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StoryFutures Xperience: Bringing VR into independent arts venues across the U.K.

July 14, 2023 in News | 5 min. read
Composite image of seven VR experiences featured as part of StoryFutures programming
Composite image of seven VR experiences featured as part of StoryFutures programming

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In this guest blog, the StoryFutures team shares how their latest project is bringing made with Unity VR content to communities across the U.K.

As a small company or studio working in VR, how do you get your projects out to large audiences? This is an industry-wide problem that StoryFutures, the United Kingdom’s (U.K.) National Centre for Immersive Storytelling, has been working hard to solve. With the support of the British Film Institute (BFI), awarding National Lottery funding, StoryFutures is launching Xperience – a program that showcases new and innovative, story-led VR content in independent cinemas and multi-arts venues across the U.K., many for the very first time.

Bringing VR work to U.K. audiences

StoryFutures Xperience is exhibiting 11 story-led, innovative VR projects, with further content currently in development to be delivered to venues later this summer. Experiences range from 360-degree video documentaries to interactive pieces where audiences intervene in the story. Each experience is developed through a process of experimental collaboration between university academics and small- to medium-sized, U.K.-based companies, such as winning selections from the VR R&D Showcasing Programme, and many of the project’s partners chose Unity to create their innovative experiences. To learn more about each, we spoke to some of our partners about their development process.

Get Punked! from Visualise

In Visualise’s Get Punked!, viewers delve into Alex’s teenage diary from the 1970s and ’80s as she discovers the world of punk music, from her mum’s living room to a basement dive bar. Pick up the guitar, play the retro Get Punked! arcade game, and even throw an ashtray at the TV.

Split-screen view of a 1970s living room and arcade, as featured in the VR experience Get Punked!, with VR hand controllers in the foreground

On working in Unity, Visualise Immersive Creative Technologist Jack Østergaard-Churchill commented, “Building Get Punked! in Unity was a natural route for us at Visualise. Unity offers flexible in-Editor XR support, allowing us to quickly develop, test, and debug our experience without having to produce a build… As a small studio, we knew that we wanted to have the whole team working on aspects of this project, rather than a solo developer. By using Unity, we could develop collaboratively across the project, also allowing our 3D artists, designers and coders to work together in bringing the project to life. One of the key benefits we found was the wealth of additional packages and options to extend what the base version of Unity can offer. We have a few custom packages that we had made for the controller models and screen transitions, but also brought in some additional packages to handle more complex elements such as the particle point clouds of the band and lighting.”

Off the Record from No Ghost

Off the Record is a VR archival exploration by No Ghost that celebrates British South Asians and their rich musical heritage, mapping the meteoric rise of Bhangra in the 1970s to the Asian Underground and Punjabi Garage at the turn of the century. The experience depicts the early migration of South Asians to the U.K., contrasting their struggle to integrate with the defiant self-expression of the second generation.

Experience poster for Off the Record featuring a record sleeve with an image of a dancing crowd

Kindred from Electric Skies

Kindred is an animated VR film from Electric Skies that’s based on the remarkable true story of an aspirational parent, called Syd, and their groundbreaking journey through the adoption process in the U.K. The story takes viewers through years of setbacks and rejections, after which Syd is matched with a child, Ollie, and helps redefine the meaning of family.

Animation of a young child and an adult sitting on a see-saw, floating on a cloud, as featured in the VR experience Kindred

Life Cycles from Surround Vision

Why did the bicycle come to be? What was its impact on society?

In Life Cycles, viewers are taken on a journey through time in the U.K., as it paints a picture of the cyclist through different eras to understand the effect that two wheels and a frame can have on the very fabric of our culture and environment. Try turning the cinemascope, pumping up a tire, and activating the city through the magic of hand tracking.

Man in a workshop with a bicycle wheel and tools on a table, as featured in VR experience Life Cycles

Richard Stegmann, senior producer at Surround Vision, noted, “Unity provides us with the ability to deliver at scale using robust features backed up by an active support community. Great building blocks for delivering engaging experiences.”

Promenade from Shroom Studio

A visually arresting, graphic blend of BFI archives and interactive, animated 3D models, Shroom Studio’s Promenade was developed from a series of iconic lino prints by artist Mike Hatjoullis. It immerses the viewer into a series of deconstructed city scenes to tell the story of Mike’s background transcending from second-generation Greek-Cypriot immigrant restaurant worker in the heyday 1950s Blackpool to influential RCA Textile Designer and Master Printmaker.

