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  • Writer's pictureCorrina Crazie Espinosa

VR/AR - Fantasy World

Updated: Mar 3, 2022


How old do you think Virtual Reality (VR)/Augmented Reality (AR) is?

What do you think was the first use of VR?

Where do you think the concept of VR first started?

Do you think there are any benefits to VR/AR? What are they?

Do you think there are any dangers with VR/AR? What are they?


Exploring the history of VR/AR kind of depends on how you define these things.

From fiction to reality…

So many things in our world, especially when it comes to tech start with an idea, a concept in science fiction. The same can be said about VR/AR. In 1935, science fiction author Stanley Weinbaum wrote Pygmalion’s Spectacles. In this fictional short story, the main character meets a professor who invents a pair of goggles that allowed him to view a movie with sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.

Virtual reality technology was invented in 1957 by Morton Heilig. In 1962 Heilig built a prototype of his immersive, multi-sensory, mechanical multimodal theater called the Sensorama, and created five short films to be displayed in it. On August 28, 1962 Heilig was granted U.S. Patent 3,050,870 for a "Sensorama Simulator." This invention is considered one of the earliest functioning efforts in virtual reality.

However, the term ‘virtual reality’ was coined much later in 1987 by researcher Jaron Lanier. Here is some footage of Jaron when he was excited about this new technology.

By the 1990's VR started becoming a little better known in pop culture. You couldn't have the experience at home quite yet, but you could find one of these machines in popular places like mall across the US.

This period also had its share of failures, but it saw the idea of VR gain tremendous ground in common understanding and familiarity of VR technology.

1991: The Virtuality Group released a series of games and arcade machines bringing VR to the general public. Players would wear a pair of virtual reality goggles and play immersive games in real-time. A few of these devices were even networked together for multi-player virtual gaming experiences.

1991: Sega attempted to bring a similar gaming experience to homes with its console. The company never released the Sega VR headset accessory because developers were comically worried it was too realistic and users would get hurt.

In the last 10 years, the world of virtual reality has made big improvements, mostly from the tech giant battle that ensued – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sony, and Samsung all built VR and AR divisions. However, consumers are still on the fence about VR tech as it tends to come with a hefty price tag attached.

2010: Palmer Luckey designed a prototype for what would become the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Facebook bought Oculus VR for around $3 billion in 2014, just after the first shipment of kits went out via the Kickstarter campaign – there was a lawsuit filed against Facebook and Oculus for taking company secrets.

2013: Valve corporation found a way to display lag-free VR content and shared it freely with Oculus and other vendors.

Valve and HTC announced their partnership alongside the HTC Vive headset and controllers in 2015 and released the first version in 2016.

2014: Sony unveils Project Morpheus, aka PlayStation VR, for the PlayStation 4 video game console.

The final consumer version released in 2016, encouraging its users to not just play the game, but “live the game”.

2015: Google introduces Cardboard, a do-it-yourself stereoscopic viewer where a user places their phone inside a literal piece of Cardboard to wear on your head. We will look at this more in depth later in this post.

Googles Cardboard solved the price tag problem, but is it really a virtual reality headset? That’s debatable.

2016: Hundreds of companies were developing virtual reality products. Most of the headsets had dynamic binaural audio, but the haptic interfaces were still lacking.

2018: At the Facebook F8 Developer Conference, Oculus revealed the Half Dome – a headset with a 140-degree field of vision.

The future of virtual reality:

So, where do we go from here? Virtual reality continues to find new applications and with the backing of billion-dollar tech companies, you can bet the technology is here to stay. VR Software is advancing just as fast as its compatible hardware is – but that’s the biggest opportunity for those in the race.

The competitive environment on the business side should mean good news is coming soon for consumers. Pricing will be key to the consumer market and making the advanced technology an everyday item in our lives.

Right now, VR is mainly seen as a gaming experience but the potential future applications are totally up to the imagination. Mixed reality experiences, or interactive experiences that are part augmented reality and part virtual reality, provide a nice gateway into full VR adoption.

The most tangible future virtual reality predictions include:

  • AR & VR will merge to create a new type of experience

  • Advanced virtual social interactions will be introduced

  • VR interaction will occur through handhelds

  • VR headsets will slim down to look more like sunglasses

Here is some more recent footage of Jaron, where he talks about some of the dangers that are attached to this technology, thought with a hopeful tone.

