#1041: [DocLab] Michaela French’s Immersive Dome Experiments & Full Dome Creative Network

Michaela French is a visual artist working with moving image, primarily in immersive experiences in the context of a full dome space. She’s been collaborating with DocLab since 2019 in creating dome content, supporting new artists, and promoting a full-dome medium as a potential alternative immersive experience beyond single-user VR experiences. She is also a lecturer and researcher, and the chair of the Full Dome Creative Network. We talked about the following projects that have shown at IDFA DocLab since 2019:

This was recorded on Tuesday, December 14th, 2021 as a part of a collaboration with IDFA’s DocLab to celebrate their 15th year anniversary.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye of The Voices of VR Podcast, and continuing on our series of talking to a number of different creators at the IFA DocLab. It's the 15th anniversary for the DocLab, and we're celebrating by just talking to a number of different artists who have been involved with DocLab over the years. Today we have Michaela French. Michaela, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself?

[00:00:30.538] Michaela French: Hello, thanks, Kent, and pleasure to be here. Always enjoy a conversation with you. So interested to see where this one leads us. But I'm a visual artist working with moving image and primarily in immersive experiences. So a lot of my work and most of the work that I've been doing in relation to DocLab over the last three years is in the context of the full dome space. So for the last three years, DocLab has been collaborating with the team from Artists Planetarium in Amsterdam. And we've been creating content and supporting new artists and promoting the full dome medium as a potential alternative immersive experience beyond single user VR experience. Yeah, so that's sort of it. I'm also a lecturer and researcher, and I'm the chair of the Fulldome Creative Network, which has been established in the last 18 months. Yeah, so there's lots of different threads to my bow that I imagine we'll end up chatting about during this conversation.

[00:01:33.432] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context to your own background and your journey into working in the immersive film space.

[00:01:38.958] Michaela French: Sure. So this is going like a long way back, but I trained originally as a printmaker and found that in making prints, I would end up with this series of works. So there was this kind of natural tendency for me to tell stories and kind of visual narratives and some of them would be comics, but then I was introduced to animation and started animating and making films and working with moving image and it was like a light came on in my head and it was a bit like the language that you'd been looking for to express everything you'd ever thought or felt was suddenly just there and available. It was really an exciting moment and a lot of the work that I did was early on was compositing, so bringing elements together from live footage or animated elements or motion graphics and it was kind of like mixing all of those components. And I was doing a range of different freelance projects and exploring my own filmmaking. And then someone invited me, a friend who I'd worked with before, invited me to work on a project at the Melbourne Planetarium. This was quite some time ago. And it was the first planetarium that had opened in Australia. no one had any idea how to make work for this space. It was like for all the designers on the team the first time working in a dome space. So it was quite exploratory and I think we took approaches perhaps that weren't normally used in a kind of scientific visualisation context because we were designers and artists and coming to this from a kind of fine art and filmmaking perspective rather than scientific visualization. And on the back of the shows that we made for that very early premiere in the Melbourne Planetarium, I then was invited to join the team at Skyscan in the States on a very early full-dome experimental project that basically was a beta testing experiment for the first full-dome video system. And I spent about nine months traveling between Nashua, New Hampshire and the Natural History Museum in Albuquerque and working with a number of people who were still involved in the industry to create a series of experimental and exploratory pieces looking at how artists might respond to that space. So that was in the late 90s. quite some time ago. But I think what happened for me was working with moving image beyond the frame, because you have a horizon but you have no edges to your frame, completely changed how I felt about what might be possible in moving image and At the time, it was actually quite difficult to make work. It required specialist software in full dome space. It required huge computing systems and wasn't something that you could actually do in a domestic studio space. So I didn't, after that project, I really didn't make any new full dome work until I joined the RCA in 2014, the Royal College of Art in London. And I started a PhD there, but was also a tutor on the information experience design program. And the head of the program at the time, Kevin Walker, had also worked in Planetaria in the late 90s. And we knew all the same people, but we'd never met. But we were both on mission to say, well, we loved the dome experience. Let's do a project with the students. So we did that. Sorry, this is a long answer, Kent, but you asked for it. We did this project. It was supposed to be four weeks. So we collaborated with the Greenwich Planetarium in London and invited the MA students to make content for the dome with me mentoring and kind of experimenting and basically from this project, it turned into a thing called the Fulldome Research Group, which led to a series of commissions, which led to me going and screening work at the Jena Fulldome Festival in 2019, where I happened to sit next to Votienka, who obviously is a very big part of the DocLab program. And that was it. I came to DocLab in 2019, along with Fulldome. And yeah, I think both me and the medium seem to be kind of... settled in now, which is really beautiful. And I think, well, we can talk about this more, but for me, that transition from a full dome from the Science Centre into a space like DocLab is really a great milestone, I think, and an indication of really where the medium really ought to be sitting and where the conversations around DocLab are completely the conversations we need to be having around full domes. really great to be part of it.

