Angela Haddad: One Third Blue
I am so excited to introduce you to Angela Haddad, founder of One Third Blue.
Angela is the second woman featured in Girls of AR & VR - IRL, a mini-series about 5 influential women in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Angela is a young woman who left her full-time job to turn her passion project into a company. One Third Blue is the ultimate intersection of fashion, watercolor art, and (high-tech) virtual reality. I can’t imagine a better fit for Here For A Few, where we’re focused on exposing femininity and creativity within the lifestyle of busy, driven women. We obviously value aesthetic here, and that’s something Angela is no stranger to, as you’ll see from the gorgeous illustrations peppered throughout this piece!
Current City: Los Angeles
Where all have you lived and how did you make it to LA?
Answer: I was born and raised in Lebanon and moved to Orange County (OC) with my family when I was 13. It was just before high school. High school in OC was complete a culture shock especially as a pre-teen. Everything in my life started to come together when I attended Berkeley for undergrad and realized that there were other people like me. I studied Political Economy. I wasn't really sure whether I would pursue it as a career full-time, but it was an opportune time for me to study it. I had grown up in a bubble and was oblivious to what was going on outside of my community when I lived in Lebanon, even though it was a tiny country. I learned a lot about it through my major. After school, I worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for a bit and then moved back to LA.
Early Career & Major Business Lesson
What did you do right after undergrad?
Answer: I did not end up pursuing Political Economy (my major) after school. I come from a big tech family. My dad has been a tech entrepreneur his entire life so even before attending university I had taken on tech internships of different kinds like web design and web development. Toward the end of my senior year at Berkeley I decided to pursue tech full time. I got a job in the San Francisco Bay Area in web design and digital marketing. I worked there for few months after college and then my dad had an opening in his hosting firm for someone with my level of experience in web design. I moved to LA and worked there with a couple of other web developers in a tiny department of his hosting company. We ended up starting our own sister company. It was a digital marketing and design firm for small lifestyle brands in the area. It was such a fun experience!
What lifestyle brands did you work with?
Answer: My biggest customer was Marinello Schools of Beauty. They had around 60 campuses at the end of their time across the United States.
What do you mean “by the end of their time?”
Answer: Marinello got shut down by the federal government around February 2016. It was a huge shock for me and for my team. I got a call on a Monday morning saying “Hey! We just need you to post an update to the website later today." It was nothing unusual. We were used to doing 80 hrs worth of work every week for them, so a call about an update seemed very normal. The whole day went by and they hadn’t sent me the update they wanted posted. Around 11 PM I was thinking how strange it was that I hadn’t heard anything all day. I thought I’ll just check my e-mail one more time. They had finally sent me their update which simply stated: all of our campuses are being shut down by the federal government.
Why did they get shut down?
Answer: They got shut down because of financial fraud. It was a huge shock for all the students who were going there, let alone us. Imagine thousands and thousands of students whose careers were dependent on this school, not to mention professors and other staff members who lost their jobs.
Our company definitely wasn't the only entity affected by the shutdown. It was very scary. It took a couple of weeks for the shock to really wear off, but it was a great experience to have gone through.
How long did it take them to actually shut things down after you got that message?
Answer: Overnight! The next day we did not have work from them, and they were our biggest client.
Are you serious? That’s crazy that they didn't send you a personal notice.
Answer: Nothing! I’m sure it was a low priority of theirs as they were dealing with accusation of financial fraud and shutting down of their campuses.
What did that do to your company?
Answer: This was obviously a major business lesson. They contributed to 90% of our revenue which was a huge mistake. Marinello seemed like a great client. We were having a lot of fun doing awesome work for them. It was very rewarding and the sort of thing that didn’t seem so volatile. It was a small to medium-size business; a multi thousand employee business. I was rolling with it rather than thinking about what could go wrong or having a diversification vision for the future. And it got shut down overnight.
How did you feel in that moment when Marinello shut down?
Answer: I was definitely scared but I also had this tiny bit of relief. In that moment I realized I didn't have to figure out to how to ditch my job to move into VR, something I had been thinking about for quite some time.
Entrance into Virtual Reality
What was your first experience with VR and how did the desire to move into VR evolve?
Answer: I had experienced VR for the first time about 7 months before the Marinello incident. I tried on an Oculus SDK 2 headset and was instantly immersed in another world. I was in the middle of a forest and saw this pretty rendered house. I had heels on in real life. The experience was so visceral that I had to take off my heels to keep my balance while walking around in the forest. It was an excellent first VR experience. It made me crazy about the medium and I wanted to get more involved. After that I decided to go out and learn the whole virtual reality production process, from shooting monoscopic video to stitching and editing. But I only had time to pursue it as a side hobby. I published some stuff but it was very low key just to experiment. I didn’t have much of a vision at that point. I wanted to pursue VR in some way but didn’t have a plan yet.