Recently Facebook has taken a turn in their marketing, and are now turning toward a more VR/AR platform, Meta.

Dangers of VR/AR:

Just like these new technologies care arise from fiction, we can also head serious warnings about tech from Science Fiction. For example, in the Black Mirror episode (indeed the very name of the show is about turning a mirror on contemporary society and technology to examine ourselves and the effects of new tech) called Men Against Fire, the dangers of AR are laid before us:

This story is not so far fetched, and indeed all 3 branches of the US military (Army, Navy and Airforce) have already been using VR and AR technology in a similar way.

The four main categories that the miliatry uses this tech is:

  1. Combat Simulators - Preparing soldiers for battle.

  2. Skills/tools - Flight, parachute and other skills can be mastered.

  3. Geography - Through VR/AR young soldiers can experience and memorize foreign terrain without ever stepping foot, providing a clear advantage in combat.

  4. Recruitment - They know young people love video games, and they use this tech to entice young people to join the military.

What happens when VR is used as an actual weapon? Controlling drones, tanks, robots, guns, etc. in the real world from a VR environment:

  1. Virtual battlefield gives the advantage to those who have tech

  2. Seems very real, but it feels like a game.

  3. Real world killing from a virtual world, already happening.

This is dangerous because it makes killing so much easier by;

  1. Removing danger & fear

  2. Removing consequences

  3. Removing equality

  4. Removing empathy

VR/AR Cultivating Empathy in Fine Art:

On the surface it may appear as if the power of virtual reality in conjunction with war has an endlessly grim prognosis, but I assure you there is hope for the medium to do much more good than evil. Virtual reality is powerful tool indeed, and it doesn’t have to be used as a destructive device. As a matter of fact, it turns out that virtual reality in its

very essence is an especially powerful tool for cultivating empathy, rather than suppressing it. The use of virtual reality by the military as a means of depleting the empathy of its soldiers in countered in many different ways as exemplified by the following artists and institutions.

Ben Khelifa

Ben Khelifa is a photojournalist who has traveled to, witnessed, and documented a multitude of wars and conflicts from all over the world. Throughout his fifteen years of photographing war, he has constantly thought about developing new ways to make people think more deeply about the impact of war. His contrasting experiences of reporting equally from both sides of war gave him a unique dual perspective that he shares with his viewers in his most recent project called The Enemy.

The idea for this project was inspired by a photo exhibition, also called The Enemy, where Khelifa interpreted the concept of the show as “humanizing the enemy.” This was the paramount idea that struck Khelifa, and he pursued it in his own work where eventually the idea evolved into a virtual reality exhibition during his artist residency at MIT in 2016.

Khelifa worked alongside Dr. Fox Harrell, an MIT professor who researches computing as a tool to create “subjective experiences, cultural understandings, and critical empowerment." The result is a virtual reality project called 'theenemy’, which is intended to create empathy by showing real and raw human perspectives from both sides of a contemporary conflict. For this project participants experience highly realistic situations where they come face to face with virtual individuals based on real life people who actually carry out the violence in these conflicts, pulling from a range of sources, from various perspectives, on opposing sides. The conflicts included come from at least seven different countries and include diverse perspectives from Israel, Palestine, the Congo and El Salvador. In the scenarios each side explains who they are, what their motives are, their dreams, their personal perspectives on war, suffering, freedom, and the future.

The VR format is 360-degree-view imaging integrated with recordings of combatants who were personally interviewed by Khelifa. The project not only deepens knowledge of contemporary conflicts, it challenges views held by all sides, and ultimately seeks to the combatants. It does this by confronting notions of ‘enemy’ and ‘empathy’ with the ultimate goal, in Khelifa’s words, to create project that “breaks away from the kinds of images of war the media typically show us. By hearing the voices of those who carry this violence within them, by allowing them to introduce themselves and to share their motives and dreams, the project brings us face to face with these fighters and their points of view, humanizing them in the process.” The Enemy is not striving for solutions to problems or to provide explanations; instead it begs to share a unique experience and incite a conversation. Khelifa’s MIT description reads: “The refusal to see an enemy’s humanity is not so much defined by the limits of empathy as by a lack of imagination—hence, one of the goals of The Enemy project is to expand moral imagination.”

