The Only Limit Is Your Imagination
December 22, 2015 @Imagine 360, Montreal, CA.
Last Tuesday I met with Waël Chanab, co-founder of Imagine 360, a multimedia organization based in Montreal. Their team is creating high quality, immersive and interactive experiences for brands and resorts, but also to preserve and immortalize history and cultural artifacts. Their services include virtual tours, interactive videos and virtual reality experiences. If you don’t know them yet, check out their website, these guys are working on amazing projects such as a virtual tour of Alex Grey’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.
“We are consistently pushing the boundaries of technology to create anything you can imagine. Our technology can combine the latest tools in digital media to create a unique, immersive and interactive experience for your brand.”
Alecz- Tell me Waël, what is your background and how did you come to immersive technologies?
Waël- Well, I studied physics and philosophy at Concordia University in Montreal and I came to immersive technologies because I was very fascinating by taking pictures. I wanted to allow the medium to really bring me to the places I was taking pictures of, to create a world that you truly get transported to. Few years ago, my partner Daniel that was in Costa Rica at the time proposed a virtual tour for a hotel, which went for it. From there, we pushed the virtual tour business one step further: we slowly took it from virtual tours to integrating videos, to integrating 360 videos, to integrating seamless videos. Now, we’re doubling using game engines and 360 videos in conjunction together. So basically, Imagine 360 came out because we wanted to innovate and push the boundaries of what we were doing constantly.
“Imagine 360 came out because we wanted to innovate and push the boundaries of what we were doing constantly.”
A- What is your vision for the future of Imagine 360?
W- The future that I see for Imagine 360 is to really hold the place in Montreal for the culture, for bringing the people’s eyes on to Montreal and the history that is over here, as well as bringing a lot of patrimony around the world and really anchoring it in history by virtualizing it and by making it accessible to anyone.
A- That makes sense. Can you tell us more about your last projects, specifically the ones dealing with patrimony and historic preservation?
W- Sure! We had some projects with the city of Montreal, including one with the Musée Pointe-à-Callière which is a museum of archeology. We actually virtualized the foundation site of Montreal which was a very exciting project. It is something we worked on for their new website that they will be launching soon. Basically, it will be a platform where people get to explore the archaeological dig, the kind of information that they find in those digs, and to learn more about how the city was founded in the first place. We also collaborate with students at UQAM to create an application for the preservation of indigenous sites around Quebec and Canada. Those are secret sites and they need to be preserved. As First Nations don’t want their lands to be accessible to anyone, having a virtual experience of it is an accessible way to show to the world their heritage while keeping it secret from the public. The point here is really to conserve their spaces, the secret lands, the rituals, and to bring the knowledge and the wisdom that they have to anyone, in order to eternalize it.
“As Natives don’t want their lands to be accessible to anyone, having a virtual experience of it is an accessible way to show to the world their heritage while keeping it secret from the public.”
A- These are truly exciting projects but concretely, how do you recreate these sites? Do you create a virtual environment from photos, or do you do 3d scans or else?
W- Concerning the project with Pointe-à-Callière, the museum has a lot of different maps, drawings and sketches, so we laid these out in a virtual space that people can click on, explore and read about. We also mainly focused on capturing media of the actual dig itself. By example, while the archaeologists were doing their dig, we went in and captured some spherical panoramas across the building site. Then, we included some interactive elements that people can click and drag, they can also walk along an old wall that was there, they can zoom in and see some details, etc. For the other project I mentioned, I think we will use drones and photogrammetry to create a virtual world, also incorporate standard videos and localize them in different places to have information laid out, stories that can be read.
A- So you basically creating new ways of archiving historic and cultural stuff and you want it accessible, I guess that is why Imagine 360 is not focusing only on VR?
W- True, the importance of keeping this historic archive as accessible as possible makes it so that we need to diversify the distribution of the capture that we have. We capture everything, from video to text to dialogues to 360 spheres to 360 videos, and depending on the end user, the point is to get that information as accessible to them as possible. We specialize in the immersive aspect of it, we distribute through different channels in order for people to access it through their computers, their tablets or their mobile phones. Ultimately, we would also like to dedicate all of our projects on to a virtual reality platform, to really bring the people there and have them experience what it’s like to be part of this culture, to be part of this history, and allow them to experience the space first hand so that the knowledge is really lived more than just read or looked at. I personally think that VR is going to be another medium that most applications will need to be compatible with in some way or another, just like websites are moving from desktop to mobiles. I think that we will see websites to be compatible with VR headsets really soon.
