Ai Weiwei 360provides a virtual reality tour of the Chinese contemporary artist and activist’s exhibit, titled Ai Weiwei, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. For those who were not able to visit in person, the work of the filmmaker, photographer and sculptor can be navigated using desktop/laptop computers, as well mobile phones and tablets, and viewed with VR devices including Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR.
Commissioned by The Space in partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts, the project was produced by entertainment company Animal Vegetable Mineral (AVM) and promoted/published on BBC Taster, the BBC platform that explores innovative ways of storytelling.
“There is huge potential in bringing together the arts and technology to reach wider audiences,” says Fiona Morris, creative director and CEO of The Space. “People can experience and enjoy it for longer using the latest in digital innovation.”
“Ai Weiwei is an artist where you don’t have to look hard to see the profound. It translates to the digital world quite well,” explains Rupert Harris, managing director at AVM.
To transfer Weiwei’s work to VR, Harris says his goal was to deliver a project larger in scope than simply an art project about an art project: “We wanted to faithfully re-create his work of art instead of simply creating our own work of art based on his art.”
The VR project uses still photos instead of video, Harris explains. “If you build a 3D world, you run the risk of making your own work of art from his work, and that is already too common in how VR is used. Moving a video camera already has some level of editorializing, and we wanted to avoid that as much as possible.”
Harris continues, explaining that using still imagery “allowed us the best perspective, with the camera moving in a graceful way so that you can look around yourself and take in what Weiwei was trying to show in his art.”
In designing the soundscape, AVM recorded the actual exhibit rooms empty, as well as with people in them, and then mixed in musical tracks that create an added level of immersion that even those who saw the exhibit in person might not have experienced. The presentation includes audio commentary from the co-curators of the exhibition, as well as voiceovers from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and journalist Jon Snow.
“Audio is so important to the visual experience,” Harris emphasizes. “The believability of VR is really made with audio and it is crucial to the experience.”
Ai Weiwei 360 is now available through the Royal Academy of Arts web site at www.royalacademy.org.uk/aiweiwei360.