Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will be power tools for creating experiences and telling stories in museums from now on.

In fact, organizations in every industry are already starting to use VR and AR to engage visitors, train employees, entertain customers, teach students…

Some examples of VR and AR experiences include:

  • Walking through a painting, interacting with the landscape, people, objects in VR
  • Transporting people to a real, distant location, like the Space Station, or Machu Pichu in VR
  • Recreating the experience of participating in a site-specific historic event in VR or AR
  • Revealing things that exist/once existed but can’t be seen except virtually, in AR
  • Placing virtual things in your physical space so you can interact with them, be they dinosaurs, furniture or animated characters, in AR

 

The opportunities are virtually endless! Scroll down to see what we’ve been doing. Click here to skip ahead to our list of VR Production Best Practices.

Screen capture recordings with verbal description of three stops from The 1907 Tour: Pierpont Morgan’s Library Revealed.
Here at the MediaCombo VR/AR Lab, we’ve been experimenting with these technologies since 2016 to explore new ways of telling stories with immersive media and we’re sharing what we’ve learned with you.

Virtual Reality

Our VR first project was Lake Baikal: The Science and Spirituality of Extreme Water,  MediaCombo partner Michael Owen traveled to Moscow, Irkutsk, and Lake Baikal, to produce three programs for Google Pioneer Expeditions in March of 2016. Michael and his Russian crew used a camera rig built around 9 GoPro cameras. They filmed on the frozen Lake, at the Involginsky Datsan, the center of Russian Buddhism, and in surrounding towns. The result was a short, impressionistic 360º film intended as a teaser for a longer VR documentary about the environmental issues affecting fresh water everywhere.

Room Scale

Now we’re using scientific data to design a room-scale experience about the Lake, which will allow users to compare the depth of the Lake with the height of the Empire State Building and its length with that of Manhattan!

Pilot Project

We’re also currently working on a pilot project with our partner, GuidiGo, for a new virtual reality service for museums. We can’t say much about it yet but stay tuned! We’re excited to be developing new ways to bring museum stories alive.

 

Augmented Reality

Audio Tours

We’re working with our partner, GuidiGO, on an AR audio tour for The Morgan Library and Museum in New York. MediaCombo is creating the sound design and 3D spatial audio components which are powerful storytelling tools in their own right. We’ll have more information available when the tour launches. 

Social Augmented Reality Applications

We’re also developing prototypes for two new social AR applications! If you’d like to know more, or have an idea you’d like to talk about, please get in touch!

Belarus, Minsk International Film Festival, VIR:Cinema Industry Section, November 2017
One of the most frequently asked questions we hear is: Virtual or Augmented Reality, which technology to choose?

The answer is always: It depends on the experience you want to offer.

Slip on a VR headset and you’re suddenly transported to a virtual place that feels as real as the physical space you’re in. That’s called presence. When the experience is over you can feel as if you’ve physically participated in the virtual world, and that memory can last for months. In part that’s because you have agency to direct your gaze and see everything that’s happening around you in every direction.

Pick up an Augmented Reality enabled mobile device and suddenly you can see people and objects in your physical space that aren’t actually there. Yet you can move up to them and around them – you can interact with them as if they were real. And you can interact with sounds too, just as you would in real life – moving toward them to hear them more clearly, or away from them until they disappear. This mix of real and virtual is informative, uncanny, and captivating.

The primary differences between the two technologies are that VR is immersive but isolating (though that will change). AR, or MR (Mixed Reality), on the other hand, locates people firmly in the real world where they can share information and reactions and reveals things they can’t see, but it’s not as visceral an experience.

Let us know if you want to start a conversation about this.

 

Virtual Reality Best Practices

How do we create the best possible VR experience?

Once you’ve affirmed that VR is the right technology to tell the story, there are five main components to consider to create the best possible VR experience:

Narrative, Environment, Cognitive Impact, Social Impact and Technology.

Narrative Considerations

  • Plot, narrative arc, and characters that elicit emotions from viewers, are basic elements of storytelling, and are as important in VR as any other medium.
  • Virtual Reality provides the opportunity to tell a story where things are happening all around the person in the headset, not just in front of them. Because viewers are not used to following a story in the round they need to be guided about where to look and what to pay attention to.
  • Think about how you can draw the viewers’ attention to the important objects and story points so they spend less energy constructing the story and more energy receiving it.
Scene from virtual reality film of a man and a woman bathing in the frozen waters of Lake Baikal

Environment (created with visuals and sound)

  • Give people time to look around at their surroundings and explore before if they want it.
  • Fictional worlds created in CGI don’t have to be visually perfect to feel real. The human brain can fill in a lot of details if the story and characters are well developed.
  • Audio is important for many reasons. It can be used to cue viewers when to turn their gaze away from what’s directly in front of them so they don’t miss what’s going on behind or beside them. It also enhances the feeling of being in a real space, since sounds are all around us in real life.

Cognitive Concerns

  • Viewers will automatically adopt a role because they are inside an experience They may only be observers, or may assign a specific role to themselves, depending on where they are positioned in the space, and what kind of space it is. The more they feel like part of the action, the stronger the impact of the story will be, regardless of whether you’re producing a social impact documentary or creating a fictional world.
  • Producers have a responsibility to be aware of how an immersive virtual experience can feel like it’s really happening, and thus take care to warn users about violent or emotionally charged situations before they put a headset on.
Ivolginsky Datsan Monks chanting

Social Impact

  • With documentary or social impact VR, it’s essential to remind visitors that the VR headset is serving as a proxy. It’s not the real thing. Yet it can still inspire users to take action in the real world to address the issues. Pre- and post-experience guidance is advisable.
  • With documentary or social impact VR, it’s important to remind visitors that the VR headset is serving as a proxy. The virtual experience is not the same as the real thing.
  • Yet it can still inspire users to take action in the real world to address the issues.
  • Pre- and post-experience guidance is advisable. Visitors often want to talk about what they’ve witnessed, to share their reactions, ask questions, process their feelings.

Technology

  • The ultimate VR experience occurs when the user can physically move about in a virtual environment! This is known as 6DOF (Degrees of Freedom). Perhaps Carne Y Arena is the best example today. This type of experience requires a computer attached to a high-powered headset, space to move around in and staff to run it.
  • Far more common is producing 3DOF VR with the ability look up, down and around 360° but from a single point. 360° live action video can only be 3DOF and yet can still produce an extremely immersive experience. These VR files can be sideloaded onto museum provided headsets such as the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR.
  • You can also make your content directly available to visitors on their own devices to be viewed with Google Cardboard, either via YouTube 360º or an app downloaded from app stores.
  • We’ll be writing up our ideas about using AR to create a better experience for visitors soon. In the meantime, just keep in mind the choice to use one technology over another should be completely based on the story you’re trying to tell, and the experience you want your audience to have.

 

If you have questions about which approach will serve you best, please get in touch with us. We’re happy to learn about your project and help you choose the best medium to provide the experience you’re looking for.

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