GoldRunner, Vivian Rosenthal and Augmented Reality

I cut my teeth on motion design at turn of the 21st century, when the desktop computer revolution was in full swing. A handful of studios were redefining what we now vaguely refer to as “motion graphics” and revolutionizing the means of production in the process. One such studio was co-founded by someone who would carve a rather unique path through the industry.

With a Masters in Architecture from Columbia University under her belt, Vivian Rosenthal co-founded Tronic Studios with Jesse Seppi in 2001. Together, they worked at the intersection of art, design and architecture, creating works that were featured many times on this site and across the web.

Vivian then founded GoldRun, an augmented reality platform that allows people to pursue virtual objects in the real world. Her latest endeavor, GoldRunner, is built on the synthesis of everything she’s done up to this point.

In the following interview, we dig into GoldRunner, transmedia storytelling and the entrepreneurial path that Vivian followed out of of service work and into product development.

Before we get going, check out the GoldRunner trailer.

Interview with Vivian Rosenthal, Executive Producer of GoldRunner

The Goldrunner trailer is pretty intriguing. And mysterious. Give us the elevator pitch: what is this project all about?

GoldRunner is a reality TV show that integrates mobile gaming and augmented reality into a quest where players race against each other in a futuristic scavenger hunt to discover who is the ultimate hero, and who will win the ultimate prize. The Bourne Identity meets Mission Impossible, but in real time, in the real world, with real people.

Where did the idea for Goldrunner come from?

I was thinking about how incredibly siloed the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry is. There are films, reality and scripted TV shows, console games, social games, mobile games and for the most part, there is not a lot of crossover between them.

Yes, sometimes a film is then made into a game, but often it’s an afterthought, and only happens if the film does well or if it’s a successful franchise that the studios can easily bet on.

I voiced my frustration to my agent when I was in LA, and he reminded me, gently, that I had at one point been a live action and CG commercial director and that I should stop being frustrated with the current entertainment landscape and just do something about it.

And that’s what I did. On the plane heading home, I wrote up the GoldRunner treatment and then in the dead of winter directed the trailer. I called a few friends who are all extremely talented, and we managed to shoot the whole thing in two days, wearing many layers of clothes.

The name of the series is Goldrunner; you are also the creator of Goldrun Augmented Reality app. Can you explain the connection between the two?

In some ways, they’re one and the same, although they’re being utilized in very different ways.

I believe that the language of the future is a visually based language. This is why I created GoldRun and also GoldRunner. GoldRunner allows viewers and players to participate in a real time narrative where their actions determine how the game and TV show unfolds. The two manifestations of the property overlap and intersect, influencing the viewer or player by creating a heightened experience that transcends watching the weekly show and influences their daily lives through the mobile game.

GoldRun is a photo based mobile engagement platform I founded that uses GPS-based Augmented Reality to allow brands to virtually place products inside user generated photos. It’s been called the Instagram for brands.

Since I had developed and owned the IP, I realized I could use it outside of advertising if I rethought how it was to be used and what the experience was. Suddenly, it all became very clear that there was an opportunity to create a transmedia project… and GoldRunner was born.

Sounds ambitious!

Humans tend to create things they like, and I loved the idea of not just playing a game, but the game being the reality. My reality was a game I realized, just the way everyone’s life is really a game, and they can choose to play it however they see fit. Life is one fast moving and dramatic game, the ultimate unfolding and unknowable narrative. I didn’t want to just watch a TV show or a film, I wanted to live it. And I knew that others shared this interest in being part of something bigger than themselves that they had agency in.

Transmedia projects seem incredibly difficult to manage. What have been some of the biggest challenges with Goldrunner? How have you addressed them?

Transmedia is a genre that is unfolding and evolving every day, which is both exciting and challenging because technology is charging ahead so quickly that sometimes the need for storytelling or narrative becomes secondary.

My goal with GoldRunner is both to incorporate the latest technology but not have it overpower the story or the gameplay. GoldRunner could be labeled as an ARG (Alternate Reality Game). This genre of gaming has been on the fringes but ARGs are beginning to enter into the popular landscape.

