#992: “Immersive Arcade” Retrospective of UK Immersive Storytelling by Digital Catapult in Museum of Other Realities

The second volume of the Immersive Arcade Showcase featuring four immersive stories from the United Kingdom launches today as DLC within the Museum of Other Realities. The theme of the second volume is Memories & Dreams and features Vestige, Limbo, Lucid, & Somnai. This showcase will be running for the next 8 weeks, and iss produced by Digital Catapult in collaboration with Kaleidoscope’s Immersive Production Studio, UK Research & Innovation, and Audience of the Future.

jessica-driscoll2I had a chance to talk with Jessica Driscoll, Head of Immersive Technologies at Digital Catapult, about the first and second showcases as well as more context on this government-funded, digital technology innovation centre, which is “accelerating the adoption of new and emerging technologies to drive regional, national and international growth for UK businesses across the economy.” Their CreativeXR program is a technology accelerator for arts and culture industries, which funds a lot of VR & AR stories, but there are other initiatives at Digital Catapult around IoT, AI, and 5G that has a lot of overlap with the companies working on XR projects. Digital Catapult’s Immersive Arcade program has also produced a timeline of immersive art & story projects from the past 20 years that were produced in the UK.

It’s great to see this type of funding and support from the United Kindgom into the immersive industry, and I definitely have been seeing the impact of the projects that they’re funding as many of them have appeared throughout the film festival circuit since the CreativeXR program started in 2017. This three-volume retrospective series of Immersive Arcade is a great opportunity to see some of the immersive stories that have come out of the UK over the past 5 years within the context of the Musuem of Other Realities, which has created some really impressive immersive installations and transportative worlds to help set the context for each of these pieces.


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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 and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So today on Friday, May 7th, 2021 is the launch of the second volume of the Immersive Arcade and the Museum of Other Realities. And for the next two weeks, it's free to be able to download the Museum of Other Realities. I think the program is going to be running for about six or eight weeks or so, but it's the second volume of the Immersive Arcade. It's by a digital catapult of the United Kingdom. They've been funding a number of different projects through CreativeXR, but also they just wanted to do a retrospective of different immersive stories from the United Kingdom. In the first volume, they had four pieces. The second volume also has four pieces. They've built installations around these pieces. You can go in and watch these four different pieces that are just launching today for the next eight weeks. So I had a chance to talk to Jessica Driscoll. She's the head of immersive technologies of Digital Catapult. I wanted to get a little bit more context to this Digital Catapult, what's happening in the United Kingdom with all the different funding that's coming from the government, all these different efforts and initiatives and Creative XR, and also just a little bit more about this program that is launching today. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Jessica happened on Thursday, May 6th, 2021. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:25.992] Jessica Driscoll: My name is Jessica Driscoll and I'm Head of Immersive Technology at Digital Catapult. Digital Catapult is an innovation agency that is partly funded by the government. So we have core funding to do research projects, etc. We work together with universities and industry. We work on collaborative research and development projects. We make POCs to help kind of de-risk innovation for companies. We run a couple of accelerator programs, one called CreativeXR that some of the audience might be familiar with, and one called Augmental, which is an early stage investment readiness program for immersive companies. So by immersive, we mean the whole spread from things like training, manufacturing, design tools, et cetera. I've been there for about 18 months. And before that, I guess I've worked in lots of different parts of the immersive ecosystem from startups with training. I've worked at BBC R&D. I've produced various VR and AR applications for marketing and for training. So a little bit of everything. And it's kind of cool at Digital Catapult because we get to work with all parts of the industry.

[00:02:25.594] Kent Bye: Okay. Yeah. So there's a couple of parts there, but maybe let's start with the digital catapult since you've been there for 18 months and digital catapults also involved with things beyond VR and AR. So when did digital catapult begin and when did they start to do stuff with VR and AR?

[00:02:40.526] Jessica Driscoll: So the catapults were founded about nine years ago by the UK government to really kind of accelerate advanced technologies. And there are a bunch of catapults. So there's one for gene cell therapy, there's an energy catapult, there's a kind of future cities catapult. a manufacturing catapult, which comprises of many other catapults, so automotive, etc. They've all been put in place to really help to bridge that gap between industry, SMEs, and research institutions like universities. In the beginning, it was very focused on data, the digital catapult, but now we work across various tech areas, future networks, 5G, IoT, AI, and immersive. I think what we're seeing more and more now is the convergence of all of those technologies coming together. So even within the digital catapult, Immersive isn't really working on its own anymore. It's always underpinned by 5G or what can we do with AI or how can we use IoT all together. But trying to work in this non-siloed way, even in a small company is quite hard.

[00:03:40.542] Kent Bye: Okay. And how many people does Digital Catapult have then?

[00:03:43.885] Jessica Driscoll: I think we're about 200 now, but we're growing all the time. So we're still a fairly small organisation, but within that as well, we have our technology areas, our policy and research team, an innovation practice team, a design team and the engineering team. So we all kind of come together. I guess we're kind of taking small steps towards what some people describe as deep tech.

[00:04:03.452] Kent Bye: Okay. It kind of reminds me of the Fraunhauer Institute in Germany, where there's like government funding that is an intermediary between the research and the bleeding edge of industry and some sense of liaison. Is that a fair comparison for what the digital catapult is kind of like?

[00:04:18.040] Jessica Driscoll: Very much so. And they're definitely an inspiration. So they are significantly larger funding pot, but we're trying to get some more funding to scale up. So yeah, they're definitely an inspiration to us as well as, you know, kind of MIT and what they do over there.

[00:04:31.900] Kent Bye: Okay. And it sounds like also that, you know, there's a lot of different of these IoT and 5G and artificial intelligence. And as we move forward, all of XR is kind of going to be tying all these together. So it sounds like a part of the other thing that you're doing is trying to create these interdisciplinary collaborations. And part of that is to like creative XR. I know you do some funding, but when was the beginning of the VR or AR portion for Digital Catapult? Like when did Digital Catapult start to get into their first foray into XR?

