You may have noticed on social media – Twitter especially – that an increasing number of people are using a digital profile as representation. Increasingly, we’re seeing crypto enthusiasts gravitating to the Bored Ape Yacht Club, becoming Cryptopunks, and paying big bucks for generative NFT artwork.
For those not in the know, an NFT (or Non-Fungible Token) is a unique unit of data stored on a digital leger. This means that you can now apply a unique set of code (a sort of “digital signature”) to any form of digital media – art, music, film, video. In theory, anything.
In fact, it’s already shaking up the art world, with some pieces fetching as high as $69 million, and more and more celebrities breaking into the space.
With all that in mind, for this post I wanted to interview Andrew Drayton – the founder behind the Vogu Collective. A series of generative robots (or “Tars”) which more and more people have taken to using as their profile image.
At first this may look like any other NFT project, but what really got my attention was their repurposing of the NFT space to create a transmedia project, complete with a rich and complex lore, and a growing community presence.
With that all said, the interview is below where we discuss NFTs, media, the Wild West of Intellectual Property rights, and the potential future of the media landscape:
So, to begin, what is an NFT?
ANDREW: So, I’m a technical person but I’m not the technical person to explain the tech behind an NFT. So, my answer on “What is an NFT” or “why is it important” is to think of the blockchain as a ledger of transactions that’s verifiable or can be checked.
Now Etherium is the most commonly used, and NFTs can be built on the blockchain where you can track that ledger of transactions. That means you have verifiable ownership and the tracking of that ownership. So that allows creators and artists to get royalties off of the second sales of their work, which I think is very important because they’d usually miss out on those.
There’s also the non-fungible side of things, which means each piece is unique.
So, from a consumer, or audience perspective, what is the appeal of NFTs?
ANDREW: Yeah, so I think about it in terms of things which haven’t happened yet, but things which are coming. Take a Louis Vuitton bag, for example. Everyone knows what a Louis Vuitton bag is, or a Gucci bag, but there are fake ones that get sold which brands in that industry need to worry about. How can you verify that it’s real?
If you own a Louis Vuitton bag, you want people to know that’s a Louis Vuitton bag! And that’s what NFTs are. They aren’t just copy and pasted jpegs, they’re a status symbol. It’s like owning a virtual Louis Vuitton bag, or a Rolex. It’s like showing off online. It’s like a fashion statement.
The difference is, if I were to call you out on having a Bored Ape on your profile, there’s no argument because I can just go to the wallet and just show the ledger. It’s provable, it’s verifiable. Nobody can go in and edit that data.
You mention Bored Apes, do you think there’s a community feel around NFTs at the moment?
ANDREW: Yeah, for me, there are two big reasons certain NFTs are succeeding. First, it’s about building a strong community, and then having some utility behind it.
This makes it different to most media and art projects. Nobody walks into an art gallery and looks at a Monet and asks “this is cool, but what’s the community of Monet holders like? What utility do I get if I buy this?”
Nobody asks those questions in the traditional art world, but in the NFT world, it’s very important. It’s like an exclusive clubhouse. It’s not just a piece of art, it’s a club card to this exclusive group. That was definitely the case for me with Bored Apes-it was a great networking tool.
Let’s talk a little about what you’re doing, what is the Vogu Collective…and how did you come up with the name?
ANDREW: So, our artist, Jason, had come up with the name when he first originally drew them in 2012, and then at the beginning of the lockdown…it just sounded kinda roboty. And we were like, yeah, it’s a cool name. So, we ran with it.
But my goal originally was to get him in the NFT space. I knew he was a super talented artist, and NFTs were getting bigger and bigger. I knew his art had a space, and we could do something. He minted his first art pieces, put them up for sale – and they didn’t sell for weeks.
And it goes back to what I said earlier, community is important. We didn’t have those attached, and Jason wasn’t a social media guy. He wasn’t going to tweet every hour to get someone to look at his art. So it’s very easy for a normal artist to get lost.
So how did you break into the space?