One thing that was quite a surprise to our team was the recent launch of Google’s Ingress project, which has a number of similarities to GoldRunner, in that it’s an ARG and an augmented reality mobile game.

There are of course many aspects that are also quite different about the two transmedia properties, but we put the GoldRunner trailer up on Vimeo six months ago, so we all started wondering if Google had seen it and been influenced by it. If they did, we’ll take that as a compliment and if they claim they didn’t see it, then I guess I’d have to say that both GoldRunner and Ingress capture the zeitgeist.

Will Goldrunner “work” as a passive experience, too? Or do viewer/users need to participate in its transmedia aspects to understand the narrative?

GoldRunner works both as a passive and participatory experience. You choose. You do not need to play to follow the narrative and watch the TV show. But to play is to win, to watch is to be entertained. People want to be entertained in many different ways. Some want to be the voyeur and some want to have agency, to shape the narrative, to be the narrative. GoldRunner offers both of these opportunities.

So is this a “second screen” experience, one that allows viewers to use their devices to extend the narrative?

For the most part, second screen viewing is still very much a passive experience. Checking into TV shows, texting, and watching content is becoming ubiquitous, but it’s still about sitting on the couch.

GoldRunner ushers in a new experience that expands the definition of a second screen to your city, not your living room, and to running, not watching. GoldRunner offers fans the choice to discover and create and play rather than simply consuming and viewing.

The road behind

A lot of us know you from your time at Tronic. How did your experience there help you with this project?

Life is a series of experiences that build upon each other. Studying architecture and then working in design, film and animation very much shaped how I saw the world. To me, it was always an ephemeral shape-shifting entity, not a static landscape.

I have always wanted to live in the future, to be a cyborg, to defy gravity. It’s hard to know when this desire first surfaced or why, but I was young, about twelve years old. Every science fiction trope captured my imagination, from the digital doppelgangers of Blade Runner to the virtual interfaces of Minority Report.

When I co-founded Tronic, it was 2001 and most of these virtual experiences had to be faked… in other words, they needed to be created in post-production. On one hand, it was extremely exciting to dream up these ideas and create them digitally, but on the other hand, it felt a bit static, because they were perfectly crafted and then suddenly dated, they didn’t react to the world around us.

With Tronic, GoldRun and now GoldRunner, you’ve created an interesting entrepreneurial arc for yourself. Do you think of yourself as an entrepreneur? If so, what does that mean to you? If not, why?

Yes, I do think of myself as an entrepreneur. Essentially to me it feels that through obsession, creation is born. That’s my definition of what it means to be an entrepreneur. You need to be so overwhelmingly obsessed with something to the point where you actually can extract that thing from your mind and bring it into the world and make an idea a reality.

An important aspect of your career (in my opinion) is the shift from service work (i.e. running a production company/studio like Tronic) to developing intellectual property and marketing products. Was that a conscious shift? If so, can you talk a little about that decision process?

Yes, it was very much a conscious shift. I had spent eight years developing IP and marketing products for others and I realized I was giving away my ideas. Yes, I was being paid for them and I learned a huge amount for working for incredible brands, but I didn’t actually create anything that I owned. The idea of creating and owning IP and allowing it to grow became increasingly intoxicating.

A lot of folks out there have been doing motion graphics and post-production for some time. They’re getting tired of pushing pixels and dealing with difficult clients. Do you feel that you’ve found a way “out” of the system? Do you recommend your path to others?

I certainly recommend this path to those who don’t need a client to feel inspired. Some people love to have a client and deadline and restraints and there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s often a good challenge.

But for those of you reading this that feel that you have an idea burning in your mind, then I would say to create it. If it fails then it fails, but you’ll continue to have new ideas that you can test if the first one doesn’t work.

The path ahead

Do you think Goldrunner (and other transmedia series) could work in the traditional broadcast model? More generally, is there a way to shoehorn new media experiences into old media somehow?

Yes, absolutely. The GoldRunner property could live in many places, from a TV network to a YouTube channel to Netflix to Hulu to XBOX Live. That’s the beauty of the digital age we’re living in — there are multiple distribution channels. Certainly, the chosen distribution platform will shape the series and the experience, but certainly having GoldRunner live on TV is viable. The mobile game would be an extension of the TV content.

