New Commercialization Fund board member eager for VCU researchers to bring VR into their projects

“I have a great interest in increasing the amount of VR education and how VR is being incorporated, developed, studied at the university level,” said Mark Lambert, a virtual reality and visual effects director.

Mark Lambert.
Mark Lambert.

A bit of the cinematic magic behind depictions of such fantasy worlds as “Harry Potter” is joining a Virginia Commonwealth University Innovation Gateway board to help VCU researchers create opportunities to explore augmented or virtual reality and experiential learning.

Mark Lambert, a Richmond-area based VR and visual effects director, joins the Commercialization Fund panel as it accepts applications for “proof of concept” projects involving translational research and inventions created at VCU that have potential for commercialization and benefits to society. 

Innovation Gateway will award up to $50,000 per project and up to $150,000 in total as part of the Commercialization Fund spring awards. The awards foster VCU's culture of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship and help advance inventions to a more mature stage and improve their chances of getting to market. The application process is open to faculty and staff and closes at noon, March 2. Funds will be awarded in the spring.

“Involving innovators of the local community such as Mark [Lambert] as industry experts, business advisers and executives-in-residence is critical for maturing and successfully transferring university inventions to the private sector,” said Ivelina Metcheva, Ph.D., senior executive director of Innovation Gateway. “They bring the voice of the industry to our faculty inventors. Their advice and guidance contribute tremendously to building a base of educated inventors and to building an entrepreneurial culture here at VCU.”

Lambert, a Richmond native, spent more than 15 years traveling between Virginia and Los Angeles and around the globe before setting up a new business in Richmond. His daughter, Virginia Lambert, graduated VCU in 2012 in commercial arts, and is now his director of photography.

Mark Lambert entered the world of feature films through the coding he created for his animation studio and as a video editor, discovering along the way that he needed to make his own tools to bring his vision to the screen. Eventually, he landed at Sony Pictures, leading crews of up to about 80 visual effects artists to develop the technology to bring to life the spectacle of Hogwarts’ Quidditch field, the visual design of “The Polar Express,” and the talking wolves and foxes in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the first feature film of the book.

His interest in moving stunning visual effects from screen to market stems from his personal experience of creating the industry’s first commercial RenderMan 3D rendering software interface, which he then sold to multiple film studios, such as Warner Bros. Pictures and Sony Pictures Imageworks. His work is associated with 20 feature films filling thousands of movie screens.

“A friend of mine [working at Industrial Light & Magic on a ‘Terminator’ movie] told me about this new software from a company called Pixar. I wanted to use it and wrote an interface and then found that others had been trying to create this same interface unsuccessfully so I licensed it and a few companies, such as Sony Pictures, bought it. That was my first foray into commercialization,” Lambert said. He also developed ways to work with AutoCAD 3D models, figuring out how to adapt the architectural software for use in animation, and licensed that as well.

Lambert said his secret to success is to “recognize a need, develop a solution and then license it to clients.” Often, his work is incorporated by software giants into their final visual effects program.Today, Lambert sees a need for new ways to present images in the health care setting and seeks to bring VR into the field. He’s excited at the prospect of bringing his experience to the board and providing insight and guidance for projects submitted by VCU researchers seeking to incorporate the technology into their efforts. A growing number of researchers across the university already incorporate VR into their work, exploring a range of topics from encouraging empathy to coping with chronic pain.

 “I’ve been working and talking with people at VCU. I have a great interest in increasing the amount of VR education and how VR is being incorporated, developed, studied at the university level. It’s a selfish concern, but I’m looking for workforce, for people coming out of the university with some experience.”

He hopes to see the Commercialization Fund applications include projects involving VR, particularly those in health care fields, where he thinks it could lead to groundbreaking solutions. Types of work that could be supported by the fund include:

  •  Prototype development
  •  Generation of data (animal data, etc.) for marketing of the invention
  •  Development of new applications for a disclosed technology
  •  Minor software coding and user interface work
  •  Other work at the board’s discretion

Since the fund began in 2015, it has supported 44 projects with a total of $3.4 million. The projects have since received at least $18.5 million from other funding sources. The application and additional information can be found at www.go.vcu.edu/pocfund. For more information, please contact VCU Innovation Gateway at ott@vcu.edu or (804) 828-5188.

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