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How virtual reality technology is changing the arts world

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Discovering new technology and how it can be implemented in new and creative ways is one of the most fulfilling moments, and important tasks that lie ahead of us, especially considering the speed with which technology is developing.  

That is what Ravensbourne are looking to do with their virtual reality festival, where creatives from all over the country come together to discuss and showcase innovate ways to implement the VR tech.

The annual VRUK event came back for a second time this year, taking place over Thursday and Friday, 6th and 7th July.

The event is designed to bring together technologists, artists and content creators to explore how virtual reality can be used to create state of the art creative projects that we’ve never seen before.

Now we have to ask ourselves what can virtual reality be used for, besides the obvious perks in gaming and documentary-making.

All of the projects presented at the festival were lovely, and as an aspiring journalist with an interest in future technologies, I particularly enjoyed WaterAid’s “Aftershock”, and the National Theatre’s “HOME│AMIR”.

But what’s really interesting is how this technology, which will only be getting more and more commonplace, will affect and hopefully ameliorate already existing creative institutions.

NATIONAL THEATRE

Theatre in particular has always sought ways to enhance the theatrical experience, often using new technology in new and creative ways to do things that would otherwise be impossible.

‘Immersive storytelling studio’ was established in 2016, and since then, it has been experimenting with VR and 360 technologies to create content that is unique to this surfacing genre.

In his talk, Toby Coffey, head of digital development at the National Theatre, said that when the Immersive Storytelling Studio was first established, they had to see where they are as an industry and re-evaluate what VR’s place would be in that industry.

Since then, the studio’s aim has been looking to find more audiences, as well as looking for stories through which they can put audiences in the shoes of someone else.

“We had to move beyond the headset and stop seeing virtual reality as just the headset but the experience,” he insisted.

Virtual reality experiences take you on a journey through someone’s mind, and that much is evident in the National Theatre’s 360 documentary HOME│AMIR.

For this project, they had to learn what works in video storytelling, but doesn’t necessarily work in VR. The approach to the interview, for example, was much different, letting Amir, a Sudanese refugee, to tell his own story.

OPERA

Tom Nelson, Head of Audience Labs at the Royal Opera House - on the other hand - says there is a different approach when it comes to opera and ballet.

In his talk “Can immersive technologies change opera and ballet”, he mentions the two ways in which this new frontier can help an art as old as opera and ballet.

The first way in which virtual reality technology can help is by solving the major problem of production times. In opera and ballet, any way of shortening production time is welcomed.

The way augmented reality can help is bring together directors and scene designers to work together on the set, even if they might not be on the same continent!

The set can be recreated in a 3D environment, from where every piece of the set is put in a 3D rig and all the lighting and décor can be plotted on the stage.

That way, even if they are not in the same place, they can collaborate in real time. That majorly cuts down on production time.

Reinvigorate the audience, through lots of playing around with technology will be instrumental in re-telling these timeless stories in new formats.

“We've gotta maintain what's important to us and what's important is maintaining the magic that exists on that stage,” Tom says, “What we can do is augment it.”

“Immersive tech can evolve our art for the better. These ancient forms of art got to adapt.”

Rather than using virtual and augmented reality technology to fully replace the theatre experience, however, it can be used to add to it.

Tom says the live experience can be augmented and that is why they are instinctively moving away from that idea. What they are looking for is ways to play around and augment the live experience.

Get on stage with the Royal Opera Chorus as they perform Verdi’s Nabucco in Covent Garden.

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