Exploring environmental issues through decentralised storytelling, Chris Wallace has brought a fresh take to web3 with his Woodies community. He speaks to Leo Nasskau about why decentralised IP is going to transform entertainment and why crypto art is a grail worth protecting. Clovis McEvoy tells the story.
A new entertainment industry is taking shape, and Chris Wallace is in the vanguard. Since founding UltraDAO in 2021, he’s helped build one of web3’s most dynamic artist collectives and steered the creation of Woodies, a generative PFP project setting the bar for collaborative storytelling. “For me, this has all felt kind of natural,” Chris says of his journey so far. “All of my skills fit into web3 and tie into my background as a technologist and as a designer.”
Rewind a handful of years, and Chris was running his own traditional design business. While the company was successful, he recalls feeling an increasing amount of creative frustration in the lead-up to 2021. “You can’t really experiment,” he says. “Clients don’t want you to experiment because they want results — not the journey. But I find that often it’s that experimentation which gets you those results.”
“Clients don’t want you to experiment because they want results.”
— Chris Wallace
After being introduced to Foundation by a fellow designer, Chris says he quickly “fell in love” with the NFT marketplace, quickly moving to collect and mint his own art on the platform. The cultural difference, in terms of what was permitted and what could succeed, was so great that he chose to leave traditional design behind and focus entirely on building in the wide-open spaces of web3. “I wanted to explore this new, challenging area of technology and design, to be willing to fail, to dig into something exciting,” he reflects.
The fruits of that exploration first came with UltraDAO, an artist collective built on a foundation of decentralised ownership. The group originally set out to purchase what they saw as culturally significant NFT artworks, with members holding fractional ownership of the DAO’s art collection and cryptocurrency reserves. However, it wasn’t long before the group decided to create their own intellectual property.
Woodies, a 10K generative PFP project, was the first major storytelling initiative to come from the UltraDAO community. Comprising seven core characters and thousands of others — each individually owned by members of the community and others around the world —, Woodies tells a story of environmentalism versus business. The project released a three minute teaser last September that has since racked up half a million views on YouTube. “We had a big team working on it,” Chris recalls, noting that the community’s ambitions run far larger. “It is a collaborative effort from multiple artists and team members who have all come together.”
Setting the collection apart from other PFP projects of that early, excited era was its strong focus on environmental narratives and lore building. “We had a generative collection, with over 900 different traits generated at mint, but then we also had core characters who were released in a separate collection and raffled off to people holding a mint pass,” Chris explains.
Those core characters, or rather, their owners, have shaped the narrative together. With storyboards iterated online by a core group of passionate contributors from around the world — rather than industry pro’s working on ‘the next job’ —, Woodies Origin shows just how much potential decentralised storytelling has. With visual production values worthy of Hollywood, a scored soundtrack recorded with full orchestra, and an emotive message of environmental conservation, the film feels like a high-water mark for web3 entertainment.
Chris says the film is a “huge foundation for the world we’re building”, but he also makes clear that the UltraDAO team plans to strike a balance between unifying moments like Woodies Origin, and the parallel stories created by the community itself: “I think the problem often comes when you’re too insular or too focused on having your own team define everything,” he says. “I really think it’s just that core vision that we have to get right and then the community will rally around that.”
Owners of a generative Woodies character are free to use their IP as they see fit, which Chris hopes people will take full advantage of. “They have full rights over their characters,” he says. “We want to give people autonomy and control, while also giving them the tools to actually go out and make interesting things. If one person does something exciting, then it’s tied to everyone else’s Woodie and the whole collection can benefit. With thousands of people building, you can create something really cool.”
Alongside Woodies, UltraDAO has also been doing its part to support the culture of art NFTs. Their most recent project, Twelve Days of CryptoArt, is a novel take on the blind minting experience. “We wanted to bring together a bunch of different artists that have different styles,” Chris says. “But all you get to see is the title of the work — you don’t know who the artist is.”
“We want to give people autonomy and control.”
— Chris Wallace
Each day during the event, participants are offered a choice to mint a work from an unknown artist or pass on the opportunity. The mint mechanics are intended to make collectors question their own motivations — whether they’re investing in work based on future value or because they simply love the art.
Chris says mechanics like these are part of how web3 can elevate the minting experience to be something truly engaging and fun. “A lot of experiences are very transactional in nature,” he remarks. “It’s still early days and people are still trying to figure all this out, but I think for people to truly connect with these projects, things need to become more emotional.”
“I wanted to explore this new, challenging area of technology and design, to be willing to fail, to dig into something exciting.”
— Chris Wallace
His vision is a stark contrast to how the crypto art market has developed in 2023. The recent growth of Blur, which tailors its user experience to ‘pro’ NFT traders and makes paying royalties to creators optional, has ignited a debate in the web3 community about short-term growth, sustainability, and the balance of power between creators and collectors. “We’ve got all these marketplaces that are fighting for attention,” Chris points out. “There’s this race to cut out as many fees as possible — regardless of whether that’s a good idea long term.”
“The big question,” he continues, “is whether marketplaces can be a place that accommodates those wanting to appreciate art directly, as well as being financially sustainable. The shared ideology around blockchain based art is kind of up in the air right now.”
“For people to connect with these projects, things need to become more emotional.”
— Chris Wallace
Having left the traditional design industry for the liberation of web3, Chris is keen not to subject creativity to the same kind of financial constraints. With Woodies, Chris and the rest of the UltraDAO community are laying the groundwork for a new kind of entertainment industry — one built on collaboration instead of centralisation, one where creators don’t need to ask for permission.
“My personal vision for Woodies is to have people of all backgrounds, in various industries, and from over the world, coming together and sharing in decentralised storytelling,” Chris concludes. “We want to release television series, movies, books, games, all of those things. And we want our community to help push that forward.”