Blah Blah and Virtual Realities

Blah Blah…

Some months ago I had the chance to give a talk at the Central Saint Martins, in front of a bunch of clever students of different ages and skills.

I was there to discuss a project I did in collaboration with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. There were different levels of knowledge on the thematic so I gave a very brief and naive introduction of what VR, AR, MR stands for.

I think it’s worth elaborating on it a bit more and sharing it with the community here, it may come handy.

What’s Virtual, Augmented, Mixed Reality then?

Here my definition:

Accessing reality while deceiving perception in order to create a new sensorial experience.

…blah blah…

The “blah blah” is emblematic.

There is A LOT of “blah blah” about VR and its broad space of technologies, and it’s been going on for a while. Everyone’s an expert, but still, the content is kind of disappointing and the experiences are far from being new and exciting, of course with some exceptions.

The “blah blah” on that definition instead means also something else.

When I create a presentation/pitch (pretty much every day) the “blah blah” is my favourite and only placeholder while I unfold the structure.

It holds a space, and space is what has to be considered in order to create art, in its more extensive concept, that will be unfolded into digital content, narration, and experience.

That “blah blah” can be, with a big leap, of course, being associated with what the Bauhaus conceived for space usage. Not only in its architectural terms but in its more intrinsic and pedagogic connotation. The space as the tool used in order to make Art. For example, Man Ray used the camera for his purpose to reproduce the pure optical fact, immune to emotive alterations.

Technology is our current space to access reality while deceiving perception in order to create a new sensorial experience.

Let me summarise with Sophie Conchonnet‘s amazing sketches what’s on the market right now, but considering the spaces in which players and content interact.

Sketches from my presentation deck realised by the spectacular Sophie Conchonnet.

The first image on the left shows the HTC Vive setup and a goofy player completely lost in a digital experience, that’s what is commonly intended for Virtual Reality.

Designing an experience for such an “autistic” technology requires a disruptive treatment of user experience (UX) and narration. For example, players can turn their gaze whenever they want and the digital space has to be aware of this possibility and rearrange, narrative content for instance, in a more scattered way.

The central image represents what Augmented Reality is usually intended and used. Here we see two spaces, one physical, in which a tracker is placed, and another one digital, the device that creates the digital content replacing the tracker and merging the digital content with the real content captured by the device camera.

In order to design an experience in AR, the digital content have to be wisely designed, along with, again, its narration and the interactions have to be performed without moving too much the device, if not the camera loses the tracker and the experience is destroyed.

iOS ARKit, and its equivalent on Android, ARCore are pushing forward the augmentation of reality and no physical trackers are required anymore and it’s finally possible to have more complex interactions within the digital and the physical space.

The last picture (Mixed Reality) represents a girl playing with little creatures in her living room through a Hololens device. Here the digital space merges with the real space opening a brand new way to design interactions and narrations. Designing an experience with Hololens requires a layer of abstraction both in the code and in the UX as well, do our living rooms look the same? 😃

When you work in this field saying virtual or augmented reality is enough to categorise the whole space of technologies around, plus all the hybrids, don’t know in one project it happened to stick a binocular camera on an HTC Vive Headset to create a pseudo-Hololens-like feel.

In conclusion, since “technology sucks” and in 6 months what is currently used will be replaced, focus on the space in which the experience will be played, embrace the technological barriers and push on content creation and narration, that’s where the Art is shaped.

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