How A&S alumnus led Dark Slope went from theme park attractions to the metaverse

March 30, 2022 by Startup Here Toronto Barry Chong

Raja Khanna (BSc 1993) is touring his Dark Slope Studios office, an old warehouse on Toronto’s Sterling Road that has been repurposed into a fun factory, churning out video games and TV shows for clients such as Nickelodeon and WarnerMedia. “This place is full of toys and cool people and creative tech,” Khanna says before turning a corner to reveal the company’s motion-capture stage. “This is my dream job. I get to tell stories.”

The motion-capture stage is where new worlds dreamed up by Dark Slope’s creative team come to life. In front of a green screen, actors in form-fitting body suits studded with tracking pins fling their arms around as the company’s technicians record their every move. Fed through Dark Slope’s spatial computing technology, they will emerge as cute animals or monsters or whatever the entertainment demands. It could be the set of a special-effects-laden movie, but these actors aren’t producing a spectacle to be watched. They’re creating a world to be immersed in.

Dark Slope’s own story is certainly atypical. In part, that’s because Khanna and his team of artists-cum-scientists get paid good money to, you know, play make-believe. But it’s mostly because the venture works in an entirely new field: the metaverse. These immersive online worlds are brought to life with science-fiction-inspired innovations like virtual and augmented reality. But the space is so new that it’s still being defined, which makes Dark Slope a leader in the virtual-entertainment revolution.

Khanna is a serial entrepreneur. His first startup, founded in the mid-90s, created choose-your-own-adventure websites on the infant internet. His next enterprise was a mobile audio-and-video platform that was eventually acquired by AT&T. After that, he took on projects in TV and streaming, as well as board positions with OCAD University and Artscape. Then came the big leap forward.

Through all this, Khanna was keeping tabs on developments in virtual reality, but the idea of a fully-fledged metaverse got a whole lot more, well, real around 2016. Advances in 3-D imaging, virtual reality and 5G happened in quick succession, which, Khanna says, had a “profound” effect on the technology industry and its ability to process massive amounts of graphical data. “What used to cost thousands and thousands of dollars now cost three hundred bucks.” So, in 2018, Dark Slope was born.

The company initially made entertainment installations for theme parks where patrons could put on some virtual-reality goggles and pretend they were shooting aliens. Then came the coronavirus and public-health restrictions that put in-person entertainment on hold everywhere.

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