To orchestrate the transmedia touch points for Goldrunner, did you need to develop new technology? If so, are you planning on making that technology a licensable framework?

Most of the core technology has been developed for GoldRun, but some new features certainly are being developed for GoldRunner. Currently, I don’t plan on licensing the technology, but maybe I’ll feel differently down the line.

When and where does Goldrunner launch? Will it start with a pilot or has the whole series been put into production already?

It will launch towards the end of 2013. It will begin as a pilot. We are talking to a few big production companies and film studios to find the right partner. If you’re reading this and work at one and this resonates with you… come find me.

How do we get involved? Can we “play” the show?

I would ask that everyone who reads this interview download the app and take a photo of the OMNI to enter into the journey. You can download the free app on iOS and Android. Five women and five men will be selected to be on the show. Simply enter your email address through the website to enter to be a contestant.

The OMNI is the iconic symbol that connects all the GoldRunners. OMNI stands for OMNIscience, the capacity to know everything. The more you play, the more you know and the more levels of the OMNI you unlock and access and the closer you are to completing the Quest.

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



I had the displeasure of working for Goldrun for awhile. Let me just say that the people there have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. They were making things up on the spot.. throwing spaghetti on the walls to see what sticks.

Gold Run is one giant marketing gimmick. Its business model is designed to be as vague and ambiguous as possible in hopes that they will trick a “partner” with deeper pockets to acquire the company and let that said company do the rest of the work for them. If they were serious to begin with, they wouldn’t have hired “wet-behind the ears” newly graduated college grads with absolutely no experience save a half a years worth of internships to be running the show.

bill glover

as bad as this sounds, would have to agree. also worked on this project and it is a complete “band wagon” spin off. full of empty promises.


Wow… so you are a Google Ingress developer aren´t you? LOL

Charles Baker

Thanks @Jim and @Leamming. I work at GoldRun; it is funny that the people (or person) commenting 1) are posting anonymously 2) providing false info. As a well known and respected media exec, I can say with pride that the solutions and strategies that we deploy for our clients are world class and smart. @charles_baker

Jon Malkemus

I have to agree with Manchester, “Gold Run is one giant marketing gimmick”. Not to mention the concept is almost identical to the works of B-Reel, sans AR:


I have worked with Vivian since 2009 both at Tronic and Goldrun on various projects. I DP’d/Edited the Goldrun shoot with her and have seen Goldrun grow from its roots in AR to this new venture and fully back it and her. Viv is passionate and open to let artists create. Goldrun takes a different path from other series and shows. Bitter comments always have the seed of motive behind them.

John Mcguiness

Innovative? This crap is Innovative? I’m not sure if we are talking about the same app? These 2d graphics pasted on top of a photo reminding us of how it was in the 90’s is innovative? and JIM….because this leads to work for you, doesn’t mean it is innovative. This community understands innovation. We are not your Sunday tweeter fluff.

QUOTE OF THE DAY (what the f)
world class and smart. @charles_baker


John beg to differ Viv has no obligation to get me more work she has done plenty without me and vice versa.
Keep the anonymous rants coming.

Charles Baker

“haters gonna hate”


I’m with John, although his tone sounds a bit angry.

I did not see anything amazingly innovative here, looks like straight from minority report… Lots of the stuff in Digital Domains ‘Heads up Display spot’ looks more or less identical to name but one

and yes it’s an app and yes it is interactive. But making something interactive does not turn it awesome by default.

I’m sure this sort of stuff has i’s market with the 14 – 22 year olds though.

and yes ‘the strategies we deploy blabla are world class and smart blabla’

this sort of empty talk makes me chuckle whenever I hear it

Charles Baker

haha – thanks for the feedback. I probably should not use such generic words like “smart” etc. The point I was trying to make is that we know what we are doing and have clear experience in the mobile / content / branded content space, to provide a counterpoint to the earlier nasty comments that basically said we are pushing hogwash. It was really cool to read the more constructive criticism. Thanks for sharing your views, it is helpful and much appreciated.


