to create the highest level of innovation and a diversity of opinions and ideas.
4. What is your biggest achievement so far?
Being able to power through this special year 🙂 Also, our flagship impact project “How is the Water” was selected for the Biennale College Cinema VR 2019 and later secured funding from the Bavarian Film Commission. It was also selected for the Cannes XR Development Showcase 2020, labelling it as one of the world’s best immersive media projects in development, for which we are honoured and grateful.
5. How do you see your company in 10 years?
As one of the leading powerhouses in entertainment with impact, evoking empathy for the ocean globally and initiating large-scale conservation projects to sustainably protect our ocean.
6. What are you like as an employer?
We are very friendly employers 🙂 Cyan Planet grew out of a group of friends that were excited to get active for marine conservation in an innovative way, and this friendly relationship between us and our team remained until today. We know that a diverse team with many opinions leads to the best outcome, so we are always very thankful for honest feedback, critics, and ideas. We value everybody’s opinion equally and are very flexible in adjusting the workflow to the needs of our employees since we are a remote working team.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?
In general, the availability of the technology and its integration in existing processes and structures are prevailing constraints. Also, COVID crisis kicked in with a lot of uncertainties for many industries. It was a big challenge for us and we had to shift our focus and our plans for this year drastically. It was certainly not easy for the location-based entertainment within the XR industry and festivals. We have to see how the world develops in the next months and years and come up with creative solutions to the changes still to come.
8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
We listen to the concerns and are thankful that they are being shared with us because every concern has a cause that should be addressed. Luckily, we are pretty good at finding solutions for everything, which probably comes with being entrepreneurs.
9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
Michal: Get creative and try! XR is uncharted territory full of opportunities and very often you will be the first one walking a certain path which might be challenging but also incredibly exciting. So be creative, prototype, fail, learn and be ready for a rollercoaster ride because this industry is for explorers.
Ninja: Talk to as many people from the VR industry as possible! It is still small enough to feel like a family, and from my experience, everybody is extremely helpful, curious and supportive. We are all on the same adventure to explore what this technology can enable for humanity, and I feel that mutual support is incredibly strong in the XR industry.
10. What is one habit you wish you could break?
Ninja: Telling my brain that it should stop thinking about work when I left my workspace. I often find myself thinking about work before I fall asleep or as the first thing I wake up with. I wish I could have the power over my thoughts to just shut them off. But I’ll get there!
Michal: Probably often explaining one thing from many different perspectives. It originated from the need to make sure that everyone on the team understands and nothing is lost in communication. Nevertheless, it’s time-consuming and sometimes I’m not sure myself if I make things more clear or just more complicated.
11. What does creativity mean to you?
Michal: Inner flame that I need to feed. The bigger the challenge the brighter it burns. The need to be creative shaped my life from the very beginning – starting with designing games for my brother and me during long summer holidays when we were kids, later leaving a generously paid job that nearly suffocated that flame, to finally throwing myself into XR in 2015 after testing a VR experience for the first time and falling in love with the medium.
Ninja: Being able to express your thoughts in a medium of your choice to encourage other people to reflect about them and draw their own conclusions. In a way, we can be creative with every sentence we say.
12. What book has inspired you the most?
Ninja: That depends on what it inspired me for. I think Lean in – Women, Work and the Will to Lead from Sheryl Sandberg was a strong inspiration and support for me to gain confidence in being active as a young woman in Leadership, XR technology, Entrepreneurship, Science and Scuba diving – all domains still mainly run by men.
Michal: In terms of inspiration I must credit biographies of people like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, where you often find parallels and simple answers to some of the challenges you might be facing in business. But also titles as The Art of War, Crime and Punishment or Hiroshima Diary are works that influenced me throughout my life.
13. What do you do when you’re not at work?
Michal: I love to get physically active to get my head free. On top of the list would be freediving, then snowboarding, kitesurfing and scuba diving. I like to hike or climb with my partner or friends. When the world gets back to normal I would love to go to the theatre or a concert and of course plan my future travels and how to best combine them with my projects.
Ninja: Well, I combined a lot of my hobbies with my work, like scuba and freediving, travelling, writing, doing research, my partner… I am a musician, which is probably the only part of me that was not yet touched by my work, I sing and play violin. And of course, I try to invest as much time as possible in my relationships with my friends and family.
14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry? (Please name up to 3 people from the XR industry)
Ninja: Michal Lovecký, Astrid Kahmke, Géraldine Fauville.
Michal: Astrid Kahmke who open the international XR scene for me through XR Creators’ Lab, Michel Reilhac and Ricardo Laganaro.