MackeVR

A German artist's work in VR

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What is it like to live and work as an artist? This VR experience was built in collaboration with Deutsche Welle’s Innovation Lab.

In February 2017, we (Vragments) teamed up with Deutsche Welle to create a VR experience that started with an ideation workshop and continued with a prototype workshop.

From canvas to (virtual) reality. The guinea pig from Little Walter's Toys.
From canvas to (virtual) reality. The guinea pig from Little Walter's Toys.

Deutsche Welle approached us with the idea to turn the famous painting “Walterchen’s Spielsachen” or “Little Walter’s toys” by German expressionist painter August Macke into an immersive experience. We were joined by Christoph Hartmann from DW Lab, Daniela Schulz from DW Kultur und Leben and Alex Plaum from DW Innovation and asked ourselves, how we could employ VR to tell something meaningful about that painting and its context of creation. We had the idea of diving into the image space and adding something beyond and around it. A very inspirational source for creating a VR experience from art is The Night Cafe by Borrowed Light Studios. Our research on the historical background - the painting was made in 1912 in the times leading to WW I - provided us with a vast amount of potential knowledge that could be made available to users. To keep that amount focused, we kept the studio space as the central stage to progress on Walter’s life and explaining the art of August Macke, while allowing the user to observe history through the studio’s windows.

Modelling the virtual studio

Before starting the two weeks of developing the VR prototype in Unity, we had to gather the assets we needed in general. That was of course August Macke’s studio in Bonn, that has been turned into a museum and re-opened in October 2017. We also needed the painting and the toys as models. Florian Wagner from MESH images provided the Matterport scan of the studio. While the Matterport scan gives an impressive 360° view from the individual scan spots, the resulting 3D model has it’s caveats to be used within our projects. We wanted to have clean edges, that would not be too affected by changes in lighting or behaving in physically weird ways. A flat floor should allow a ball to roll smoothly over its surface, and not be deflected at bumps or edges. Here’s a quick view of the cleaned up model inside Unity, with some lighting and environment added.

Top perspective view of the model that was used as a foundation for the prototype.
Top perspective view of the model that was used as a foundation for the prototype.
Throughout the work on the prototype, we've been able to experience a lot with textures and lighting for the right kind of VR experience.
Throughout the work on the prototype, we've been able to experience a lot with textures and lighting for the right kind of VR experience.
Our collaborative work with Deutsche Welle has allowed us to elaborate on why users would be willing to put on VR headsets to actually watch this immersive experience, we have identified our potential target group and we are now finishing up this project in an iterative manner.
Our collaborative work with Deutsche Welle has allowed us to elaborate on why users would be willing to put on VR headsets to actually watch this immersive experience, we have identified our potential target group and we are now finishing up this project in an iterative manner.