Christoph Hartmann, who is now part of DW Lab approached us with the idea to turn the famous painting “Walterchen’s Spielsachen” or “Little Walter’s toys” by German expressionist painter August Macke into an immersive experience. We were joined by Daniela Schulz from DW Kultur und Leben and Alex Plaum from DW Innovation and asked ourselves, how we could employ VR to tell something meaningful about that painting and its context of creation. We had the idea of diving into the image space and adding something beyond and around it. A very inspirational source for creating a VR experience from art is The Night Cafe by Borrowed Light Studios. Our research on the historical background — the painting was made in 1912 in the times leading to WW I — provided us with a vast amount of potential knowledge that could be made available to users. To keep that amount focused, we kept the studio space as the central stage to progress on Walter’s life and explaining the art of August Macke, while allowing the user to observe history through the studio’s windows.
Defining the target audience
Who do we build for? Our core idea was to use art as a reference point for history. Our initial target groups were people interested in art and museums, educational institutions and students and of course the usual suspects of VR enthusiasts. Our value proposition should deliver an appealing experience to a broader VR audience on mobile platforms (Cardboard) to help users learn (job) while being curious and entertained (gains) providing a remedy to disinterest in history or culture (pains). A value proposition canvas can help you in establishing a goal for your product and measuring its success.
The goal for us is to create a VR experience that allows a user to enter a child’s life around times of crises and war, thereby telling history (WW I and beyond), the story of a family (the relationship between August and Walter Macke) and using art (expressionism) as the subject matter. To bring these broad aspects into something manageable, we decided to tell all this inside the atelier that the family lived in until 1925 and that is now a museum.
Paper Rapid Prototyping
Storyboards are okay, sketches are much better, but rapid paper prototyping can really help expressing and capturing ideas and validating initial assumptions. So we built a paper studio prototype and filled it with contents.
A quick research gave us enough information about the studio to craft its floor plan, windows and even some furniture, like the blue chaiselongue. We put in the toys and the plant from the image. Since we were planning on creating a room scale experience, we used orange round paper markers to describe the area of effect, where any interactive objects may be.
To test this even further, we put a 360° camera inside the prototype to get some first person views to help validate some of our assumptions and finding out, where to put the user later on. So in a matter of two days, we went from the initial idea of somehow going inside a painting into using it to tell something meaningful about history and a family’s story.
Modelling the virtual studio
Before starting the two weeks of developing the VR prototype in Unity, we had to gather the assets we needed in general. That was of course August Macke’s studio in Bonn, that has been turned into a museum and re-opened in October 2017. We also needed the painting and the toys as models. Florian Wagnerfrom MESH images provided the Matterport scan of the studio, that you can explore below.
While the Matterport scan gives an impressive 360° view from the individual scan spots, the resulting 3D model has it’s caveats to be used within our projects. We wanted to have clean edges, that would not be too affected by changes in lighting or behaving in physically weird ways. A flat floor should allow a ball to roll smoothly over its surface, and not be deflected at bumps or edges. Here’s a quick view of the cleaned up model inside Unity, with some lighting and environment added.
This shall conclude this post about ideating an educational art experience for VR. In the next post, I will share how to best create a storyboard for a rich, interactive VR experience with concurrent or sequential events.