Categories: Fresh Thinking

From virtual games to virtual kitchen renovations

Transitioning from more than 15 years employed in the video game industry to working for a home improvement company may not be a typical career move, but it has worked out for Mason Sheffield.

Before becoming director of technology for Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the disruptive innovation hub of Lowe’s, Sheffield worked for Sledgehammer Games on top-seller “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.” As a senior technical artist, he was responsible for facial animation and 3D scanning of actors for the hero characters in the game.

Sheffield said his work at Lowe’s is not as different from Sledgehammer Games as one might think. At Lowe’s, Sheffield produces 3D content that’s used across technology platforms, including augmented and virtual reality, with the goal of making the 3D images as similar to physical products as possible. It’s just like creating virtual characters and environments in a video game.

When asked why he decided to move away from the gaming industry to his new role, he said “I’d work on video games, and they’d be popular for a year and a few months. They’d come and go in the blink of an eye. I felt like bringing my skills for 3D graphics and visualization into home improvement in an exciting and entertaining way would be more lasting over time.”

Based out of the Lowe’s Innovation Labs location in Kirkland, Washington, near Seattle, Sheffield gets to work on some of the most cutting-edge projects the company is piloting. One is Lowe’s Vision, an augmented reality application using Google’s Tango technology. The app helps customers visualize virtual home furnishings, fixtures and accents in their real living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, and measure spaces with the tap of a finger, using a Lenovo Phab 2 Pro smartphone.
Sheffield and his team also have been working on the Lowe’s Hologram Experience being piloted in two Lowe’s stores in Lynnwood, Washington, and Garner, North Carolina. Customers can design their kitchen project in mixed reality by viewing physical objects and digital holograms merged through the Microsoft HoloLens headset while standing in a showroom kitchen, and they can select from Lowe’s products, including cabinetry, hardware, countertops and appliances.

For both of these experiences, the creation of 3D content driven by Sheffield and his team is key to enhancing the experiences for customers. “We’re working to make these objects look as realistic as we can,” Sheffield said. That’s why the team in Kirkland has such a unique skillset – to help bring Lowe’s products to life virtually for customers in a seamless way.

Software engineer Anthony Blake and Development Director Anthony Schmill also have worked on “Call of Duty,” and Oleg Alexander, a technical artist and engineer for the lab, did groundbreaking work on the Digital Emily Project, where he was part of an effort to build a photoreal virtual actress designed to look like a human.

3D artist Erin Clark brought his experience to the team after working on the well-known opening introduction credits to the hit HBO series “Games of Thrones.” Clark is responsible for ensuring that materials like stainless steel look real in the virtual and augmented reality experiences that Lowe’s is offering.

“Working for Lowe’s Innovation Labs has been an amazing experience and more horizon expanding than I imagined when I first joined the company over a year ago,” Sheffield said. “I’ve been able to use my skills in 3D graphics and game development to build some great software on new platforms. I’ve also had a blast partnering with the best tech companies on the planet, and I can’t wait to show off what we build next.”