When Virtual Reality is mentioned, I’m sure you can relate to me, in that you get a little excited. As did over 450 VR experts, Enthusiasts and ‘VR Virgins’ as The Drum’s Dave Birss, Host of the Festival, referred to amateurs as at VRUK Festival which took place at Ravensbourne in February 2016.
With backing from British Film Institution & Creative Skillset, and an Impressive arsenal of speakers including: Dean Johnson, Head of Innovation at Brandwatch, Visualise CEO Henry Stuart & Playstation VR’s Senior Designer Jed Ashforth, it was no doubt a sellout.
The notion of the fascinating new tech, brought fans in their Hundreds to Learn, Develop, Teach and Try all things VR and Immersive 360 Video.
VRUK had it all: from the widely-anticipated ‘HTC Vive’ Headset to the Pre-Released Sundance Winner ‘6×9 Solitary Confinement’ Immersive Experience by The Guardian & The Mill. Aside from the Studios & Agencies, there were some awesome Indie developers making waves in the UK VR Scene including Masters of Pie & ROVR.
Now, my role at VRUK was a very different experience from others. I ran the Social Media for the 2-day event working closely with Speakers & the press to showcase the event in all it’s glory. I think it’s fair to say we achieved this. Reaching millions on Twitter and even a cheeky Trend or two across the two days, VR made its mark in the UK this February with VRUK being the UK’s largest Virtual Reality dedicated event to date… BOOM!
The Current State & Future of VR
Things kicked off with Dean Johnson, Head of Innovation at Brandwatch, who discussed “The State and Future of VR” on Main Stage a little after 10:30. Dean mentioned the accessibility of VR Experiences with Google Cardboard. A cheap alternative headset made from, you guessed it… Cardboard. The stats were phenomenal: In 2015, more than 5M+ Units were shipped, with 25M+ Cardboard Apps Installed and over 350K VR YouTube videos watched. Dean made the claim that the “Potential is Huge” and that by 2020, VR/AR will be worth a staggering £100B. (No that’s not a typo, that is a B for Billion. 100 Billion In fact).
BREAKING NEWS: Not Everyone is talking about VR. It’s our mission to make sure they are.
Dean touched on ways in which we can design for the future, including reducing VR Hair. But Afterall, maybe the best way to design the future, is to ask the future. Introducing Olivia & Hattie (Dean’s Kids):
360 Video & VR Aren’t the same thing?
As the first keynote speaker, Dean planted the seed for a 2-day debate around 360 Immersive Video is not VR. This was discussed by multiple speakers in both Keynotes and Workshops. He said ‘360 Videos are not new, nor VR’.
By no means do I claim to be an expert in this field. But having sat through hours of talks and workshops, I’ve come to the conclusion that 360 video, is simply recording in 360. Often Strapping GoPro’s together physically with duct tape, and then stitching images in post production. It’s a more immersive experience, yes. But not VR. (Check out the Theta Ricoh S for a commercial 360 video alternative).
VR isn’t just 360 Video. It can be CGI, Animation, Video and in many other forms of media. It’s an immersive experience that involves making the user feel like they’re in a virtual reality, hint the name I guess.
VR isn’t just for gaming?
It was Interesting to see VR being used outside of Gaming that it the media is currently focusing on. A workshop that I attended was organised by Royal Collection Trust in partnership with Google Expeditions. The session was led by Will Graham, Learning Manager at Royal Collection Trust. Will took the group on a virtual tour of Buckingham Palace. The immersive experience allowing us to see a the grand interior and our national heritage in all it’s glory. One attendee described it as “A very powerful experience that previous a very select few had the opportunity to see”.
Event Highlight: ‘In Her Shoes’
The highlight for me was Jane Gauntlett. She is an artist, producer and founder of Sublime & Ridiculous. Jane was violently mugged and fell into a coma for three weeks. She suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the long-term legacy of which includes epileptic seizures and short term memory and communication problems.
The talk featured her signature project ‘In My Shoes’ which is an ever-expanding library of interactive experiences which use touch, taste, smell, audio-visual technology, virtual reality and first-person documentary to recreate real-life experiences.
Jane’s work has been exhibited at international theatres, festivals, hospitals, universities and institutions and we we’re blessed to see her at VRUK Festival.
The session began with a slightly nervous and fragile Jane telling her story. It was the first time that I noticed a shift in the behavior of attendees at the festival. What was quite a preoccupied audience with the glare of screens beaming in their faces, turned their full attention to Jane and the room became very Somber . With full attention from the audience, Jane invited Dave Birss (Host of the Event) onto Stage to experience “In Her Shoes”.
The experience lasted around 10 Minutes, taking place on a train. The audience could hear and see everything that the Host was experiencing. Dave, now sporting Jane’s handbag, with a water bottle in his left hand, proceeded to sit when Instructed to by Jane’s voice. The experience intensified with communication problems and blurry vision which eventually left the character (Dave) in an epileptic seizure. Dave, dazed at this, awakened and appeared very Empathetic towards Jane. When speaking with the host after the event, he said that it was a very “Moving Experience”, aside from still being very confused by the ordeal.
Takeaways from VRUK
There were some notable takeaways from VRUK Festival. One being that it was very apparent that VR is not mainstream, nor will it be any-time soon. There are mountains to climb before it can overcome challenges associated with VR. One being the physical issues of Sickness. Now don’t get me wrong, VR has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years since Oculus started it’s Kickstarter Campaign raising almost $2.5M+, to later be acquired by Facebook for $2 Billion.
At the IBC Networking Drinks at VRUKFest, I met George Beverley, Giles Vincent and Matt Desmier from Think Create Do. It was great to be surrounded by Excellent company with a common Interest in this emerging technology and wanting to make a difference.#VRBling also made it’s debut at VRUK Festival with 30 3D Printed Necklaces being gifted to notable attendees and speakers. It even had it’s own
#VRBling also made it’s debut at VRUK Festival with 30 3D Printed Necklaces being gifted to notable attendees and speakers. It even had it’s own Hashtag.
VRUK brought together the designers, the developers and the curious in their hundreds to celebrate all things VR. It allowed interesting discussions to begin and ones that can hopefully bring VR to the mainstream and be effective in not only Gaming, but the Medical and Educational sectors.
I leave you with one question — “In VR, What will be the thing to go Mainstream, How will this be done, and who will do it?”. Reply to my anchor to continue the conversation.
Guest post by Tom Sharman