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09 Creative Director Silke Ababneh on the difficulty of attracting attention in VR & theatre

Silke Ababneh's digital media agency vr4content helps museums to overcome their partially outdated image with XR technology. Exciting interaction possibilities and high immersion make the visit to an unforgettable experience. The challenge for VR applications is to invite the visitor into a new reality and to direct the attention to a certain detail at the right time.

The Expert

Silke Ababneh


CEO & Creative Director of

vr4content


Media Industry

Points of contact with AR/VR:

private:

  • Multiplayer VR games with the family

  • Use of fitness VR Apps since Corona

professionell:

  • 4 years ago development of an AR app into a book template with animated characters that come to life (4magicbooks)

  • with vr4content, she offers a virtual studio to moderate in real time

"From storytelling to storyliving - that is what XR stands for."

Sections of the 4 magic book, Source: vr4content

You are currently realizing a project for a museum with your digital media agency vr4content, in which you have used the latest immersive technologies, for example in a theatre play.

1) From which needs and with which intentions did you start this project?

In this project we have realized a VR production of a scene from the drama "Der tote Tag" for the Ernst Barlach Association in Hamburg. Most people associate Ernst Barlach with the visual artist, but he was also a dramaturge and even a very frequently played dramaturge. It is often said that his plays are unplayable because they contain less dramatic than surreal elements and texts. We gladly accepted this challenge and realized a scene in VR.

The challenge is that VR can be compared to the narrative forms of theatre. Similar to a theater(house) it is very important to focus the attention on the essentials on stage at the right moment.

Unlike in a 2D film, where there is a fixed framework and the storytelling can be directed very concretely in post-production. This is not possible in the theatre, because of the linear narrative style.


A similar situation arises in VR. The viewer has the possibility to create his or her own individual story by deciding in which direction he wants to look at. As a stage designer, I have been able to gain many years of experience in this field. This know-how is now being used again in VR, which I am very pleased about, because it always results in an exciting confrontation with themes, spaces and actors. Did the clients contact you or did your agency contact them? What expectations do museum directors have of the integration of VR? Last year, the Ernst Barlach Association of Hamburg was in the process of planning the renovation of its museum in Ratzeburg and the introduction of new concepts. Since we are specialized in innovative museum concepts and their implementation, we got the assignment. The task was to use new media to create a new image of Barlach's works and to make them accessible to a younger audience.

Besides the staging concept for a theatre experience in VR, we also developed further interactive products such as the 3D Timeline, a mobile app with a didactic survey, a digital timeline game and a photobooth in which the visitor can take a look at selected Barlach-virtual stagings. All of course in close cooperation with the Barlach experts at the museum.

When is it possible to test the application?

On August 16th there will be an open day where visitors can test the finished applications for free. The museum will then provide visitors with VR glasses so that two visitors can dive in at the same time. Afterwards, you can visit the museum at any time during the opening hours.

How did you implement the ideas and concepts?

Actually, we first listen and get to know the customer before we, my partner Juan Guzman Hidalgo and I, start to work. With the VR project, for example, we were very open at the beginning and let all participants, including the actors, contribute their ideas. Building up on this, I then developed the final scenic concept. My previous theatre and film experience was very useful for this. Our client was then partly present during the rehearsals in our Berlin office and was involved in the development of the dramaturgical rolt, because he had been working here for years. The expert is, of course, the one to deal with the topic. We are all very excited about how the end product will feel. The post-production is still ahead of us. I'm looking forward to it. But last week, when I was reviewing the raw material, I must say that I was very impressed. Since we worked with 3D stereoscopy, the actors are standing in front of me in a real way, or rather, I really feel like I'm standing on stage.


2) How do you manage to complement the analog with the digital without stealing the show? What advantages and development potential for theater and creative productions do you see by the use of AR/VR?

I don't see an either/or here, but a constant existence of both. We generally know the analog theater as a passive, real-time experience in a group - similar to watching a movie in the cinema. Storytelling in VR can't replace this group experience, but it has other advantages and invites you to a very personal journey, which is independent of the location.

Similarly, there is already the possibility to actively participate in a theatre play, to interact and partly to influence the course of the play. We then talk about analog immersive Theatre experiences. In VR the experience is similar. Here the story is not told in its original form, but even so you go from storytelling to storyliving. As a spectator, you are no longer passively on the outside, but in the middle of the action. The spectator is in close contact with the actors or can even become an actor himself.

I think that theatre in VR will be relevant for new target groups very soon. For example, theatre can be brought to schools, old people's homes etc. and even to the Goethe Institute, for example in Palestine, Indonesia or Afghanistan. It can introduce the medium of theatre to educationally disadvantaged or handicapped people, who would otherwise not have the opportunity to see theatre from the inside - especially now in the times of Corona. Thus, theatre will become accessible for everyone.