[00:06:23.360] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's a really helpful historical context there. And just to clarify, No, that's, that's great. It's really helpful to kind of set the scene for what has led up to your own work and also just the larger intersection between these domes that mostly are showing planetarian, you know, science material, and then moving into the more, I guess, artistic or to be able to tell stories in a way maybe beyond just the astronomical intention for some of these planetariums. So I guess, have you been making full dome experiences continuously since the late nineties?

[00:06:54.417] Michaela French: No, not at all, not at all. Because actually after that first project, it took quite a while for the planetariums to convert from their analog systems. So prior to that, a planetarium was actually, the dome was filled with a kind of compilation of different media. So it would have a number of different video projectors and a series of slide projectors. And all of these things would work coordinated together through an analog network of cables coming back to a programming system. So you would program a projector on a motion control rig. and it would move physically in the space to make something like travel, a planet or a character or whatever. So it was really this crazy compositing in the real world. It was kind of amazing. But it took probably, I guess, about 10 years for planetariums using those systems to start to upgrade to this full-dome video system. So that in itself, there was nowhere to work. There was nowhere to show this content. And there was, as I said before, it was really specialist software to make content for that. It was all custom design software so it wasn't like you could just go to your Adobe suite and say oh I'm going to make some full dome today. But obviously we saw a kind of massive shift in that in the last I guess probably eight years with the development of VR software because all of those conversion systems from fisheye 360 cameras through equirectangular and then to potentially back into full dome spaces actually allow full dome makers to create content in a way that's so much more straightforward.

[00:08:34.764] Kent Bye: Okay, that makes sense. So with the virtual reality resurgence, then you've got a larger ecosystem of tools to be able to do these corrections.

[00:08:42.426] Michaela French: Yeah, and they're absolutely designed for headsets, but they work for Dome equally well. And then there are certain people in the Dome community who in certain bits of software build like so in Unity, for example, or in Blender, you can download custom full dome cameras for those for those contexts as well. But it's taken really until the last kind of five years for that to be accessible to normal people working in their desktop computers. Or before that, really, it was kind of you needed to work in a science center where they had the infrastructure to support production. So yeah, it's become much more accessible and I think in some ways that also is, that accessibility is then reflected in how different exhibition opportunities are coming up because there's more people working in the field from outside of the sciences and outside of the conventional planetarium or museum sector, I guess.

[00:09:37.591] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, and I know that there's been a number of different festivals and gatherings of full-dome creators that have been happening over the past five, ten years or so, probably been gathering for a while, but for you personally, as you got the connection to DocLab, this is in some ways the festival circuit which allows maybe a little bit more experimentation or ways to push the edges as to what's even possible, so I'd just be curious to hear some of your reflections that now that the doc lab starting in 2019, which I had a chance to see the climate crimes and some of the other pieces that were being shown what that has meant in terms of the doc labs participation within that community in terms of both a more experimental place, but also a platform in a community to be able to support this type of work.

