Saturday, July 4, 2020

Where the Imagination Takes Us



Consumer Tech

Coming Soon:
My Eco Index


Cloudhead Games: VR Multitasking


The Gallery: Call of the Emberstone (VR game)

If you’ve teleported inside a VR experience or used snap-turns to rotate then you’ve already experienced some of Cloudhead Games’ contributions to the modern VR industry, according to co-founder and CEO Denny Unger. In addition, their pioneering efforts in VR hand interactions caught the attention of Valve, who approached them to create a demo on Valve Index hand controllers. And Cloudhead has been a pioneer in using VR performance capture, using it for its 2016 VR adventure-fantasy The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, which won multiple awards. Its 2019 first-person-shooter VR game Pistol Whip was similarly much lauded. Cloudhead Games is nothing if not a VR multi-tasker. Read more (at VFX Voice).


Friday, July 3, 2020

Consumer Tech

5G Will Turbo-Charge Streaming, VR, AR,
Video Games, Interactive Movies and VFX

 Minecraft: The Multiplayer Giant Will Get a Boost

With its blazing speed, 5G – the next generation of wireless technology – is expected to spark plentiful innovations and burgeoning growth in entertainment and the arts, especially for streaming media, video games, virtual reality and augmented reality, all of which will create new opportunities for content creators and visual effects artists. “All of a sudden, people will have more access to high-quality data streams, very fast, with low latency,” according to David Bloom, a Santa Monica-based writer and consultant who tracks the collision of technology and entertainment. For television, there will be options galore as 5G will bolster IP services that stream “all your different video content.” That different content may include new forms of interactive TV, music and advertising. Read more in VFX Voice.

 Black Mirror's interactive episode "Bandersnatch"


Monday, October 14, 2019

The Baru Nut: Brazil's New Superfood

by Chris McGowan

(translation of Aldicir Scariot interview by Luciana Dutra)

Could a little-known nut from Brazil become a global super food and help save South America’s two biggest ecosystems? Baru is a smooth brown nut with a delicate taste that is somewhere between a peanut and a cashew; it is packed with protein and nutrients. It comes from the baruzeiro tree (Dipteryx alata Vogel), which grows mostly in the Cerrado region of Brazil, a giant savanna in the heart of the continent that covers some two million square kilometers, about 21% of the country. 

A Cerrado savanna landscape.

The Cerrado is South America’s second largest biome after the Amazon rain forest and has come under even greater attack – it has lost some fifty percent of its original vegetation, due mostly to cattle ranching and soy production, which are powering Brazil's current agricultural boom. The vast region is important for its great biodiversity (five percent of the planet's) and because it provides watershed for many rivers in the Amazon basin and elsewhere in South America. If the Cerrado loses much more of its native vegetation, the consequences could be profound in the neighboring Amazon rain forest – as goes the Cerrado, so may go its neighboring ecosystems. Cultivating a native tree like the baruzeiro, or at least preserving those still standing, is one small step towards reversing the ecological devastation in the region. There is a big incentive for local farmers to do this: the baru nut is a powerhouse treat that could generate serious national and global sales and join the pantheon of better-known nuts.

The baru tree (baruzeiro) can grow to 25 meters in height.

The leguminous baru tree grows to twenty-five meters in height, produces high-quality timber and provides generous shade from the tropical sun for people and animals. The baru tree is also known by the names barueiro, baurjo, coco-feijão, cumaruna and cumbaru. It grows in such Brazilian states as Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo and Minas Gerais, as well as in neighboring areas of Bolivia (where the nut is called “almendra chiquitana”), Peru and Paraguay. 

Baru nuts and fruits

The baru nut works well as a snack by itself (roasted) or as an ingredient in brownies, cookies, cakes, ice cream and other desserts, not to mention granola. The nut is nutritionally packed: it is composed of approximately 25% protein (depending on the study) and is impressively rich in iron, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. It contains tryptophan, a precursor of seratonin, which might qualify it as a "feel good" nut, and is loaded with zinc, which has gained it a folkloric endorsement as the "viagra of the Cerrado" region because of the mineral’s link to fertility. In addition, an oil extracted from the nut is reportedly effective for rheumatism and other ailments. And studies indicate baru nuts can lower cholesterol and boost immunity.

Each small baru nut is encased within a fruit pod (one nut per fruit) with a tough covering, which makes the harvesting more labor-intensive and the nut more expensive than some others. The fruit is also useful and is eaten by locals as well as by livestock, birds, bats, rodents and moneys. The baru fruit matures in September and October, which falls in the region’s dry season and is an important food source for these animals at that time.

The commercialization of baru nuts in Brazil began about twenty years ago in the city of Pirenópolis in Goiás state, according to many reports. It is still little known nationally, but over the last few years baru nuts have caught on more and become available in upscale supermarkets in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Outside Brazil, baru nuts are available through the Erewhon health food markets (Southern California). the wholesale importer Cerrado Superfoods ( and via online retailers (Canada), (U.K.) and (U.S.). There is also a package of baru nuts sold as “barùkas” nuts by the sites and (which have the same owner); that product is also available on

To find out more about the baru tree and nut, I interviewed Aldicir Osni Scariot, a researcher in Genetic Resources & Biotechnology for Embrapa (a Brazilian owned research organization). Scariot has a PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Santa Barbara***.
How much of the Cerrado still has native vegetation? I read that the Cerrado had 49.9% of native vegetation at the end of 2017.
This data is official. It can be found in reports issued by IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) or MMA (Brazilian Department of the Environment). Also, please refer to

What is the rate of decrease of baru trees (if they are disappearing)?
This is not known, but the loss of baru trees is directly related to deforestation. However, part of the baru tree population (adult, reproductive plants) is generally maintained when land is cleared for pasture as baru trees provide shade for livestock, increase thermal comfort, and provide food for livestock, which eat the fruit pulp. Eating the pulp does not threaten the nut, which remains intact, protected by the fruit, and can be removed and used for human consumption.

