Project 02: VR Museum of Homes

Group work with Anukriti, Emma, Khushi, and Jay

Week 01 (Sep 10,12) — Research, Brainstorming, Sketching Lesson

When we started this project our brief was very general; we knew it needed to be museum that exists in VR and thinks about how to represent data in an original way. We started with an initial discussion on our feelings about museums, problems we’ve observed with them, and initial ideas on how to incorporate VR and data. We discussed the possibility of incorporating social interaction, using gamification, and creating a museum of user generated content. We also discussed problems we’ve seen of information overload and how many artifacts are shown encased in glass, separating it from us and from the other artifacts preventing much interactivity.

Museum Observations

To get us in the mindset of this project we visited the Carnegie Museum of Art and of Natural History, looking into how their artifacts were presented, how information is given, and how people are navigated around the exhibits.

(Left)The museum experience is often passive- just looking at objects from a distance instead of interacting with the objects or other people. (Right) The Hall of Architecture was one of the most exciting exhibits. Because they were so large you could walk below them and feel as though you were actually in the environment where these buildings existed.
One exhibit begins with a discussion on how globalization influenced culture in Europe between 1500 to 1800. This nicely ties in historical context to the art. However, this story did not continue throughout the exhibit and no discussion of globalization within individual pieces.

Framing the problem

Based on our observations from the museums we spent time generating a list of problems we saw with current museum experiences. We then used affinity mapping to group our findings into five main categories:

  • Distractions- other visitors can be noisy or block your view of an artifact
  • Context- artifacts are often shown by themselves instead of in the environments they existed in. Even the descriptions of the artifacts don’t explain the cultural significance of the artifact.
  • Engagement- museums typically require passive engagement where you can simply look at objects, not touch or interact with them. Background information is typically displayed in dry, static text.
  • Info- the amount of information provided can be too overwhelming, irrelevant to what you are interested, or easy to ignore. Even when information is read it is unclear what you should do with this information.
  • Bigger story- it is unclear how objects within an exhibit relate to each other. What is the connection and the message visitors should take away?

We felt that distractions would naturally be resolved through a VR context so we would not focus on this issue but we wanted to address the other four topics.

Sketching in 3D Tutorial

On Thursday one of our professors, Matt Zywica gave us a lesson on sketching in spherical perspective. There are applications that can convert this perspective into 3D environments so it is a quick way to prototype. However, as the type of sketching was unfamiliar to us it still felt like a daunting task to sketch this way.


Week 02 (Sep 17, 19) — Museum Tour, Concept Ideation, After Effects Tutorial

Museum Interview

We started off the week by visiting the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to speak with Becca, the head of exhibition content and gallery implementation, about how they are incorporating technology into their museum. They haven’t decided yet if VR is appropriate for their museum because it can be isolating and people often visit the museum as a family as a way to interact with each other. However, they will be incorporating AR into a wildlife diorama to show how the animals moved.

CMNH has created dioramas that allow visitors to step in and feel immersed. Soon they will add an AR experience to this exhibit

Initial Ideation

After spending time on research and discussing our impressions of museums it was time to start coming up with our own ideas. We weren’t sure yet what type of museum we were interested in working with (art, natural history, history) and wanted to explore options across all types of museums.

Inspiration

There were a few examples of other museums, exhibits, and artist explorations that we looked at for inspiration prior to and during our ideation phase.

Ideas

We explored a variety of ideas:

  • World of connections- this would provide a ways to see how artifacts relate to one another outside of the typical organization of time period, location, or artist. A visitor would select an art piece and would be shown other pieces that related to it in an unexpected way (ex: all created while the artist was living through a war, all images of the love interest of the artist.)
  • Free exploration world- instead of having a clearly laid out set of objects the visitor would need to walk through and explore a world. Many objects would not be visible until you reach a new destination.
  • Museum of homes- a variety of artifacts from history and art museums would be place in recreations of homes from multiple cultures and time periods to create a greater sense of content.
  • Gamified experience- a type of activity users must participate in while exploring pieces (ex: a scavenger hunt.)
  • People’s museum/museum of today- a platform to share people’s current experiences or what they find valuable.

Storyboarding Ideas

Of these ideas we felt that the ideas that had the most possibility for novel, engaging experiences that could utilize the 3D space of VR and think about ways to explore large amounts of data were World of Connections and Museum of Homes.

Storyboards of Museum of Homes and World of Connections

Feedback and Revising Concept

We shared our two concepts with our professors, Daphne and Q. They felt that the Museum of Homes made good use of the 3D space in VR but did not explore large amounts of data. Conversely, the World of Connections explored data in an interesting way but did not make use of the 3D space. They suggested that we combine the two into one experience.

We wanted to make sure that if we combined ideas that they felt like a cohesive whole so we spent a lot of time considering where in our Museum of Home experience we could incorporate the World of Connections. We determined that each object within a home could transport people to a separate space that allows them to explore multiple connections.

After Effects Tutorial

This week we got a tutorial on how to create 3D spaces in After Effects using images created in spherical perspective.


Week 03 (Sep 24, 26) — Concept Presentation, Refining Concept

Concept Presentation

This week we presented our concept videos to the class. This forced us to concisely put into words the problems we were trying to tackle.