[00:05:02.013] Jessica Driscoll: I think that must have been in about 2016, if I remember correctly. And my predecessor, Becky Gregory-Clark, who's now at Story Futures Academy, heading up the XR training and research on there, she set up the immersive program. So she was just the one person. She was the technologist and the head and the everything in the beginning. And she grew that team. And then I took over from her when she left to Story Futures Academy. So it definitely started off in terms of trying to find where market failures and gaps are and what kind of funding or government interventions you could make. So the CreativeXR is a collaboration with Arts Council England, because in the glam sector, there is still a lack of awareness of immersive technologies, the benefits it can bring, what kind of skill sets people need and how to kind of cascade funding to different kinds of projects. So they spotted that market failure and also the other market failure that was spotted was investment readiness help for early stage businesses, so that's why Augmentor was created.

[00:06:02.030] Kent Bye: Okay. And so I guess a question that comes up for me as I look at something like digital catapult is there's creative XR, which I'm familiar with in terms of going to the film festival circuit. And there's a lot of projects that were funded by creative XR that ended up going onto the festival circuit. So there's in some ways on the bleeding edge of a lot of the innovations of immersive storytelling, but is the digital catapult also looking at other industry verticals beyond like storytelling or entertainment, or are you looking at medical application or enterprise application, or are you just. solely focused on the immersive storytelling industry vertical.

[00:06:35.014] Jessica Driscoll: So we work in two verticals, creative in a very, very broad sense and manufacturing again, in a very broad sense. We haven't done health tech or med tech at all. And the reason for this was because if we remained in these two verticals, we could be a little bit more focused because of course, you know, with XR, you could go in any number of directions and maybe perhaps spread yourself a little bit too thinly. But that's not to say that we haven't kind of touched upon it through things like horizon projects, et cetera, where we've maybe assisted or provided some technical expertise or consultation. but those are our main verticals. And with manufacturing, we've got, again, spanning a broad church. So anything from defense through to things like working with McLaren through to service design mapping stuff. So yeah, pretty broad verticals.

[00:07:21.444] Kent Bye: The interesting thing is that a lot of times I'll maybe see investment in the United States for startups and the venture capital, but here in the US there isn't as much funding to be able to fund these creative projects. Having something like CreativeXR seems like, in some ways, we're still at the very nascent beginnings of this medium. A lot of the funding that is coming from sources like CreativeXR and Digital Catapult or in some ways able to innovate and push the medium forward as to what's even possible with how you communicate and how you tell stories. And that I suspect will eventually feed back into all these other industry verticals, but that it's kind of a unique funding source that I've seen have its impact on the different types of innovations that are happening because there's just a lot of stuff where artists here in the US at least just kind of have to eat a lot of costs and, or maybe they get some funding, but a lot of it is just a lot of labor that is unpaid and unappreciated. And even if they get into the vessel circuit, even then there's not really a clear path towards monetization on a lot of these different projects. And so, so when did the creative XR come about? Like, was it around that same time around 2016, or when did the digital catapult start funding some of these creative projects?

[00:08:30.638] Jessica Driscoll: So 2017 was the first cohort. So after that market failure was identified by period of research, the first cohort was in 2017. And then we are now in our third cohort, which has just completed phase one, phase two projects will be announced soon. So they're still under wraps, but they're coming very soon. So It's very interesting that you say that because that was one of the comments that people have fed back to us from different countries. You know, they've said, oh, it's a really unique way of getting access to technology and facilities, access to technical expertise, because some of the creators are very expert. They're small to medium sized studios who know exactly what they're doing. People like Passion Pictures and then others. on this year's CreativeXR cohort, someone like Sasha Wares, who's an incredibly experienced theatre director, but had never ever come across volumetric capture before, for instance, or worked with a HoloLens. You know, the first time she put on a HoloLens was part of the CreativeXR program, but she had a vision and kind of wanted to realize that. So that was really interesting to be able to match those kinds of people together. But equally, another point that you just mentioned, Kent, was the distribution. You know, It's great having a fantastic idea, but what are you going to do with it? How are you going to monetize it? Is it going to go into a museum like the all seeing eye piece at the RAF museum, which ended up producing really great return on investment and was a fantastic cultural experience? They built a set and everything. Is it going to go to the festival circuit? Is it going to be picked up by Oculus? You know, are you going to be able to sell it as a game? You know, there's so many different considerations because I think that creatives sometimes have amazing ideas. But, you know, how do you kind of get that to people?

[00:10:06.026] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, and one of the distribution innovations that's happening is this immersive arcade, which actually is a pretty good segue because there's a lot of these pieces that go on the festival circuit. And for whatever reason, the pathway to showing at a festival and then being distributed to the larger community has been really fraught in terms of either they're not getting onto the stores for distribution. they're denied access to either Steam or Oculus chooses not to distribute it. So there's Viveport where actually a lot of these end up going or itch.io, but a lot of them fall through the cracks. We don't really see much of them after they have their festival premiere, even though you were there. And even if you were there, you still have to get a spot to be able to see it. So that's a lot of stress for actually even seeing a lot of this stuff. So I'm really happy to see that there's been at least some effort, especially with the pandemic, to start to think about other ways of distributing this content. And I know that the Museum of Other Realities has been showing a lot of the different film festivals. And so maybe you could talk a bit about how this immersive arcade collaboration with Artisan and Kaleidoscope, as well as the Museum of Other Realities, came about to be able to take some of these different projects and have them have a bit of a showing, like an art showing that would normally be like at a museum, but in this case, it's a virtual museum in the Museum of Other Realities.

