Type of paper: Report

Topic: Virtual Reality, Virtualization, Technology, Reality, Environment, World, Media, Art

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2020/12/22

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Virtual Reality Technology In Arts & Media

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Introduction

Virtual reality is a comparatively new concept in the technology industry as the application of this concept is still experimental and limited to only certain industries. The concept of VR has been attractive for scientists as it is believed to provide a unique experience in a virtual world with its own norms and standard giving an opportunity to do something that can hardly be possible in real world. The idea of VR is based on the initial concept introduced by Ivan Sutherland to define immersive simulation, he presented the screen of any device as the window to a virtual environment that could look, sound, behave like the real world.
For several years it was believed that VR technology can only be applicable to robotics, military and industrial research development. The application of VR in entertainment industry was only limited to the gaming industry, and became quite popular due to the limitless options for the gamers in a virtual world.
In the field of arts and media several movies and series have showed the concept of VR but no major experimentation within the field has taken place. On the other hand the richness of VR has encouraged artists to elevate art to a new level by experimenting with artificial life and creating masterpiece virtual worlds that bear no resemblance to the real world.
Additionally the idea of VR has been implemented by some museums to provide an awesome user experience for the virtual visitors of the museums. An art museum in Belgium offers virtual visitors (logged into the museum’s website) to take tour with a live assistant right from their homes. The virtual visitors also have the options to decide the route of tour and can change the tour guide’s directions.
Use of VR technology can fascinate the visitors and can increase the engagement between the museum and the visitors. However the use and application of such novel technologies can impose certain limitations as well. This paper will look into the various ways VR is being used in the Arts and Media industry and how has it impacted customer engagement. The paper will also address the issues and limitations associated with the application of immersive technologies like Virtual Reality.
The contemporary art of any age says a lot about the life style and the technologies prevalent in that age. VR is considered to define the art for some years to come. As the field is evolving and as the technology is developing various forms of art is utilizing the essence of VR to provide the audience with outlandish experiences.

Virtual Reality can be defined as a three dimensional digitally generated environment in which different participants could interact with the environment and the other participants through use of some specific technological gear. The virtual environment or the digital space created tracks these participant’s movements through the gear to render the virtual environment in accordance to that movements.
The virtual environment can demonstrate capabilities that are different from the real world, due to this complexity of the virtual environment it has been used in various industries to mimic diverse situations to train people such as in military, medical research and sports.

Brief History of VR

The basic concept of VR is the ability to co-exist in a real as well as a virtual world. Several movies and TV series including but not limiting to Star Trek, The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor and Vanilla Sky that have shown this concept with a touch of fantasy. However, in actuality VR technology and tools can enable a person to stay in the real world but see or interact with a virtual world through some gadgets.
The idea of VR dates back to 50s when some experts researched on creating a virtual world and enabling users to interact with that word in various ways but the lack of sophistication of the technology at that time, failed to create an impression. The same idea was revisited in 80 and 90s at a time when computer technology was at a boom. The engineering design and the intricacy of vision required to create that effect was still missing and the VR technology was considered a failed concept.
In late 20th century Palmer Luckey developed Oculus Rift a headset that could enable people to virtually do things they cannot do in the real world. The technological limitations had its role and the visual quality was not as superior as of today however the experience was immersive and suggestive that VR has a promising future. The VR technology and concepts have been experimented in games and for military trainings to combat in a virtual war zone, the technological enhancements have aided in developing the technology and the interfaces for virtual interaction. Following image shows how Oculus Rift has revolutionized the gaming experience through virtual environment.
Figure 1 Oculus Rift and VR Gamin, http://blog.games.com/2013/07/25/how-oculus-rift-will-revolutionize-gaming-possibly-the-world/

VR & Media

Media and arts have a strong connection with the concept of Virtual Reality. The essence of VR is to enhance the experience of the user to a feeling of ecstasy, where they could feel being part of another world, someone else’s story and fulfill tasks they can never accomplish in the real world. The idea behind the media especially movies, music and art is quite similar where the artist try to immerse the audience into their world and make them feel the same way. This close connection of both fields suggested a natural application of VR into media and digital media.
Though movies have been showing this concept since a long time but the current generation is eager to experience more and actually see themselves in that fantastical environment. MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) are gaining huge attention among people as they provide an awesome gaming experience and often preferred over actual movies. The movie King Kong and the MMORPG were released the same day and have proved this fact that these VR based gaming environments are more awed by the target audience of both forms of entertainment (18 to 35 years) as the games let them do more than the movies.
The application of VR concepts and technology is not limited to the most obvious fields of media discussed above. In fact several liberal art artists are now engaged in transforming art design through VR technology.

