Get to Know Your Board | Tawny Schlieski

An interview with OMPA board member Tawny Schlieski of Shovels and Whiskey.
| By Lilly Joynes

If you’ve attended a VR-related event in Portland in recent years, there’s a pretty good chance Tawny Schlieski was a presenter. She’s the go-to if you want to totally nerd out about the possibilities AR and VR have to change the way we live, work, learn, and play. She’s the imaginative thinker you want during brainstorming and the diligent eyes you want on your final version before hitting send.

What inspired you to get into this industry?

I'm wild about VR. Even in its infancy, we're seeing its capacity to create a fundamentally new way of communicating with one another. The best part for me personally, is that nobody really knows what it is going to look like when it "grows up," so those of us in the industry now get to experiment wildly. We get to make big mistakes, and huge discoveries—what's better than that?

We get to make big mistakes, and huge discoveries—what's better than that?

What’s a day in your role like?

In production, my job is navigation: keeping everything moving in the same direction. Does the build reflect the design; does the design work within the limitations of the tech; do the changes the client asked for make things better, or pull us off mission? What's getting in the way of progress, and what I can I to to move that obstacle?

How has your role in the production process changed over your career?

I started working in VR at Intel. My job was to imagine the future of the technology, then design and build the closest analog I could; and get that hardware into the hands of creative people to see what they would do with it. These days, I've switched sides, and it's my job to figure out what we can do with VR.

What is one piece of advice you wish you had gotten earlier in your career?

Take the time, and learn to explain your work. I work in new tech, and our ideas often get out ahead of the pack. Being in front isn't helpful if you don't bring your audience (and your funders) with you.

Being in front isn't helpful if you don't bring your audience (and your funders) with you.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Friction and other people's genius. I'm always listening for two things 1: friction—something that isn't working; some job that's left undone; some voice that's not being heard; and 2) weird ideas—like using blue light to erase traumatic memories in mice, or sustainable food made from algae.

What’s one of your proudest career moments or a particular project you're proud of?

The Tempest, with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was a mad partnership between Intel and the RSC. I had a strong partner who drove as hard as I did, and we kept things moving through all kinds of storms. The creative team at the RSC was utterly fearless. Together, we spent a full year in research and another in production, and we ended up with a beautiful and massively ambitious production.

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done on the job?

I flew a 40-foot augmented reality whale over the audience live at the opening keynote for the Consumer Electronics Show. Sane people don't do "real tech" demos when their CEOs are live in front of 3,000 people, but God it was a rush when it worked.

What are you currently working on?

Testing a VR platform we built to help teach critical thinking skills to students. It's really cool stuff, and I'm excited to get it into the hands of more teachers.

What do you love about working in Oregon?

The community: it's a genuinely different vibe than LA, SFO, or Seattle. Yes, it can go a little small-town sometimes, but that's a price I'll pay for the kindness and the breathing room to explore interesting ideas that thrives here.

See more of Tawny’s work with her studio, Shovels and Whiskey.

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