[00:11:18.950] Jessica Driscoll: So the discussion and the idea came about from a discussion with our partners UKRI, who are the funders of the Immersive Arcade. And what they wanted to do was surface great British works from the last 20 years or so. So there was an understanding that not everyone has a good HMD that can go into something like the Moor. So we made a companion website, which has a curatorial panel and these were open public submissions. Anybody could submit an idea and then we'd talk about it as the panel. There were various criterias. Did it kind of move the industry on? Was it game changing? Did it have really good narrative form? You know, what about use of controllers and ways to navigate through the space? Was it an immersive experience that combined different kinds of technology, etc. So we thought that would be like the broad engagement where people, researchers or people new to immersive or whoever could look at this and understand a little bit about what immersive content looked like over the last 20 years in the UK. And then equally, we wanted to surface a collection of these pieces in the four volumes, so the three volumes in the retrospective, and get those works out to people, exactly as you said, who hadn't been to the festivals perhaps, who didn't get to travel to a different country, to help market these projects again, because some of the more indie projects or smaller projects, they didn't have any marketing spend at all. So even if they did get distributed on Oculus or Viveport or whatever, limited people would have seen it because there was no campaign to go with that. So we've been doing a little bit of social campaigning as well to kind of get people in. And in our fourth retrospective, we've also got a target demographic from 16 to 25 year old females. to get into VR, to introduce them to the technology and immersive content, because many people might have tried games, but they might not have tried these kind of experiences. So there were a few drivers there. And one of the drivers as well was to try to look at this model that wasn't a festival. So it wasn't about new content. It was about existing content. It wasn't about something that might've been readily distributable. You know, Somni was a bit of a challenge. We kind of had to try to figure out which bits we might show somewhat easier, like Lucid, you know, it's already distributed. So you can kind of plug that in and also to kind of experience what is it like to license a product for that many weeks? because usually festivals are a week, so it's a lot easier to license, a lot cheaper. The mechanism is a little bit more tried and tested. But when we started talking to creators, it was like, oh, well, hang on a minute. How long is it going to be for? What is this thing? Is it a festival? No. Is it a gallery thing? Not exactly. So it was very difficult to try to frame this, to create this best of British feeling. So we did in the end create a laurel to be able to give people so they had a bit of a mark of recognition as well, which we felt was really important because the content was great and it did make the cut.

[00:14:06.954] Kent Bye: Yeah. So back in March, you launched the volume one, and I know I was there to be at the launch. And I had seen a number of the different pieces on the festival circuit, but there's one, the invisible from dark field, that was an installation that took place within a shipping container. And then they did a recreation. I don't know how faithful of a recreation it was in terms of how similar the experience would be because you're. you know, in the actual experience, you're in a shipping container with a lot of other people, and there's a lot of binaural audio that's kind of like blending different aspects in reality. And being here at home, it has a little bit different impact of knowing that whatever's happening is still all virtually and digitally mediated. And a lot of their work is kind of like blending the lines as to not knowing what is real and what wasn't real. But maybe you could talk about the first volume that launched in March with the Invisible, Notes on Blindness, Fly, and Common Ground.

[00:14:54.436] Jessica Driscoll: Sure. So I'll pick up the Invisible first, because that was actually the last physical cultural experience I did before the pandemic lockdown. There were several of the containers in King's Cross in London, and I took my husband, who'd never experienced any of the pieces before, and it was really great. And I think that it, in many ways, it was a pretty faithful adaptation. You know, just as when you walk into the open space in London before you get into the container, you feel some trepidation. It was kind of dark. It was dark when we went. So there were lots of commonalities. But I think what was interesting is we showed the immersive arcade the other day to some of our stakeholders, and they did the experience hearing other people in the room, which would be a little bit similar, kind of like going into the physical experience, which was really super different to when I did it and when you did it, because we were at home alone in like whatever quiet room. So that was quite interesting to see the interplay. And one of the people got sat on by another member of the team, which was also very entertaining because again, it was like being physically located and virtually co-located, which was very confusing. But people really enjoyed that again. And it was Darkfield's first foray into doing anything in VR. So it was great to go on that journey with them and explore. It was great to have Fly in the immersive arcade in volume one, because it was originally shown as a location based experience in the Saatchi with an egg, and it went to Tribeca and a few other places. And it was really great to kind of work with them to figure out, you know, which element are you going to have in the room that really draws people in? And in the development period, they had the Ornithopter, you know, the kind of machine that Leonardo da Vinci created. And then in the end, they decided to change it to the bird. which I thought was beautiful and very well lit and stunning and really kind of brought you into the experience. But that experience, I think it's such a good solid experience. And I think that it's a really great experience for people who are trying VR for the first time. And it was also great as well to be able to bring in a different age range into the immersive arcade because I don't actually know what the MOR's rules are for children, but I brought my children in who were eight and they really, really love fly. Equally, I had my dad in there who's like 75. He really liked it too. So it was really great to be able to give them that experience. And also during lockdown, not being able to fly, you know, just being there and experiencing that beautiful Tuscan countryside and, you know, thinking about the future and being in those airplanes was just wonderful.

[00:17:22.015] Kent Bye: Yeah. And, and there's also the common ground as well as kind of a classic in terms of the early days of immersive storytelling in VR, which is the notes on blindness. So maybe you could just say a few words about those as well.

[00:17:33.541] Jessica Driscoll: Yeah, so notes on blindness, I think for all of us who have been involved in VR for a while, you know, again, a classic, and many of us have already seen it in various ways, shapes or forms. But it was really, really nice to kind of reimagine that space and have the aesthetic in that whole room as a kind of big room where you could talk to other people and just interact in that space. It was really, really interesting to kind of work that out. And it kind of ended up being the hanging out place. of the whole experience and really that central hub. So Robin, when he was working out the design from the Museum of the Realities, he thought that through really, really carefully, I think, to think, OK, what could be that middle piece? And the fact that it was quite dark as well was quite interesting because Darkfield was fairly dark and then you move through into another dark space and then you had Common Ground and Fly, which were more lighter and brighter. So it worked really well, I think, design wise. And it was nice to experience it in a different context as well. common ground. I thought they did a really good job with some of the photogrammetry that they put into the space that was new, that people hadn't seen before. And the spatial sound, you know, when you walk close to the sign, you could hear the sounds of the estate. So for people who have been on, you know, an estate or a project or whatever you might call it in whichever country, apartment blocks, it was very, very atmospheric and it got you ready for the experience, I think. And I absolutely love Common Ground. I think that it works in every country, weirdly, even though it's very culturally specific to the UK, because you have projects in America, there's housing places in China that look like that, in Russia, in all countries, you know, there are people in low income housing who have challenges. So it was great to kind of surface that. I think that it was very strange when we were discussing which pieces to put together for that volume, they all just worked for some reason together. And I think the team did a fantastic job in curating that and kind of feeling the sensibilities from each piece. And I think that people had a very nice experience walking through. They were challenged. They were inspired. They could relax a little bit. They could be frightened. You know, there was, there was a lot there.