VR & Art

The pioneers of Virtual reality technology and its application Tom DeFanti, Dan Sandin and Carolina Cruz-Neira collaborated to develop a prototype of a huge virtual environment Canvas (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) in 1992 along with University of Illinois. The cubical virtual environment of Canvas came to life as the visitors put on the active stereo glasses and suddenly felt to be in another world as the entire body is immersed into that virtual world.
Canvas was built with the aim to provide the futuristic artists an opportunity to design and develop an art piece of next generation of technology- VR that was originally thought to be a need in military or education only.
Dan Sandlin, one of the creators, has developed several projects such as "Looking for Water” with multiple participants where they experience an outer space surroundings with real satellite images to enhance the environment. As they move in that environment and experience free fall to Earth and landing on a 3D modeled archipelago.
Another famous multimedia artist, musician and programmer Rose Marshack, considers the Canvas the missing link between the basics of media and art and the application of virtual reality to it. She along with the novelist Rick Powers have been working on a 3D emotional travelogue through the historical era of 20th century with Canvas. The following image show her creation:
Figure 2 3D Emotional Travelogue, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/08/arts/design/08rush.html?pagewanted=all
In terms of art and media virtual reality is the photorealism of the real world, however true artists work on creating a world different from the real world. As VR technologies enable a person to enjoy a virtual life that is different and enhanced parallel to their real life. Experts of media and arts believe that the development of VR interfaces will enable the artists to elevate the VR experiences to a new level as their imaginations will meet the technological innovations.
New York artist John Simon who creates his own VR software for developing virtual environments says that his worlds are nothing like the real world. They are based on color theory, rhythmic motion and automatic composition and evolve and develop with their own rules that is on contrary to the real world physics.
Another prominent name in the field of VR application in Arts & Media is Ken Rinaldo, an artist who studied computer science and communication to collaborate art of nature and technology. He is famous for his artificial life design art, robotic sculptures and his virtual settings of natural and organic environments. His work is inspired by the artificial life research, emergent properties, interspecies communication and the living systems theories of James Grier Miller. His work has not only the aesthesis of art but also the philosophies of science that are often overlooked. One of his famous work is the “Augmented Fish Reality”, in which Siamese fighting fish can use intelligent systems to control the movement of the robotic fish tanks. The work explored the interspecies communication theories. The setup of the work is discuss in detail as shown in the picture below on the official website of the artist:
Figure 3 augmented fish realities,

VR in Digital Media

Digital media is on a rise and past 2 years have seen a transformational growth in the field. Big names have come into play such as Disney Studio has bought MCN Maker Studio, Facebook has acquired Oculus the virtual reality company and Microsoft now owns Minecraft. With the current growing trend of this field it is naturally that VR application to digital media is experimented in a way that is economical and feasible for the common people.
While Facebook spent billion dollars on acquiring VR technology, Google has launched a soft version with Google Cardboard®. Cardboard is a low cost VR experience for people accessible through smartphones. In the current stage of product maturity the cardboard needs the user to do some pre requisites before being able to experience VR. Though the app for cardboard is available at the Google play store now, however the user needs to have a pair of 40mm focal lenses, magnets, NFC tag and some Velcro or rubber bands to create the VR viewer with their smartphones.
The application of VR in digital media derives the future of digital media now. Microsoft with its release of Windows 10 launched its VR + AR platform with Hololens that can show a computer generated virtual environment in the real world environment. It stands in the league of immersive virtual reality gear where the characters of a game can come alive into the real world environment, like Sony’s Project Morpheus and Magic Leap. The hardware of Hololens has the capability of understanding the user’s environment and can enable a socially interactive virtual environment. The best part of Holelens is that it can be used for more than just gaming but is as useful for engineers, architects and could even redefine the way digital media is published.
Digital media will be even more immersive with the application of VR. Though often people believe that immersive virtual reality based digital media can be threatening to younger adults and kids however an experiment by a researcher of University of Georgia , Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn, showed that immersive digital media with a touch of VR can actually promote pro social behavior among people. His experiment also showed that using VR avatars could help in propagating awareness and informal education in a very effective and memorable setting. Thus if utilized properly it can be highly effective for promoting responsible social behavior.

