Time travel is one of those things that fascinate people. Although time travel currently isn’t possible—thank God, as if humans needed another way to make a mess of things—this creator decided to do the next best thing: film his life with the Snapchat Spectacles 3 for a year and create a virtual reality time machine.
On Friday, Lucas Rizzotto, a virtual reality and augmented reality artist, debuted a YouTube video showing the process he went through to make a real-life “time machine,” so to speak. The time machine would let him go back in time for one year, the entire year of his life that he recorded using the Spectacles, Snapchat’s camera glasses that record at 60 fps in 3D. It wouldn’t be a normal year, either. Rizzotto recorded a year living as a “digital nomad,” documenting his experience traveling through different countries around the world.
Friday’s video is the first episode of a series Rizzotto wants to do called, Lucas Builds The Future, in which he builds “something crazy” every episode using futuristic technology or concepts.
Rizzotto’s idea immediately reminded me of the pensieve in Harry Potter, the silvery swirling bowl that Harry and Dumbledore use to explore Voldemort’s past as if it were a movie. Rizzotto also compares it to the memory projector from Minority Report.
Rizzotto built his time machine in VR and carried out the project in three main phases: the control panel, the memory finder and the time travel effects.
Per Rizzotto, the control panel is essentially the user interface. The memory finder, meanwhile, is the program that finds the right memory to play based on the date you put in the control panel. And finally, the time travel special effects are all the “bells and whistles” aimed to spruce up the whole experience in VR, as Rizzotto didn’t want it to just be a straight replay of the video shot with the Spectacles.
When he finally finished building his VR time machine, Rizzotto sat down on a comfy chair with a blanket and pillows and took a look at some of his memories from the past year. His delight and energy is a joy to watch, as are the time machine memories and effects in VR.
At that moment, Rizzotto makes some profound reflections about himself that I think are beneficial to anyone who watches the video. In today’s world, we often judge ourselves harshly and see only our defects, but rarely do we take a moment to stop and just appreciate who we are.
“There are many days where I wake up and I don’t like who I see in the mirror, I don’t like the way he talks, the way he thinks, the way he looks,” Rizzotto says in the video. “I don’t like who that person is, but watching myself from a distance has given me a new perspective. It has let me appreciate myself as a separate person, and using the time machine made me realize that I liked the person I was watching. Sure, he wasn’t perfect, but he was nice, thoughtful and smart. And it took me building a time machine to see all of that, to see my own self-worth.”
Gizmodo spoke to Rizzotto about his journey making the time machine and the video through Twitter direct messages. We were especially curious about where he found the time to do this and how he felt about the idea of people using inventions like his to live in the past. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Gizmodo: Are you a full-time YouTuber? Or is this something that you do in your free time?
Rizzotto: Not a YouTuber at all. I’ve made some videos before to share some things I created and to teach people some stuff, but never anything like this. But the idea of making this series started creeping up on me and I wanted to see if I could live up to the challenge. So I look at this as a pilot! Usually, I’m just an indie VR/AR creative, mostly known for a title I released on the Quest named “Where Thoughts Go.”
But I always like to try new things and challenge myself. So I made this and told myself that if the video got 100K views and 10K subscribers that I’d try doing this for a full year. We’re almost over the threshold!
Gizmodo: It looks like you had to do a lot of coding to make your project work. Do you have a background in coding?
Rizzotto: I did teach it to myself over the past three years! But before that, zero technical background.
Gizmodo: Would you say that made the project more challenging?
Rizzotto: Somewhat! Honestly, the storytelling aspect of it was the really challenging part to me. How do you communicate these really complicated ideas in a way that’s really fun, easy for the average person to understand and also feature some actual artistic merit/originality? After two years of coding you pretty much already know enough to get yourself out of most trouble if you’re persistent enough.
Gizmodo: Well, you did a great job with the storytelling. Honestly, at first I thought, “Dang is this a long video,” but time went by so fast while I was watching it! I think that’s how you know you created a good story.
Rizzotto: Thanks. I’m always surprised [at] how the chaotic production doesn’t show haha. Most of this video was entirely improvised, but future ones will be better!