[00:19:40.444] Kent Bye: Yeah, the way that Museum of Other Realities has set it up is that sometimes if it's just a 360 video, then you don't need to download anything or maybe you do. But there's like this sort of a download button that I think if there's anything that's a little bit of friction is you download like an update and then sometimes you have to download a DLC, which then when you go in there, you kind of have to find the button or you have to do it before you get in there. Sometimes you go in and you don't see the content. That's probably just in terms of the friction that's still there from a user experience where it'd be nice for it to just be a lot easier to do that automatically, but that's just the way that it is right now. I say that just because the common ground is like a 360 video, but when I saw it at Tribeca, there was actually kind of a sixth off component where there was some interactivity that was in there, but there is a way that that is a piece that actually can transition into a 360 video experience in a way that kind of gets to the same heart because the majority of that piece is using 360 video with also a lot of really interesting projection mapping and some other spatial elements as well and digital recreations, but yeah, just a really provocative piece. And yeah, just generally the Notes on Blindness also initially launched as a 360 video, but then it eventually got the sixth off as well. So I wanted to just sort of make that as a comment, but also the, the installations that you mentioned, whenever I go to the film festivals, a lot of the bigger festivals like Sundance and Tribeca and Venice Film Festival, and to some degree South by Southwest, you are going into these booths, but a lot of times they'll have installations that allow you to kind of step into the magic circle before you go into the experience. And so you're primed to be stepping into this world before you actually see the world. And I kind of like that as like going into the VR experience and then you step into this whole world and this is an instance where this vastness of some of those installations were a lot bigger than what I've seen before and really playing with what you can do in VR to almost create like an entire world or scene that then becomes the interstitial space that allows you to then enter into the deeper space. So it's kind of like going into deeper levels of inception as you are getting primed in the magic circle and then from there going into the experience. And I kind of, I like that as a, a part of the conceit of the Museum of Other Realities, of what I see for the first time in this show in particular, of really expanding the vastness of some of those installations. So I'd love to hear a little bit about that process for you, because that seemed to be a pretty significant part of the experience, at least from this first volume, as well as in the second volume.

[00:22:05.167] Jessica Driscoll: Very much so. And I think that, you know, the whole play on what would it be like if you were doing a physical installation, very much fed into that because, you know, several members of the team have done, you know, a lot of kind of physical touring, showing, set building, etc. And we wanted to bring a little bit of the, I guess, the theatre, for want of a better word, into that. and have some kind of performative, transformative before you even do the piece. Because I think that in good festivals and in good installations, you have that time to get into the right mindset, to decompress. And I know it sounds kind of silly because you've already gone into a virtual space and you've walked down the green carpet and you've looked at everything and you've had that time, but you haven't had the time with that particular creation and that particular piece. And also some of the elements of the artwork were just absolutely beautiful. And to be able to do that, I guess, a multi-user way and be able to chat to somebody next to you, if you so wished, and have that time in the space and talk about the experience before and after, we thought was really, really important. And also to be reminded of what was in the piece. we also wanted to kind of bring people joy and delight immediately before they'd even done the piece, I suppose, to, like you said, I really love the description that you've given that kind of, you know, space and then you go deeper and deeper into. And also we thought that the elements of the ambient audio was really important as well, to be able to, again, give people a little bit of a sense of how it would be. Equally, I think it helps people make a choice because people might not have time. to do all of the experiences. They might want to come in and look at something and they can get a little bit of a feel of what they might be going into before they go in, which I think you can't really get from a written description, even though written descriptions are very, very good and important. And they tell us about the creators and the intent and everything. You know, you can, you can feel what you want then from that kind of first primary level.

[00:23:58.848] Kent Bye: Yeah. And, you know, I was talking to Anna from Kaleidoscope. It's kind of the liaison in some sense for the Museum of Other Realities. And so maybe you can talk a little bit about how you've been collaborating with Kaleidoscope to be able to host these things within the Museum of Other Realities.

[00:24:11.865] Jessica Driscoll: So what we had to do is go through a bidding process when we commissioned the Immersive Arcade, and we worked with several providers in a kind of dialogue process. So they kind of submitted ideas and thoughts, and then we talked through it with each of the prospective providers. And we decided to work with Artisan and MOR and Kaleidoscope because of a few reasons. They had had really great success in what they'd previously done. We felt that they had a really good understanding of easy user experience. The aesthetic of the mall is absolutely beautiful. For me, it's just such a well designed, well thought through, beautiful place where everything you look at wherever you look is always beautiful. There isn't an ugly part. Another reason was the avatars are very simple, not distracting to the art or the experience. You know, I love modifying avatars and doing all of that stuff. That's so much fun. But we felt for this particular project, we didn't want that to be a distraction in a way. We just wanted people to kind of go in and feel free and not worry too much about that. And Anna is a fantastic producer. You know, her, Renee and Robin have been really, really supportive and they've wanted to really kind of push some stuff and really experiment and try new things, which is really, really great. And it's been very much a collaborative relationship. It hasn't been us kind of going, oh, right, well, we want this, so build it. or it hasn't been, well, you know, they're like, oh, we're the creative geniuses. You should do this. It's been very much backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. And the producer on our side as well, Alex Winterbathum has been great. And then also the collaboration with the creators themselves, because with some of the creators, the Museum of Other Realities have done more creating the spaces and then with some of them, the creators have already been able to give them a lot. So, they've been more on the developer side as opposed to the director or producer side. So, that's been really interesting, that kind of collaboration and guiding people through, as well as, you know, implications on budget. And because if everyone had an unlimited budget and unlimited time, they would come up with something, you know. But trying to hit all of those points within the remit of the project has been really challenging, but I think the team have done a great job. And I think that the learnings from their previous work have really helped. And then also I think we've generated so many learnings, which we will be hopefully like writing up a report. We might do some webinars because it's just been so interesting, so much output from this project that will also help them with their future projects as well.

