Friday, November 10, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 33: Reality Explorers

Playing mixed reality golf in the library
Pop Up Thinglab 33 was a Crafts Council Make:Shift:Do virtual realities workshop with inspireNshare, Croydon Youth Arts collective and Croydon Central Library. We introduced people to the many types "reality tech" available from holograms through augmented reality, mixed reality through to 360 media making and virtual reality - we had a lot going on :)

Talking about how Michael Jackson was brought back from the dead as a hologram

The workshop started "heads on" where we covered the past, present, future and uses of "reality tech". We started with Keiichi Matsuda's stunning video Hyper-Reality "a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media". We then looked back to holograms and the development optical illusions from the "smoke and mirrors" of 19th century theatres and Peppers Ghost through the images of holograms in science fiction to the reality today where dead celebrities can appear as if live on stage and politicians on campaign can appear in many places at the same. We covered the different types of augmented reality, how you can make it yourself and the many uses to which it can be put - from games like Pokemon Go through seeing what you look like with different hair to seeing what a building design might look like from place you are standing. We covered different mixed reality products and talked about some of the hopes and fears about its use from the amazing types of games that might be available, through the overlay of technical data onto fields of view like the F35 head display "iron man" style to the the invasion of privacy in everyday life "Glasshole" style. We finished with a recent history of the development of virtual reality from my experience with Virtuality in the mid 1990s through to the many 360 cameras and virtual reality viewers that are available today at much lower cost.

We moved from "heads on" to "hands on" with simple, friendly, accessible and cost effective "citizen tech” and DIY activities with holograms, augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality. The objective of the hands on activities was to demonstrate the principles of "reality tech" - not with expensive high tech demonstrations but with technology that is affordable and accessible to the average citizen and technology that you can DIY.

Making DIY holograms for your smartphone

On one table we made holograms that can be used with your mobile phone. Based on the "Peppers Ghost" optical illusion these can be made easily and quickly - tracing a template onto a clear acetate sheet, cutting it out, assembling and using it in under 10 minutes.

The whole world in your hands .. one of our DIY holograms in action
On another table we brought drawings to life with augmented reality - colouring in cartoon templates with our own colours and bringing them to life as augmented reality figures with out mobile phones. I was surprised by just how popular and engaging people found this. This wasn't colouring by numbers but using our own creativity to choose which colours to use. I found the same thing as I did with our 360 degree workshops "only a few people can take a completely blank sheet and draw something ... most people need direction and purpose". Not everyone can draw but everyone can colour in a drawing - the colour book templates provide direction and purpose and a framework for self expression. Its no wonder that the recent adult colouring book craze prompted a global pencil shortage - its easy, fun and good for your mental health ... its like a form of art therapy. 

Bringing colour book drawings to life with augmented reality

A fairy escapes the page and comes to life with augmented reality

"Centre stage" was an exploration of 360 media and virtual reality. Groups gathered around the 360 camera to strike poses and take "VR selfies" to view in virtual reality. I've always been amazed at how people are more ready to strike a creative pose with a 360 camera than with a flat camera. People seem less constrained with 360 media than with flat media ... its as if 360 adds a new dimension to their creativity. I'm wondering why people are less constrained around a 360 camera:

* Is it because its unfamiliar so people can't simply roll out their normal behaviour and have to adapt and even try something new.

* Is it because the camera doesn't have a person behind it so they don't feel observed by another person in the same way. There are studies that show people more willing to open up to a robot than to another person for example.

* Is it because its a new technology ... a new gadget, a new toy and so brings out people's "inner child" and playfulness so they are willing to explore, experiment and play.

360 media making really is a new medium - people are curious and intrigued and for whatever reason they are more playful with it.

Of course .. many of the people using the 360\VR setup in the workshop were either young people or children and for them playful is the default - the playfulness of young people with new technology is a truly exciting and inspiring combination and often provides new and interesting perspectives. William Gibson once wrote "the street finds its own uses for things" ... from what I have seen of young people and technology we could easily also say "the next generation finds its own uses for things" .. and this is just as well as this is how new inventions come about ... we can't keep repeating history and re-inventing the wheel.

Putting ourselves inside the picture with a 360 camera & virtual reality

We finished by playing mixed reality golf using Zappar's Zapbox cardboard tech. 

Rather than nearly £3,000 for something like Microsoft's Hololens, Zapbox costs under £30 and offers affordable access to mixed reality for anyone with a smartphone capable of virtual reality (the smartphone needs a gyroscope).