The Enemy debuted at MIT in 2016 where it was accepted with warmth and enthusiasm. The virtual installation has since been written about by a wide range of media outlets and is scheduled to travel internationally through the Spring of 2017 and then come back to be exhibited around the US later in the Fall. It will be of value to watch the results of the exhibitions tour and to gauge the actual impact of the project as it continues to unfold.

Nonny De La Peña

Project Syria, created by Nonny De La Peña at the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media Lab, is another art project that intends to engender empathy in its participants. . De La Peña calls the experience, "immersive journalism" for its capacity to essentially put people perceptually inside the story. It is a virtual reality project that “brings the daily trauma of the Syrian War to life.”22 Project Syria places virtual visitors inside the world of a Syrian citizen who is suddenly caught in the direct crossfire of conflict. It is designed to be a showcase specifically hitting on the plight of the many children who are being violently forced to flee Syria. Visitors can hear the recorded audio from an actual bombing in the background, which highlights the voice of a little Syrian girl singing a song seconds before the loud explosion disrupts the deceivingly peaceful street in Aleppo.

The Project Syria environment is similar to the combat simulations used by the military in that it is astonishingly accurate, both geographically and culturally. In actuality it is a very detailed and precise recreation of a real event that occurred on the streets of Aleppo and was caught on video. The important distinction between this use of viftual reality and the military’s is that this experience puts the participant directly in the shoes of the “other.” The emotional and perceptual information presented to the viewer demonstrates the impact of violence on innocent civilians, in a direct effort by the artist to create empathy for those people who are undeservingly impacted by the war in Syria. Participants entering the installation will experience two scenarios: The first is a bomb explosion on a busy street in Aleppo, and the second scenario is set in the aftermath at a refugee camp.

In each case, the team of artists, designers and computer scientists working on the project with De La Peña did extensive research to make sure that the simulation was as accurate as possible. The result is a 360-degree- view of both the street bombing and the refugee camp with a conceptual focus on the children who, according to the artist, “make up more than half of the three million refugees living in camps or makeshift housing.” The goal again, is to create empathy for the suffering of thousands of blameless young people. De La Peña wants her audience to walk a mile in Syrian shoes.

Milica Zec & Winslow Turner Porter III

Another artist with a similar goal is Milica Zec, a New York City based virtual reality artist and film director who actually grew up in war-torn Serbia. “Zec roots her work deeply in issues of conflict, identity and the human struggle” She is the genius behind the critically acclaimed virtual reality film called Giant. Along with creative partner and producer Winslow Turner Porter III, Zec produced the film as a direct reflection of her own childhood, which was tragically defined by the bursting of bombs. The NATO bombings of Serbia in the 1990’s conflict destroyed everything around her, in a somewhat opposing reflection, Giant is not set her homeland of Serbia but instead is “set in the basement of an American family home during a fictional air raid, the film delivers a fly-on-the-wall look at the trauma Zec experienced as a teenager.”

Giant is about a family that is frightened and hiding in the basement in their typical American home from the bombs that are dropping outside. The parents can't bear to tell their six-year-old daughter that the terrifying sounds are from the war that’s waging all around them, so they make up a story about a giant that is who wants to play with the little girl getting closer to the house. As the bombs gets closer and closer, the narrative intensifies. The project is in fact a full on installation that includes custom made chairs with built in transducers, components that use sound in order to cause very real vibrations, which create such an authentic sensation that viewers physically experience the bombs going off. By choosing to make the characters American, Zec hopes to benefit from the familiarity of “the faces, clothes, and accents” in order to make GIANT “a story Western audiences will relate to.”

Rabbit is the literal translation of the Serbian word Zec, in the image to the right, Zec and Porter are observed with a stuffed rabbit that was used as a visual representation in the design of the virtual rabbit that was used as a prop in the virtual basement. Other props include a teddy bear, a first aid kit and an issue of TIME magazine with a cover that reads “does this mean war?” Zec uses these subtle little details in the work to personalize the story for viewers, a tactic which intentionally and effectively provokes empathy. “Through virtual reality the viewer can see, hear and feel what it’s like to be at the epicenter of a conflict zone,” said Zec. “They can also witness the fear and suffering that millions of innocent families around the globe are going through, at this very moment.”

