Joe Lawton  

Toying With Technology

As an engineer in the ’80s, Chris Gentile often found himself strolling around hot nuclear reactors in a radiation suit. The work was far from fun and games. Then he received a call from his brothers, who ran a graphics agency in New York—they needed help designing a new high-tech toy product using holograms. Gentile, who had been designing and certifying nuclear power plants for several years, helped them produce high-quality, low-cost polymer holograms for an action figure line called Visionaries before joining a new company they formed. “I got rid of my radiation suit and came back to Manhattan,” he says.
      Over the next decade, Gentile was involved in bringing more than 20 different toys to market, including electronic games and virtual reality products. Today he ventures onto the World Wide Web as executive vice president for creative services at Viewpoint Corporation (www.viewpoint. com), and as president of MC Squared Inc. (, a consulting, design, and inventing firm, where he produces award-winning digital videos for such companies as Intel and Computer Associates International. “I’ve always liked problem-solving, which is what engineering tends to be,” says Gentile, who studied mechanical engineering at SU.
      The holograms he developed for various toy lines in the ’80s led him to work with 3D graphics. He then turned his eye toward the electronic gaming industry, inventing the Nintendo PowerGlove, the first consumer virtual reality product. “Some people say it was a failure because it only lasted a year and a half, but it sold 1.5 million pieces,” Gentile says. “I wish I had a failure like that every two years. When you sell 1.5 million of a product from which you make royalties, it’s a nice profit.”
      Gentile continued working on virtual reality, forming a new company called Millennium RUSH to develop “behavioral-based animation.” “It’s animation that is generated in real-time versus traditional animation that is pre-scripted,” Gentile explains. “If you hit a character in the shoulder, he grabs his shoulder at the spot you hit him.” DisneyQuest’s indoor interactive theme parks use the technology in a six-person virtual reality battle game called Ride the Comix, which Millennium RUSH designed and developed.
      Gentile’s company began putting fully functional interactive characters on the World Wide Web in 1998, and tried to generate interest in using them as digital salesmen. “The problem was, we were the epitome of ‘ahead of our time,’” he says. “We were out there trying to show people how this could improve sales for e-commerce, but back in ’98 people were saying: ‘What is e-commerce?’”
      Internet shopping was the theme of a digital video Gentile produced in 1999 with MC Squared. Using interactive characters, the video showed off the capabilities of Intel’s forthcoming Pentium IV computer, and won two prestigious Communicator Awards in a national competition honoring excellence in visual communications. “It seems I created a niche in corporate technical video productions,” he says. Viewpoint Corporation, a public company he joined in 1999, designs 3D models for the motion picture industry and creates web page content and e-commerce sites for such companies as Nike, Sharper Image, Eddie Bauer, and Sony. The company’s Viewpoint Media Player integrates streaming video, audio, vector graphics, panoramas, high-fidelity 3D content, and anamation. “Individually our technology’s components compete very strongly,” Gentile says. “If you look at how we integrate all types of rich-media technologies into one media player, no one can touch us.”

—Gary Pallassio

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