“Ultimately we would like (…) to allow the users to experience the space first-hand, so that the knowledge is really lived more than just read or looked at.”
A- How do you conceptualize the multi platform aspect? Let’s take Soundcloud by example, you would have an option on the website to switch easily between desktop and VR mode. And then you would have elements floating in the air, track’s playing, the artist’s profile, etc?
W- Yes totally, having some sort of easy access user’s interface. There is this great talk from this guy, Mike Alger, a must see for anyone into UX/UI design for VR. I bet we will see more and more UX/UI interfaces for VR that will be better aligned with how we actually end up using VR. It will get more and more standardized but also future interfaces would allow for extra dimensions within the website. Let’s say, you were mentioning Soundcloud, imagine yourself entering into a visualizer if you’re staring at certain regions while you’re listening to a track. I think that having this kind of extra added features for VR will push the people to use the headset more.
“(…) Imagine yourself entering into a visualizer if you’re staring at certain regions while you’re listening to a track. I think that having this kind of extra added features will push the people to use VR headset more.”
A- Talking about the future of websites, do you think they will be in 360 degrees? I’m bringing this up because of the Manifesto you referred to, but also because I know by experience that with the headset on, I rarely look at what is happening in my back.
W- Mhhmmm, I think that is partially limited because of the chairs we using. Having the furniture matching the VR experience will be part of the future!
A- But what if you at bed?
W- Well, if you at bed then yes, there will be some limits!
A- When you first show your work to people, which reactions do you expect from them?
W- The feeling of Wow! is the forefront of the emotions we want to convey. Immersive technologies are powerful storytelling tools because they are like teleporting machines. They allow you to live through different bodies and in different locations all together. Only when you are transported somewhere, you get to experience what it’s like to walk in someone else shoes. And when you do that, you forget who you are in some sense, you really enter another space. This experience allows a greater deal of compassion and allows for greater deal of understanding as well because you really become this ‘other’. This, is truly what we’re looking for.
A- 360 video is making the buzz right now but how long do you think this will last?
W- From my side, I think that you can have the greatest tech but if there is no one able to think of how to use it fruitfully, then there is no real point of really having it. Even in the VR community, people are doing 360 for the sake of doing 360, and not really curating content for it. I think that is where the world of art comes in, to create something which allows the potential of the medium to be expressed fully. Otherwise, it’s easy for anyone to just put the camera there, press record and learn the technical knowledge to put it together. I think it is very important to curate the content, create a story, a dialogue, between the characters and the subject of the experience. Those are the most powerful moments in VR I think. It reminds me a bit of Ghosts’n Goblin, too bad I forgot the name of the website but there is an amazing video that was done in 360 with interactive elements where you can choose what the outcome is at different sections through the video. By example, you can choose to run away or to fight the enemy, and that creates a different storyline. This is already so much more interesting than a regular 360 video.
“I deeply think that you can not have interesting technologies if there is not an interesting application for it, art needs a medium to be conveyed and technology holds the space there.”
A- Thank you so much Waël for your insights, anything else you would like to mention?
W- Well, I think VR will become a lot more predominant as a medium very shortly, first of all because its accessibility but also because, in some sense, it is the ultimate medium where you get to share experiences and emotions that bring new ways of understanding and seeing the world. Long life to VR!
Interview recorded on December 22, 2015 @Imagine 360, Montreal, in presence of Waël Chanab, Beatrice Glow, Alecz Girardeau & Pierre Friquet.
Primarily interested in the transdisciplinary intersections among cognitive sciences, gamification and media philosophy, Alecz has a deep background in science, art and technology. After researching on intertextualities within the transhuman discourse at the era of the Psychedelic Renaissance, and developing serious games dedicated to VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift & Samsung Gear VR, Alecz is currently initiating HIGHWAY101, Experiential Technology Community, a creative hub that encourages the praxis of experiential technologies as therapeutical engines.