[00:10:21.415] Michaela French: So we sort of make a bit of a joke of how sitting next to Wojtienka on that one fateful day in Jena in 2019 completely changed my life. Because not only did we screen the films in 2019 program, but we also ran one of the R&D summits around Full Dome. So that was basically a collection of people with experience and or interest and or relevant crossover from kind of their own area that they might have some contribution to make to Full Dome. So it was a kind of eclectic bunch of people around a table and a conversation started. We had an hour and a half and the conveners kept coming to the table saying, you guys have to stop, you have to stop. And we're like, we can't stop, we need this conversation. So I think there just really isn't and hasn't been a forum for full-dome creatives to have their own conversation. So there are lots of festivals and also lots of conferences with the International Planetarium Society, for example, or Immersa as well, obviously in the States has a much broader scope and keeps getting broader. But I think generally what happens is that there'll be say at the International Planetarium Society conference there might be one session dedicated to dome art but what that means is a very different thing for different people and it always felt very sidelined. So what's happened through DocLab is that we've actually kind of said we need our own conversation and we need our own platforms for discussions that actually are not almost saying what is DOMA, but more like, well, what can it be? It's not just about what color you make your pixel of your science visualization. It's actually looking at that form as to its potential for communication across a whole lot of genres and across hybrid approaches to performance and media. And the options are immense. And I think I'd just like to say, a bit off track, but one of the differences, the full dome experience is different to other media experiences for people who haven't had the opportunity to be in a dome. But there is this very physical experience of that space and the media that's presented within that space. And the rules of kind of being contained are broken. So your body is very, very much part of that experience and how you move becomes part of that experience. And so there is this understanding for the people who work in this space that there is more that we haven't even begun to tap into yet. So there's these fantastic opportunities for telling stories in different ways that I feel we haven't really even begun to kind of like we might have just chipped the iceberg a tiny bit at the top. There's a long way to go. But IDFA has basically enabled that conversation to begin. And on the back of that 2019 meeting, I wrote a report and set out a set of next steps. And one of the steps was to establish an ongoing network of full-dome creatives that would contribute to establishing this as its own medium and looking how do we build an industry around it and build ongoing conversations and support around it. So, yeah, that's just one of the many things that's come out of those initial discussions in 2019.

[00:13:49.707] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, well, I didn't realize all that other stuff was happening, because I happened to be there 2019. And we had a chance to do an interview about climate crimes. And then maybe you could give a little bit more context as the piece that you had this year that in here out there. And it sounds like you did both the screening, but also a little bit of a live lecture performance as well.

[00:14:10.381] Michaela French: So yeah. they were actually officially they're two separate things, but there's quite a lot of crossover in the kind of thinking or direction of them. So a new project that I've been working on, a full dome project, I've actually on the back of again, that first round table meeting, I met Lisa Brooke from Live Cinema UK. Both of us were based in the UK but neither of us knew each other and neither of us knew we were interested in domes. So it was like how can we have both been working in this field in the UK and not actually be aware of each other. which again was another reason for setting up this network to say, actually, everyone you know needs to know everyone I know. And that's sort of happening. But in collaboration with Lisa, after that first IDFA meeting, we decided to work together on this project that I had been developing. And it's really it's come out of the PhD research I was doing at RCA. And it's a full dome piece. It's an interactive piece, which in itself is an exploratory thing because no one really does interactive in full dome at the moment. And even more than that, it's exploratory because the interactivity is driven by the user's breath. So in times of COVID, it's been really impractical to pitch that. as a project where everyone's like, no breath, no breathing. No, no, we don't want breath. But after a couple of years of trying, we finally got that project accepted into the DocLab forum this year. And we had the opportunity to pitch the work. And during the forum meetings that followed, we were able to demonstrate a prototype of the piece. And the premise of that work is that in the way we think about our bodies in the environment, and this does go back to our previous conversation a bit, Kent, but we think of our bodies as completely self-contained entities. So I think of me as sitting here and I think of you as a thing sitting there and We're here in this virtual world, which is neither here nor there, but somewhere in the middle, maybe, if it even exists. But actually, as soon as you start looking at the boundaries of what we would describe as in here, so my personal experience and what I describe as me, as soon as you start looking at the boundaries of that, they get really woolly really quickly. And so there is this idea in the basic premise of In Here Out There is that in the exchange in full dome, there is an immersive experience that's shared with an audience. Everybody's breathing is contributing to the content that's on the dome. And through that interactive process, an ecology builds where the participants in the audience become more and more integrated into the environment and into this experience as a whole. using narrative, using voiceover, using the breath, using rhythms and kind of lots of different narrative or storytelling approaches, slowly bit by bit, scene by scene, the boundaries between what we describe as me and what we would describe as you get completely eroded. So what we experience by the end of the piece and part of this is to do with the breath coming in and out and the breath as a shared experience and the light of the dome coming in and out of our systems and at the same time whether you know it or not you're emitting light in the visible spectrum because we like plants are photosynthesizing or in our metabolic process we emit light There's no edges, there's just connection. We don't see ourselves like that, but that's what this piece is about. So it uses that embodiment in the dome space to really break those boundaries, if you like. That's the first half of the answer, but anyway.

