Innovative companies use virtual reality, 360-degree video, augmented reality and other immersive technologies to create interactive worlds that pull audiences into the story.
At the New York Hall of Science, children learn about sustainability in a whole new way. Forget the snooze-worthy films and the don’t-touch glass display cases of yesteryear.
Today’s tech-savvy youth can engage with a 38-foot high digital waterfall that flows through six connected habitats in a 2,300-square-foot interactive floor. Young visitors learn how their physical interaction with this shared source of water can impact the balance among the virtual habitats.
The Connected Worlds exhibit, a collaboration between the Hall of Science and interactive studio Design I/O, is one example of how VR and immersive technology helps audiences absorb stories, themes, products and information through interactive learning.
Theodore Watson, co-founder of Design I/O, believes interaction, exploration and play are essential activities for people to understand the world around them.
“Interactive experiences have mostly been confined to small screens, which isolate people from their environments,” Watson said. “What we love about large-scale immersive installations is that they allow people to interact with design and technology in a completely different and much more natural way. People aren’t staring down at their phones; they are collectively engaging with a dynamic world, using their bodies to interact in a way that feels seamless and magical.”
Artists and designers aren’t the only ones playing with new technologies. UNIT9, a design studio that creates innovative experiences for brands, uses 360-degree video, virtual reality (VR) and other tools to create compelling stories in advertising campaigns.
According to Yates Buckley, technical partner at UNIT9, VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) help people digest stories and information.
“The Rs (VR, AR and MR) are spatial and immersive in a way that they lead to much stronger recall over time,” he said. “Memory is a fundamental component of a brand. If you can remember it, you have made an impression for the future, a sort of insurance for your relationship with the customer.”
UNIT9’s Samsung Bedtime VR Stories campaign, for example, tackled the controversial issue of sharing VR with children by looking at how headsets could help a mother who travels for business read a book with her daughter from afar. In its Mercedes-Benz NOW ad, UNIT9 created a live 12-hour MR commercial that combined the physical elements of live music and dancing with digital objects, including a rotating map of the world and generative computer graphics.
These interactive campaigns encourage customers to interact with a brand’s content in new and memorable ways.
The Future of Storytelling
However, despite the elevated interest in interactive stories, Buckley said certain barriers remain. Customers want authentic experiences, and they don’t want to deal with long download times, subpar user experiences or other technical hassles.
As traditional videos give way to 360-degree videos and VR, large tech companies will continue to lead the pack when it comes to telling stories through the latest technologies, according to Josh Ritchie, founder of Column Five, a content marketing agency.
“You need dollars to drive content creation on a new frontier,” Ritchie said, noting that bigger companies tend to have more money to experiment. “This will all be fueled by brands, and … it will give way to a lot of things we haven’t seen yet.”
Still, building it doesn’t mean the audiences will come. Ritchie and Buckley agree there will be a lot of experimenting and failing before some technologies work for wide audiences.
“Attention is still at a premium, so the potential of individuals interacting because of increasing access to a particular technology doesn’t mean they actually will,” Buckley said. “The upside is that newer technologies are interesting because of the novelty itself. People are learning a new language, and there is a joy that is intrinsic to any new experience of this type.”
It appears interactive design studios are also trying to learn the same new language and stay ahead of the game. Building a large-scale exhibit like Connected Worlds, for example, requires quite a bit of technical prowess.
Although Design I/O is behind immersive installations ranging from Weather Worlds, a project that gave children the power to conjure tornadoes and strike lightening, to Studio Play, an exhibit that helped the whole family interact and play with a collection of artwork, Connected Worlds was an extraordinarily complex endeavor. It required multiple projectors, Mac Book Pro computers, Kinect depth cameras and high-resolution infrared cameras.
“It is a really complex technical setup and all the computers are sharing information every second to create a single, seamless experience,” Watson explained. “From the user perspective, however, the technology is completely invisible. [The exhibit is] simply a magical world you can step into and explore.”
From responsive installations to advertisements using 360-degree video, these seamless experiences are changing the way audiences experience art. The stories get audiences interested in the content, but then they want to play.
Connected World image credit: David Handschuh.