John Gaeta has broken new ground throughout his career, from his work as a visual effects supervisor on The Matrix to launching Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment division ILMxLab. For his next chapter, he’s moving to the Florida-based augmented reality start-up Magic Leap.
Gaeta tells The Verge that he has joined the company as senior vice president of creative strategy. “It will be a new chapter in a long story for me of pursuing frontiers that I think will one day create compelling experiences for people,” he says.
In the case of Gaeta, that’s actually not hyperbole. Throughout his career he’s demonstrated a unique ability to straddle the worlds of both storytelling and technology. As the VFX supervisor on The Matrix, he pioneered bullet-time, the movie’s iconic visual effects technique. That lead to further exploration in the world of volumetric cinematography. Then, as executive creative director and co-founder at ILMxLab, Gaeta helped bring together the company’s approach to virtual reality and augmented reality — which has recently begun paying off with projects like the company’s upcoming Star Wars partnership with The Void, and the in-the-works Darth Vader experience by filmmaker David S. Goyer.
Magic Leap is one of the other companies that ILMxLab had partnered with — Gaeta says he’ll continue to work with the xLab team on its Magic Leap projects — and bringing Gaeta into the fold could be considered an early indication of Magic Leap’s long-term ambitions.
The much-hyped company has received pushback due to the fact that it has yet to deliver a shipping product (not that that’s stopped companies like Google from investing in it). But someone like Gaeta excels at seeing what the big picture of entertainment could look like in five, 10, or 15 years down the line — and understanding how to enable filmmakers to get there.
When I spoke with him in 2015, he described a potential future of entertainment where films, VR, and augmented reality could all be different portals into the same persistent story world. One where people could see a film, then jump to a headset and visit that same exact scene in a different way, or from a different perspective. It’s a philosophy that thinks of technologies not as end goals unto themselves, but as vehicles for storytelling above all else.
Magic Leap has almost obstinately refused to fully reveal what it’s working on, but hasn’t been shy about hyping up the possibilities its technologies could enable. But at some point in the not-too-distant future, the company will need to actually show something tangible.
When that moment happens, Gaeta’s long-term view and credibility in creating virtual worlds could be essential. Few first products could live up to the hype that surrounds the company. But Gaeta could help Magic Leap develop a broad, holistic view of what Magic Leap can be to both consumers and content creators themselves.
“It's something that I think I can grow as a creator and innovator, and I feel, always, I have a role to help enable others to grow in some of these new platforms,” he says. “And Magic Leap is a company that really wants to foster enabling people to be creative in new spaces.”