[00:26:46.636] Kent Bye: Yeah. One of the things I've noticed at the film festival circuit is that often the filmmakers and the creators will be going into the space and they'll be on their machine. But part of this transfer from the virtual distribution is that now all of a sudden they have to kind of generalize it to the point where many people can see it on lots of different systems and lots of different, you know, so there's a lot of ways in which that, you know, there may be things that, you know, maybe it works on their machine, but may not work on your machine. And so I think that's part of the, additional friction that people, at least I faced in terms of seeing some of these virtual festivals, but also generally that in order to go from doing a PC VR into a Quest version, that's a lot of time and energy and takes a lot of optimization. So to take something that's the initial iteration for the film festival to then kind of like go through all the rigor to make it so that then it's optimized for Quest. The Museum of Other Realities at this point doesn't have a Quest version, but there are 360 videos that you could presumably potentially watch without having to have a full PC VR. So I'm curious if that's been a part of the discussion in terms of if people only have the Quest 1 or 2 and they don't have a PC VR. In some sense, in order to see this, you have to have a PC rig. And that's just the nature of some of these high-end experiences. But has there been discussions around like, hey, maybe we should have a section of pieces that are 360 videos, or at least have a Quest-compatible version so that people who have a Quest might be able to have access to some of these experiences as well?

[00:28:14.450] Jessica Driscoll: We did discuss that when we were scoping for the project in the beginning, and I think we would absolutely love to do that, but due to the kind of limitations of time and resources, we decided to go for that kind of deep engagement with the PCVR and then the broad engagement with the timeline. So hopefully, you know, we'll be able to build on the, maybe on the timeline project and host a bunch of 360 videos through that. So we hit that medium mark, I suppose, like you said, for Quest users, et cetera, people who don't have a PC VR. And we're also planning as part of the retrospective to do a UK tour. of some of the retrospective, which will hit another remit of people who don't have any access to anything. But yeah, it would be really great to provide something and to do a Quest compatible version. It would be wonderful because I think it would reach loads more people because of the proliferation of headsets.

[00:29:05.855] Kent Bye: Yeah. And about six weeks ago was the launch of the first volume. And I remember standing in that big space of the notes on blindness and having a chance to catch up and talk with you. And you had mentioned that timeline that you just mentioned, and maybe you could talk a bit about that other aspect because there's a timeline that you're creating in terms of trying to look at the history of immersive storytelling through the lens of what's happening through the United Kingdom. Tracing key pieces over the last 20 or 30 years in terms of the history of immersive storytelling when it comes to some of these emerging technologies.

[00:29:35.737] Jessica Driscoll: Yeah, very much so. So the timeline spans immersive as a wider concept, I guess. So we have VR pieces in there. We have AR in there. We have immersive theatre. We've got stuff like Shunt, which was a kind of immersive theatre in London. There's stuff from Mimetic in the kind of Millennium Dome. So there's a whole bunch of experiences on there from around 2000. up till now. So the challenge with that is, as you can imagine, when we plotted out all of the submissions, the closer you get to today, there's way more content. And many of the other experiences, whether they be created from university research and development projects or small indie studios, or even by larger kind of broadcasters, they have been slightly lost and there's a lack of documentation around them. There isn't good walkthrough videos. There are videos, but many of them are promotional in nature. So you can't actually see from the user's perspective what the experience was like. So it's been very, very challenging to document and to display some of those early experiences, especially if they were immersive theatre and there's nothing. So that's something that was really interesting for us to kind of grapple with some of those problems. You know, how do you try to show a piece where there is no documentation? How can you judge a piece if there's no documentation? Should we even be judging experiences that we have not done? you know, what are the criteria around that. So it's been a really interesting project and hopefully we'll be able to carry it on after the duration of the immersive arcade and keep that as a living record and make that much, much bigger because I think it would be a useful tool for academia, for people researching.

[00:31:20.146] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's a big issue that I think also comes up in the film festival circuit as well, in terms of like, either you were there and you saw it or you didn't see it. And oftentimes there'll be like a cohort of people that are in the industry and they're watching these pieces and either they put a video or if it's not distributed or if it's covered in the press, or if I have a conversation with them, then sometimes that ends up being like documentation of what their project was and what that experience was. But it's good to see that you're thinking about those archival aspects, because I think generally that's a much larger topic to be discussed in terms of. as we move forward 10 to 20, 30 years from now, are we going to be able to even see some of these experiences and how do we update that? And thinking about the archival aspect. But I wanted to maybe shift into this volume two that's going to be launching here on Friday, May 7th, 2021, which is six weeks after the first volume. And in talking to Anna from Kaleidoscope, she had said that the first edition is going offline. and that you're going to be doing a six weeks and presumably another six week show for volume three, and then another six weeks after that, having kind of a retrospective to having all of those pieces back together. So it sounds like that with this new show, there's going to be about six week window for people to see it. And also a window for Museum of Other Realities being free for people to download, to check it out. And then eventually 12 weeks from now, we'll be seeing the kind of retrospective, which is all three volumes. Maybe you could verify if that's kind of the plan, the cadence as we move forward, and then we can sort of dive into the second volume.

[00:32:48.132] Jessica Driscoll: Yes, that's completely correct. So what we wanted to do was we wanted to give people a two week no paywall window to download the Museum of Other Realities and the DLC so they could experience all the content. So that will be replicated this time round. We'll be doing a launch event on Friday at 7pm UK time and then another one next week in the US time zone, which I think is probably about one o'clock in the morning UK, but I can't remember exactly. I think it was 7pm PDT. And then that will go away, and then another volume will happen, and then the retrospective will happen then. So that's when we're going to do the tour as well, so people can see the retrospective. And then hopefully, you know, we'll be able to engage further with press in the UK and beyond, and make them aware of the showcase and the kind of benefits.