[00:17:44.543] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was reading through some of the different pitches that you had and just talking about how our perceptual field can extend out to see like the Andromeda galaxy. So just thinking about how the boundary between what we're taking in and in process philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead talks about mereology, which is these nested contexts. where you have things being a part of something that's a larger whole. And so I think exploration here, I think is interesting just because you are constantly trying to see, you know, what is the boundary of that ecosystem and to what degrees are you together? So, yeah, that sounds like a really fascinating way of exploring those different concepts. And it sounds also similar to thematically for some of the other aspects of your lecture. Maybe you could talk a little bit about this separate project that you're also doing in terms of doing a live lecture about this, these kind of liminal spaces.

[00:18:31.620] Michaela French: There's a lot of crossover, to be honest, and in some ways we could see the lecture almost as an experimental live version of what might end up in the In Here Out There script, because it's very much still a work in progress. But working with Botyenka as curator, we did a, was a DocLab Live event in the Artists Planetarium in the most recent DocLab in November, and Vatyenka kind of curates by going, I've got an idea and you're like, yeah, OK. And then it slowly unfolds and she gives you enough to go, I know what I'm going to do with that. And I sort of know what the next person and how I will lead to that and connect in. But you never know what the big picture is. So she'd invited me to talk about some of these ideas of liminal spaces or the body as a liminal space and one of those things is exactly what you've just talked about that philosophically there is this idea that humans are limited by their perceptual field so you know me sitting in this room My perceptual field really, in theory, kind of goes to the edges of the room. And if I look through the window at the back, I could see maybe somehow across the street. But actually, my perceptual field also goes to wherever you might be right now when you speak. I don't know where you are.

[00:19:47.731] Kent Bye: I'm in Portland, Oregon.

[00:19:48.952] Michaela French: Yeah. So right now, when you're speaking to me, my perceptual field is also connected to Portland, Oregon. But beyond that, if I'm outside in the Northern Hemisphere on a clear night and I can look at the Andromeda Galaxy, I believe, I can't remember, 0.23 million light years? Don't quote me on that, I can't remember the number. It will be in the script, I could check. But essentially, me standing there with my perceptual field extending that far means that I'm also crashing into the perceptual field of every other human on the planet at the same time. Now, we don't think about ourselves in a dome space as having a shared perceptual field, or in the supermarket, or sitting on the train maybe, especially in London where you've got people's armpits in your nose. then you're like, this is a shared perceptual field, and maybe it's not that comfortable. But we don't think of ourselves as expanded creatures very often, we think of ourselves as having the skin as the edge of ourselves. And maybe there's a bit of a, you know, you get a sense of someone in your space if they're too close, but actually our space extends as far as you can see, as far as you can hear, as far as you can feel. And then those definitions break because actually we're not contained, we're completely crossed over into one another. And if I'm emitting light, I'm emitting sound, I'm emitting particles all the time, there's this idea, I think actually it's like 16% of ourselves are actually human cells and the rest are bacteria or water or other, organisms. So I think we need to start thinking differently about how we are in order to relate differently to how we are in our world. And yeah, interesting that we spoke about climate crimes. When was it, 2019? It's actually just screened at the COP conference in Glasgow in November. Was it November or October? and somehow actually gets more pressing and more urgent as the time goes by. So yeah, for me, it's a bit of a mission. We have to change how we think about ourselves. And I think the general zeitgeist of how we work in the world at the moment is so divisive and so fragmented that actually for me doing that lecture in the Dome was a way to say there's no separation. We're completely integrated, completely connected. And what I do impacts you and what choices I make impact other people and impact futures and impact how we will be in 10 years time or 20 years time. And there is a responsibility that goes with that. And Having the opportunity to do that live was terrifying in some ways, because I'm not a performer, but it was kind of a performance. It was completely made up. And I decided I didn't want to do it as a lecture that you would do as a formal kind of expert, but to kind of set a series of propositions. So I felt it was kind of terrifying and I felt completely vulnerable and I walked around in a circle and hoped I didn't trip over the stairs because I couldn't really see where I was going. it seemed that what happened in that space was quite extraordinary. And I think there was something about opening people's ideas. And there were slides, like I designed slides to go with it. So, you know, to start to make those ideas clear and invite people to test their own boundaries as they were sitting there listening to this thing and then as they went into the following films that they were already having those ideas planted and there was a couple of other spoken word pieces and there was a couple of short films and the piece finished with a conversation by Duncan Speakman, who I'm not sure if you're speaking to him, but it was somehow the perfect bookend because it actually demonstrated exactly what I'd been talking about but in a kind of practice and performative and participatory process. It was the most beautiful dome experience I've ever had. It was fantastic. And I think for everyone doing it, it felt risky. It felt like a thing where you're going, we don't know if this thing works. We don't even know what it is yet, but we found out. And at the end of it, all of us who'd participated who'd had that were on site. So there was about five of us. We all just sort of gathered in this little circle and went, Wow, that was something, something, yeah. So it's like we somehow opened the form up or found another way of working in that space that we hadn't tried before. And I think DocLab enables that because they're prepared to do things that actually could be disastrous. It could have been terribly bad. But actually, it was beautiful. And I think that's the space that they provide, isn't it? Where people can come with these ideas that you wouldn't be able to present. I mean, I couldn't have done that anywhere else because there wouldn't have been the community to support the risk. If you were doing it somewhere where you're getting paid to deliver it and it had to kind of meet audience requirements and you were going to do an impact survey afterwards, there's no way you do. a piece like that because it was way too obscure but actually it absolutely was the perfect thing to do and it's completely made me think differently about my practice and how I might use dome space going forward and yeah, amazing. Imagine having that opportunity and that they make that possible for us.