I’ve been following Goldrun’s work for more than a year, and I find it to be one of the most innovative photo apps out there. Some AR apps are gimmicky, but Goldrun isn’t… its actually a very cool way to let people create their own virtual statements


I think the readers of this site are some of the most cynical out there. Many of us “sell” stuff all day long and we see pretty quickly through anything resembling hype. Not only that, we react to it negatively, like an immune reaction. I think the above comments show that. The article and verbiage are full of hype. Maybe this helps raising capital, but it doesn’t go far here.

I’ve worked with Vivian and she has always been great to work with. I DL’ed the app expecting something resembling the promo and was a bit taken aback by what it really is: Some sort of app where advertisers pay you to snap a pic with their brand artifact pasted/composited into it and then share it with your friends(?)

Maybe I’m not the target demo but it doesn’t do anything for me at all.

What is somewhat interesting is the notion of designers/artists taking fate into their own hands and trying to develop their own product/service instead of “only” making other brands look good. I’ve often wanted to go off and develop an app and cash in on the app gold rush. I’ve seen it done and admire those who’ve pulled it off. Beyond the money, simply being the master of your own creative destiny is pretty much artist/designer nirvana.


Been watching Viv since about 2003. Along with a few other firms from back then, her work set the bar for excellence and inspired me to bring my own work to a higher level. Where would we be without those experiments and inspirations. Of course it’s all subjective.

Elliot Blanchard

Elliot from Motionographer here.

The comments section is great because it’s a way to hear from the folks that really care about this crazy thing we all do.

And that’s cool. Let’s hear it. Let’s keep everyone honest. Nothing is more boring – and fake – than a mutual appreciation society.

But it’s not cool when we get into “the people there have absolutely no idea what they’re doing” territory – because it doesn’t respect the people who have put themselves out there and tried to do something new.

It’s not cool when it’s a student – and it’s not cool when it’s someone like Vivan, who has been doing awesome work for years – and who is a great person.

No one is interested in a 100% diet of vapid praise, but please – keep it classy.


I, for one, am only impressed with professionals when the first thing they tell me is that they have an advanced degree in another field. My dentist studied podiatry and my psychologist has a Ph.D. in Geophysics. Clearly architecture is the best thing to study for filmmaking because Tron:Legacy is the best movie ever made ever. ever.


Wow, motionographer team please post something else quickly. This is by far the worst entry for a main post I have seen in a long time. Followed by a lengthy interview that has very little to say.

Essentially this is a trailer for a concept that sounds vague at best. Surely you can’t argue that it’s the visuals that you find exceptional either.

If this was posted as a finished piece I could see the point, but this way it looks like you are promoting something that falls quite a bit behind the standards we are used too with motionographer.

lots of posts above seem to agree and the positive ones mostly defend vivian not the project.

bit sad….

Jonathan RIchter

While the effects, photography, and acting (brrr) are just good, it really is a teaser, it seems, for something quite a bit nicer that I’m guessing it wouldn’t be a good idea to show at this point. In other words, minus the creator’s credentials, probably not the best clip to create a buzz on this site with.

Oh gosh, Just read Jens’ post. Ditto.


I have had the pleasure to meet Vivian and share ideas in the past. She is an amazing, kind creative, following her dreams and making creative outlets, trying and doing! She rocks, I wish the best for her! #wearecuttingteeth


This video is terrible, hacky 2005 shit. Motionographer you guys are loosing it.


it’s ironic that the film(?) narrative is “escape from data mining” when the app that is essentially being advertised here is just a way to commercialize your social network existence.

it’s also ironic that you hold a phone, even though you have a giant 2005 UI following you around (in the shape of a camera no less–skeuomorph: big word of the day).

whatevs, 12 year old kids won’t care. Good luck!


I’ve worked with Vivian at Tronic and witnessed the Goldrun experiment getting started. I think in general she’s very innovative and its great that she’s trying to push the boundaries of the media industry.

That being said I think Goldrun is a bit of a gimmick and has yet to do something hat impresses me. Until it becomes something that people really want and explodes in popularity my opinion will remain the same.

Unfortunately Tronic studio suffered after she moved on and pretty much doesn’t exist anymore. This is a shame as the studio created some great stylish work. But I respect Vivian for having goals and pursuing them.



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