[00:33:37.671] Kent Bye: Yeah, so let's maybe dive in into volume two. We have four pieces. Again, we have Lucid, Vestige, Limbo, and Somni. So maybe you could say a few words about each of these projects.

[00:33:47.953] Jessica Driscoll: Sure. So Lucid is a really beautiful project, which to your point, some people have seen, but lots of people haven't seen. And the studio Breaking Forth that created it are a lovely studio based in the UK. Their founders are Ken Henderson and David Caskell. And weirdly, I worked with David for seven years in Second Life. And then it was no surprise that he went on to kind of found Breaking Forth. And they also did Control, which was a really great early VR piece, which I thought was fantastic. So I love this piece because I think that it's provocative. It's beautifully realized. The colors, the animation, the characters are all great. I think the acting's very good. And I think that it works really, really well in the space. You know, you can see the giant drill and the snow looks really nice. I haven't really seen snow look really good like that in a lot of places. And it is a very fun and kind of playful experience, but also very, very thoughtful, I think. And I'm not surprised that it went to Venice and did well. So yeah, I'm excited for people to go and see Lucid who haven't seen it before. So hopefully a new audience. And it was great working with Pete, who was in Australia, helping us out, realizing that. Somnai. So Somnai was a really big beast that was in London a few years ago, over X thousand square feet. And it was about, I think, 35 different kinds of elements. So live performance, VR, really good binaural sound. It was kind of a crazy meditation on sleep. I guess you could describe it like that. And again, many people did see it who were based in London, but again, many people didn't. And I don't know how people will react to the realization that we're putting into the Museum of Other Realities, because it is very different to the real physical installation. But it was always going to be because trying to reduce something that was so gigantic into a part of an exhibition or part of a showcase was always going to be a challenge. Somnai could have had his own thing all together. But I hope that people will like what we've done. Carl, the creator, has done a fantastic job, I think, with trying to kind of figure out which bits would work. I absolutely love the mushroom world. I think it's so trippy and cool and the beautiful kind of tunnel leading down. So you get a sense of what the experience was like in the real world, but I think that people will enjoy it anyway. Limbo is a very interesting experience commissioned by The Guardian and Scanlab and Shahani Fernando working on that. So Scanlab, for people who are listening that aren't familiar with their work, do a lot of point cloud scanning, and they've done various stuff like scanning loads of Rome, which has been featured on BBC, and they've done various other VR pieces, which have been really fantastic. We had one piece in the Creative XR cohort this year, which was really interesting and about stories that you don't normally kind of get access to. And that's a really, really emotional piece. I always feel quite tearful when I do limbo because it's still resonant now. That problem that people who are emigrating to another country, asylum seekers face where they are in limbo, you know, you're in a black and white world, you're not seen, you are invisible, you can't work, you're not allowed to do certain things. You're not a real part of society. And I think they've really, really captured that. The audio is really good as well. And it's just, you know, again, when you step into the space and you are in this black and white world, you automatically feel that something's missing. And I think that they've realized that really well in that space. And then the experience is fantastic. Vestige, the room looks absolutely stunning where it's set. It's so big and the scale is so fantastic and the colours work really well. And again, you know, a popular experience, but again, many people won't have seen it. And I just love everything about that piece. I think it's just so great. And I think that people will feel intrigued immediately when they walk into that space and just seeing everything scaled up was really great. And to your point earlier about the vastness of the spaces in these particular installations versus some of the festivals, which may be more crammed because they have more stuff, just being able to experience that really, really, really interesting.

[00:38:03.833] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I had a chance to get the beta access to the installation and kind of walk around and it seems like it's based upon the Somni world of the mushrooms and using the Somni as the interstitial space and then teleporting into these different islands and then getting into like the entire worlds that then It's interesting to be able to be in a world and then to go into the experience and to be like, Oh yeah, I've been here before. And to have that nostalgic memory that is like that priming, that's very interesting to kind of experience that as well. And there's one theme, I guess, that each of these have, it's a little bit of like a dreamlike quality that either through the point cloud representation or with using depth kit with the scans to be able to have this aesthetic that gives you the sense of the volume, but is able to have a lot of ways in which you have to fill in the gaps. I think that Limbo is also playing with that point cloud aesthetic that you're kind of zooming through a world that you're getting a sense of that. But both Somni and Lucid are also talking about aspects of dream logic and different neurodegenerative diseases and experiences that are coming from that. You have this theme, I guess, of the dreamlike quality that I think is probably one theme that has in common with all these pieces. I'm not sure if that was deliberate, but I think that is something that at least I saw in terms of going through these experiences, some things that kind of tie them together.

[00:39:19.190] Jessica Driscoll: I'm really glad that you got that because that's definitely the vibe that we were going for. And I think that the tagline for all of the showcases, step inside your mind. And I think that the fact that all of these things are in our minds and, you know, whether or not we meditate upon them or have the time or the space is one thing, but, you know, having that dreamlike quality to this particular volume, I think was really important. Also for many countries now, the kind of social context, we are leaving lockdown or edging out of it, you know, vaccination programmes are going well and that restrictions are dropping and people are entering back into the real world step by step. In many ways, that feels like a bit of a dream as well, because people have been cooped up for such a long time. It's quite interesting. In a way, we didn't know that was going to be happening now, but having that mirror to be in a dream state and then when you go outside... I went to a virtual production studio today and had to have a COVID test and it kind of blew my mind to be with other people. It felt like I was in a trippy dream. There's this massive unreal scene in front of me with metahumans and people are moving them around and I'm like, hang on a minute, I don't know what dimension I'm in. In the morning I'm in a museum of other realities and now I'm here with this huge 40 foot screen that my mind can't cope. So that kind of dreamlike, hopefully it will give people heart as well while they're working through this particular difficult time.