[00:25:27.543] Kent Bye: Yeah, just I have a few more questions and we can start to wrap up. But, you know, it reminds me as you're speaking, there's a piece that's at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles called Centered in the Universe, where there's a live reading of the script that then you're watching the dome experience. And I think it's powerful to be able to have that kind of live transmission of a story on top of the dome images. But I'd love to hear a little bit more reflections in terms of the dome medium itself contrasted to 2D media with a frame or even immersive media in VR and that kind of group experience that you're able to cultivate that is able to continue to blur those lines between creating this ecological feeling of a community or people coming together in a way. And I'd love to hear some of your thoughts of what you were able to either personally experience with some of these latest experimentations or where you think the medium could go contrasted to the other more singular media like virtual reality that is more focused on an individual rather than this collective experience.

[00:26:25.472] Michaela French: So I'm going to, can I start with an anecdote and then maybe I'll come back to this. So when I started the Full Dome Research Group at Royal College of Art, the intention was to explore the medium and to understand more about how it worked. And we would do kind of crazy little experiments just to test stuff, like how did type move or if you moved thing at this speed or that speed, what happened? And like, they weren't necessarily telling stories, but they were like literally kind of little experiments to go. what does this do or what does that do? But what became apparent really quickly in that is the ability to move an audience. So you can choreograph your audience really discreetly without people knowing about it, but you can have an audience sitting and it's in the round, that's the other thing. So this experience is fully around you. And most often you're aware of like beyond 180 degrees. So you're aware of the kind of space behind and surround sound, so it's completely encompassing and kind of enveloping. If you move something in that space at a certain speed, it's quite slow, everyone in the audience will turn in sync to follow that thing. And they'll follow it until they get to a point where they're like, oh, I've turned. And they're not aware of the turn until they get to a point in their twist where they're like, what am I doing here? And then they'll correct. So I've seen it happen lots and lots of times. But I don't know if you're aware, there's a new dome opened in Plymouth recently. It's called the Market Hall. If anyone's in Plymouth or wants to make a pilgrimage, it's worth it because it's an extraordinary dome, kind of in the same vein as the SAC dome in Montreal. So it's a dedicated art space with a 210 degree projection space to a flat floor. So there was an account recently when I was down there by one of the members of the cafe team reported that they have a regular group of visitors coming in to experience different films and enjoy the screenings and events and they've been doing lots of different types of performances and so on in this space. And a number of the group in wheelchairs, so come into the space and they're able to wheel in and kind of, you know, it's a flat floor so there's a lot of access there. But they reported that actually they, in their wheelchairs, are using the joysticks inadvertently to follow stuff around the dome. So not only are we seeing synchronised in audiences sitting in their seats, but actually the wheelchair audience also gets choreographed by the kind of movement on the dome. And it's not a conscious thing. And for me, it was almost like, you know, obviously the wheelchair becomes very much about the embodiment of that person and how they interact with the world. But there was also a report that went with that, that they felt some experience of movement in that space that they didn't feel anywhere else. So there was a sort of freedom in that, a kind of aliveness or a freedom of movement in that space that didn't exist in any other space for them. So for me, I was like, I've seen it anecdotally a lot of times, but to hear it back from this group, and particularly because of the extension of the wheelchair, I think there's something so extraordinary in that physical response to a media. You know, normally if you're watching TV, you actually become very unaware of your body or you're kind of very inactive in your body. But this space kind of brings your body to life and makes your body be part of the experience. And officially it's called an egocentric space. So there is research to support this. And what that means is in a normal cinema experience and certainly on a screen like this or in my room, we rely on external cues for our upright. orientation so I know I'm upright because I'm in line with the edges of my screen and you know I'm not upright when I'm not in line with the uprights on the edge of the frame here and we know where we are because everything is vertical or horizontal and we've constructed a world that makes that so easy for us so everything is square. But put yourself in a round space with no verticals and the only vertical reference is your own core of your body. So that's how you're holding yourself is to revert back to your own