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SA takes to global VR stage

A brother and sister team from South Africa has showcased the country’s talents in virtual reality production at the world’s biggest animation festival, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



Imagine finding yourself submerged in a world of magical sea creatures, talking mushrooms and forests of impossible trees. Imagine you can travel through this world, experiencing more fantastical sights as you go.

This is the virtual reality (VR) world of The Lost Botanist, created by a brother and sister team who were raised on a farm near the tiny town of Kokstad. That would be remarkable in itself, but Ree and Rick Treweek startled the VR industry last month when The Lost Botanist became the first VR production from Africa to screen in competition at Annecy, the world’s most prestigious animation festival, held annually in France for the past 60 years.

The creation was produced jointly by Rick’s Johannesburg-based technology research and development studio, Eden Labs, and Ree’s creative studio, Tulips & Chimneys, in Cape Town.

Just nine VR experiences were selected for VR@Annecy, from 90 submissions made from around the world. The projects included some of the biggest names in the industry, including Gymnasia, from the Emmy-winning Felix & Paul Studios; It’s All Over, based on a Neil Gaiman book, Doctor Who: The Runaway, and the overall winner, Gloomy Eyes, narrated by Colin Farrell.

“It put us slap bang on a global stage,” says Rick, talking in his Johannesburg studio this week. “Being selected for VR@Annecy was our biggest accomplishment yet, especially against films with huge budgets and massive directors, the giants of the industry, and here comes a little South African crew no one had heard of.”

Rick says the full name of the studio, Eden Labs Africa, was deliberately used with Africa attached at the end to highlight the potential of the continent in the world of technology creativity.

“I believe the skills and talent of this country and of Africa as a whole are completely unknown. We’re often a forgotten territory and having something like this at Annecy, especially with big players in the game, was so important.

“We believe the big future of VR is education and immersive learning. We talk of digital leapfrogging, but the mistake everyone makes is that if someone is not used to computers, the hardest thing is teaching them to use a computer and mouse, whereas VR removes that completely. You don’t have to be technically skilled to consume VR content. Even with YouTube, to get to that video, you have to have the fundamentals of using a computer. That goes away with VR.”

Rick has worked with world-renowned South African artist William Kentridge, whose foundation, The Centre for the Less Good Idea, invited Eden Labs to bring its creative technology to the work of 12 artists working in traditional media.

He had previously been a developer of mobile games and apps, and worked in Singapore for eight years, focusing on 3D printing. There, he immersed himself in the “maker” movement of shared knowledge in creativity.

“The maker movement is whole new mindset of learning that says, when you learn something new, you ask if anyone else in the community is interested. In Singapore, 3D printing was amazing, but everyone was using it for privileged stuff like making robots. My big belief was that using it in Africa, we could create disruptive tools.

“With my long experience in developing apps, VR was a short jump for me, but the 3D printing side was so exciting, I moved back to South Africa and joined the Tshimologong precinct. What Prof Barry Dwolatzky was doing there was in line with what we wanted to do, with the ‘tech can save Africa’ approach.”

Pic: Arthur Goldstuck

Eden Labs is taking its homegrown philosophy a step further. While it is not reinventing VR headsets, it is certainly recreating them. The Treweeks have designed cases that turn Oculus Go VR headsets into elaborate and beautiful masks with handles that allow them to be used without having to be strapped around a head. The masks are artworks in themselves, and integrate almost seamlessly into the world of The Lost Botanist.

“We noticed that at conferences and shows, it’s often quite dark and gloomy and people don’t want to put on headsets,” says Rick. “So we wanted The Lost Botanist headset to look like a part of the project; the outside is as important as the headset. It’s designed as an owl and really makes everything feel a lot more playful.”

In further testament to his commitment to both VR and 3D printing, the masks were designed in virtual reality, using the Oculus Medium 3D sculpting package. Eden Labs has also developed a version of the VR headsets for business use, with a handle attached for quick viewing. It is currently being manufactured in China.

Rick has collaborated with Johannesburg artist Mary Sibande, who uses painting and sculptures to explore identity in a postcolonial South African and to critique stereotypical depictions of women. Appropriately, he built a VR headset mask in the form of Mary’s face, allowing viewers to experience an exhibition of her work almost through her own eyes.

