Justin Melillo, a multifaceted artist, entrepreneur, and angel investor, serves as the CEO and Co-founder of Mona, a trailblazing platform in the realm of 3D world-building and social networking. With over a decade of experience as a 3D artist and creative technologist, Melillo has collaborated with industry powerhouses like Magic Leap and DreamWorks Animation, as well as globally recognized artists such as Drake, Charli XCX, and Lizzo. His augmented reality experiences have garnered over 100 million views across Instagram and Snapchat, underscoring his significant impact on the digital landscape.

Recently, JCC caught up with Melillo to discuss the concept of “self-sovereign immersive spaces,” his experiences creating immersive AR experiences, and his thoughts on the future of 3D interfaces, spatial computing, and the next era of social networking.

As the co-founder and CEO of Mona, can you explain the concept of “self-sovereign immersive spaces” and how it’s changing the landscape of digital interactivity?

Reflecting on the advancements Web3 has made over the last eight years since the advent of IPFS and Ethereum, one of the most powerful tenets of decentralization is “self-sovereignty.” The decentralized internet provides an environment where people have full control over their personal data and the digital assets they own, including immersive spaces that comprise 3D objects and experiences. Transactions can be conducted directly between parties without the need for a centralized authority or intermediary. This represents a shift away from the control of personal data by large companies and towards a model where individuals have much more control over their information.

In traditional spaces, the platform typically owns all assets and controls the environment. Consider some of the most popular metaverse platforms today, such as Roblox or Fortnite – all of a user’s information, including the assets a user purchases, are restricted by the environment owned and controlled by the game developer.

In contrast, “self-sovereign immersive spaces” allow users to truly own their assets (like digital avatars, virtual architecture, digital art, and 3D objects). This is managed through blockchain technology, decentralized file storage, and non-fungible tokens.

These spaces can provide new levels of interactivity:

  • Each object can have its own set of rules and behaviors governed by smart contracts.
  • Users could alter their environment in ways that weren’t previously possible.
  • These spaces could even be governed in a decentralized manner, with decisions made collectively by a community of users. This is a shift away from the top-down control model common in Web2 platforms.

All of these factors contribute to this changing landscape of digital interactivity, resulting in a more dynamic, user-centric digital world where individuals have more control, more freedom to interact, and more opportunities to derive value.

With Mona, anyone can create an interoperable virtual avatar, 3D object, immersive space, or XR experience. That creation can be owned, traded, and authenticated on Ethereum, and then it can be taken across any game engine or platform.

You’ve worked on creating immersive AR experiences for clients like EA, MAC Cosmetics, and various artists that have been viewed hundreds of millions of times across social media platforms. What are some of the key elements in creating a successful and engaging AR experience?

Looking forward, creating a successful and engaging AR experience involves several key elements to consider:

  • The user’s perspective is crucial.
  • The quality of the experience is of utmost importance, along with careful thought given to art direction and visual style. Will you aim for a photorealistic approach or embrace a more stylized aesthetic?
  • Finally, the experience must be engaging and interactive. These decisions shape the core of a rewarding AR experience.

In my experience, I’ve had the chance to work on various projects, including collaborations with artists like Sia, The Weeknd, Cardi B, and Maroon Five. These projects primarily focused on promoting their albums or songs. All of these endeavors shared a common theme—they were designed with the user in mind, aiming to create immersive and engaging experiences.

One particular project that stands out is the one tied to Cardi B’s viral song ‘WAP’. The AR Filter revolved around her iconic hairstyle from that song. Each of these experiences had a user-centric approach, allowing individuals to interact and enjoy the content.

As I look ahead, I believe there are key elements crucial to developing successful and captivating augmented reality (AR) experiences:

  • First and foremost, it’s essential to consider the user throughout the design process.
  • The quality of the experience plays a significant role as well.
  • Paying attention to precise art direction and choosing the right visual style, whether it be highly realistic or more stylized, can greatly impact the overall outcome.