ANDREW: It pretty much came down to the Bored Ape community, which gave us access to a bunch of different communities. Someone tweeted a few months ago about the NFT space – I feel like we all go to the same high school, but we just sit at different lunch tables. What I thought was key to succeed for our launch, was to get involved with as many of those lunch tables as possible-and kinda merge them together.
And I think that really helped us. Because we got a lot of good community members early, and that built up interest and audience first.
Now, you’ve got 7,777 avatars (“Tars”) as NFTs. How do you make them? Or are you drawing out literally thousands of unique robots?
ANDREW: You definitely need to have a plan, and basically, they’re generative projects. What you’re doing is first identifying the variables that will change.
Now a lot of them are animal projects, and those variables are easy to identify. You know, eyes, mouth, clothes, ears, hat, sunglasses – super easy stuff. But with our robots, there aren’t official part names, it’s sort of cameras, disks, screens. All kinds of weird things.
But Jason is such a good artist, and the way he thinks is very compartmentalised. Like, if you just cut off the top of their heads, you can switch around things here. And then maybe a face and a mouth. We literally started with a square head and tried to figure out where things would change, and we sort of generate those images off of video game software.
Right now NFTs are pretty niche – mostly appealing to crypto enthusiasts on Twitter. How do we get them to go mainstream?
ANDREW: I believe the most successful NFT projects won’t be marketed as NFT projects. Like, if you look at NBA fans around the world, they have these NBA trading cards called Moments. If you’re on their website, and you buy things, and sell things, you’ll never know that’s an NFT.
It’s all done through their website, and their User Interface, and they never ever tell you you’re trading an NFT. No, you’re trading a card that you own…but it is an NFT. It’s just not thought of as one.
That’s comfortable for people. It’s like going to Amazon and buying things. If your NFT community works like that, where you just go and buy an image or collectable, then people will buy in. But right now, it’s kinda inaccessible – not many people in the general public really know what an NFT is. But they know what a trading card is.
One of the reasons I wanted to speak to you specifically was because you describe your work as “Transmedia.” Can you explain a bit about that?
ANDREW: Sure. Well, I have a background in film and that’s where I met Jason. So, when we approached this project from the beginning, it wasn’t just about launching an art project, it was thinking about what that business looks like, and our long term plan.
And I really believe that big names in entertainment are looking at the NFT world. We’ve done comic books, we’ve done books – they’ve sucked everything dry and are looking for new audiences. And the NFT space looks like that next space.
Same with YouTube and TikTok. Guys like Netflix are starting to adapt material and stars from there. So, I wanted to position the Vogu Collective as a project that’s not just this NFT thing, I want to have it ready to have conversations.
If Pixar called tomorrow, I want to be ready to explain our universe, pitch our IP, and talk about why it could be a Saturday Morning Cartoon, or Movie, or Series. When I talk transmedia, that means I want this base IP that can move anywhere in this media space.
And that’s what I wanted to build – a world, where we have the IP ready to go.
So, this has the potential to be huge. And when I talk to people who aren’t in the NFT space I tell them not to sleep on the tech. You don’t have to be in this space, but don’t sleep on it. Because one of your favourite brands will do something with it. And more and more IP will be coming out of the space.
You spoke about Intellectual Property, and ownership rights. Can you explain how that works with NFTs? If people own an NFT, do they own the rights associated with it?
ANDREW: Yeah, so this is where it’s a bit Wild West. This is where it gets really grey. So, I hired a law firm because I knew our IP needed to be protected. Like, Darth Vader is awesome. But if somebody owns Darth Vader, how do you make money off it? That person can make money.
One of the big things at the moment is that the community has to have ownership. They own the avatar, or IP. And there are a lot of community demands for that. Now, more and more projects are coming out not giving ownership, and the community is mostly OK with that. But it’s a space that’s really changing fast, and attitudes are changing just as fast.
So I sat down with some lawyers to protect the core IP. The universe, the Vogu concept, the story, everything. And a lot of these other projects say “If you buy my Crazy Penguin” you get full commercial rights. But a Crazy Penguin has, like, thirty different traits. So, what do I own?
