December 2017 - July 2018
In collaboration with the purpleSTARS and the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) I helped prototype and design a virtual reality (VR) experience of an english forest through the different seasons inspired by an original animation at the MERL. The purpleSTARS are a collective of artists and technologists with and without learning disabilities who are working to make museums more sensory and accessible. We thought the original animation would make a relaxing virtual reality experience where you can be immersed in the sounds and visuals of a forest.
I thought it was important to introduce the purpleSTARS group to examples of augmented and virtual technologies so that everyone has a good knowledge of what is out there and what is possible. I set up experiences like: The Turning Forest and BBC Earth: Life in VR as well as augmented reality apps like BBC: Civilisations and WWF: Free Rivers.
Then collaborating with VR Developer, Lee Kent, I designed a prototype VR experience inspired by the original animation displayed in the MERL.
The first prototype created shows the original animation which plays on a cinema like screen in a forest like environment. The weather in the virtual forest maps to the video with falling rain, snow and leaves, and flowers which grow in the spring.
The purpleSTARS tried this out, and made comments about what could be included and things they liked and didn’t like. Lee added new features from their ideas and we went through the process again. I also had a similar process with student group (16-19 year olds) from a college in Reading. Together with the purpleSTARS we were visiting the Museum of English Rural Life and designing ideas together. Some of the group responded strongly to the virtual reality forest experience and were happy to move around with the headset on for over 15 minutes each. It was clear they found it very relaxing and enjoyable. The students communicated about what they wanted to see in the forest and the sounds they might make.
It was great to explore the possibilities of the technology together. With the help of Lee, I designed additions to the experience so we could test things like clicking on the flowers to make them bloom. Using the Google Daydream and the hand controller, we found there was a lot of room for improvement regarding accessibility of the headsets and the hand controller.
We shared our ideas for the Forest VR with the curators of the museum, and they agreed to commission the original animators (Sho Sho, based in the Netherlands) to create the virtual reality experience we designed in their watercolour, painterly style. We influenced the process all the way through and continued to test their work and give our suggestions, for which Sho Sho were very responsive. The purpleSTARS have tested the final result and all agree it is fantastic, we can all see our input in the artwork.
Now the piece is ready, we want to make an audio description of the forest going through the seasons and possibly a comic strip, so that it can be more accessible for others.