Kickass women of VR interview 7: Jessica Sweeney – 3D Artist at TimeFire VR

"We can put people into someone else's shoes and it's mind-blowing."


We’re seven interviews into our Kickass Women of VR series, and this section is focusing on the TimeFire VR team, who are busy building the world’s first virtual reality city. It’s called Hypatia, and it’s ridiculously cool.

This time, we’re talking to Jessica Sweeny, who covers social media and project management at TimeFire as well as being an accomplished 3D artist.

While Jessica was at university studying Biology, she happened to come across some old articles pertaining to psychology and virtual worlds. This led her to research and browse advertisements for old headsets, but it wasn’t until after graduation that she finally got to try VR herself.

After an initial unsuccessful interview for a VR developer position earlier this year, Jessica persevered and landed a place on the TimeFire VR team.

She now spends her time learning 3D modelling, looking into games development, watching shots of 360 video and consuming every single piece of information about VR that she can. We know how she feels.

Hi Jessica! Can you tell us about your introduction into VR?

The first hands-on experience I had with VR was watching a tour of Iceland using Samsung Gear VR. I remember being in a swivel office chair spinning around as I watched horses run beneath me. The same day I saw other demos for the Gear, Rift, and Cardboard. What blew me away the most was the endless potential, from high quality headsets to the extremely portable ones. We can put people into someone else’s shoes and it’s mind-blowing.

What inspired you to join the VR industry?

Upcoming and emerging tech has always been fascinating to me. There are always new developments but seeing headsets being made for consumer release was the most exciting. Virtual reality was no longer a concept or outdated graphics from the 80s. A real push is being made to propel VR forward and that’s the most exciting thing to me.

How has working in the industry changed your first thoughts on VR?

Working in VR has shown me its potential and the impact is has on people. When we first think of VR we think of using it for pure entertainment – movies, videogames, and tourism. Beyond that we have medical applications, talk about the metaverse [a potential future 3D internet], and people trying to make VR an empathy machine. We have a new way to make people feel a certain way with VR. People can “experience” a psychedelic trip, what schizophrenia looks like, and see aftermaths of earthquakes. If I hadn’t been in VR before, I don’t believe I would truly understand how much of an impact watching a video or playing a game could have on people.

What would you like to see happen within the industry in the next year?

Within the industry I’d like to see more interactive experiences. Right now many viewers are placed into a situation rather than having a direct control. In the near future I’d like to be able to create something that stops and makes people think. What interests me most in VR is how you can play with perspective.

Any interesting lessons learnt so far?

Don’t watch horror VR experiences, as fun as they are, if you’re easily scared. Otherwise, you’ll get some crazy nightmares. Also, be prepared to watch a lot of tutorials and learn through trial and error. Expect to collaborate with many individuals.

Have you had any difficulties along the way with being a woman in VR?

I haven’t had first-hand experience with negative comments for being in VR specifically, but in general, as a female interested in technology-related subjects, people tend to make stereotypical assumptions about you based off gender and appearance. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by supportive individuals I am aware there is a “boys-only club” mentality. Watching the comments on any live Twitch stream should be enough to make the scrutiny and vulgarity thrown at women apparent. It makes a person hesitant to be thrown into the public eye. However, when you take conversations into communities involving professionals or enthusiasts, it’s rare to see anything but strong respect and support.

What are your goals at the moment?

My goals would be to make convincingly realistic 3D models. I have a lot to learn and in the future I’d like to learn more about the game development side of virtual reality. Unrelated goals include making a life-sized Katamari game where people can actually roll objects into a giant building-sized Katamari.

With 2016 set to be a huge year for VR, where do you see it heading in the next couple of years?

In the next couple of years I see VR being more readily available to the average consumer with a wide variety of content. There are many studios out there who are working on creating games, videos, and other interesting applications for VR. Hardware wise we’re getting very close to portable smell-o-vision and I’m very excited.

Would you encourage other women to look into starting a career in the VR industry? Do you have any advice for them?

I encourage women, and anyone really, to look into any career they wish to. If VR interests you then read up as much as you can and find the related skill-set you’d like to learn. Look for tutorials on YouTube and ask questions on forums. You may not find the answer you’re looking for as VR is still a new field but someone out there may be able to help you. Don’t ever feel like you cannot do what you dream to do. There are many inspiring campaigns and communities that are happy to help. As many people in our office will say, “Just do it!”

Which women in the industry do you admire?

I haven’t had the opportunity to meet other women in the VR field but I have strong respect for Nonny de la Pena, she’s been working on groundbreaking content.

What have been your best experiences of VR?

Currently I’m most excited about Google Cardboard. It’s affordable and portable. Hopefully VR goes more and more mobile as hardware advances. I’m also always astonished by how social interactions are being integrated into VR. Naturally I’m most excited about developments from TimeFire such as in-game voice chat. I’m excited to see how controllers will play a role in VR, the Touch, Manus, and Leapmotion being but a few. The more natural and second nature we can make the experience will make VR more immersive.

Want to hear more from Jessica? Follow her on Twitter: @OhMisstarr

We’ll be back shortly with more kickass women from the world of VR. In the meantime, read the previous 6 interviews here

Main image: Leo J. Photography