Operating out of a historic former typesetting plant in San Francisco's South of Market district, this is literally a shop, with metal and woodworking areas for building prototypes that intrigue Mr. Threlkel, who describes himself as an "artful tinkerer." But others who have worked with him also consider him and his partners, Chris Lejeune and Patrick Connolly, part-mad-scientists. "They are creatively free to think about things in a different way," said Hashem Bajwa, digital planning director, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
For example, on one of Obscura's walls a projected ghost-like dog jumps on a couch, snuffing around, never leaving allergens or scents. "Fortune," as the dog is named, has been viewed by 50,000 people in the last 18 months in a YouTube video, and is a concept one hotel chain is considering to liven up its lobby.
Another Obscura experiment is a pod consisting of a large glass saucer. Inside is a chair where players can feel as though they are part of the video games they are playing. Mr. Threlkel is also thinking about a room where there is a projection on one wall showing, say, the stock at a retail store. A virtual clerk can show off the object and then virtually pass it through the wall to a light projection on the other side, virtually "handing" the object to the person standing there. "It's not about advertising; it's about getting people in."
In his lab, Mr. Threlkel is tinkering with a pigment that magically projects messages for marketing displays. And he's also conjuring projections of water. He's set something up where computer-generated fluid comes down a wall, hits a shelf, splashes and forms a pool on the ground.
So how could it be used in marketing? For Mr. Threlkel, it just takes some imagination. "Everything has its potential application."