How do you design the opportunities for interaction and intervention in the VR theater play?

It is a recorded movie that can be played over and over again, but allows for interaction. We have divided a certain scene from the drama "Der tote Tag" into separate sequences. In two sequences, the visitor can step directly into action. He is standing in the middle of the production and plays the role of a person. Thereby, the visitor is being addressed directly and is being asked to respond.

3) What are the difficulties in implementation and what are the lessons you would like to share with companies, educational institutions and the acting industry who also want to develop projects with AR/VR?

Filming in 360° is similar to the theatre. Everything is always visible at any time. You should continuously film the scenes as far as possible, because you have less and other possibilities to edit the movie. To make sure that everything is in place when making the film, I recommend that you prepare the scenes intensively beforehand.

In addition, the actors should not come closer than one meter to the camera (Insta360 Titan) during filming, when using the camera with which we filmed the movie. For us this meant that close-ups, i.e. capturing the faces very closely, was not possible.


Source: Mixed.de

What is the reason for this?

Besides the 360° experience, this camera creates a depth of space, with 3D effect. This is called stereoscopic photography. Stereoscopy uses two images that show the same scene. From these images depth information is calculated, which is very similar to the human spatial perception. However, if you get too close to the two lenses, it is possible that you will no longer be photographed by both lenses and will therefore only be visible for one eye. This is called a blind spot, where the stereoscopic image does not work.

However, we have seen these limitations as a chance to tell it differently, so that we built up on this and developed our own staging. Speaking for myself, I personally love the challenge of only being able to stay within a certain framework, as in the theatre. For newcomers to 360° & 3D shots for VR, I therefore recommend rehearsing everything beforehand, as there is little to cover up afterwards. VR is a very honest medium for making a media production.


Does this mean that VR recordings are more comparable to a theatre than a traditional film?

In VR and also in the theatre, everything is experienced at any time in the entire room and the viewer decides for himself in which direction he looks and what is most important for him at each moment. So, the storytelling is very different from the film. But again, very comparable to the theatre. That is why both media complement each other very well.


4) Concerning the Corona crisis: Have you personally noticed changes in your professional or private environment with regard to the demand of your agency and your advice regarding the use of AR/VR?

I think that the mindset of many previously analog-oriented heads has changed a lot now, thanks to Corona.

From a professional perspective, we have also received many enquiries from companies that have discovered VR for themselves but did not know what was possible in VR.

A lot was initiated here during Corona, but there are still many challenges in VR. For example, only a few people have VR glasses at home, and many do not even know exactly why a buying a VR glass can be worthwhile for them. But in the health and education sector, VR is becoming increasingly relevant.

Did your company initiate a new project with VR due to the Corona?

Concerning events, we are currently developing something to meet in VR.

There are already several possibilities and platforms where people can meet in VR or even work together. However, the providers are private so far and collect all data. Therefore, we are working on an open source application that allows you to go into a data-protected room with the VR glasses or simply with a tablet and to do exciting VR teambuilding exercises. Here it depends on how the requests will be in the future and whether it is worthwhile to expand the application.


5) “In 5 years almost every household will own VR glasses like e.g nowadays mobile phones and laptops and use them for different applications like holiday simulation, shopping, meetings, for teaching/learning”. 


What do you think about this statement?

I completely agree with that statement. In five years, the digital transformation will be everywhere. In my opinion, VR/AR will then be an indispensable part of daily working life. With the help of this and other technologies, people will have easier access to sustainable education worldwide. The immersive experiences are based on feelings, so learning is more sustainable.

Also, in the health sector (physically as well as mentally) I am convinced that people are enabled to participate in the healing process themselves, for example by guided therapies.

We will soon be able to feel and smell virtual reality more and more. According to KPMG's "VR and AR: New Dimensions of Reality" from 2016, by 2040 our reality will have merged with virtual reality and will have reached a new dimension. In other words, one day our reality will have expanded and we will be able to act independently of location and age. It is a nice idea that for example older people with physical disabilities would again be able to participate in society.


Finale Statement of Silke Ababneh


It is important to me that educational and healthcare institutions recognize the potential of XR, promote its use and thus prepare our children for the soft skills of the future, such as empathy. With XR, empathy and other soft skills can be learned extremely well by changing perspectives. I always like to talk here about how XR enables us to move from Storytelling to storyliving. You do not just get a story told you experience it yourself.

If we teach our children the necessary soft skills for the future at an early age, they will never run the risk of competing with artificial intelligence. I would find it a pity, when schools and other institutions only realize the potential when it is too late.

Next week on #digitalthursday, Sabrina Dick, Human Resources Director SAP Central and Eastern Europe, will give an insight into the use of VR in SAP's human resources department. She believes in the connection of culture, process and technology for a successful digital transformation and shows the advantages of using VR.


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