[00:40:41.746] Kent Bye: Yeah, and one of the functions I see these different types of curation of these different pieces is that there's the film festival circuit, and then there's the museum circuit that happens after that. And so this is kind of like the second run in the lack of being able to actually go to these museums and having something like the Museum of Other Realities. then is able to bring in these pieces of content. Some of them are available. I know that Limbo's on YouTube and Lucid on Fiveport, Investorage on Steam. And so they're out there, but oftentimes they kind of fall through the cracks. And I think just to have someone come in and say, hey, these are worth looking at, and we're going to reduce the friction of you trying to figure out how to view some of these things. Cause even trying to watch a 360 video on YouTube in VR isn't as simple as you would want it to be because it, I tried to view one of them in VR and I couldn't yet because it's like the YouTube app on Steam is actually one of the worst rated apps of all of VR because they just basically abandoned it. It doesn't really work. It's sometimes in the quest, you can't always get into it, but just to be able to go into the museum of other realities and just be like, okay, I'm going to go in there, I'm going to download the content and then I'm going to just go in and experience it and go from experience to experience. And then just kind of dedicate yourself to the whole thing, which I think is a much better user experience than trying to kind of string all these different pieces together that they're not really long experiences. And you end up spending more time just trying to like get them all together and working rather than just going into an experience like the museum of the realities that, you know, I I'm sort of waiting for that DLC to launch so that I can just sort of like go and experience everything.

[00:42:12.922] Jessica Driscoll: I completely agree. And I think that, you know, if you compare it to, okay, I'm going to sit down and watch a movie, or I'm going to go and do this, you know, it's a pleasurable experience where you get a lot from it. And like you said, you watch those multiple experiences, you have a very nice time moving from one experience to the other, you may or may not wish to talk to someone if they're there. So that's an added bonus. And I think that it's like a real entertainment experience and it's fulfilling as opposed to, like you said, messing about with, you know, I've often looked at my desk with all of my wires everywhere with various HMDs and thought, oh my God, this is so full of friction. This is incredibly frustrating. You know, how can we reduce that? So hopefully we've come some way to reducing that friction with this showcase.

[00:42:55.514] Kent Bye: Great. So, well, just as to kind of start to wrap up here, I'm curious for you, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:43:07.327] Jessica Driscoll: I think that it will be able to enable many things. So I think that, you know, the reflection on different cultural situations and problems that we have, I think that, you know, there's still so much scope in terms of charity, NGOs, you know, telling those kind of untold stories of people. I think that people really need to nail that. There's been so many good steps, but in some contexts, it really distracts from the experience and people put interactivity in there where it doesn't need to be. So I think we need to do a bunch more work on interactivity. I think that we need to work a lot more on inclusive design and getting more voices and more people to create experiences so they are more appealing to a wider demographic of people. And also, trying to widen the circle of the people who see this stuff. Like you said, there's a cohort of people that look at the stuff. In many ways, I think, gosh, is it actually any good? It's only the X amount of people that have seen it and they may have similar sensibilities. I think that there's a lot on access to work on and opportunity, which will help to push the medium forward. I think that when Things like 5G and also AI are combined with immersive in a more real and sustainable way. You can kind of see into the future a little bit with things like metahumans and AI. Hopefully it will bring down again the barrier of entry so people can have tools that enable them to create content more easily. something like Anything World. I don't know whether you've come across them. They have voice recognition for creating 3D objects, which I think is really, really great on a number of levels. So I think that there's a lot of opportunity in terms of tools and accessibility. And I think that there hasn't been really that many full, really long VR content experiences, because I think people are still worried. Oh, you know, I don't want to be in a headset for more than 20 minutes or whatever it might be. And the festival access has been problematic because having a two hour VR experience in a festival, you can't do that because you need to get people through the door. but something like the Immersive Arcade, maybe that could allow a much longer content experience. I think we still haven't really explored episodic content in the way that we could have, and kind of spin-off series is where characters are in different pieces maybe, where people can kind of build that familiarity. And I think that that's another thing that we need to work on is character and attachment to character. We've come some way to that and there are some great experiences, but I don't think that people feel quite as upset when they say goodbye to some of the characters in XR experiences as they do from a TV series or from book. You know, when you put it down and you feel, oh no, my world has ended because the series is finished. So I'm really hoping that there will be more content created like that in VR.

[00:45:59.030] Kent Bye: Yeah, and one follow up I wanted to ask because we talked about Digital Catapult and how there's a number of different initiatives they have with 5G and IoT and artificial intelligence and XR is one of the branches, but yet there's the creative XR, which is funding those. And there's individual projects that may be integrating those other technologies. But is there other initiatives within Digital Catapult that is more formally blending together these different disciplines beyond the Creative XR, say like other opportunities for the IoT and artificial intelligence and initiatives when it comes to 5G to kind of interface with the XR to see how that may be impacting and influencing those other projects that may be beyond the scope of what Creative XR is doing?

[00:46:41.836] Jessica Driscoll: We have a number of different programs at Digital Catapult, and we've noticed now a trend of companies and projects going from one to the other. We have 5G Create, we have our 5G TAP program, which gives people access to 5G testbeds so they can test their solutions and ideas. We've also got the MI Garage, which is an AI accelerator program. This last run, they've done a creative cohort, So they've had a couple of immersive companies in there experimenting. So we're seeing a move from one to the other. Also, from a UK standpoint, there's also been the Audience of the Future Demonstrators programme, which has been a really good success. It's huge in scale compared to what we've been doing at Digital Catapult, £33 million over the course of three years, loads of R&D, much bigger consortiums. And there's also programmes, we're involved in a programme in Bristol, which is another region in the UK, another city, called My World. And they have a really vibrant, you probably know this already Kent, they have a very vibrant VR ecosystem there, which is very mature and they've got a lot of expertise there. But again, having that significant injection of funding from the UK government will help to stimulate growth and help them to be more competitive on a global scale. So there's a lot going on in the UK to help XR. The Creative Clusters are another initiative. XR Stories up in the north is in game in Scotland. and the Story Futures Academy with their work on storytelling and narrative in XR and training and skills as well. So yeah, it's a very exciting time to be in the UK and to be able to try to connect all of this together, especially, you know, when we keep on looking over the fence at Digital Catapult to enterprise and industry and what are they doing and how can we feed that back into creative and vice versa?

