By CHRIS McGOWAN
The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.
Winner of two prestigious 2018 Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.
By CHRIS McGOWAN
“With AR we are no longer constrained to any surface or physical limitation of a space. We can move around the content, engage with it from all angles, and get our own personal experiences at our own pace,” says Jason Ambler, Executive Producer/Director of Production at Falcon’s Digital Media, which is launching Falcon’s Vision, a wireless AR headset that is specially designed for location-based experiences in theme parks, museums, zoos, aquariums, art galleries and other special venues. The firm sees augmented reality as having significant potential for such attractions.
Falcon’s Digital Media is a division of Orlando, Florida-based Falcon’s Creative Group, a leading designer of immersive environments, dynamic media content and theme park rides. Falcon’s has worked on such attractions/locations as Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Battle for Eire, National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey in New York City, Motiongate Dubai, IMG Worlds of Adventure (Dubai), Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, SeaWorld, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (Zhuhai, China), and Knight Valley at OCT Eco Park (Shenzhen, China). Falcon’s has recently linked with PBS for a number of branded ‘edutainment’ outlets that will be PBS’s first foray into the realm of location-based entertainment.
After producing several hologram experiences for major parks and attractions, Falcon’s started looking at individualized AR experiences. “We found that the AR headsets that were commercially available in the marketplace would not be a viable solution for entertainment venues,” says Ambler. “Falcon’s Vision was created out of a necessity for us to be able to deliver these types of immersive AR experiences to our clients.”
The firm’s experience with the Battle for Eire, a multi-sensory VR motion simulator ride that uses headsets and opened in early 2018, proved invaluable. “With Battle for Eire, we recognized from the onset that existing VR head-mounted displays would need to be adapted to meet the demands of a high-capacity theme park attraction,” Ambler comments. “Our primary solution was to separate the head-mount from the display, which would then allow guests time for fitment and [give] operations the ability to hygienically wash the components that directly interface with guests in the same way they would wash 3D glasses.” The AR headset has a 55-degree field of view and a one-size-fits-all design, and is ruggedly built, tamper proof, water resistant and shock absorbing. It is powered by a high-density battery with various options for wireless charging stations.
The Falcon’s Vision headset can be equipped with 3D polarized lenses. “We created Falcon’s Vision not only to enhance physical experiences, but also to enhance media-based experiences as well,” Ambler expands. “We see the headset bringing another layer of storytelling and interactivity to a stereoscopic 3D film experience on a ride or in a theater environment.”
The headset can also “gamify” attractions. He notes, “Whether you are competing against yourself, your friends and family, or people you’ve never met, we believe gamification can be a great motivator and a powerful way to connect with audiences. A healthy competition can help keep people active and focused on an objective for much longer than a traditional passive experience. We also believe this increases the level of ‘repeatability’ in an experience.”
Ambler says, “What excites us most about AR is that it can be more of a shared experience, where there is less of a barrier between you and your friends or family members. We really see the benefits to both VR and AR. It really depends on the type of experience and story you are looking to tell.”
Some observers feel that theme parks are interesting places to inspire innovation in AR. Ambler comments, “In the right hands, it is certainly possible to create more bespoke and well-integrated AR content experiences in a controlled environment. For this reason, these spaces may be the best place to showcase the capabilities of the technology.”
The visuals in the AR headset will be created in-house by Falcon’s Digital Media. Ambler says, “Falcon’s Vision is designed to be a turn-key solution for venue operators including full installation and all content exclusively provided by Falcon’s Digital Media.”
Ambler concludes, “Guests’ expectations have been evolving largely due to the way they can access and engage with various forms of entertainment on a daily basis. As experience designers, our job is to bring them something that they can’t get anywhere else.”