For a long time I was very isolated in my learning. Once I started meeting people and making friends in the VR industry, I started realizing that what I had been teaching myself was becoming a very real skillset. That’s when I realized I could actually start pursuing it full time. In the couple of months leading up to the Marinello situation I was struggling with what my plan should be to leave web design and transition into VR. I also had a fashion illustration platform on the side. I was painting in watercolor on the weekends and sharing my stuff on Instagram and Facebook. Once the Marinello thing happened, I gave myself a few weeks to reflect and just do whatever I wanted without caring about money, the future, or my career. Those three weeks ended up being the most productive time of my life. That’s when I built One Third Blue and realized that my fashion art could become a VR experience.
Time out...what is monoscopic video?
Answer: Monoscopic video is 2D video. Stereoscopic videos are 3D videos which allow each eye to see a slightly different disparity. In other words you can see depth when you’re watching a stereoscopic video in VR. Monoscopic videos do not allow you to see depth, but mastering them is a good first step toward learning how to stitch.
Did you go straight from that experience with Marinello to focusing full-time on One Third Blue?
Answer: No. I transitioned into a new role at a company called SilVR Thread that created first person point of view, live action VR. That became my full-time job and One Third Blue become my side gig. I did some really awesome work there with a wonderful team that is going places. But this past March I decided it was time for me to leave and focus on One Third Blue. It felt amazing to take that leap of faith!
Focusing on One Third Blue
One Third Blue started with your water color paintings and an interest in fashion and VR. At what point did you realize that this could actually be a business?
Answer: I realized this could be a business in my three months of madness post Marinello. I started making 360 videos and showing them to people. They were genuinely surprised and actually enjoying the videos. So I thought hmm…maybe I should see if anyone in the fashion industry would ever like these videos. I started e-mailing and cold contacting people. I ended up doing a video for Marie Claire a couple of months after that. When Marie Claire gave me a green light to start doing work for them I thought ok, it’s time to devote more time to this.
How does Marie Claire use your work?
Answer: In June, July, and August, Marie Claire selects 3 different girls on their magazine covers for their Summer cover girl campaign. They use Facebook 360 video as one aspect of their digital marketing. One Third Blue provides them with content for this Facebook campaign. The idea was to illustrate something inspired by the 3 summer cover girls. In the video you see 3 different styling sets where Selena Gomez, Blake Lively, and Amy Schumer are each getting ready for their cover shoot.
What is One Third Blue’s daily mission?
Answer: When people see my work, I want them to see something different and surprising, thinking oh wow I wonder if she actually did that by hand. I think that so far I have been achieving that. The 3D rendered look is prominent in a lot of VR content. Although it works well for a variety of experiences including shooter games, I want to steer away from it. I am trying to bring watercolor, a brush, and a piece of paper to life inside of a VR environment. It should look very tangible.
How did the experience with Marinello shutting down affect how you are planning your business right now?
Answer: This taught me to take precautions and have a vision beyond the short-term, but it also taught me that I can recover from anything. I’ve already experienced a worst case scenario. I take life as it goes now. I am very ambitious and strict with myself since I have high hopes and dreams, but I know that if it takes three years instead of one to get where I want to be, I will be just fine.
How did you come up with the name "One Third Blue"?
Answer: When I first launched my Instagram handle and started posting a bunch of illustrations, I took a step back and realized a lot of my work was black and white. I used colors as accents as opposed to the main attractions in my drawings. “One Third Blue” refers to a little bit of a color and a lot of black and white.
Do you foresee people experiencing your work as a form of art appreciation? I’m imagining it in art galleries and art museums.
Answer: Yes absolutely. There have been a few museums that have taken on VR and are experimenting with it. For example the National History Museum recently had a virtual underwater experience allowing humans to virtually interact with whales and fish. It’s democratizing access to VR which is very important. It would be awesome to bring my VR experiences to an art museum someday.
What’s your absolute dream for One Third Blue?
Answer: First of all, I hope one day my style will become so distinct that it’s immediately identifiable as One Third Blue.
Secondly, I would love to be a go-to person that brands think of when they want an innovative artistic idea. A lot of fashion artists have expanded beyond fashion after building their portfolio. For example, Megan Hess gets called up to design the packaging of a champagne bottle.
Jumping off my last point, a lot of brands right now are nervous to jump into VR full-force since it requires consumers to use VR headsets. The consumer market isn't really there yet. Instead brands are starting with social media campaigns like Facebook 360. So I am doing that because it’s the first natural step for the industry. But when brands decide to take it to the next level, I hope to be the go-to person for non-live action VR campaigns, or even live action campaigns that combine a little hand-drawn animation.
