M1 Interactive creates digital environments in this real environment on the Near West Side | Space | Chicago Reader

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M1 Interactive creates digital environments in this real environment on the Near West Side

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At M1 Interactive headquarters, visitors are greeted by a T. rex, jaws agape, baring killer fangs, and ferociously charging. Sure, the dino is a hologram on a pedestal that stands less than a foot tall, but its gait is visceral enough to trigger my fight-or-flight response. A 3-D simulated racing game nearby lets you hop into the driver's seat and gun it through some mountain passes. A high-speed spinout crash is so authentically rendered that Dramamine should be administered afterward. For Brian Dressel, the interactive development firm's founder, this hyperreal wonderland is just another day at the office.

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Tyrannosaurus Rex hologram

"We try to create magic," says Dressel, whose company designs immersive digital environments for museum installations, trade shows, and special events like the Olympics or high-budget movie promotions in Times Square. "We combine physical elements to give you a real yet virtual experience—as real as possible without actually throwing yourself off a mountain. Like in virtual skydiving . . . you can get the same feeling, the same fear, the same scare."

M1 Interactive studio

Dressel got his start in electronics engineering before going on to study film and motion works. "I always wanted to be a Disney imagineer," he says. Instead, he started his own company, operating out of his basement until moving into the current West Town digs in 2011.

The spacious loft is kept dark, which calls attention to the office's LCD screens with constantly moving imagery. A 3-D model of a frog mounted on the wall comes to life with skin that changes color—a projection mapping created for the Shedd Aquarium's "Amphibians" exhibit. A virtual Air Jordan shoe, a project created for Nike, rotates on a touch screen and explodes into its components when tapped. The workshop includes a Computerized Numerical Control machine and 3-D printer to create parts for projects, and the main floor is kept clear for building projects. "We spend a lot of time taking things apart and making things better," Dressel says. "We have so many opportunities and all these toys to play with; if we can try to work them into a job utilizing that technology, it's win-win."

Brian Dressler plays a simulated racing game at M1 Interactive
  • Andrea Bauer
  • Brian Dressel plays a simulated racing game at M1 Interactive

Correction: This post has been amended to reflect the correct spelling of Brian Dressel's name.

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