Carl Sagan would have been pleased. The three-chapter, 43-minute VR experience Spheres takes viewers on a 360-degree tour of the cosmos, explores gravity waves and the Big Bang, uncovers the hidden songs of space, and dives into a black hole. It was the first VR title to debut at the Telluride Film Festival and the first to be sold to a distributor for more than a million dollars (VR financing and distribution firm CityLights acquired it for seven figures at the Sundance Film Festival). Presented by Protozoa Pictures and Oculus Studios, Spheres won the Best VR Award (Immersive Story) at the Venice Film Festival last September. It has its share of another type of “star power” – Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), Jessica Chastain and rock icon Patti Smith narrate Spheres, which was written and directed by Eliza McNitt.
Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Black Swan, Noah) was a co-executive producer, along with Ari Handel, Jessica Chastain and Portland-based Kaleidoscope VR. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (Stranger Things) provided the soundtrack. Baptiste Poligné and Dimitri Sourza were VFX artists who worked on the project, along with VR Technical Director Clément Chériot and VR production studios Atlas V (based in Paris), Novelab (Paris) and Crimes of Curiosity (Los Angeles).
Spheres is now available on the Oculus Rift VR headset (www.oculus.com).
“The programming [for The Unreal Garden] will change every six to 12 months. Enklu, our development partner, has built a storytelling platform for immersive experience that allows the creating of content and adding to a live experience in AR. It’s really fluid and fast and cost-efficient. Because of that, it allows us to make updates more regularly than you would think – so the content isn’t fixed and can adapt to whatever environment we find.”
—Leila Amirsadeghi, CMO, Onedome
Just as AR can “gamify” environments and bring users together in a collective gaming experience, it can enhance the social potential of an art gallery or other shared setting.
The Unreal Garden mixes a physical area with spatial sound, 2D/3D projection mapping, and augmented reality (provided by a Microsoft Hololens headset). Guests – up to 25 at a time – enter a colorful space with winding paths, radiant wildflowers, a stream, a waterfall and boulders. In the setting, AR and projection technology bring to life digital art installations from ten artists. Visitors can move around the artworks (often connected to nature) and interact with key components, teasing out hidden meanings and unexpected changes.
Participating artists include Android Jones, John Park, Jasmine Pradissitto, Andy Thomas, Shuster + Moseley, Scott Musgrove, Werc, Ray Kallmeyer and Vladislav Solovjov. Onedome created the project both to be an artist’s platform and to use creativity as a way to inspire connection and community. Lelia Amirsadeghi, CMO of Onedome, observes, “As you bring more people into it, you realize the experience can be even better in collaboration with someone.”
Yet, Amirsadeghi is conscious that group interactivity with AR is something new for most people and can be a little daunting. The Unreal Garden will be “introducing a whole new technology and language to audiences. AR is not something that’s commonly experienced. The Hololens is not something that many would have access to right now.” And few have had the experience of joining with others via AR to unlock special visual effects in an artwork.
According to Amirsadeghi, as people get used to the technology, the content will evolve. “The programming will change every six to 12 months. Enklu, our development partner, has built a storytelling platform for immersive experience that allows the creating of content and adding to a live experience in AR. It’s really fluid and fast and cost-efficient. Because of that, it allows us to make updates more regularly than you would think – so the content isn’t fixed and can adapt to whatever environment we find.”
Amirsadeghi believes that audiences are ready for an experience like The Unreal Garden. “I think you’ve seen a behavioral shift over the last three years,” says Amirsadeghi about the popularity of location-based entertainment using VR and AR, whether pop-up or permanent venues. “People really want more out of their entertainment, want to be part of it, want to engage and interact with others, want to be social and share it socially. It’s just the next layer of it, the next evolution, in my humble opinion.”
She continues, “We’re just at the beginning. Every day is a surprise. We’re learning. This is brand-new tech that has never been used in this manner before. We’re doing stuff that’s not been done, so there’s no playbook. We learn something every day from customers.”
Onedome, which presented The Unreal Garden at its San Francisco location from last October through April, will take it on tour later this year. Another immersive attraction – LMNL, comprised of 14 interactive, interconnected rooms and installations – was also offered recently by Onedome at its Market Street location in San Francisco.