GIANT premiered at the Sundance film festival in January 2016 and was an immediate hit with many art and news operations. It has been extensively written about fondly by a collection of critics and praised for its ability to incorporate “live action, depth camera footage, 3D modeling software, and haptic feedback, the film is a heart- wrenching and immersive experience that cuts right to the soul.” Critics at film festivals across the nation have praised the production, celebrating is a one of “few projects [that] so well live up to virtual reality’s potential to be the ultimate “empathy machine.”

Cannes Lions film festival and the New York Times

Another poignant project that stimulates empathy in audiences is The Displaced, a project done in collaboration with the Cannes Lions film festival and the New York Times. Once again, this virtual reality project puts audience directly inside the lives of the children directly impacted by the refugee crisis, which is currently taking place across the world. In November 2015, the New York Times, in an unprecedented first in the history of journalism, “distributed one million Google Cardboard viewers to home-delivery subscribers, along with the newspaper -- the biggest ever project for Cardboard” The accompanying virtual reality applicant was consequently downloaded "more times in its first few days than any previous New York Times app,” a feat, which resulted in the mass exposure of viewers to The Displaced.

The course of this empathy driven project is a three-part, 360-degree-view narrative about how war has displaced thirty million children from their homes by following the lives of three individual children who have been displaced by war. The first child is Oleg, an 11-year-old boy whose family was forced out of their village in Ukraine and returned to find their village in complete ruins. The audience follows the boy through piles of rubble, just a shamble of broken chaos and ruin.

The second child is Chuol, a 9-year-old boy from South Sudan who was separated from the rest of his family when he fled into the swamps with his grandmother. In one part of the film the boy talks about being afraid he might be eaten by the crocodiles who occupy the swamp, but that being the preferred way to die over the firing squad that overtook his village.

The third child is 12-year-old girl named Hana. Her experience begins with a 4AM wake up call and is dominated by her working long grueling hours in order to help her family, all while they wait in a refugee settlement to find out what will become of them.

By sharing these stories in such intimate detail and to such an expansive audience, the New York Times was able to call massive attention to a huge global problem in a format that humanizes victims and encourages an empathetic response. This is further evidence to prove my point that virtual reality is in fact far more powerful as a took to engender empathy than it is as a tool to destroy it. Every single one of the projects discussed here so far have come out only in the few years. The development of these kinds of projects is still so nascent that it is hard to determine what the overall affect will be. One thing that is certain, there is great potential for these projects and similar future projects to make a significant psychological, emotional and cultural impact on the audiences it reaches. And with projects put out to masses by major publications such as this one stand as testament to the far-reaching capabilities of this exciting new medium.

Maurice Benayoun

Reaching back to the roots of an empathy educing use of virtual reality is a 1997 project called World Skin by Maurice Benayoun. This piece is one of the original works where viewers are invited to participate as a first person character in a war zone. As a pioneering project in the medium, this piece put audience members in the shoes of a war photojournalist. The encounter took place in a so-called “ virtual reality cave” where participants are invited into a virtual war zone and are armed with a virtual camera. Throughout their encounter they can use the camera to take shots of whatever they choose and the unique images they capture with the camera are then printed and eventually retrieved by the participant just outside of the virtual reality cave. The project was improved upon and repeated under a new title, War Tourists, in 2008.

Sarah Hill

Empathy is not the only positive emotion that is evocable by the perceptual stimulation of virtual reality. Artist Sarah Hill exemplifies this with her project titled Honor Everywhere, a traveling virtual reality installation that has allowed many of veterans from World War II and the Korean War from around the country to who are not in good enough health to actually travel to Washington, D.C. to virtually visit memorials that were built in their honor. A clear project description by the artist says, “we bring VR to their homes, assisted living centers or hospitals and the Veterans are able to feel like they're traveling on an Honor Flight to the WWII Memorial.”

The reactions by the veterans are nothing short of elation. Smiles stretch broadly across the faces of the grateful vets as well as the faces of their family members. In fact, according to a story published by Today, Hill's project grew from a personal narrative. Her own grandfather was a World War II veteran, who unfortunately are not able to travel on an “honor flight to see his memorial before he passed away.”38 This project is not an exclusive opportunity for certain vets, in fact, any user who has access to a Cardboard or other virtual reality headset, can share the Honor Everywhere experience with a Veteran you love by simply downloading the free Jaunt app. “We're constantly amazed how the greatest generation adapts so quickly to the technology. They tell us it's just like the old viewmasters they used during World War II.”

