#303: Virtual Art Museum Tours with Woofbert VR

WoofbertVR is an educational application that transports you to virtual museums where you can have an art tour complete with audio narration. It was co-founded by Elizabeth Reede, who used to be a curator of the Museum of Modern Art and has a lot of connections within the art world. I had a chance to catch up WoofbertVR developer Phillip Moses, who is the head of Reload Studios’ Rascali VR Lab. He talks some of the intentions behind this educational app as well as future plans to expand into multi-player functionality that would enable tour guides to give live art history lessons. We also talk about some of their locomotion approach, and the tradeoffs between the artistic decision to maintain a sense of presence versus minimizing motion sickness. WoofbertVR has a lot of ambitious plans for the future of education in VR, so much so that they count Kevin Spacey as a patron and investor in their project. It’s currently a free download available in the Gear VR store, and will be coming to desktops & consoles later this year.


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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.918] Phillip Moses: My name is Philip Moses. I'm with Rascal. Rascal is a company that was formed by Reload Studios. Reload Studios, as you may have heard, has been working for about a year and a half on their own first-person shooter game designed from the ground up for Oculus, for basically the console market. so that I'll be available when the consoles are available. And that's started by a bunch of Call of Duty developers, Walt Disney animators, and it's just a really fun game. Because that game has been getting quite a bit of press, we've had a lot of people coming to Reload asking for some VR solutions for development. And that's where they asked me to come on board and start Rascal for them. So we're sort of a client service on one end, a developer for other people to do VR content. We're also an in-house developer using our own IP that we're developing for the future. Right now one of our key partners is Woofbert VR, based out of New York City. And that's the museum app that you just looked at. and that is designed by and started by Elizabeth Reed who is a former curator at MoMA and very well respected in the art world and she has access to some of the top museums around the world like the Courtauld, the de Young and many others. And the goal is to create a museum platform where people can go and visit, you know, a one-to-one scale representation of these museums and not just go and look at paintings but have a curated experience of these paintings. To go and learn, for example, in the room that we've done for the Courtauld, to learn about Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and to look at this artwork and to hear great narration sort of explaining this to them so they can really learn about the art and not just experience it visually. And so version 1 is sort of what you saw. It's designed right now to run smooth and to be sort of as user-friendly and simple to control for people on a Gear VR, which as you know, developing 3D interactive on mobile is tricky. So that's version 1. 1.5 will be this on desktops as well, with the addition of being able to sort of immerse yourself in a painting, to learn even more about it, to sort of have a VR experience of of one of these great works of arts and have it sort of in a sense come alive and that you can interact with it. Version 2.0 is going to be desktop. It's going to be multiplayer. It's the sort of thing that a school can have a couple of PSVRs or Oculus or whatever in their computer lab, and a teacher can take her class to the Courtauld and have an art history lesson there as a multiplayer sort of experience for students. So it's definitely in the educational app realm. It's also a bit of travel app as well, and we're pretty excited about it.

[00:02:53.512] Kent Bye: Now, in terms of putting art into a virtual gallery, are these all in the public domain, or are there specific rights that you have to acquire in order to take these art pieces and put them into a virtual space?

[00:03:04.482] Phillip Moses: Yeah, so that's a good question. It's like, why do I need to go to a museum to view these things when most of these pictures are available on the internet? And one of the things is to just be able to view them in a curated experience is an important thing for us. To be able to view them within the context of others is a great learning environment. So to answer your question I mentioned Elizabeth is as a former curator has access to all of these museums and so she's able to go in and with her permission take high-resolution photographs and scanning and getting all of the materials for even the room and paintings and all of that stuff so we're able to replicate it to the exacting standards of each individual curator for each of these museums so they know that this art that they're you know, responsible for, for their little slice of eternity, is being represented well in a virtual space. So, you know, the room you just looked at, for example, the Manet barmaid, for example, that painting, while some of those other ones might go out on a traveling exhibition, you might be able to see them here in San Francisco at some point, the Manet's barmaid is never allowed to move, never allowed to travel. So if you want to see that painting, you've got to get on a plane and go to London or put on a headset and you can check it out virtually through the Woofbrite VR app.

[00:04:19.313] Kent Bye: Yeah, and another thing about VR that's unique is that you can really see the scale of something, the proportion and scale. And I know I've heard a lot of stories of people going to see the Mona Lisa and their comment is, oh, it's a lot smaller than I thought. And so, you know, how do you ensure that the size of this painting is actually one to one in terms of how big it actually is in real life?