Virtual Reality In Museums & Galleries

The above discussion shows that virtual reality technology and interface has enabled the artists to make more lifelike yet different from the real world. The inherent richness of the VR experience can be a great tool for education and informal learning. Institutions such as museums, cultural and heritage centers and other arts related galleries have lost their importance in the modern technology centric society. The application of virtual reality visuals for interactive experience in museums can enable museum visitors to travel through time-space boundaries in to experience the historical events in a virtual environment. Such application cannot only increase visitor engagement with the institution but also provide a very effective tool for offering education with entertainment. Imagine co-existing in pre-historic dinosaur era and experience how they lived and interacted with other species. The photorealistic visual experience will be far immersive and memorable for the visitor.
A Greek cultural and heritage preservation institution FHM (Foundation of the Hellenic World) aimed to create awareness about the Hellenic culture and traditions through a very different use of technology and multimedia. Unlike other cultural institutions, this organizations has made an effort to collaborate historians, archeologists, artists and computer professionals to create that environment of multimedia visuals through state of the art technologies providing research and education about Hellenic cultural heritage. FHM has utilized the rich experience of virtual reality to successfully realize its mission for the spread and preservation of the Hellenic culture and heritage.
FHM has implemented two immersive virtual reality programs in the premises to provide the education and learning in a very different photorealistic of the history and culture as shown in the following image:
Figure 4 visitors at FHM,
The above shows how visitors can see and travel through the 2000 year old city of Miletus, discover the ancient architecture and city. The visitors can even fly to have a panoramic view of the city, all through the immersive virtual environment enabling them to do things impossible to be done in the real world. Thus the visitor endures larger than life experience of ancient history and explores the cityscape in a way that people even in that era wouldn’t have seen.
The reconstruction and virtual journey through the ancient city of Miletus by the coast of Asia Minor, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, a series of interactive educational environments that bring to life the magical world of Hellenic costume, and more. The FHM has implemented various programs for educational as well as for photo realization for important historical events through virtual reality to depict how these made history. These programs include replicating the city of Miletus, a virtually immersive depiction of Hellenic costume and the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.
While some museums have incorporated VR technology and interfaces to educate and engage the visitors, some of the museums have created a virtual environment for their web visitors. The Mass museum in Belgium has given its staff PDAs, any online visitor who wishes to take a tour of the premises will have a tour guide who will show them every art piece through their handhelds.
Moreover, the virtual visitors can control their guide’s movement inside the museum very easily through their keyboards, and their guide receive the information through their PDA.
Other prominent museums like Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, European Museum, Louvre, Vatican Museums and Toyota Automobile Museum have also opened their doors in the virtual world and enable their visitors from any part of the world to take a virtual tour of their premises.
Figure 6 virtual tour of Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History,
The virtual tours allow the users to walk through various rooms and floors and manage directions and speed of walk through all through an easy to use panel. All the visitor needs is computer desktop or a mobile device. However, web based or immersive virtual environment implementation both require significant investment and poses certain challenges that have to be resolved to provide a consistent and superior quality view of the virtual world as the essence of VR lies with the quality of visual representations.

Challenges of VR

The benefits of virtual reality application in museums or other art forms cannot be overemphasized however the technology is still in its evolution and the inherent complexity of this technology imposes some challenges that have to be considered beforehand:

Creation of realistic virtual content

The photorealistic reproduction of the virtual space with accurate modelling and digitizing of objects requires tremendous talent and skills. The virtual environment designer also needs to address accurately what actions a visitor can take in that environment as well as the cause and effects of each interaction.

