Seven leading British organisations from the fields of culture, entertainment and education have announced a pioneering collaboration which plans to reimagine the museum visits of the future using storytelling and cutting-edge virtual technology.
The newly created consortium, which is being majority funded by a grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will create immersive experiences in which exhibits come to life, allowing visitors to have exciting, interactive encounters with, for example, robots or dinosaurs.
The consortium is being led by creative content studio Factory 42 and includes the Almeida Theatre, Natural History Museum, Science Museum Group and the University of Exeter. The two-year development project is being funded by a £4 million grant from Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as part of the wider Audiences of the Future initiative to maintain the leading position of the UK’s cultural sector as the most ground-breaking in the world.
Factory 42 and the museums are also backing the project with their own match funding and further financial investment has been made by UK entertainment group Sky plc and Magic Leap, the US spatial computing company. Digital education company Pearson and shopping centres group intu plc are providing strategic support.
The project, under the co-creative direction of The Almeida and Factory 42, will combine the latest mixed reality technology from Magic Leap with immersive theatre to create two separate adventure game visitor experiences exploring multi-sensory and truly interactive worlds.
In the iconic rooms of the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, visitors will play detectives roles and meet and interact with a cast of digital characters, from androids and artificial intelligences to velociraptors and fossils. Because visitors will be immersed within the narrative, they will be able to react to the characters and shape their own stories. Sampler versions of the experiences will also be made available to visitors to a number of intu shopping centres.
At the Natural History Museum, awe-inspiring dinosaurs from their collection will be brought to life and visitors will experience the detective work of palaeontologists and share the thrill of scientific discovery.
At the Science Museum Group, visitors will encounter a mixed-reality detective experience featuring high-resolution 3D scans of robots and other iconic objects from its collection, to bring the latest in robotics and artificial intelligence to life.
Both worlds will mix real-life physical environments where visitors can touch, smell and hear things with magical digital technologies and creatures that will enable audiences to interact in ways not normally possible. It is expected that the visitor experiences will open to the public in the middle of 2020.
The project aims to better understand how cultural experiences can be reimagined for audiences of the future in order to boost understanding and enjoyment of the natural world and science, while at the same time providing commercial touring and export opportunities. These experiences will help the interpretation of collections that address complex themes and ideas, helping shape the cultural heritage sector for the 21st century.
The project will be supported at all stages by a multi-disciplinary research team from the University of Exeter Business School and the Centre for Intermedia and Creative Technology. The research aims to generate a deep understanding of how individual and group visitor experiences in mixed reality can be designed, evaluated and described to benefit the creative industries sector.
The world-class creative team will include some of the UK’s leading theatre directors, computer game designers and developers, 3D audio, multi-sensory technologists, animators, graphic designers, writers, actors, artists and researchers collaborating with museum curators and academics.
The project is led by Factory 42, creators of the multi-award winning interactive virtual reality experience Hold The World with Sir David Attenborough at the Natural History Museum, in conjunction with Sky.
John Cassy, Factory 42 Chief Executive, says: “For millions of visitors each year a visit to the Natural History Museum or Science Museum is not complete without an encounter with robots or dinosaurs. Thanks to the magic of technology and the minds of some brilliant technologists, creatives and scientists, audiences will soon be able to see, smell, hear and touch robots and dinosaurs as part of a group of family or friends. Factory 42 is thrilled to have assembled and now be leading this world-class consortium as we set out to break new ground and reimagine how a trip to a museum will entertain and inform visitors in the future.”
Natural History Museum Director of Engagement Clare Matterson: “It’s incredibly exciting to be collaborating with partners at the vanguard of new tech, culture, entertainment and academia to deliver what promises to be a breath-taking new experience for our visitors. Mixed-reality technology offers boundless potential for innovation for bringing our dynamic collection and the work of our scientists to life like never before.”
Director and Group Executive of the Science Museum Group Sir Ian Blatchford says: “We tell stories of world-changing innovations so I am delighted that, through this collaboration with our creative partners, we will be able to build new immersive worlds, where robots and automata can be experienced like never before, where people can engage with science and engineering in new and exciting ways, and where our audiences can glimpse the future of storytelling.”
Almeida Theatre Artistic Director Rupert Goold said, “At the Almeida, we interrogate the present, dig up the past and imagine the future so we’re delighted to be joining forces with some of the most prestigious cultural institutions on a project that will use cutting-edge technology to offer a new form of storytelling. Dani Parr, Creative Director of this project and Director of Participation here at the Almeida, has some visionary ideas which will offer audiences a truly interactive experience.”
Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter said “This project represents the frontier of global research and design in future audience engagement. It also symbolises the productive and innovative relationships being developed between the creative industries and the UK research sector. We are very excited to be a part of it!”
Neil Graham, Executive Producer Sky VR Studios, said: “At Sky we have a long history of combining innovative technology and entertainment. Our involvement in this exciting new project builds on our recent interactive virtual reality experience – Hold The World with Sir David Attenborough, and we’re delighted to be working once again with Factory 42 and such a distinguished range of partners.”
Andy Lanning, Executive Creative Director, Magic Leap said: “We are thrilled that our technology will allow patrons of the Natural History Museum and Science Museum to experience exhibits in new and unique ways. With our spatial computing in the Museums, exhibits will come to life, making learning even more exciting visitors of all ages. We are delighted to be working with such a fantastic group of creators and partners to bring this vision to life.”