In a similar project, a British Veteran named Frank Mouque travelled back to the French town of Armentieres, which he helped to liberate from Nazi occupation. He was able to receive an award by proxy from his Brittan Retirement home for vets, an honor he was not well enough to partake in person. He got to see the town he helped save and even got to see and hear a group of children singing a song of thanks. His response was fantastic; he said it felt like the children and the mayor were right there in front of him. He was filled with joy and gratitude for the overwhelmingly positive experience. “I’m honored, I’m extremely honored” he blubbered between tears of joy (figure 28). emotional impact of virtual reality is clear and astonishing.

The Museum of Stolen Art

A virtual museum exhibitions of artworks that have been lost or destroyed due to political conflicts and war, The Museum of Stolen Art, which is a virtual museum for artwork that has been stolen or lost do to looting, conflict and war for example. There is also seemingly endless possibilities for virtual reality artworks, films and other creative installations that evoke empathetic responses.

Ari Melenciano:

Metamorphosis: An audiovisual healing virtual environment that uses sound frequencies and light waves directly tied to energy centers, as well as African drum patterns and instrumentation of diasporic revolutions to nurture the people of the diaspora.

Enter here:

Majestic Beasties in Arvada by me!

Majestic Beasties is a celebration of life, nature and the environment through technology. Often tech is thought of as an artificial force that goes against the environment, and pushes people away from the natural world. Sometimes, that is true. But that’s not always the case. I wanted to make an artwork that brings tech and the environment together and so the Majestic Beasties were born. They are part of a series of creatures that exist through site specific Augmented Reality. As life-sized, animated 3D models who live inside a digital world and are only visible through your smart device, their lives are dependent upon technology. But, they are also dependent on the environment, as they are geographically pinned to specific gps coordinates at the park, and therefore can only exist on your device when you are outside, near their natural habitat, somewhere on the trail at Saddle Brook Park.

You can expect the experience to be somewhat like a scavenger hunt. You start by scanning the QR code on the sign at the entrance of the park with the camera on your smart device, then when the website opens, follow the prompts and start looking for the Beasties. There are several small signs posted around the park that act as hints so you know where to look, but the digital animals have minds of their own and sometimes wander around a little bit. Some of the Majestic Beasties you will find along your journey at Saddle Brook are UniCOWrns (unicorn cows), Cuppy Cakes (bouncy little critters who thrive near picnic tables), dancing Canadian Geese (just like real geese but with more rhythm) a Flying Fish, a Robot Duck, a flying Rainer, a flaming Phoenix, and PopCorn Pigeon (self feeding, pop corn pops out of his back which it can eat.).

Here is a list of other artists who are doing amazing things with AR:

Difference between VR, AR, XR & MR:

The distinctions between VR and AR come down to the devices they require and the experience itself: AR uses a real-world setting while VR is completely virtual. ... VR requires a headset device, but AR can be accessed with a smartphone. AR enhances both the virtual and real world while VR only enhances a fictional reality.

Basically VR is an entire, fully immersive world, while AR Augments, changes, or enhances the real world.

Then there is also XR (Extended Reality) and MR (Mixed Realtiy)

Assignment Guidelines:

For this project we will be focused on AR or VR. (if you want to explore XR or MR you are free to do so). Here are the guidelines for the project:

  • Must have a concise concept, idea, question, or emotion that you are communicating visually.

  • Consider the role of empathy in your piece, what do you want you viewer to feel?

  • Must contain original content created in Blender or other 3D software.

  • Choose between VR and AR, (marker based or location based,)

  • You may used borrowed assets, as long as they take up less than 50% or your total project.

Next week we will go into depth on the software and coding to insert your original content into the virtual world.

Homework: Make something in Blender that you want to put into the virtual space. It should be simple. You don't need to worry so much about lighting, as this is not as much of an issue as it is when generating 3D video animations. Export as a .gltf embedded file (see screenshot). Time permitting, you can start this in class right now.



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