The next step, say the Treweeks, is to raise funding for an extended version of The Lost Botanist, designed specifically for the new Oculus Quest VR headset.

“We think the Oculus Quest is going to be the beginning of VR growing up,” says Rick.

“This is real VR now, with six degrees of freedom so you can walk around.”

Rick believes the market is starved of VR content, and The Lost Botanist will feed into massive pent-up demand. He should know: mobile games created by his first company, Breakdesign, were downloaded more than 16-million times.

“Working in VR now feels a lot like mobile games in 2007; like everything is coming full circle for me.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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It’s printing, Jim, but not as we know it

Selling printing services is not only about the hardware anymore, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



The seminal science fiction series Star Trek generated many catch-lines, like “The Prime Directive” and “Live long and prosper”. One of its most parodied lines, however, is Doctor Bones McCoy’s words to Captain Kirk on encountering an alien species: “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.”

That’s exactly the way one could describe the printer industry today. Every time an HP, Epson or Konica Minolta releases a new machine for this sector, one can sense the puzzled frowns of people taken by surprise that it still exists.

The difference is that it has evolved from a focus on paper to an emphasis on document management.

One of the first companies to spot that shift in the market, Japanese-headquartered Konica-Minolta, pioneered the concept of a dedicated printer company introducing its own software development division.

“We’ve always believed our role is solving problems for the customer, and not just to provide print, copy and scan solutions,” says Marc Pillay, CEO of the company’s South African division. “Our primary focus is multi-functional devices, but we always look at adding value to clients. Our real job is to assist in achieving a better return on investment.”

The proof of the pudding is that the local division is one of the biggest Konica-Minolta distributors in the world. The reason is simple: unlike most other countries, the South African operation has both a direct and indirect channel. That means it is able to supply companies through its reseller network, while also having a presence on the ground in the form of a dealer network across the country. That, in turn, has given it access to municipalities and other organs of state.

“Our value proposition is based on quality products, service and an unparalleled supply chain,” says Pillay. “When everyone was afraid to do business with government, we thrived on it. It comes from being located in areas where it’s easy to do business with us.”

One could call that the secret of success for existing demand. The coming era, however, will require an appreciation of the next big shifts in printing, says Pillay.

“We’ve seen the big shifts from analog to digital, from monochrome to colour, and from decentralisation to centralisation of printing. The next shift is unbundling printing into a hybrid approach, using both cloud and managed solutions. It’s all going to become subscription-based, and it will be print-on-demand. The high-end customers go into that very quickly, but we still have to cater for people who just do copying.”

Pillay believes that the opening of Microsoft’s Azure data centres in South Africa in March has already made a difference.

“Now you can scan from a device into Microsoft’s SharePoint online or Google Drive. It’s not about screen size anymore, but what you can do to make an impact.”

Where people don’t print, says Pillay, they’re absorbing documents digitally.

“We have to make sure that, where we lose the print, we are gaining the management of the scan, digitisation of the document or management of the workflow. Our income will come out of the workflow.

“Clearly, we’re not just focused on selling a piece of hardware anymore.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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SA chooses most loved local businesses



A new World Wide Worx research report identifies and names South Africa’s 12 Most Loved Local businesses, and places the spotlight on the vital role commercial businesses play in the South African economy. The country’s favourite local businesses include the Chapman’s Peak Hotel in Hout Bay – famed for its calamari, celebrity chef David Higgs’ Rosebank eatery Marble as well as Rouge Day Spa with branches in Kenilworth and Constantia in Cape Town run by a dynamic mother and daughter duo.

The aim of the Most Loved Local report was to celebrate those businesses South Africans love the most and to investigate exactly what makes consumers big fans of these entities. It further offers these enterprises insights into what it takes to succeed in business, highlights the qualities that convert clients into fans and encourages more South Africans to ‘shop’ local.

Report results

Commissioned by Santam, results were compiled using a combination of digital listening tools and traditional research. Social media listening using organic search analysis looked into which business categories were being searched for most. This was followed up with a trend analysis to assess whether a business category was growing in popularity, keyword volume analysis to refine the categories and finally social listening within the categories which businesses were being spoken about in the most positive terms. Thereafter, a poll was conducted among 2 489 respondents to find out what made them love a local business – or not. The sample was nationally representative and aligned to the economically active population per province. A respected independent research house World Wide Worx conducted the research.