center all the time. We don't do it in the world very much. We do that externally. So that's the difference between an exocentric or an egocentric. So it's not about having an ego, it's about of the self, you return to the self. So for me, I think there's something fantastically exciting about a media that innately takes you back to yourself. There is also lots of evidence, certainly in spaces where the chairs are reclining in a planetarium space, that actually physiologically we change. So if the head is lowered in relation to the heart to a certain degree, then the heart rate changes and the brain chemistry changes because it goes into a kind of relaxation or safe space. I've done projects where as part of a bigger project, a friend of mine called Helga Schmidt is developing a concept called Eukronia, which is a utopian time space essentially that follows the circadian rhythm. So I'd done a project with her as part of a 24-hour live event where the section for when people slept in their circadian rhythm took place in the dome. And people were literally invited to come in and sleep in the dome space, but it was a public space. So there was this weird thing of like, I'm lying next to strangers, but actually I'm supposed to sleep here. And it absolutely worked. It was like putting babies to bed. It was fantastic. You would just see these bodies go. And after about 23 minutes, they just dropped into this kind of complete, deep relaxation. And some people did actually sleep in there. So the power of this space to kind of change behavior and change physiology and bring us back into an awareness of our bodies, I think is quite profound. What we do with that, as I said before, I feel like we're really only just starting to understand the potentials of it. And this experiment that we did as part of the Elastic Presence piece in Artists in November was really a test of how else can you play with that relationship? How else can you engage people to think differently about themselves in relation to the people they're next to or the people they're looking at across the room or the galaxy that they might see on their way home as they leave the space. It's just to invite a broader thinking, I think. Yeah. And that the Dome does that because it's communal, because it brings you back to your own body, because it's completely and utterly all-encompassing. It's an extraordinarily powerful space and I think the challenge as artists is to learn to use it to tell extraordinary stories that inspire people and encourage us to do better in the world.

[00:33:17.390] Kent Bye: Well, it sounds like we're still at the very beginning of what's possible with this medium. And so I'm curious to hear some of your reflections of what you think some of those ultimate potentials of the immersive dome experience might be and what they might be able to enable.

[00:33:31.380] Michaela French: You know, one of the things that I think is most fun about this is that actually traditionally domes have been used to reflect on ourselves, haven't they? Reflect on ourselves in relation to the bigger picture or the bigger system or to see where we are in the scale of things or that's what they've been used for. And I think from my point of view, that storytelling is so, so, so important now. And I think since Climate Crimes was completed in 2018, a lot of the science visualisation content actually is starting to change direction. So rather than looking out, a lot of the newer shows that are emerging now are starting to look back in and starting to look at what are we doing in our planet? How are we responding to our ecosystems? How do we as individuals start to kind of engage with making change possible. And I think what happened in planetariums was that there was always this kind of aspiration of being better humans or understanding ourselves better, but actually it got a bit railroaded by maybe the NASA agenda of conquering space and that would build alternative communities on other planets. And that somehow that would give us an excuse not to take responsibility to clean this one up or you know help support this one better. But I think it's really clear that that agenda is well and truly out of date. And I think that sort of happened in planetarium sector, certainly in the last kind of four years, we're seeing that shift, which I'm really excited about. So for me, it still remains a space to actually inspire and question and challenge and provoke and invite new ways of thinking and to move beyond the box that we always kind of get stuck in. to reframe how we're understanding ourselves in relation to what our world should, could, might be. But I saw, this is an about full dome. I watched a program on TV in a square last night and it was about, I think it was called Kiss the Earth, Kiss the Soil, something like that. And it mentioned about the kind of number of potential harvests we have left as humans. And it's about estimated about 60 years of harvests of food as we know it. And I was just like 60 years, 60 more harvests. It's such a small number. and change is needed. And for me, using these technologies to do something useful instead of simply creating more stuff and more entertainment. I'm a bit tired of entertainment. I think we need to move to actually kind of using these spaces responsibly and to provoke deeper questioning of how we're going to move ourselves forward as a species.

