Immersive is today a well-used term that has become almost synonymous with computer-generated technologies such as AR and VR. But are these technologies more immersive than the more traditional media like movies and games? What is it that makes us feel physical presence, and what gives us the ability to move our consciousness in time and space?
These were the questions I asked myself when I chose to take the Immersive media course.
When I first tried VR about 7 years ago, I remember the crazy experience of being able to walk around in the unknown neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro I had visited a few years before. Or the feeling of swinging my whole arm to cut melons in Fruit Ninja. But I also remember the trapped feeling of the heavy glasses, the cord tangles and how the field of vision constantly changed depending on where you looked. When I now stand with the glasses, I get a bit of the same feeling, constantly reminded of the slightly less cumbersome equipment, as if there had been no decisive improvement. I experience a kind of filter between me and the virtual world I visit.
When I watched a VR piece with Royal Opera dancers, I understand the idea of the enveloping environment, but at the same time wonder if it would really have been less immersive to see the same piece as film? Wasn't it mainly a result of the intimate close-up camera?
During the course, I have taken part in other impressive works, but also cannot decide what is the novelty and came to think of the time when people rushed out of the movie theater when the stop motion-animated King Kong came towards the camera. Back then you could say people were engrossed, but today we don't think a blue avatar will attack us for real, even if we're standing in the same virtual room as it!?
Many years ago I was involved in creating something you could call an attempt to an immersive experience. We had occupied a bathhouse threatened with demolition and had movie screenings in the pool. And what could be better than showing Jaws. The audience was laying in the water floating on swimming rings, unaware that the water would suddenly roar up and turn red during the shark attacks. The physical feel of the bottomless water would be hard to replace with VR.
But there are other, more thought provoking aspects that fascinate me. A token tumbled down as I watched Michelle & Uri Kranot's animated film Nothing happens, where people gather to watch just nothing. I never took part in the VR work, but it was enough to understand how the VR experience could create a completely new perspective based on the same material.
I had somewhat the same experience when I was introduced to Reality capture. As a stop motion animator, the tactile and the materials are the very core and I searched for answers as to why and for what this computer generated technology could be beneficial. What can I get out of it. The Scenkonstmuseet multimedia installation The Dance of the sleeping beauties gave me a key. When I saw the old archived fragile dolls dancing, I saw the possibilities. A fantastic example of how old and new technologies together can generate something completely new.
My goal for the course was formulated based on this technique. My own scanned dolls would be placed in both a digital underwater world and through the old projection method Pepper's ghost. However, as with all new technologies, resistance is encountered and this seemingly simple project became thorny. But also an awakening. My poorly photographed doll could dance, do kung fu kicks and swim. New auto-rig programs and ready-made animations did the job while I unnecessarily struggled with advanced software installations, incomprehensible tutorials, and countless forgotten logins to trial accounts.
A slightly fluid concept had also been formulated in my group - Not happy but not sad either.
I looked at my doll and sure enough that is exactly what she is expressing. After being scanned with my phone and built up in the Reality scan app, she went by Blender to straighten up, get her color back and get rid of ground debris. Then she wandered on to Mixamo to be rigged. For the underwater gallery, she needs to be able to swim and therefore got a finished animation of arm and leg pulls. Before she was ready to go to the gallery, she made her way to Blender again to not just swim in the same place all the time.
I started the course with some skepticism about the "new" techniques, but ended the course with new insights. Maybe you can't compare the different immersive media, as if it were a competition.
Instead, I now rather see their unique pros and cons. Being immersed is not a technique but an experience and the "new" techniques not only have the technical prerequisites to create new worlds, but can also create new experiences by reversing perspectives and thus challenging the traditional.
The digital world and the analog world are converging, where the past and the future together can create something new...
There is no either or, just an unknown horizon.