The full list of businesses that came top across 12 categories are:

  1. Place to Stay: Chapmans Peak Hotel (Cape Town) – the one with the perfect calamari
  2. Eatery: Marble (Johannesburg) – the one with the celebrity chef in the kitchen
  3. Butcher: The Butcher Man (Cape Town) – the one that people cross town for
  4. Bakery: Fournos (Johannesburg) – the one that is way more than a bakery
  5. Spa: Rouge Day Spa (Cape Town) – the one run by a dynamic mother-daughter team
  6. Entertainment Spot: Gold Reef City (Johannesburg)  – the one with the heart of gold
  7. Gym: Dream Body Fitness (Johannesburg) – the one that is completely unintimidating to work out at
  8. Interior Designer: By Dezign Interiors (Johannesburg) – the one that really, really gets its clients’ style
  9. Market: Bryanston Organic & Natural Market (Johannesburg) – the one that was an organic market before it was trendy to be an organic market
  10. Laundromat: Exclusive Dry Cleaners (Johannesburg) – the one that treats every single client like family
  11. Car Wash: Tubbs’s Car Wash (Johannesburg) – the one that cleans your car while you have a haircut
  12. Construction company: Radon Projects (Pretoria) – the one that is ready all day and all night

Delving into what makes a consumer go from ‘client to fan’, the key factor standing out above all others was service. Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx, says it seems South Africans will forgive a multitude of ‘sins’ if they are treated well. “Good service was the number one factor that makes 40% of those surveyed support a local business. This was followed by quality products at 18%. Third place went to value for money at 10%, proving the old adage that competing on price alone is not a sound business strategy,” said Goldstuck.

When asked what makes them loyal to a local business, some interesting views across age groups emerged. “Younger clients are more swayed by quality, while older ones are impressed by service. This seems to fit with younger people wanting the status of nice things, and older people wanting to feel valued and respected,” said Goldstuck.

Unsurprisingly, all 12 Most Loved Locals called out service as one of their guiding lights and core pillars when interviewed. Theo and George Parpottas, owners of Exclusive Dry Cleaners, the selected company in the laundromat category, believe when someone walks into their shop, they should be greeted with smiling faces and courteous people. “We don’t care if it’s the president or a beggar, from the moment they walk in, they are a client. We greet them, we are courteous, and we treat them with respect. It doesn’t matter what they bring.”

For Gary Karycou, who co-owns Marble in Rosebank with celebrity chef David Higgs, it is all about attitude. “You can teach someone anything if they want to do it, but we employ on attitude. You get the basic skills but if someone really wants to learn, you can transform them.” He continues, “Giving the best service to our clients, is our motto. It’s something that’s lacking in South Africa and even globally. Businesses just become a bit complacent.”

Famed Green Point butchery and restaurant, The Butcher Man, is owned by Arie Fabiani. He says people will drive past other butcheries and come all the way to the Butcher Man because “we deliver a great service. Good service is critical, and our team knows it.”

Another key finding was that people are more likely to recommend a business if there is a good deal or excellent value for money. Mokaedi Dilotsotlhe, Chief Marketing Officer at Santam, says this is an interesting finding. “Perhaps we are more likely to share a good deal with others and keen to help others find great nuggets of the positive trade-off between value and price. So, it is worth ensuring that, in addition to service and quality, your clients feel like they are getting value for the money they spend with you. That way, they are more likely to tell family and friends the good news!”

Dilotsotlhe added that the report’s release has been well-timed as the need to stimulate sectors of the economy which can create jobs has never been more vital. Commercial enterprises are responsible for a significant percentage of the labour-force in South Africa, and the impact thereof is significant. Due to the fact that these enterprises remain a largely underinsured sector, the campaign also seeks to highlight the need for insurance as a vital aspect of business continuity. When they thrive, it benefits the whole nation, and from a Santam perspective, this translates into sustainable growth for our business.

To download the full report, click here.

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