Do I own the Penguin ears? The Penguin sunglasses? Do I own an expression? You know, what do you own? The only thing you have is a paragraph on the website that says “You Own Commerical Rights.” But it doesn’t mean anything. If a Penguin comes out by Pixar that owns 99% of traits with your penguin, like, do you own 99% of that IP, or do you own nothing?
So we needed to find a way to give the community what they want, and still find a way to protect our IP. So we did something a little different (and I think more and more people should follow) where we own the attributes. So we own this cool Vinyl record ear piece for the avatars. We own that IP. But the consumer owns the combination of those attributes.
They can have the vinyl ear, the face screen, the outfit. They own the combination of those attributes … but we own the individual IP of those attributes. So they wouldn’t be able to use the Vogu name, the Vogu universe. So, they don’t really have anything – just the avatar.
When it comes to storytelling, Darth Vader is Darth Vader because of the narrative significance. If you don’t give narrative significance to any other collectable, they’re still awesome. But they’re not Darth Vader – they’re a combination of his helmet, mask, lightsaber, costume, in that unique combination.
But right now, no IP from the NFT world has been turned into a larger media project. The potential is there, but for Intellectual Property Rights, we don’t yet know what that looks like.
What does the future of NFTs look like?
ANDREW: Yeah. Well, the landscape has changed dramatically in the space – very quickly. When Bored Ape Yacht Club launched there were about 10,000 – 15,000 unique wallets on OpenSea – where everything is a secondary market. They sold out, an hour or two hours to sell out their NFTs.
We launched, maybe, a month or two later. And, when we launched there were 30,000 wallets on OpenSea. In our two weeks, we blew out their numbers – three times what Bored Ape Yacht Club did in two weeks. And we felt super great about it.
On1 Force just launched a month later. And there are now 150,000 wallets on OpenSea. So they blow our numbers away, blows Bored Ape Yacht Club’s numbers away. It’s not to say they’re better or more sustainable than our project, but it shows how insanely quickly audience is growing in this space.
When you’re the big project, and you launch now, you’ll be launching to a larger and larger market. So, before you do anything with NFTs, it almost pays to hold off a bit – because you have that massive audience to sell to. But also, you have to strike while the iron’s hot.
Now celebrities are getting in on it. And they buy the old cool thing that’s established – like the Rolex – and they buy whatever the hot new thing is. In a month there will be a new hot project.
But I do think the space is going to grow and get a lot larger. So it will get very competitive, and bigger names will get in. We’ll be competing not with other NFTs, but with Gundam. With Marvel. With Star Wars.
I know for a fact that certain studios have already built legal teams on NFT IP, and they’re trying to figure out what that legal grey area means – and that will determine how NFTs are seen going forwards. But right now, they don’t know what the legal questions are yet – and are still doing their research.
Really complex stuff. So, do you have any final thoughts?
ANDREW: Yeah, what I’d say is, if you’re new to the space collect something you like – if the price goes up, great. If it doesn’t, at least you have something you like. That’s my mantra, even if the project is hot but I don’t like it – I don’t buy it.
I do believe, whether it’s us or someone else, in the next year, there will be a brand or IP that leaves this space and goes really mainstream. You’re already going to start seeing this happen – like Wicked Cranium is already doing a collab with Skullcandy. You’re going to start seeing those small collabs, but soon you’ll see the big stuff.
Right now, you’ll get things like Visa buying a Cryptopunk for nothing – in their money – but that’s really just a marketing gimmick to look cool. But then you’ll get real stuff, like major brands partnering with Bored Ape Yacht Club to launch a Bored Ape Yacht! Right? Some ridiculous partnership like that!
But it will get to the point where they’ll want a Vogu, or an Ape, or Cranium and say, we want to make a Netflix show … it’s going to happen.
However you view it, it seems that we’ve barely scratched the surface of NFTs. It’s still early days but there is serious potential in this sector of the industry to disrupt traditional media, streaming services, and more.
I’d like to thank Andrew for his time, and urge anyone interested in the Vogu Collective to check out their work. Some fantastic stuff going on.