Another remarkable project I worked on involved a sneaker try-on experience. In this case, I created a digital version of my own Nike shoe.

When users pointed their phone’s camera at their feet, it appeared as though they were wearing the shoe, complete with eye-catching effects like flames and smoke. The shoes were on fire, right as they were on my feet! It was a thrilling experience to bring such creativity to life.

AR presents an exciting opportunity, especially when approached with a minimalist perspective. Sometimes, less is more, and focusing on creating something catchy, enjoyable, and fresh can have a tremendous impact. Ultimately, the goal is to offer something new that brings joy and a sense of wonder to people’s lives.

You’ve mentioned that 3D interfaces are the next “stepping stone” for creativity with AR/VR-powered technologies. Can you elaborate on this and how it caters to a rapidly changing consumer palette?

AR, VR, and Spatial Computing are revolutionizing how we interact with computers and content. Take Magic Leap, for example. We brought a digital human to life, responding to your actions in real-time. It’s the essence of spatial computing, a whole new way of engaging with an operating system.

Imagine having the Royal Shakespeare Company perform in your living room. Through volumetric capture, we made it possible, with an actor delivering a monologue accompanied by an enchanting, life-like tree. This showcases the power of spatial computing, bringing captivating entertainment directly into your home.

Artists are embracing VR to sculpt and paint as if they’re working with physical materials. Spatial computing unlocks endless possibilities, from entertainment experiences like interactive Disney characters to practical applications like virtual sculpting. It’s reshaping our interaction with computers and the Internet.

How do you see 3D world-building and spatial computing impacting various sectors such as entertainment, education, healthcare, and retail?

Take education, for example. Medical students, who are dependent upon their textbooks and physical models to grasp a concept and then apply it to a physical object, can now leverage spatial computing and 3D world-building to actually engage and truly interact with the human body in a way that they can still visualize, annotate, and apply concepts that aren’t easily understood through mere text.

Another practical example is modern day architecture, where architects can build out 3D models, print them out, and actually distribute them as necessary — or students in the classroom can actually leverage platforms like Mona to study construction layouts and building sites.

Fashion designers and brands are joining forces to establish retail storefronts within the Metaverse, creating immersive 3D experiences for customers to purchase and appreciate clothing and fashion items.

These storefronts offer a more engaging alternative to traditional 2D online shopping interfaces. Furthermore, the fashion industry is embracing the concept of digital fashion, with brands now offering purely digital wearables and items. These digital fashion pieces can be displayed and enjoyed through augmented reality or digital avatars within virtual worlds, presenting a novel and thrilling avenue for fashion enthusiasts.

You’ve suggested that the next era of social networking can transcend online interactions beyond 2D architecture. How do you envision this transformation and what role will Mona play in this evolution?

Mona empowers users through its commitment to maintaining a decentralized infrastructure that enables the hosting and serving of 3D assets. This allows for users to take those assets with them wherever they go and use them – not just within the Mona platform. By combining this infrastructure with an immersive experience layer, such as Fortnite, Mona empowers individuals to unleash their creativity and construct personalized environments that hold immense sentimental value.

Whether it’s building a custom wedding venue or preserving other significant life moments, Mona provides a unique platform that not only nurtures artistic expression but also offers the means to safeguard and share these distinctive experiences with others. As a result, users can revisit and relive their cherished memories virtually, transcending physical boundaries and connecting with others regardless of their geographic location.

Traditional games and MMOs have a long history of serving as a form of social networking, facilitating connections among friends in online environments. These virtual worlds have become a hub for creating camaraderie and fostering shared moments, resulting in a vast and connected audience of individuals.

The future of social networking is set to transcend the limitations of 2D platforms. Through the advancement of spatial computing and immersive environments, we can venture into realistic 3D worlds that offer a heightened sense of presence and interactivity. This evolution allows us to engage with our avatars, collaborate with others in gaming and learning activities, and forge deeper connections in virtual spaces.


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