Gizmodo: So after watching the video, I understood that building the memory finder was the most difficult part of the project. Is that correct? Was it because of the original metadata problem or because you initially weren’t sure how to do that part?
Rizzotto: It was harder for me on several levels. Primarily because I’ve never really done anything with large amounts of data before, so it felt like I was moving from the kid’s pool into the middle of the Pacific. And the metadata was just the icing on the desperation cake. Combine those two with anxiety and you have yourself a problem.
Gizmodo: But hey, you did it!
Rizzotto: Oh fun fact, in May the hard drive with the project failed and I almost lost everything.
Gizmodo: Oh my. How did you get it back?
Rizzotto: I came to Twitter on my knees asking for help and the hive mind helped me figure it out. It was a pretty terrible day, but hey, it makes for a better story.
Gizmodo: Speaking of hard drives, how many did you end up using?
Rizzotto: The real answer is 204! Four actual 2TB hard drives and 200 junk hard drives added in for dramatic effect.
Gizmodo: On another note, what did your one-year trip entail? Did you travel to many places during the year?
Rizzotto: Yes! 2019 was the year I started living as a digital nomad, so I would switch countries every few weeks and went to tons of places. This was the actual thing that made me start recording my life. I have the memory of a goldfish and I didn’t want to forget all the things that I saw and the things that happened to me.
So I started recording it and the more I did it the more I liked it.
Gizmodo: And did you take the entire year off or were you working remotely for a company or clients?
Rizzotto: I was working remotely on my own stuff as an indie developer. I try to take contract work only when absolutely necessary so I’m always working on whatever I’m most passionate about.
Gizmodo: So how many cameras did you try out before deciding on the Snapchat Spectacles?
Rizzotto: I tried a GoPro and I did try to put something together at one point, but it’s as all so annoying and obtrusive. [The] moment I tried out the Spectacles it clicked for me.
Gizmodo: How did you create your experience if the Spectacles only filmed one minute at a time? Does this mean you had hundreds and potentially more than one thousand videos a day?
Rizzotto: Yup, everything was split into chunks. [The] files would transfer automatically via Bluetooth to my phone, saved to local drives and deleted from the phone at the end of the day.
Gizmodo: So did you have to press record after every minute all day then? Or would the Spectacles record automatically and just split the videos up by themselves?
Rizzotto: My answers here aren’t simple, which is why I didn’t core it in the video, haha. The answer is both. I did find ways to make it record automatically but ran into overheating problems with the glasses. Some days I’d just do things manually. So the way I’ve been phrasing it with the video is that I simply did my best to record as much as I could.
Gizmodo: Did Snapchat contribute to or support your project in any way?
Rizzotto: Nah, this was all me, but I did tell them about the project in the last few months and we’ve been chatting on and off. I imagine it’s the most interesting thing someone has done with their product yet.
Gizmodo: Very nice! I’m glad that they at least helped you with the metadata problem.
Rizzotto: Oh yeah, the simplicity of the solution was hilarious. This is something programmers go through often.
Gizmodo: You touch on this fact a bit in the video, on how you understand that it can be worrisome to live in the past. The first thing that I thought of when you mentioned this in the video was people reliving memories of others who aren’t in their lives anymore, from loved ones to ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and how something like this can keep them from moving on. Did you think about that all?
Rizzotto: Yeah, quite a bit actually. Anything that connects us to people who aren’t around anymore can stop us from moving on. Objects, photos, memories, etc. So I don’t think that this project introduces any unique aspect other than a more intense one, perhaps. Going back in time I did get to spend time with people who aren’t around anymore in some instances, and honestly I just felt grateful I could feel their presence again.
But how that impacts people’s relationship with grief is a really big topic that warrants probably a focused exploration
So basically: yeah, I’ve thought about it from day one. But it’s also such a big matter I didn’t think I could tackle it yet. I need to put more thought into it.
Gizmodo: What do you hope people take away from your video?
Rizzotto: Tons. That we can build impossible things if we approach them from a new angle. That technology, as scary as it may be sometimes, can give us new ways to understand ourselves and grow as human beings. And that we should be kinder to our past, present and future selves, always mindful that those three are always working together, whether you notice it or not.
And [what] I say in the video, that “visiting your own past can bring you wonders that last a lifetime.”