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Preserving history, with spatial computing

Last year, as part of our Independent Creator Program, we worked with interactive production studio Nexus to adapt their Civilisations app from AR to spatial computing.

Civilisations is a BBC TV program inspired by art historian Kenneth Clark's documentary series of the 1960s. The show sees three experts travel the world to explore human creativity and the development of art through the ages. The BBC commissioned world-leading independent film and interactive studio Nexus Studios to create an Augmented Reality (AR) app for iOS and Android that allows people to discover the art and artifacts from the period or theme of each episode - all from the comfort of their living room. Last year, as part of our Independent Creator Program, we worked with Nexus Studios to adapt the Civilisations app from AR to spatial computing.

Curating the history of us

The Civilisations app was made with the help of regional museums and institutions from across the UK, including the British Museum, the Ashmolean (the University of Oxford's museum of art and archaeology), and the Wallace Collection. Artifacts were carefully scanned by a team from the BBC using a 3D scanner. The scans were then sent to the team at Nexus to clean up and transform into digital 3D models.

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Highlights of the experience include a beautiful hand painted Octopus storage jar originating from Greece,1450-1400BC; and an ancient Egyptian mummy casket, which you can lean into and examine with a magnifying glass. Using simple hand gestures, users can position different artifacts around their physical environment and examine them up close, from every angle. As Alex Jenkins, Interactive Arts Creative Director at Nexus Studios describes, “This is real history. The history of us. You become the curator of your own unique exhibition, bringing artifacts and curiosities from institutions across the UK together in the same room.”

Getting closer to the artifacts

When you examine objects in detail and at real scale you have a different kind of perception. As Alex explains: “In a museum, you see objects at a distance, from behind a rope or pane of glass. But with spatial computing, you can get up close, look underneath them, behind them, and see them at real scale, in relation to other objects in the room. The app gives you a different kind of perspective, bringing you even closer.”

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Creating for the unknown

Working in a different medium brings with it a unique set of challenges and opportunities. As Alex explains, “With spatial computing, the sense of scale and space is different. You have to try to imagine what might happen in real world situations. So we decided to think about how and where the app would most likely be used, and we catered to that. With the UX in particular, there were many unknowns. But the team at Magic Leap were on hand with tests and prototypes, useful examples, watch-outs and development help.”

Spatial computing vs AR

AR and spatial computing have certain similarities. With both, you are working with the creation of digital objects. But Alex believes the sense of immersion is far deeper with spatial computing. “With mobile AR, you're often holding a mobile, so there’s a wall between you and the object. But with spatial computing, your hands are free and you can move within the scene. You can lose yourself within the experience and forget the hardware. That’s what’s interesting to me.”

Like any project, there are learnings for next time. “People enjoy ad-hoc play and it encourages them to interact and experiment. It would have been fun to play more with the fact that objects are in the user’s environment. There you are with a Rodan on your sofa. Or an ancient roman urn in the fridge.”

The future of storytelling

Alex sees a time when storytelling is brought further into the public sphere. “The boundaries and rules of games, films, and other mediums will be broken. There will be even more opportunities to interact with people. And when audiences and objects can be anywhere, it’s a blank canvas.” When asked whether spatial computing will feature in any future Nexus Studios' projects, Alex’s answer was definitive, “We are invested in the space, and we believe in it as a medium. You will see how invested we are.”

Check out the Civilisations case study from Nexus Studios here. You can learn more about how the BBC worked to design the experience here. And keep an eye out for more spatial computing experiences from Alex and the team.

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