This was also the first time that we needed to think concretely about what our experience would look like and how the interactions would work

Feedback and Refining Concept

Overall we received positive feedback. Our main critique is that our idea is too broad, trying to cover all types of homes through all times and all cultures. People also expressed interest in seeing homes that are vastly different from their own and artifacts less common in museums.

We spoke to several other design student to get their feedback on the types of homes they would be interested in seeing. We decided that we wanted to focus on breaking the stereotype of what a home is by featuring “atypical” homes either because the homes are created for unique environments (like igloos in Alaska), temporary shelters (like for Syrian refugees), or non-Western concepts of homes (like wigwams of Native Americans.)

We also needed to narrow down on the types of objects that would be in our museum and whether we would be focusing on objects from a specific museum, a collection of multiple museums, or creating our own museum. We decided that it made the most sense to focus on historical artifacts as we are trying to teach about cultures throughout time. We also decided that it focusing on one or even several existing museums would limit the number of artifacts in a way that would make creating full environments and interesting connections difficult.


Week 04 (Oct 01, 03) — Creating Prototypes, Historical Research

Prototyping and New Software

This week we began prototyping our concepts. None of us had experience working with VR or creating 3D videos so this was a new and daunting experience for us. But luckily, one of our team members, Jay, has an industrial design background and had experience creating 3D objects.

From discussion with our class we determined that the best software options were either After Effects or Cinema 4D. We started the week devoting time to creating rough prototypes in each software.

After Effects required using images with spherical perspective. Since none of us knew how to draw in this perspective we found images of homes and traced their general shape then added textures and objects in Photoshop. We then imported these into After Effects

We found After Effects to be much more frustrating than we first imagined. Many of the images became distorted when we tried to move perspective.

spherical perspective environment drawn in Photoshop

We had better luck with Cinema 4D. Since Jay has industrial design experience he took up learning this software. Since our concept revolved around interior locations with four walls, creating 3D shapes was not as difficult as for other groups trying to create more organic content. For the objects within the room we found existing 3D objects from libraries. The hardest part mapping texture onto objects. It took a long time to find suitable images for wall textures and then manipulate them to fit the shape of our walls.

mapping materials
Focusing on specific objects and using spot lights

We still weren’t entirely sure how we wanted our World of Connections to look. We all imagined a sci-fi feel with a relatively empty feel but it was difficult to find examples to illustrate each of our ideas.

Our initial version of our World of Connections (with cones as placeholder objects)

While we did not find After Effects to be appropriate for creating our 3D spaces it was the best tool for creating our interfaces. We used it for our navigations scenes as well as for adding text and cursors onto the Cinema 4D content. Jay and Anukriti both took up working on these interactions.

prototype — selecting country

Week 05 (Oct 08, 10) — Interim Presentation, Working out Details

Interim Presentation

On Monday we shared a work-in-progress video showing our entire VR experience. Overall, we were happy with our video. We felt we were adequately able to convey our idea and our fidelity was close to final quality.

interim presentation prototype

Finishing Touches

Now that our framework for all of our 3D spaces was built, we went to working on the finishing touches.

Content: While prototyping we also needed to finalize the content we were putting into our VR. Khushi found objects to place in the World of Connection while Emma created the text and narration explaining the environments and connections.

Design language and branding: Anukriti worked on establishing our colors, font, and product logo.

Animations: Anukriti worked on timing the onscreen text to match the audio as well as animating our title sequence.

Visuals: Jay updated Cinema 4D to reflect the updated objects in the environments. He also adjusted the lighting, texture mapping to ensure that everything looked realistic and polished.

Audio: Emma worked on finding foley audio and ambient sound and creating a rough cut with them while Jay created the fine-tuned version.

Mobile app

In our VR concept, we determined that we only wanted to show a limited number of objects for each connection so as not to overwhelm the user. However, we also acknowledged that there was benefit in being able to view all objects that match a particular connection. We felt the best way to address this was to create an accompanying mobile app. This app would also allow users to easily view any objects that were favorited in the VR experience.

Khushi worked on creating mocks for this app and creating a believable prototype that we could display on a phone.

Filming

We wanted our concept video to show someone putting on the VR headset and using the app to build context so that meant we need to do some live action filming as well.

We thought Jay would make an excellent star for our film.

Rendering

Our 3D animations were finally done and ready to render. But because they were such large files there was no way we could render all of it on one computer. Instead, we broke up the rendering across all four of our computers, which still took over 12 hours per computer to render! After finishing the renders we discovered some flaws with a few of the scenes and so we did another rendering with about half of our video that took another half a day. Luckily we started this process four days before our final presentation so we had enough wiggle room to complete our video.

rendering Cinema 4D animation in 4 laptops for more than 12 hours

Week 06 (Oct 15, 17) — Workday, Final Presentation

This week was the final stretch of the project. We needed to present on Wednesday so there were only a couple days to put in work.

After reviewing our live footage we decided that we were not happy with the quality so we filmed again, using a different location with better lighting and also trying two different cameras.

We also needed to finalize our audio, primarily our music. Finding songs that captured that mellow mood we wanted to create while neither becoming too monotonous nor too distracting as too draw attention away from the other audio was a challenge. But we finally found a couple songs that we all agreed worked.

The final component was putting together our slide deck for our formal presentation.

Our After Effects file ended up with a huge amount of files from Cinema 4D imports, to text animations, to foley audio and music

Our final concept video

final video