[00:48:26.169] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's really quite amazing just to get a little short tour. And I'm imagining that a lot of the artists here in the United States are very jealous and envious that there's so much support for the arts when it comes to some of these other countries, uh, in UK or in Europe, because there, there seems to be a lot more other, I mean, there's some here in the United States, but there just seems to be like all the things you just listed there. I don't think that there could be an equivalent. effort that is listed here in the United States that shows the amount of investment coming from funders or investors. So it's just nice to see. And I see the impact of that funding and of those different projects, both as I travel around to different, like if a doc lab or the different film festivals, and, you know, certainly come across a number of different creators from Bristol and just in the UK in general that are coming from a lot of these different programs, especially dreamed that was recently from the audience of the future that I recently featured on the podcast. So. But yeah, just as we're wrapping up, is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:49:22.680] Jessica Driscoll: I think that I'd just say what a great job everyone's been doing, especially during the pandemic. And thank you to all of those creators and all of those programmers and all those technical artists and all of the people that go into creating immersive content. It's still a very giving space. I think people are really sharing a lot still. They've figured out fantastic creative solutions to work together remotely during the pandemic, you know. our labs have been running from people's bedrooms and kitchens. And, you know, we usually have a big lab where people can come into and work together and everybody's kind of thought, right, this is not going to stop us at all. They've just, you know, rolled up their sleeves and got on with it and carried on creating. And I think that just everyone worldwide has done such a fantastic job during the pandemic. and it's going to be really, really exciting to see what comes next. You know, what is the next step for immersive? You know, we get asked all the time, and I'm sure you do, Kent, you know, what are your predictions and what do you think is coming and what's going to happen in the next three to five years? And of course, everyone's got educated guesses, but the real response is, I don't really know. And that's why it's exciting. And I think that's what keeps us all in the space.

[00:50:28.047] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Volume 2 of the Immersive Arcade by Digital Catapult within the Museum of Other Realities, there's a two-week window that starts on Friday, May 7th, and then it runs for six weeks. Then you'll have Volume 3 for six weeks, and then you'll have a whole retrospective. And so definitely encourage people to go check it out. It's a good opportunity to go get a sense of the festival experience, at least in the context of the Museum of Other Realities. and to see these pieces, which they're all really strong pieces. And I recommend to just check out, see what's happening here. And yeah, like I said, I'm just really happy to see the different support and funding that's coming from these entities and glad to see something like Digital Catapult exists and that you're doing these types of projects to be able to figure out some of these different distribution aspects and push forward and promote the medium. There's a lot of great work that's being done and, uh, yeah, just happy to see it being promoted. So again, thanks for joining me here on the podcast and, uh, for telling a little bit more of the story of digital catapult and this whole immersive arcade. Thank you so much for having me. So that was Jessica Driscoll. She's the head of immersive technologies at digital catapult. And there was the launch of the immersive arcade at the museum of the realities here on Friday, May 7th, 2021, and goes from the next six or eight weeks. It's volume two, and then they'll have volume three. And then after that, they'll have a whole retrospective. I have a number of different takeaways about this interview. First of all, what was really cool, just to get a little bit more context of the digital catapult, I wasn't aware of all the other different programs that they have in terms of 5G and IoT, artificial intelligence, and a lot of stuff with XR, with virtual and augmented reality. But focusing specifically on the creative XR and the immersive storytelling area, what they're probably seeing is that it's a lot of the artists and the creatives who are trying to experiment with all these technologies and to see what are the affordances of them, and just integrating them together. To be able to see these different companies that are able to also experiment with all these other emerging technologies and how to blend them all together. That was something that I wasn't aware of that was quite interesting to hear. Also, just generally, CreativeXR, they've been funding a lot of really great pieces that have been going on the festival circuits. I think it shows to see what happens when you have good arts funding and be able to support some of these different projects. I definitely recommend go checking out these different installations. It's really quite cool how they're able to really transport you into this otherworldly experience. As time goes on, they're really exploring some of the affordances of virtual reality. The museum of other realities, when you walk into it, it feels like you're in a museum. But in installations like this, you really feel like you're transported into these other worlds in a way that the vastness of being able to actually create an entire installation that then becomes an experience within itself as you go into this beam of light that you walk into. transition into actually going to these different experiences. Yeah, like I said, the trickiest thing here is to download the downloadable content DLC and oftentimes you'll go into the experience and then there'll be a button that you click and then you have to go outside of the experience and then you have to like download it and steam. If you have the actual link to it, I'd recommend to download it before you actually get into the VR experience. So you don't have to kind of like get in and get back out. So That whole thing, I think, is still a little bit more of the highest friction part, I'd say, is to actually get all that stuff to work. It's not always easy to find the DLC and content, so my recommendation is to try to find a direct link to the DLC, to download it, to get the updates, and then just jump in and be able to dive into all the different experiences. So yeah, just some really cool experiences. I really enjoyed Lucid, which I thought was a really strong story, really interesting way of kind of using the affordances of virtual reality. Vestige is a piece that I saw a number of years ago and just has a lot of interesting use of the aesthetic of the depth kit and different ways of stylizing the volumetric capture and the story that they're telling there. And then there's another point cloud representation with the Limbo and really getting the feeling of what's it like to be an asylum seeker in the sense of some of the different interactions that they have to go through and alienation and isolation that they're experiencing. And also, Somni, which is an immersive theater piece that was really quite vast. And I think they're just showing a couple of different sections from that virtual reality component. So it doesn't really give you the full immersive experience, which, you know, that within itself was like a full hour. But they're just giving you a little taste of that. And actually, the worlds that they're based upon with some of these different immersive experiences are also kind of like you're getting a taste of that Somni experience as well. So definitely go check it out. And I'm looking forward to seeing how this run goes and then the third run. And then if you miss the first one, they're going to be bringing back for the retrospective. So you can come back and see some of those other experiences. So that's all that I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast and please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patrion. This is a listener supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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