Is One Third Blue a one woman show?
Answer: It is a one woman show for now, but I foresee having a team in the future.
How did you obtain funds in order to start your business?
Answer: At the beginning the cost was just my time, and then it grew to include software licensing fees, watercolor paints, equipment, and art supplies. Right now One Third Blue is self-sustained through awesome projects.
How do you go about getting new clients?
Answer: I initially did a lot of cold calling. After a while I started getting approached by people who have seen my work or were referred to me by someone who loves my work. I have also been invited to speak on a number of panels. That’s been a great opportunity to educate the market about my brand and gain new clientele. Outside of that I use very traditional digital marketing. Building an audience, telling your story, and sharing your day with people through social media really works!
One thing that is very detrimental to the industry right now is people doing free work. It’s a big temptation for all of us to get our name out there especially when we are new. But it really cheapens our work and could create a standard for VR to be cheap. This is effectively year one of VR. So for us to start low right now would be a huge issue for the future of the industry. Everybody should try to avoid free work as much as possible and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Walk me through the creation of one of your experiences. What is your process like?
Answer: Everything I do is entirely watercolor on canvas before it goes into any sort of machine or gets rendered. I start out with paints, a brush, and paper. The most critical part is making sure that everything is painted separately to allow for animation later on in the process. For example, a building would be painted separately from a girl that is going to be standing beside it. If I expect the girl to be walking in the final experience, I make sure to draw the legs separately from the rest of the body. The paintings get scanned into a computer system, polished, and placed into a 360 environment. There I can start building the animation as well as the whole scene. Once it is animated, it gets rendered, which equates to many hours of waiting!
The Real Angela Behind One Third Blue
What do you love most about your job?
Answer: My first love was getting to create something that I thought was actually impossible. The next stage I fell in love with was the realization that people want it and I can actually sell it.
What’s the hardest thing you learned in starting your own company?
Answer: The hardest thing I've had to learn is how to work solo. It’s basically just me and my work. I am a person who loves alone time, but I also love people. Working alone definitely takes some getting used to. In addition, when you’re your own boss you have to be very strict with yourself to make sure your business is progressing.
What have you been doing to balance those two things – making sure you don’t turn into a total hermit but also staying focused on your work?
Answer: Getting to the gym is a great way to start the day and do your own thing around other people for an hour or two as a substitute for being in an office. I also make sure to check in with my family and friends who are all over the country. Keeping in touch with people that are far from you reminds you of the big network of supporters you have. It’s also fun to travel and visit friends I don’t see very often. All of those things help me feel connected with other people even though I work alone!
Another tip I have for staying balanced is being easy on yourself when you know you need it. If you need to take a couple of days off, do it. It’ll be really valuable to have a fresh perspective and be more focused when you return.
As for staying focused when I’m my own boss, I make sure to set goals for myself every day. At the beginning of the day, I go with the flow in terms of creating my plan. But once that plan is set, I strive to stick to those goals. There are times when I set an unrealistic goal and it ends up taking seven hours when I thought it would take two. Being flexible to split those larger goals up into achievable goals is also important.
What tools do you use to keep track of your daily goals? Do you do like hand written lists or do you use some software tool for your to do list?
Answer: I was actually thinking about this yesterday. Up until now I have been using One Note by Microsoft. I absolutely love One Note but I am thinking about buying a white board for things that are more urgent. I have this internal battle going on as to whether my to do’s will get lost between the white board and One Note and end up never getting done. So for right now I’m sticking with One Note, but that’s subject to change!
Do you work out of your home or in an office?
Answer: I recently converted my apartment into a one bedroom plus production studio. When I first found my apartment, I felt like the space was a bit excessive, but I took it because I was getting a great deal on it. Now that I’m working on One Third Blue full-time, I’ve been able to convert my living room to include a green screen and all my equipment. Everything makes so much sense now!
What do you do to keep yourself grounded and present when you have so many things going on?
Answer: I wish I could say that I meditate but I don’t! I watch TV, I watch Netflix haha. The fiction aspect of Netflix allows you to escape your own reality for a bit. I’ve also found that it incites a lot of dreams and visions, depending on the show. It’s a way to relax get creatively sparked a bit. I just finished watching Narcos and it was to die for.
Outside of Work
You mentioned that you work out every day. What is your favorite workout regimen?