Zappar have been a leader in augmented reality (AR) for many years and have extended their marker based AR to mixed reality by using a cardboard viewer into which you put your phone - just like Google's cardboard virtual reality viewers. The Zapbox app on your phone uses the camera to track their AR markers in the real world and combines a virtual scene with the scene from the camera to create a mixed reality scene on your phone's display which you view through the cardboard viewer.

We placed the supplied markers onto the floor and used the Zapbox app to map out a mixed reality space and then loaded  golf course. Zapbox provides a cardboard "wand" with an AR marker which is tracked by the app and becomes your golf club in the mixed reality scene. It takes a bit of getting used to but everyone managed to hit the golf ball and get a ball down a hole and we managed to complete and unlock all three of the golf courses. 

Playing golf in the library

Our virtual realities workshop was fun and informative - we had a really wonderful time with lots of activities that brought a very diverse group of people to play and learn together. 

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 33 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 32: 360 Degree Space Explorers

Exploring the space around the 360 camera - see this image in 360 here 

Pop Up Thinglab 32 was a Crafts Council Make:Shift:Do partnership workshop between inspireNshare and the Croydon Youth Arts Collective.

The objective was to introduce young people to virtual reality and 360 media as a new art and craft form and engage them in a new discipline of making to think about, make and share wellbeing and happiness. 

17 young people came along to use a 360 camera for the first time - not only to experience virtual reality but to see themselves in it and experiment with this new medium of expression. 

Gathered around the 360 camera talking about flat media & 360 media

In groups of three and four we gathered round the 360 camera and talked about the differences between "flat" and 360 media, how the whole room is in shot and about the first person perspective of virtual reality. The young people quickly appreciated the difference between traditional flat media and 360 media and understood the 360 space around the camera coming up with project ideas for movement in environments of water and air where, unconstrained by the grounding of a "flat earth", movements can be fully immersive in 360 degrees. The young people made short videos of movement under water and flying through a forest.

Lighting the fuse ... the 360 camera is about to go off
A popular and fun activity was using the 360 camera manually -  pressing the (fuse) button at the top and treating it like a bomb - hearing it count down down and retreating to strike a pose to be captured in VR.

Putting yourself inside the picture & seeing your self in virtual reality 
Making your own virtual reality content and seeing yourself within it really helps you understand virtual reality far better than simply watching professionally made content and people are always fascinated by this. Participating in making VR content and putting yourself inside the picture makes the workshop activities personal and more engaging. Virtual reality puts you in someone else's shoes and seeing a scene with yourself in it but from the first person perspective of someone else (the 360 camera) is fascinating and can be quite mind expanding by introducing empathy through an experience of different perspectives.

The flat media team behind their cameras but there is nowhere to hide in 360 
During the workshop a flat media team arrived to shoot us - we captured them in a 360 image and we had a brief chat again about the difference between flat and 360 media. The crucial thing about 360 media is that there is no such thing as being behind the camera ... everything is in shot. One VR director described flat media as like hunting (its like you are behind a riffle and your riffle is your camera ... take aim and shoot), VR media is like setting a trap ... the whole environment is involved and subjects are "captured" within it. Also, flat media directs your attention, you only see one view and that is the shot through the viewfinder of the camera. With 360 media there is no single point of view - the viewer is immersed and can look around as they please - they can completely miss something or see something that wasn't noticed in the scene in the making. Directing attention in 360 media is a new skill that is being developed and these skills may transfer more from the performance of theatre and magic  than they do from the flat screen. If you have used 360 media for sometime flat media feels "flat" .. it feels restricted ... you miss the ability to look around and direct your own gaze - it could be that with 360 media we might see a revolution in immersive theatre style performance?

During our MAKE:SHIFT:DO virtual reality workshops I let the participants have as blank a sheet as possible just to see what they would draw on it. The main thing I have learned is that only a few people can take a completely blank sheet and draw something ... most people need direction and purpose .. the key is in getting the right balance between freedom and control ... everyone is different - it is in the skill of the director to get the right balance for the people and the context. One of the advantages of the Crafts Council MAKE:SHIFT:DO workshops is to provide context and purpose and this inspires people create and share. The participants in our virtual reality workshops have learned about, experiences and created virtual reality media and I have learned from them - one idea I will be trying in future virtual reality workshops is the "360 workout", exploring the space around the 360 camera through simple group exercises - learn about virtual reality and get fit at the same time :)

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 32 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit