Game Changer: Ashton Kennedy

This year, South By Southwest highlighted some of the major innovations in the tech industry, with augmented and virtual reality taking the lead. Production manager and technical producer Ashton Kennedy of Groove Jones discusses the major differences between both realities, as well as their significant impact in the professional and personal realms.

By Alessandra Rey, Photos by Dan Ferguson and Alan Griswold
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Finding the perfect home in Austin can be a bit of a challenge. Imagine having to tour 25 different apartment complexes in one day. Now imagine doing so from the comfort of your own living room. That’s the kind of development production manager and technical producer Ashton Kennedy of Groove Jones hopes to see in the future of augmented and virtual reality. 

“There’s a lot of different applications for augmented and virtual reality across a lot of different industries,” Kennedy says. “And they all have different ways they can help and add to the work/life experience, as well as entertainment.”

Kennedy joined the creative agency of Groove Jones last August. The company’s work focuses on using AR/VR in the advertising realm. 

“We create anything from interactive games to interactive installations to animations, both on mobile and gaming platforms,” Kennedy says. 

A previous film student based in Los Angeles, Kennedy made the move to Dallas to pursue her master’s degree. In the midst of her business and management courses blossomed an interest in an emerging side of the tech industry.   

“After I graduated from undergrad in LA, I got into a rut. I figured I needed to take a step back,” Kennedy says. “I began to notice I was really interested in AR and VR, and how it was going to transform advertising and creative work.” 

Kennedy spent the following year learning everything there is to know about the AR/VR space while applying her film-and-production experience. 

There is a key difference between augmented and virtual reality, according to Kennedy. Virtual reality is a complete immersion into a reality that is totally computer-generated, such as video games. Augmented reality is enhancing one’s surroundings with computer overlay, such as Pokemon Go or BMW’s new Head-Up Display, which projects the driver’s speed and directions on the window rather than on a mobile device or navigation system. 

However, after almost a year at Groove Jones, Kennedy says there is so much more to be excited about. 

“The interesting thing about VR is that it’s basically simulations,” Kennedy explains. “Now that we’re creating content, we have these experiential games for students and people trying to gain experience without having to put them in harm’s way. They just developed a VR crane experience where you can learn how to operate a crane properly.”

In the medical field, virtual reality is helping nurses in training practice for vital operation-room procedures without having to enter the room at all.

“Basically, you’ll go through the steps and if you make a mistake, the program will fast-forward you to the end and you’ll get to experience the consequences. It shows you how high the stakes are,” Kennedy says. 

As for the future of VR, Kennedy confides there is a huge push toward a full-body experience in which the technology will be able to track the user’s body, completely replacing the video-game controller. 

“We want to bring in things where you can feel and touch in virtual reality. That’s the ultimate goal,” Kennedy says, “to be able to completely immerse yourself in that reality and believe it.” 

Even though she works in one of the fastest-growing industries in the tech space, Kennedy says, in the early stages of development, the field is still very male-dominated. 

“The computer-science field is still dominated by men, and those are some of the key skills that are needed in developing content for these platforms right now,” she says.

However, on the upside, the women who are involved in the AR/VR space, like Kennedy, are quick to reach out to others who may be working with male-only teams. 

“We are still underrepresented, for sure. But there’s a strong and supportive group of women coming up, especially in Austin,” Kennedy says. “I also know there’s amazing female candidates out there, and as we grow, I just have to get out there and bring them in. It’s really awesome to see that, and coming out of the film industry, it’s refreshing.” 

Kennedy says now is the perfect time to participate in the exciting world of augmented and virtual reality, and encourages young creatives to keep a close eye on the AR/VR space. 

“If you’re a creator, keep creating. Always try to make something or produce something and hone your skills,” she says. “Now with AR and VR being so new, there are no real experts. Anyone can make and change the rules.” 


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