[00:36:20.575] Kent Bye: Yeah, and with that, is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community or the broader DocLab community?

[00:36:28.560] Michaela French: to the DocLab community, many blessings. What a pleasure to be part of it. And, you know, the extraordinary breadth and depth and variety of content that comes through the DocLab kind of exists under the DocLab banner. But I think also kind of bound by this shared interest in what the actual world is like and how do we engage with the world and how do we at this point in time and in history actually do something useful for the world. For me to be part of that conversation I think is a great honour. I feel so lucky to be able to contribute to it and it's such a pleasure to experience other people's responses to those kind of same ideas and same questions. In terms of the Fulldome community and the immersive community, I'm just saying let's share the knowledge and yeah, extend the storytelling as much as we can and work collectively to kind of bring this about. So, you know, the Fulldome Creative Network is an open network. We're not funded at the moment, but we're trying to work on that. But for us, it's just about sharing knowledge and supporting one another and making sure that the right questions are being asked of the right people and working toward opportunities to support new artists coming into this area of production and creativity. So, yeah, for me, it's just about sharing the knowledge and making those conversations available to people who want to be part of it. So yeah, it's always a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to you about these things, Ken.

[00:38:01.119] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And thanks for joining us to kind of reflect on not only your work with the immersive domes, and it sounds like it was really at the very beginning of where this all could go. Oh, yeah. It's certainly been happening for a number of years, but yeah, I'm excited to see.

[00:38:14.224] Michaela French: It's like it kind of travels along for a certain while and then something happens and it's like a number of, you know, the changing technology, the accessibility to the tools, but also then the interest from festivals and suddenly you've got this thing where there's a critical mass and we can start to kind of roll forward in a different way. So it's a really exciting time in Fuldome at the moment because there is so much potential and so much fun to be had. But also it's not defined territory. We don't have to break rules because we don't know what they are yet. So you can come in and you can make stuff up and you can sort of see how your ideas or your practice might translate without necessarily knowing what the outcomes will be. So yeah, it's unexplored territory. So I think let's do good things with it.

[00:38:59.132] Kent Bye: Yeah, it just also reminds me of, you know, you mentioned the dome in Montreal that I had a chance to see some pieces at the Symposium IX and this new dome in Plymouth. And there's a new dome that's being built in Las Vegas, the Madison Square Garden, the sphere that they're building there is supposed to hold up to 18,000 people. So, you know, with COVID, I think it's maybe put a little pause or break in some of these different in real life planetarium or dome type of experiences. But I think once that gets sorted out, we have a lot more platforms to be able to show

[00:39:28.624] Michaela French: Absolutely. And that accessibility as well, like there are portable domes now that even five years ago would not have been affordable. And also there is a shift in the planetarium sector. They want different types of programming. They want to expand audiences. They want to start experimenting. you know, as part of the Full Dome Network, one of the remits is to encourage people to work with their local planetariums to do what DocLab and artists have done and set up a partnership that enables different ways of working and is beneficial to everyone involved. So there are fantastic opportunities to kind of expand how these spaces might be used. And I think we are very much at the beginning of what we're going to be seeing unfolding over. I'm imagining it will unfold quite quickly. It's kind of gaining a momentum at the moment. So post-COVID, I think there's going to be lots more opportunities.

[00:40:23.506] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Michaela, thanks again for joining us today to be able to reflect on not only your journey, but also the potential futures that we have with the Immersive Dome.

[00:40:31.473] Michaela French: It's always a pleasure chatting to you, Kent. Thanks very much for having me.

[00:40:35.255] Kent Bye: So that was Michaela French. She's a visual artist working with the moving image primarily in immersive experiences in the context of a full dome space. She's been collaborating with DocLab since 2019 and creating dome content, supporting new artists and promoting a full dome medium as a potential alternative immersive experience beyond the single user VR experiences. And she's also a lecturer and researcher and the chair of the full dome creative network. This conversation was recorded on Tuesday, December 14th, 2021, as a part of a collaboration with Ifas.club in order to celebrate their 15th year anniversary. If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please do consider becoming a member at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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