Poster for VR experience Promenade, featuring black-and-white lino prints of buildings in Blackpool, and a color image from archive footage showing a smiling person’s face

Speaking of the project, Shroom Studio Creative Director Christos Hatjoullis explained, “We chose Unity for our VR project principally because of its unique VR workflow, flexibility in development, and ease of use... Unity’s easily deployable interactivity, gaze-initiated animation, and user-tracked hands that can touch allowed us to bridge the real world for novice experiencers. Controllable in-built elements like pouring rain, firework shells and global sky / lighting controls added a final flair to make for an atmospheric end result, somewhere between a documentary film and art gallery installation piece.”

Drop in the Ocean from Vision3

Drop in the Ocean is a shared VR adventure made with Unity that brings audiences to the deepest parts of the ocean to reveal the secrets of our survival on land. Far beyond the shore, there is an invisible ocean full of mystery and wonder – crucial to our very existence, yet under extreme threat from changes to our climate and undeniable human impact. The experience was created by Adam May, Chris Campkin, and Chris Parks and narrated by Philippe and Ashlan Cousteau. It was made possible by SC Johnson, produced by Vision3 and Conservation International, and supported by the Unity for Humanity Environment and Sustainability grant program.

A leatherback turtle swimming towards the viewer underneath the surface of the ocean, which is littered with plastic bottles, as featured in the VR experience Drop in the Ocean

Adam May, director of production at Vision3, shared, “Without a doubt, Unity was the right game engine for Drop In The Ocean. Unity supports creators, and, as we set ourselves the challenge of creating a realistic 3D marine world, whilst maintaining high performance on a mobile VR platform, the incredible developer tools and expert technical teams made all of this possible. Through initiatives like Unity for Humanity, the organization also shares our belief that games and experiences have the remarkable power to reconnect audiences to the natural world, and each other.”

(Hi)Story of a Painting – What’s the Point? from MONKEYFRAME and Fat Red Bird Ltd

(Hi)Story of a Painting – What’s the Point? is a collaborative project from MONKEYFRAME and Fat Red Bird Ltd that journeys into the story behind “La Grande Jatte,” an iconic painting by Georges Seurat that many of us know but don’t truly know... until now. Learn how Seurat went from underdog to world-renowned artist.

Poster for VR experience (Hi)Story of a Painting, featuring a view of the Seine in Paris with buildings on either side, rendered in a pointillist style

Quentin Darras, MONKEYFRAME’s director, said, “We started as complete beginners, so we picked Unity based on two factors: its great documentation and its vast and enthusiastic community. The universe of VR is evolving fast, so we needed a software that is just as reactive.”

What is StoryFutures?

Run by Royal Holloway, University of London and the National Film and Television School (NFTS), and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (part of U.K. Research and Innovation), StoryFutures places innovative storytelling at the heart of the next generation of technologies and experiences. Last summer, the team launched the award-winning StoryTrails – one of the U.K.’s largest-ever immersive storytelling projects, which transformed town squares, libraries, streets, and cinemas across 15 locations into virtual portals that helped local communities to see their towns in new ways.

StoryTrails has reached an audience of over 70,000 and counting through a live tour that took place in the summer of 2022.

Immersive storytelling helps to connect people with the content they experience in much deeper ways. In fact, 70% of visitors reported that they felt more connected to their city and indicated that their sense of belonging to their hometown increased by 20%.

This year, StoryFutures Xperience builds upon the legacy and success of StoryTrails by bringing VR to new audiences and communities from April 2023 through March 2024.

Discover VR storytelling

The experiences listed, and many others, can be seen at our partner venues across the U.K. over this summer and into the spring of 2024, including Queen’s Film Theatre (Belfast), Sheffield Showroom, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Chapter (Cardiff), and Depot (Lewes).

Visit the StoryFutures website for the latest news about Xperience or to find a venue near you, or follow StoryFutures on Twitter at @storyfutures and Instagram at @storyfuturesa

Check out more guest blogs on Made with Unity projects here.

July 14, 2023 in News | 5 min. read

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