Answer: I like to run. I used to enjoy it a lot more when I was in Orange County (OC) because I could easily run outside my house and around my neighborhood. There was a park less than a mile away that I could run through. It’s a very suburban area. Here in LA, I live in West Hollywood. It’s very residential but there are a lot of cars and you’re running with pollution all around you. It’s not as enjoyable of a run, so there’s that, but it’s still a lot of fun. I love hiking too! There are a lot of really fun hiking trails in LA. We did the Hollywood sign a couple of weekends ago, and that was beautiful. Malibu’s awesome, and there’s obviously Griffith Park. My dog lives with my parents in OC since it’s a great environment for a dog with a lot of energy. I still get to see him every couple of weeks, but whenever I’m missing him I like to go to Griffith Park to stalk everybody else’s dogs!
Creative and Professional Inspiration
How long have you been painting for?
Answer: I have been painting for very long time, I think since I was a teenager. Gradually and unexpectedly things got more feminine and more focused towards fashion. Then I realized that fashion illustrators can make a great living out of doing it full time.
When did you start getting into fashion?
Answer: I took more of an interest in fashion when Instagram fashion blogging started taking off around 2012. I was passionate about photography and fashion but I wasn’t passionate about posting daily pictures of myself. I also didn't like the idea of having to maintain an up to date closet all the time because I’m such an outfit repeater! It just wasn't for me but I wanted to be involved somehow. Again, it was very much on the back burner for a long time as something in the back of my mind.
What are some other fashion companies that you are really inspired by?
Answer: I love Helmut Lang, IRO, and Sandro. I love a very classic, minimal, French aesthetic. A fashion or beauty label that enables you to spend less than 15 minutes getting ready and look beautiful at the same time is a great label to me.
Who are some other female founders that you are inspired by?
Answer: I love Emily Weiss from Glossier. Her products are great and so is her attitude! I also love Leandra, founder of Man Repeller. Man Repeller is probably the smartest fashion blog out there right now. It often tackles the balance between perceived as smart and dressing well at the same time. Her style is humorous, smart, and sharp.
How did growing in Lebanon affected you as a professional today?
Answer: As the world is becoming more globalized, my experiences are becoming less and less different than others’. If someone grew up here until they were 13 and then started exploring different countries on a very grassroots level through study abroad and vacation, then my experience is not dramatically different than theirs. But one thing that’s different for me specifically is that I was taught three languages from birth: Arabic, French and English. English was technically my third language, but now I would consider it my first because I speak it much more often than the others. I still speak Arabic and French with my family. I do think that learning new languages opens up your mind in new ways. I have found this aspect of early childhood in Lebanon to be rare and valuable!
Being a Woman in VR
Having worked in the tech industry for awhile, have you ever felt the pressure hide your femininity in order to be successful?
Answer: Yes, of course. That pressure is definitely there as I’m sure you know. I experimented with different ways of dealing with it. Once you mature you realize that you should just do whatever the hell you want. When you are confident in yourself and good at what you do, it doesn't matter how people perceive you. If you’re creating admirable work, that will take precedent.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in getting into virtual reality?
Answer: The VR community is honestly so impressive. It’s very inviting and supportive. Harness that and meet as many people in VR as possible. Get to know them and ask them questions. You can start by joining the Women in VR Facebook group. It’s a really awesome group and was very integral to me launching my career in VR. I met so many women through there and they were all so supportive.
Next, figure out exactly what you want to do in VR and then pursue that specifically. There are so many things you can contribute to the VR community right now. If you want to create content, ask yourself what kind of content you want to create: 3D content? Live action content? Beyond creating content, you might find that you’re interested in direction, production, or animation. Once you determine where you want to specialize it will be very easy to target the skillset you need in order to make it happen.
Are there many women working in VR from what you can tell?
Answer: Great question. I can't give an answer statistically. I will say that there is significant number of women working in VR right now, but we still have yet to see a true measure of equality when it comes to recognition.
The positive is that we are neither recreating Hollywood nor Silicon Valley cultures. There is a huge effort to change things early on in this industry before it becomes so big it’s hard to change. We need more women on panels and more women in higher-level jobs because we ultimately need women to be more visible in the industry. The Women in VR Facebook group has been doing an awesome job by pushing boundaries and providing a support network for us to reach those goals.
Keep Up with One Third Blue
Tell us about something fun you’re working on at One Third Blue right now!
Answer: I’m just wrapping up a project for AlJazeera. They recently launched a VR studio called Contrast VR and have been producing very well-made VR documentaries and shorts. I’m currently creating art animations to complement the live action of one of their documentaries - it will be released in the Fall.
How can readers get involved with your brand and keep up with the latest?
Answer: The most important platforms for you to follow me on are Instagram (@onethirdblue) and Facebook (One Third Blue). I post many works in progress and announcements on Instagram, but Facebook is the only platform on which you can view my 360 videos. I also tweet from time to time. My Twitter handle is @AngelaHaddad.