From July 9 to 28, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s 2018 Future Storytelling Summer Institute brought together a multidisciplinary group of graduate students, faculty, staff, and distinguished guest artists/mentors to investigate storytelling in augmented reality (AR) and explore the unique possibilities it offers as a platform for social impact entertainment.
The guiding question, at the intersection of research and practice, for the Institute was: What makes augmented reality unique and valuable as a platform for “next generation narrative” that engages audiences around social impact themes; creates resonant storytelling experiences; inspires students to create stories that illuminate the human condition and social change; and makes a difference in the world.
Each audience member in attendance was equipped with an AR device, an android phone running a custom application built in Unity. Some also received subpacks and a set of headphones to hear spatialized audio, as well as narration and prerecorded dialogue. They were then guided through a 30 minute adventure alongside human actors who were also equipped with the devices. Through the phone, the set and characters were overlayed with AR elements and effects relating to the story. By performing certain movements of the phone, the audience activated supernatural powers in the world, which were eventually used to save the main characters from certain destruction.
The audience's position in the game world was mapped to the physical space using painted symbols on the floor, which functioned both as fiducial markers and scenic elements communicating world lore. The mixed-reality setting invited the exciting possibility for collaboration among designers from all disciplines, to generate a coherent environment for the physical and game world.
Throughout the performance audience was encouraged to improvise and explore with the actors - it was the job of the performers and developers to construct a narrative and show platform that would allow them to play freely and make their own choices during the game, and still be met with a believable and satisfying finale.