Adaptive Environment

The virtual environment has to be adaptive enough to reproduce space with relevance to the visitors’ preferences and thus nothing can be predefined. The entire virtual world has to be generated each time according to what options the visitor choses.
Additionally for web based virtual tours the space has to weigh less to keep the time to load minimum as long waits and lack of quick responses might make the visitor lose the interest in the entire experience.

Thus design of the VR architecture system holds the utmost importance to keep the tour real life like.

Transfer of right message
Museums or cultural institutions aim to give an important message regarding the culture or historical heritage they represent. Thus unlike any other virtual environment where the aim is entertainment only, the virtual space of museum has to follow all the guidelines and reproduce everything with accuracy to not alter the main message of the institution in anyway.

Usability and accessibility

The VR environment has to usable by all the different visitors of the museum. This points to the fact that the special attention to tools and gadgets has to be given before developing the environment. For example active glasses and stereo glasses are fragile equipment that have to be handled with care and the museum can have visitors of every age group, class or level who might not be equally comfortable in using that equipment.
Similarly, it is very important that the process of going into the VR experience has to be easy enough that it is understandable. The lights, viewing angles and comfortable space all are required to create that awesome experience. Similarly it is equally important that the tour guides and staff of the museum is all trained to assist the visitors if they encounter any problem. Especially in case of web based virtual tour the tour guide has to be functionally aware of the basic technicalities to assist the users quickly.

Future Trends Of VR

The promise of VR is a better than real world experience where you can do what might be impossible in real life. The future application of VR to Facebook could mean seeing your friend in another country right in front of you in your home talking to you rather than writing on your wall. Movies and musicians could play right in your lounge and digital books could be as interactive as movies or videos. Some cognitive neuroscientists have been researching about the possibilities of illusion of body transfer where the mind of a person can be put under the illusion of taking over another body. This illusion is possible with VR enhanced headsets like Oculus Rift and hardware like Project Morpheus can actually enable a person to trick their mind to living someone else’s life. The options and scenarios are endless, what level of interaction and pre-planning can be achieved through VR is still a very vague sight but it is definite that the future of every field will be defined in terms of virtual interaction and environment it can project.
While gaming and digital art are all being revolutionized by VR environments, experts believe that the most liked vertical of art, the movies are still a little further to be transformed by VR. Though VR had been a favorite topic in movies but actual VR based movie is still to come.
As the above image shows a participant enjoying VR at Sundance Film Festival where through headsets 360 degree stories were told specifically for VR environment while the viewer had the control over the camera. A lot of hype was created however the future transformation for films is still in question. While VR could enhance the experience by making the viewer believe that he is in the same environment as rest of the characters in the movie however the excess of VR space might take the attention away from the movie plot.
The VR gear is getting sophisticated and as that technology gets better the VR experience will enhance too. The future of all forms of media, communication, sports and leisure activities are abound to be revolutionized with VR.

Summary

Virtual reality technology was developed with the aim of providing people a more natural yet elevated interaction with the virtual world that is not possible in real world environment. From slaying dragons to touring the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum in a day to see the master pieces of art, VR interfaces and interaction techniques have come a long way to provide distinct modes of interaction.
There is a strong connection between media and VR as both aim to elevate the real world of their audience through various strategies. The application of different verticals of media and art has enhanced the basic experience of each of them and promises to provide a more immersive experience for the audience of each of these verticals. Whether it’s the transformations of online gaming, robotic arts sculpture or socially interacting with others through a virtual environment VR has the ability to provide a rich and a larger than life experience.
The application of VR can positively affect the customer engagement and even attract the millennial generation who are typically unaware of the arts and culture. The use of technology and the enhanced experience can improve the learning associated with places like museums.
Various verticals of art and media have adapted the innovative interfaces and technologies of virtual reality and produced art pieces that have more depth and show the connection of the artist with the natural environment.
However, there are various drawbacks linked to VR including the high end costs for the application and expensive gadgets, usability, training, maintenance and management. The acceptance of the technology might take time but VR tools can act as the most effective informal education regarding arts and history museums, cultural centers and research centers as it combines education and entertainment. The technology and tools to implement virtual reality was an expensive solution some years ago but as the technology is developing the cost of creating a virtual environment has lowered considerably. Yet challenges of implementing a complex technology stand, however the awesome experience VR has provided is a guarantee to improve engagement level.

References

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