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Don Stein

Tony Parisi @ Metatron Studio

Published 4 months ago • 7 min read

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The Rockstar of VR

The guy on the left is not David Bowie, it’s Tony Parisi, and Tony is one of the most veteran leaders of Virtual Reality. In fact, Tony first started telecommuting and working remote in the 1990’s.. How many other people on earth can say that!? Today, I’m excited to announce we recorded a podcast together which can be viewed here.

video preview

I was first introduced to Tony back in 2016 while I was living in San Francisco. I knew about him via his Wikipedia reputation of being involved in VR since the 1990s.

His earliest role in the 1990’s was working within the visual computing group of BBN (organization who helped create the internet via defense/science consulting). It was not long before he packed his van and drove with his wife, Marina, across the country to San Francisco. It was there where he met Mark Pesce - who told Tony about an idea to build the Metaverse in 1994. They wanted to connect the world-wide-web to 3D graphics.

Tony wrote some code to create a 3D object viewer called Labyrinth. Super simple, it enabled you to spin around a 3D object on the web, and sure enough the only model they had at the time was a banana. So they wrote all this complex tech in order to be able to spin around a laggy 3D banana on the web. Ground breaking 🙂

When you clicked on the 3D bannana from within Windows, it launched the Mosaic web browser. Essentially, they created the first ever 3D hyperlink. That project of theirs became internationally known as VRML (virtual reality modeling language). It was so popular that at a 1994 web conference Tim Berners-Lee gave a speech about the idea, followed by Mark Pesce presenting the Labyrinth demo which he and Tony built.

If you’re unfamiliar, Tim berners-Lee is the scientist who is accredited for founding the world wide web. Let that sink in! This is the level of genius which Tony helped back in the early 90’s.

“The problem was that the internet wasn't’ fast enough yet for 3D. I mean everybody was connecting on modems. They go squeak and squawk and connect over copper wire phone lines. Honestly Don.. I’m not even sure if you’re old enough to know what a modem is.” -Tony

Excuse me, I am 🙂

There was a big hype cycle around 3D web in the 90’s, around the same time Tony started his first startup to help build brand content for this VRML trend. Before the hype bubble burst in the late 90’s Tony sold his company, and then continued doing technical consulting around 3D development. As Zynga ushered in social gaming, he started working on some projects in this space as well during the 2000’s. But around 2009 there became hope once again for 3D web thanks to Mozilla launching Canvas 3D, which eventually evolved into WebGL (the technology which supports 3D rendering across the web today).

This is where I enter the story. I was managing a small venture fund for AR/VR startups in 2016, and when I met Tony I knew we needed him as a venture partner. He joined me as a venture partner to lead technical due diligence into startups we were examining. Sadly, this was short lived as Unity came and scooped him up in late 2016 to help them deal with AR/VR. He spent 6 years there, helping get the multi-billion dollar gaming conglomerate’s game engine ready for AR/VR.

Basically, over the past 30 years he’s been working in AR/VR one way or another.

So.. what is Tony up to now? Funnily enough, this is when the musical Jesus Christ Superstar enters the story. Tony LOVED it, so much that he felt inspired to write a musical of his own. Now I had already seen Tony perform in downtown San Francisco in front of thousands of people as David Bowie doing cover songs (pictured below).

It came as no surprise to me that his musical itch needed to be scratched. But with such a technical mind, I was on edge to understand how he would merge his metaverse expertise with his musical passions.

Tony left Unity to follow his musical dreams, and was unemployed for all but a week when he received a call from Neal Stephenson. If you’re in AR/VR, you know of the book Snow Crash. It’s largely credited for creating the term ‘metaverse’ and laying the foundational vision. Neal of course was the author of book first published in 1992. Advising/Consulting with Neal took up some of Tony’s time, but the rest of it was spent on his new music studio, Metatron Studio.

Tony discovered a handful of independent musicians who were starting to sell NFT collections of their music. These NFT’s were a combination of art x community x music. He saw fans were paying up to $100 to mint NFT’s for one of these digital products. One artist in particular, Josh Savage, a British singer, was selling his musical NFTs on OpenSea during Spring of 2022. In fact, a handful or Tony’s musical friends are now making 6-figures through selling these NFT collections.

“The key to collections is they’re not only providing the song, you as a collector are not only supporting the artist, but they also offer a lot of extra utility. For example, Don if you buy one of Violetta’s NFTs, every Friday at 4 PM EST you can go to a Zoom concert that Violetta will play. She’ll take requests, she knows her fans on a first name basis. She has 1,500 collectors. If you collect enough she will fly to your town and give you a show.” -Tony

NFT’s get a bad reputation, but you can see they’re quite literally helping fans engage with their favorite artists. At the same time helping provide artists a way to capitalize on their talents.

“The bigger conversation, I don’t know how we got to this point in the digital age where nobody values music. That’s absurd. Or the artists who creates it. That’s absurd. These people need to make a living. Not everybody needs to be Taylor Swift big, but they want to make a living doing what they want to do.” -Tony

That is the at heart of music based NFTs. Artists want to continue creating while also being fairly compensated for their efforts.

Tony saw all this happening, and dipped his pioneering toes into the pond. Using a crypto platform called Manifold, Tony decided to launch an NFT collection (and it sold out!). Tony launched a genesis NFT on Manifold, which is totally self-serve. He uploaded his music, his art (created by his wife!), and then it generates a mint page. Fans can then come there and mint his songs on Etherium to take home an exclusive NFT. His song ‘Cradle to the Grave’ which touches on gun violence involved his wife digitally painting a representation of the message, and then paired with Tony’s song, fans could purchase this as an NFT.

Rather than needing to fit his song into the Spotify algorithm, Tony feels free to create because he’s going direct to the end listener. Without Spotify or Apple Music acting as the middleman.

With that first NFT trial run under their belt, it was time to unveil Tony’s big project, “Judgment Day!” It is of course, musical theater. All net revenues from NFT sales are going towards a production company to create an actual live show. Specifically, he hired Double Eye Studios, an immersive production company. They’re now funding an innovative live show which is going to have all kinds of high tech, XR, and Metaverse components to it.

Collectors of Judgment Day NFT’s are able to join Tony’s table reading where they can meet the cast, listen in on the table read, and if lucky they can even input their opinions into the show by providing quality feedback. These NFT’s break down the walls between creatives and fans. You can now (quite literally) buy a seat at the table.

So what is “Judgment Day” all about?

The main character is Tom, he’s a skeptic who has trouble believing in anything, especially himself. He’s also a cynic who thinks the worst of human nature. He needs to be shown a way that is not that. And so his journey during the show is ‘wishing he could believe in anything.’ I won’t spoil the ending, but Tom finds some sort of enlightenment. It’s a story of evolution, human condition, and love. His lover Maggie is a woman of faith and hopefully shows Tom the way to believe in something greater than himself. She has her own journey about deciding if she wants to invest emotional energy into this broken dude. Their relationship starts out with her ambitions to try and save him spiritually, but this organically evolves into her loving him.

It was at that point Tony cut off the summary of the story and said, ‘that’s literally the song I’m working on right now! The duet between the two.”

I’ve met a lot of characters along my path while working in AR/VR for the past decade, but none are more unique than Tony. I hope this podcast and newsletter summarize a bit about just how different Tony is compared to the rest of us. He’s a masterpiece of human creation. You should definitely consider getting involved in Judgment Day, as I can only imagine the world premier of the live show will be a night to never forget.

You can learn more about Tony's musical as well as collect his music here:

You can hear Tony's music here:

Thank you always for reading!

~ Don Stein


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Don Stein

Founder of Fengari LLC

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