Storytelling in Virtual Reality

GRID 2020 Abstracts

Storytelling in Virtual Reality:
A Multidisciplinary and Immersive Experience with a Grid Methodology for Students

Tom Peeters
AP University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Antwerp (Belgium)

Together with:
Kristof Timmerman, Dr. Silvia Van Aken, Jeroen Cluckers, Dr. Wannes Heirman & Frederik Marain

Session I: Educational Environments of the Grid
Monday, November 23, 2020 | 11:00-12:00 (Duet A)

The world is getting smaller and more complex, and there is more diversity and technology (EPS, 2018). To answer questions a team needs more diverse competences and must be able to think out of the box. Big challenges of working in a diverse team require that all team members contribute to a common goal and that efforts are distributed equally, thus leading to self-organized and self-regulating teams. In the process of creative problem solving we define the grid as a tool to manage a team of people with different backgrounds and behaviours. AP University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Antwerp (Belgium) offers 25 bachelor and 6 master degrees in various domains and hosts more than 15 000 students. AP focuses on innovative education and practice-based research. One of the strategic decisions is to establish an “immersive lab” in order to encourage multidisciplinary studies and research, and, furthermore, to engage local companies to collaborate in the lab.

Currently, the breakthrough of "immersive storytelling" in Virtual Reality poses challenges on the production side and on the user side (Roth Koenitz, 2016; Slater & Sanchez-Vives, 2016). Immersion refers to the feeling that occurs in a situation where spectators (viewers, gamers, etc.) are paying so much attention to the particular medium, and the latter causes so much ‘involvement’ that the audience is no longer aware of the things that are happening around them (Heirman, 2019). To reach (the highest levels of) immersion, storytellers need to investigate how they can embed innovative technical possibilities in new and old narrative techniques (Choet al., 2016; Koenitz, 2010; Rose, 2015; Roth & Koenitz, 2016) from interactive theatre, games, etc. To tackle these challenges, specialists of various disciplines need to be involved. During the research project “Show & Tell!”, we formed a multidisciplinary group of people with various backgrounds, such as academic researchers, artists, engineers, journalists and designers specialized in immersive technologies. Together, they developed an integrated methodology and workflow for the creation of immersive 360° stories. This innovative approach of a multidisciplinary and integrated workflow has proven to be an efficient tool in the complexity of the development of VR experiences.

During the project, several interdisciplinary master classes for students in art, engineering and journalism were organized to develop experiences in which narrative parameters were tested, the main goal being to obtain different levels of immersion, starting from the lowest level of reality until ‘total immersion’. All the results have led to new narrative strategies concerning the viewer in the VR experience, like a descriptive set of how time and space can affect the storyline, as well as how a camera position can influence the level of information and the level of involvement of the viewer. All these parameters determine the strategy concerning the viewer: it can stimulate suspense, surprise and/or curiosity (Van Aken, 2019). Interdisciplinary collaboration needs an iterative project management approach, in which an optimal communication in all stages of the project is a key factor for success. When creating immersive stories in virtual reality, we combine user centered design thinking as a project methodology and the grid as a management tool.

The grid can be seen as a raster where we put the team members with different backgrounds and behaviours on every edge and where the connection between the edges represent communication channels with the aim of better collaborating, improving knowledge sharing and having larger networks as we can extend the grid at every edge. In the define stage we start analysing our knowledge to define the core problem, and shape it into an actionable problem statement. We better put a shaper (a Belbin behaviour) in the grid centre because he can handle and thrive on confrontation to end with an agreement. And when we collect ideas trying to gain a clear understanding of our problem, it’s better to put a highly creative person in the middle, who is able to solve complex problems because of his intellect, but is allowed to fully use his imagination and geniality in the process. In the near future, this new workflow will be used for other immersive courses, such as a summer university (https://www.uantwerpen.be/en/summer-schools/storytelling-virtual-reality) and a post-bachelor degree in immersive storytelling. For these courses, we also strive for a group of participants as diverse as possible: mixed backgrounds in ICT, game development, graphic design, journalism, marketing, art … During the presentation for GRID 2020, we will elaborate on how story, arts and technology can be combined in order to create true immersive experiences.