Just imagine a 1000 m2 black box filled with stereoscopic 3D machines, interactive video and 360 projections, located in the science fiction like setting of the brand new Hong Kong Science Park in Shatin. This is where Philips also recently moved its Consumer Electronics division and this is where City University of Hong Kong opened the spectacular ALiVE lab last summer. ALiVE stands for ‘Applied Laboratory for Interactive Visualization and Embodiment’ and is the baby of director and dean of the School of Creative Media Jeffrey Shaw and research director Sarah Kenderdine. Both have extensive experience with immersive installations as art works and museum displays and more recently they have ventured into 3D stereoscopic representations of cultural heritage sites such as Hampi in India. There are three installations which have possible uses as documentary storytelling machines.
The first one is the iDome, a half round screen which accommodates content shot with a 360o camera like the one used for Google street view. In this iDome, one viewer can manipulate a mouse to see a 360o film from all angles. The current content is limited and shows mostly ‘place’ (e.g. a street in Australia and a mosque in Istanbul) and very little ’story’. It seems to me that storytelling could be introduced most convincingly by constructing a sound scape of interviews and location sounds recorded separately. Visually, I could imagine experiments in observational, ‘fly-on-the-wall’ style documentary if the scene is extremely interesting and happening in one room (e.g. a court room, an interrogation room, an IC unit at the hospital, a class room challenging the teacher). Shooting and editing are still extremely limted with the 360 camera (called ‘Ladybug‘), because rendering takes about one hour per minute and footage takes up enormous amounts of memory.
In the ‘Media Dome’, viewers can lie on their backs and watch stereoscopic photos projected onto the domed ceiling, so this limits the non-fiction storytelling potential to anything taking place in the sky. The media dome has a high ‘lounge-feel’ to it and could potentially work with a documentary story taking place in the top of a tree for example. I saw it with a slide show of photos of ornate ceilings from all over the world (and without spoken words).
Thirdly, T_visionarium is a wonderful and extremely engaging cylinder of 12 meter diameter based on six powerful 3D video projections, which can host around 24,000 video clips at once and has the most powerful storytelling potential. In terms of content, it originally is an archive of random clips from 24 hours of Australian television, which could be replaced by any other type of content that is properly clipped and tagged to fit the software. The effect on a viewer of this machine is truly impressive and ‘immersive’ and invites further thinking about the development of database-stories. For example, the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong has an extensive collection of video interviews with artists and critics about the recent history of Cantonese art, which could potentially be transformed into a mesmerizing interactive and alternative history of contemporary Cantonese art as told by its creators. The drawbacks are the production cost and the complexity of the installation. It takes considerable man power to cut tens of thousands of clips and tag them manually, which is needed to enable viewer interaction and meaningful rearrangements of the clips in the space. However, if this can be mastered and overcome, T-visionarium is much better than imax and could potentially host emotionally engaging and interactive documentary storytelling.