This week we feature Immersive Studios, a creative technology studio specialising in VR, AR and 360 video. Read more about some of the experiences they have been creating over the last few years. If you need help with your immersive project, visit Blend Market to post your brief and connect with creators, developers and studios.
Can you tell me about Immersive Studios - how did you get started?
I’ve always worked in and around the marketing industry, mostly in business development roles on the agency side. 18 months ago I was looking for a new role and the opportunity to join Immersive Studios came up - I’d had a brief introduction to immersive tech at a previous agency which I really enjoyed so I jumped at the chance to get back into this area.
The company was formed five years ago by our MD Matt Martin and Technical Director James Burrows, just when the general public was starting to wake up to VR as a valuable and entertaining form of technology. It was exactly the right timing – by being right at the forefront, we were able to hone our craft with each iteration of the tech, so now we’ve got a team made up of really talented experts and we’ve picked up some great clients along the way, from IKEA to Harrods to the Imperial War Museum.
We focus on developing creative experiences that make the best use of what immersive tech can offer, while continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible. With VR, we’ve developed our own free-roam system called XIST and we’re currently working on a virtual conferencing solution that we see as having real long-term value, both during lockdown and beyond. AR technology is coming on in leaps and bounds – we’ve recently been pushing the envelope on web AR for a football-related activation that is due to launch very soon.
2. What's the most challenging part of the projects you work on?
Because we’re working with cutting-edge technology, we’re often working on the very edge of what’s possible. So, this can present challenges as we really have to know our stuff to get the technology working as well as it possibly can across dynamic, constantly shifting, platforms. Sometimes it can feel a little like we’re fighting the tech rather than working with it! But it’s this appetite to keep creating better and better experiences that keeps us at the forefront of the industry.
Web AR is a good example. So far, it’s more limited than app AR because with an app you can download the content directly to your device and therefore it can be of higher quality and, once downloaded, you don’t have to worry about connectivity issues. But downloading an app can be a barrier to the customer experience, so we’re seeing more and more clients asking for web AR experiences, which you can trigger with just a browser and internet connection. However, getting the experience to work well is more challenging when you’re relying on the memory of a web browser – and introducing interactivity and high-quality animations, etc, adds to that. But if you don’t keep striving for better experiences, then the industry would never progress. So, while each project comes with its distinct technological challenges, we’ve built up a tech toolkit that combines years of experience – enabling us to deliver ambitious and potentially challenging projects often in a surprisingly short amount of time!
3. Can you tell us about a couple of projects you are most proud of?
This is a tough question because there are so many options to choose from – in fact, I asked the team for their opinions and pretty much everyone gave a different answer!
A real highlight was the work we completed in partnership with Lively Agency for their client, Mazda. We created two virtual test drives for their Mazda MX-5 RF. The first was a high-thrill drive through the Italian Alps, which segued into a CGI dreamscape that took the drive out of this world (literally). This was a great experience, which made full use of VR’s potential both to evoke real life and take the user into a different world where anything is possible. We created the experience to be viewed from the point of view of the driver, but the car and the driver were both 3D modelled while the landscape was filmed in 360º using cameras attached to the car. The seamless blending of CGI elements with real footage made the experience as lifelike as possible and was enjoyed in a tour of retail centres around the UK. The second test drive was similar – we filmed the RF driving through Iceland and the South of France in 360º, but the overall experience had a 4D system rigged to it as well. This meant elements such as wind, heat, and the vibration of the engine were recreated through a system built around the VR headset – from heat fans to rumble pads – which were all triggered through a bespoke central control system, enhancing the realism even further.
On the AR front, our recent Christmas activation for Harrods of Knightsbridge is something we’re very proud of. This took the form of an in-store treasure hunt designed for families with young children. Clues on the app directed them to the right place to look for markers, which each triggered a different animation of a Christmas animal – complementing the physical in-store decorations Harrods were displaying. Once all the animals had been found, the app unlocked a markerless AR scene that could be triggered anywhere. It’s an incredibly simple concept and plays straight into the strength of AR to conjure up an engaging experience essentially out of thin air – turning Christmas shopping into a fun experience for the whole family.
Honorable mentions also have to go to the VR waterslide simulator we created for a big show in Qatar, which aligned a VR experience with a bespoke motion simulator, and the AR app we built for UEA, which turned their event stand into a series of interactive experiences that enabled students to tour the campus at UCAS fairs across the country.
4. What excites you most about the industry at the minute?
I’d say, right now, with lockdown in force across many countries around the world and all big events and conferences cancelled, then the potential that immersive technologies hold for enabling us to reconnect with people – and continue global business from the safety of our own homes – is really exciting. VR and 360º video gives us ways we can continue to experience different places and interact with people in a way that feels more real, more connected, than a group video call through a laptop.
From virtual tours that are offering a lifeline to the property and tourism markets, to virtual expo and conferencing options, VR offers all sorts of exciting opportunities that we are tapping into. At Immersive, we’ve been taking advantage of the bespoke technologies we’ve developed over the past two years to enable multiplayer VR gaming and funnelling it towards enabling virtual conferences, to deliver a platform where potentially hundreds of VR users can enter the same virtual space and interact with their hosts, each other, and their environment – all from the safety of their own home.
And it’s not just a short-term solution either. While coronavirus has stepped on the accelerator of the development of solutions like this, there will be far-reaching value to virtual conferencing even when we can meet up in groups again. Enabling mass virtual and interactive attendance to VR events brings benefits from reducing the need to, and cost of, travel to boosting accessibility. The situation very much sums up the old adage ‘out of adversity comes opportunity’ – but for us in the immersive industry, it’s not only true but also rewarding to be able to offer a solution for the many people and businesses trapped by the lockdown.
If you would like to chat to one of the team about a potential immersive experience, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you’d like to connect directly with immersive creators and developers from around the world, head to Blend Market and post your project brief.