Are baru trees threatened? 

There are no studies on this, but with the total removal of Cerrado vegetation and consequently of baru populations, it is possible that the genetic variability of the species has been reduced (this is part of population genetics theory), but there are no studies proving anything (or disagreeing) about the baru tree.

Will overall baru tree populations be helped much if the trees are preserved near pastures?
An important aspect that our studies show is that even if the adult plants stand in the pastures, the "maintenance" of pasture by mowing or using herbicides prevents new baru saplings from reaching the reproductive stage. Thus, over time the previously existing plants that remained in that area will die and will not be replaced, leading to the (local) extinction of that group of plants (it cannot be said to be a population in the biological sense).

What about on family farms vs. large industrial farms?
Since maintenance is less intense on family farmers' farms, more baru plants of all sizes will often be found on those farms than on industrial farms. In addition, there is the interest of family farmers in keeping the baru trees to harvest (pick up) the fruits and sell the nuts, generating an additional source of income.

What is the annual production of baru nuts? Is it growing or falling?
Consumption in urban centers has been increasing, as are exports. Indeed, there is great interest on the part of U.S. companies to import large quantities of baru nuts for consumption. The appreciation in the price of baru has contributed to expand the harvesting of fruits, which in many regions were not (or are not yet) harvested. Therefore, the increasing consumption is generating greater demand for harvesting. There are even areas with plantations [of baru trees].

Where are some other poles of nut production, besides Pirenopolis?
The Arinos region, in northwest Minas Gerais, is a strong hub, as is Corumbá, Mato Grosso.

What is the distribution of baru trees outside Brazil?

There are reports of their occurrence in Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay.

If you have more baru tree cultivation, will this help improve the health of the cerrado ecosystem?
Native species cultivation is always better than exotic cultivation, but in the end homogeneous cultivation will always require the use of pesticides. Therefore, if you really have to cultivate, it is best [for the baru tree] to be intercropped either in Agroforestry Systems (SAFs*) or Silvopastoral systems**. The best thing is to manage the natural vegetation and harvest the various products from the various species.

Are Brazilians discovering baru nuts?
Yes, just like the Americans. Due to the nutritional characteristics of the nut, sold in the USA as a superfood, it will likely gain a large international market.


*Successional agroforestry systems (SAFS) are complex, multi-strata systems composed of species assemblages that resemble native forest structures.

**Silvopastoral systems (SPS) are a type of agroforestry arrangement that allows the intensification of cattle production based on natural processes that are recognized as an integrated approach to sustainable land use.
***Thanks to Luciana Dutra, for her translations of the above interview and countless other works.

Further reading: I published the following article about the Cerrado in 2010 (originally in the Huffington Post) and mentioned the baru nut, which at that point was far more obscure: The Importance of Being Cerrado: Brazil's Other Huge, Endangered Ecosystem.

Where to find baru nuts online: Barúkas 12 oz. bag of baru nuts (via

Cycles: Jeff Gipson Directs Disney's First VR Film

by Chris McGowan
(VFX Voice)

Jeff Gipson, who directed Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first-ever VR film, Cycles, was a lighting artist on animated works such as FrozenZootopia and Moana, and was about to work on Ralph Breaks the Internet when he decided to present his virtual-reality concept to the higher-ups at Disney. “We had a program where artists could pitch ideas, and so I pitched this idea as VR, kind of thinking, ‘Well we’ve never done one before, so I’m just going to suggest it,” and then when they green lighted it, it was, ‘Oh crap, now we’ve got to figure out how to make it.’ We hadn’t done something like that in the studio.”

The first-time director, who grew up in Colorado and now lives in Los Angeles, worked with a small team for four months on the three-minute movie and overcame technological and narrative challenges in the new medium. Cycles debuted in 2018 at SIGGRAPH and went on to garner three nominations at the 17Annual Visual Effects Society Awards this year. The film is viewable on Oculus, VIVE or flat screen (for theater screenings), and has received a warm reception at various film festivals (it is not currently available for public download). “People have been saying, ‘It’s so cool to see Disney characters right here with me,’ ” says Gipson. Read more.

 Cycles director Jeff Gipson


VFX and Animation Schools: Keeping Up With the Essentials

by Chris McGowan
(VFX Voice) 

Leading VFX and animation schools these days must ensure that students graduate “studio-ready,” says co-owner and director Ria Bénard of Lost Boys Studios in Canada. “With more and more demand for complicated visual effects shots, studios have much less time to train new artists, so they need the graduate to hit the ground running, transition into studio work faster and more efficiently.” Ron Honn, Florida State University Visual Effects Filmmaker in Residence adds, “The biggest, and I find most rewarding, challenge for preparing students for work in the industry is preparing a curriculum that is software agnostic – to find the essential technologies that all VFX artists need to know.” Read more.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

John Allen: Restoring Oregon's Forests

John Allen: Bringing Stakeholders Together
to Restore the Forest and Protect Communities

(an article for the WWETAC website)
by Chris McGowan

 If there is one phrase that best summarizes John Allen’s career philosophy, it might be “shared stewardship.” In his supervision of forest restoration, collaborative programs, and friends’ groups, he has repeatedly taken the initiative to bring stakeholders together to implement projects. This is necessary in part because there is no one answer when it comes to reducing devastating wildfires, saving old-growth forest, protecting watershed, extracting resources, or managing recreational use of the land. A holistic approach must be used that brings all the interested parties together. Read more.

Forest in the West Bend Project (in Oregon)
after successful
restoration work (source: DCFP)