[00:04:38.880] Phillip Moses: Yeah, and that's what I was talking about. It's great to have Elizabeth and her team to be able to go into these rooms and do a scan where everything, we're getting the geometry correct placement, even the furniture that you see in there, the size of the fireplace, everything that you see is the size that it is in real world. So having that level of data available to us, you know, that we then optimize for use within, in this case, mobile or Oculus and PlayStation, you know, that's, it's important to have that missing link as opposed to people who will say, hey, I'm going to build my own gallery. I like this picture and I like this painting. And, you know, we're going to have some of that. And our app in the future is to be able to sort of build your own gallery, but right now we're wanting this to be very much about an educational process where people can go in and see these representations very much as if they were standing in the middle of the room themselves.

[00:05:29.745] Kent Bye: There's a Frederick Wiseman documentary made about a museum in London where they sort of went, it's like a three-hour documentary showing about some of the culture that happens in museums and one of the things that was really striking to me is that the people that actually give those guided tours and a lot of it is that they're actually putting their full body in it. It's like a performance in a lot of ways and so in this first iteration it's kind of a disembodied voiceover and I'm just curious if you have any plans of doing like a a full motion capture of somebody who's actually, you know, gives these types of tours to do that live with the voice capture and their actual kind of body movements and put that into the virtual experience as well?

[00:06:05.907] Phillip Moses: Well, I can't answer that without giving away too much. But we have some exciting partners who are interested in what we're doing that those types of thoughts have come up. Right now we're limiting it to, I mean, getting a fully 3D motion capture performance of an avatar or something that doesn't take you away from the experience and have that playback on a mobile device right now, it would just cut your performance down. You know, from a technical standpoint, we can't do that right now. In the future, that's definitely something that would be interesting as long as, and this is what's important, is it doesn't take away from the art. You know, you're not going in and watching a puppet show of some guy sort of like talking about the art. So it's really about making an entertainment sort of educational experience that is entertaining in its own right and that it's just, it's simple and it's informative and you're able to experience this and learn along the way.

[00:06:58.875] Kent Bye: Yeah and one of the things I think it's worth mentioning some of the locomotion issues that I was bringing up because often I've seen this when VR applications of the gallery where you're in there and you're kind of replicating walking through the gallery which I think it works for some people and it gives us immersive experience but for people like myself who are very sensitive to motion sickness that's actually going to make it like I'm not going to be able to actually watch that because it's going to make me sick and I know my limits and so Yeah, maybe talk about the reasoning that you had behind that and then, you know, we can sort of talk about some other possibilities.

[00:07:31.369] Phillip Moses: Sure. Yeah, I mean, just so your listeners have some context, I've shown this to about 200 people and you're probably the most sensitive that I've run into. So, you know, I think that your comments are extremely valid and important and they're part of an ongoing discussion that we've had for a long time. And as we'll talk about in a second, the different options for teleporting or moving within space have been considered. But really it's about, and you weren't able to hear it because we're at a conference, you didn't have your headphones in or anything like that, but it's about sort of recreating that experience and being able to view the art at your leisure and to be able to walk from one painting and not necessarily go to the one right next to it, maybe the one across the room catches your eye. and to walk across there and we've got ambient museum sounds and things like that. The idea is to just be able to sit down and relax and sort of enjoy this museum experience on your own. So that's part of the reason is that we feel that in sort of getting into what we're going to talk about, things like porting from one painting to the other, Just as a creative decision on our end that we just felt like even that moment of like jumping from one spot to another It sort of distracts from the presences of actually being in the room. I think that there's people who creatively disagree I think it's somebody like yourself who's as sensitive as you are to any sort of locomotion within 3d space Maybe that needs to be an option, you know, and for those who can't see he's shaking his head very Very vigorously, you know, so, you know, that's definitely something we take back to the development team And right now our goal is to get this out there Samsung's coming out with their gear VR We're wanting to be out there and letting users experience it and I'm sure we'll hear from them, you know And all of these things will take into consideration for the future

