In 2018, San Francisco based Onedome, an immersive media and artist platform, and Enklu, a location-based AR company, brought the first augmented reality art exhibit with the Microsoft HoloLens to new audiences.
The Unreal Garden exhibit opened in October, bringing a half real, half digital garden to life. With the Microsoft HoloLens and Enklu’s AR platform, visitors experienced, for many of them, a first opportunity with AR to use physical touch to interact with digital art.
“Our vision is to use creativity as a means to inspire collaboration, connection and community by creating and curating interactive arts and immersive entertainment in partnership with artists, visionaries and technologists from around the world,” said Onedome’s co-founder and chief marketing officer Leila Amirsadeghi.
Onedome with Enklu designed The Unreal Garden using AR to allow people to physically be in the same space.
“Humans are social beings and technology over the last several years has sort of created a bit of a disconnect and we’ve gotten into our shells more than being out together. There’s an opportunity here to create the next generation of entertainment that is not so passive, it’s interactive, engaging and social,” said Amirsadeghi.
The Unreal Garden is built like a forest with real plants, rocks, a stream, and a waterfall. Layered on this landscape are forms of ambisonic and spatial sound, and projection mapping that brings the space to life. Then, the Microsoft HoloLens adds digital flora, fauna, and fine art pieces that have been converted from their original format into AR.
“It’s about recreating the art in this new sort of way. The Unreal Garden is a place where art comes to life around you but you as the human have to bring your energy to bring it to life. So your finger becomes an energetic paintbrush, and little sparkles fly and you actually move around the space and activate the content on your way,” said Amirsadeghi.
While AR is the core driver of the experience, it’s the visitors that add life to the space by interacting with the digital environment.
“I mean it sounds crazy but people are collecting digital art and it’s becoming a thing,” said Amirsadeghi. Beyond acting as a venue for digital experiences, Onedome is also a platform for artists to gain mass exposure. The destination becomes a distribution channel where artists have their work exposed to large consumer audiences.
It costs tens of thousands to develop digital art pieces and experiences for the HoloLens, so the idea is that this facilitates the sale of digital art that can either than live on a HoloLens, or a digital version that can live on a phone or other device.
The current Unreal Garden experience features 10 art pieces from the following artists: Android Jones, John Park, Jasmine Pradissitto, Andy Thomas, Shuster and Moseley, Scott Musgrove, Ray Kallmeyer and Vladislav Solovjov.
Speaking with anyone outside of the tech circle, it doesn’t take long to realize acronyms from VR to LBE don’t go far. So how is it possible to communicate an entire business based around AR?
“If I call it an immersive mixed reality art experience where art comes to life around you, it’s like what are you talking about,” said Amirsadeghi.
Approaches include describing The Unreal Garden as a high tech sculpture garden to having Onedome itself as a venue open to the public to create a community space. There’s no ticket required to enter, and there are other spaces to explore such as the Elixart Cafe and lounge.
Onedome also opened a new experience for 2019. LMNL features 14 immersive and interactive installations with 11 new media and visual artists.
With Onedome as media partner, Enklu built the technology for The Unreal Garden to exist as a digital and interactive platform.
CEO of Enklu, Ray Kallmeyer and his co-founders come from a background building MMOs (massive multiplayer online games). They transform museums and galleries into real life video games that can be shared with friends and family.
“Museums and art galleries are struggling to attract the young folks like millennials and Gen Z who expect everything to be interactive and they want to share everything they do on social media. Enklu’s really that bridge between venue and cultural institution to the modern cultural revolution,” said Kallmeyer.
With gaming as a huge part of the lives of younger generations, it made sense to combine Enklu’s knowledge of building interactive digital worlds with Onedome’s venue and artist network.
One of the challenges when taking digital games from 2D to 3D, was how to encourage people to interact with the experience for the first time when they don’t understand the transfer of physical to digital interaction.
While starting with a text based tutorial, Enklu quickly discovered through trial and error that demonstration was the best way to communicate.
“We need to rely on social cues because we’re social animals and learn from others. So the best way to teach someone is by showing them what another person looks like when they’re doing it right,” said Kallmeyer.
In 2019, multiplayer features will be added to The Unreal Garden to grow it as a collaborative experience.
As we see with the recent Black Mirror interactive film Bandersnatch, digital capabilities are bringing a new wave of interactive and social entertainment to the masses.
Platforms like Onedome extend this to out of home entertainment that offers a collective experience to new audiences. It acts as an introduction to new technology as a tool to bring people together, to augment the real world, and to explore art in new and culturally significant ways.
“It’s not just bringing people together and creating community but it’s also reminding us and inspiring us that we live in an incredible world,” said Amirsadeghi