[00:09:15.593] Kent Bye: Yeah, I imagine that a lot of things that I've seen that developers are doing at this point is to put that as an option for the user to have the different locomotion options. And I think that we're probably going to move to that at some point where if people know what they can handle, they'll choose the option that's the most comfortable for them. For me, I'll just say that it's kind of a distraction to walk across a room for 20 seconds in a way that isn't adding anything to the experience. Like, I just want to be at the painting. And in VR, why should I have to walk across the room when I can just teleport there? And for me, also, it's not a brick in presence. It actually, you know, there's blink teleportation mechanisms that I've used with, like, everything from, like, the Sixth Sense gallery, which is in the vibe when you're walking around. And when you're actually room scale and your body's moving, that helps. But when you're moving around, even in an adventure game and teleporting, I've found that that's actually, like, my body just accepts it. It's almost like blinking and you open your eyes and you're there. but I do expect that to be the standard different locomotion options to be a configurable option that someone would be able to choose and then that way you're not forcing the user upon what you think is a creative decision but yet is actually going to make them sick.

[00:10:23.937] Phillip Moses: Yeah, and I think that that's one of the great things about the current state of VR right now is that there's a lot of people doing a lot of things and our consumers, once they're able to get their hands on it, are really going to help us to find these best practices. And so, you know, we talk to a lot of people, get feedback and all of those things. I definitely think that what you're saying is valid. I mean, you've done it and it works for you as somebody who's very sensitive to it. That's something that, you know, is almost a must have for you at this point. And I think that you're right. I think that in the future as things move forward, it'll be an option. And the good news is in development like this, you know, you send out an update and it's available. Unlike these paintings, you know, the paint isn't dry yet. You know, we can definitely iterate on these things and, you know, we have lots of iterations, lots of developments still in the works and all of these things we'll be thinking about.

[00:11:10.549] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I will say just a couple more points, just that from my own perspective of emotion sickness, it is something that takes time. So I may do an experience like that, and maybe 10, 15 minutes from now, I would really start to feel the effects of the motion sickness. So for anybody that's developing apps like that, if you're doing something and you're not sensitive to motion and you're showing people who are, and then you move on, they may be walking away and then not be able to give you that feedback. So that's just my own experience, and when I'm in an experience like that, and I feel it, I just close my eyes. So I just close my eyes, and then when I feel like I'm gonna be there, then I open them, and that's one way for me to kind of remediate that, because I know my own sensitivities in that way.

[00:11:48.497] Phillip Moses: Yeah, and I'm actually more sensitive than I would say more people are, and I don't actually feel physically nauseous or anything, but I feel that sort of aura of migraine about to come on. So we come to conferences like this and you see a lot of dev out there, and it's the frame rate, latency issues, those types of things that as soon as I see that and I know my eyes are going to be feeling this, I'll do the same thing as you, I'll just close my eyes, let the image settle and not move my head. You know, and sort of, I think people are going to, like you were saying, people are going to be aware as VR comes out of their own limitations and sort of hopefully over time calibrate themselves. And I think that, you know, even when you submit now to the store, it'll say that, hey, this is a VR experience that's for everybody, or this one's kind of moderate, or this one's sort of like a serious sort of. So giving people a little bit of a heads up is good there. And this is part of the whole science of how your eyes and brain work and how the VR industry as a whole is going to be growing and maturing into that. It's interesting, I show this to people of many ages and I put it on my kids, I've got five kids, and most of these younger kids are able to put it on and there's no problem whatsoever. Sort of like are literally running around with this thing on their head and I would be losing it very quickly So it's interesting how generational it is and and all of that if that's even a thing but but we'll see and Finally, what do you see is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable? That's a big one so One of the goals specifically for this app with woofer VR and with rascal is that we're developing This museum platform is we want to get it into schools have a multiplayer option and put a little bit of gamification maybe something simple like scavenger hunts or those types of things and make a really big compelling reason as to why you're doing this in VR as opposed to just going to the museum or whatever so I think that one of the things that has been said many times is that we've got to really sort of open up the world to experiences that you couldn't normally or easily have on your own, whether it's travel or whether it's education or entertainment, gaming or whatever. So to answer the question more specifically about the future of VR, although that's a big and broad question, You know, I say it remains to be seen. I think that we can't apply the old logic of game making or filmmaking or Education to this medium and say oh it's gonna improve those things in these ways I think that it will do that, but it'll also sort of define itself and have they'll be sort of whole new ways We'll be having completely different conversation in three to five years about new genres of Experiences that haven't even been developed or even thought of yet. So I'm excited about it Awesome.

[00:14:36.053] Kent Bye: Well, thank you. All right.

[00:14:36.993] Phillip Moses: Thanks Kent

[00:14:38.359] Kent Bye: And thank you for listening! If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com slash voicesofvr.

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