MADE for U of T | Ep. 04 | Laura Mingail

Related people and/or projects: Introducing M.A.D.E. for U of T

In the fourth episode of MADE for U of T, we hear from the founder of Archetypes and Effects, a company that helps to bring stories to life using emerging forms of storytelling and technologies. Laura shares her thoughts on some important factors to consider before using innovative technologies like augemented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to tell a story. If you are interested to learn more about AR/VR, consider joining the U of T listserv for AR/VR through the Digital Learning Innovation site.

Listen to the podcast: Using emerging forms of storytelling and technologies with Laura Mingail


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Prefer to read rather than listen to the podcast? Below is a transcript of the interview.  It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Laura Mingail (LM): Archetypes and effects has two core audiences, so the primary focus is on supporting studios.  Primarily those studios that work with immersive storytelling as well as artificial intelligence for storytelling such as through reinforcement learning, as well as more quote unquote traditional 2D story experiences.  And the secondary audience that Archetypes and Effects supports are those organizations who end up funding or developing the studios or the talent within those studios to push the industry forward.  So, within my company, I support those audiences primarily with marketing and business development support, there's a lot of storytelling tied into marketing, as well as business development in many ways, as well as content development strategy in itself.

Inga Breede (IB): Can you share an example of how innovative technologies like AR and VR have created solutions for education?

LM: So definitely if it's okay with you i'd actually like to start a little bit more broad.

IB: Absolutely!

LM: Perfect.  To speak about what's possible when it comes to education, using both VR and AR technologies, and even just what's possible already right now overall, being present as something takes place I'm sure you could all agree.  Whether it's as a witness or interacting as a part of the experience it makes things a lot more memorable.  But it could also help with forming additional perspective, which is essential, through connection with the content or the characters or the story or the learnings.  In the case of education or edutainment, for virtual reality, you have the benefit of being fully immersed in anything from a moment in history to an extreme medical scenario, that you definitely want to have some practice and familiarity with before it actually happened in real life for augmented reality content, to come to life in your physical space with various forms of interaction.  So, for example, if you're wearing a headset because you can also experience things through mobile, your hands-free and you can actually interact and try, learn and build based on what you are seeing with the layers of augmented reality content over the real reality content or experience or environment which could also include real people, as well as Avatar.  When you talk about solutions that those technologies can create for education, I think that that word is super important to focus on these technologies can help to solve for what's not only possible, what's not possible at all, in reality, or what may not be possible in the present moment.  For example, for people who are learning remotely, you don't really need to replicate reality, I feel like that's a waste of resources, you could solve for what's impossible with these technology.  The first focus shouldn't really be on how can I use new technologies, for example, virtual or augmented reality for education.  It should be more of a focus on “What do I need to solve for to make the education more impactful depending on what the different specific goals are for that education?”  Or that institution even looking to find solutions for what's not yet possible so going to examples a little bit more broad still, if hands on collaboration is needed to prototype a product, for example, or to prototype a product in some sort of class where building together or testing and learning is essential but students are remote, a multiplayer VR platform with a digital building tool can help.  A shapes XR or even building and certain social VR platforms.  With tools available, for example, using unity and the engine, that's powering those social platforms could be a solution that you need or you want to test solutions as well, to see what works best for students, especially as technology evolves. If learning a physical skills tied to, for example, manufacturing construction is needed, but it's costly to have many trainers.  Especially around the world or enough trainers per student, for example, training where students can be wearing a headset like a hollow lens, for example, to practice scenarios.  With digital guidance and even object recognition and depending on the tech and the platform being used can be incredibly useful an example that I love, not necessarily for post-secondary but for students who are looking to learn through experiencing another country, or a another place in history or moment in time.  No matter how much money you can't go back in time yet, to my knowledge it's important to maybe consider virtual reality and what destinations or moments can be recreated so students are there, maybe not even just to witness, but to play certain roles to learn from different perspectives.  So Chi XR, for example, I love what that company is doing when it comes to virtual field trips for students who just can't get everywhere that they would like does that answer the question.

IB: Absolutely yeah just creating that accessibility and it's interesting that I was at a talk last week and they talked about using ar vr to learn a language so transport yourself to like you said a destination, that would otherwise be quite difficult for someone to go to so.

LM: I love that, there's actually some great meetups that you can do for free on certain social platforms, where there's people who intend to be within a certain shared social digital space at a certain day and time, no matter where they are in the world and they speak different languages, with the intent to teach and learn but you're just interacting with avatars and there's also interesting ways to even communicate with other people just because of the technologies that automatically translate what's being said.  I love that example as well.

IB: If someone was interested in using AR as a solution, what are some of the practical design considerations when building out an AR experience?

LM: Right now, broadly speaking, AR is either accessible through a mobile screen or through a wearable headset.  It could be on the wearable headset it could be a dedicated air headset which is not as mainstream just yet, although I'm very optimistic for what apple do.  But it could also be a pass through that's possible already with the very popular quest headset and developers are experimenting with what's possible through meeting you step outside of the space that you've designated for virtual reality to be fully immersed and you step into, seeing your reality, but you can still layer an AR experience over that.  So design consideration would be what hardware. In general, will the end user be experiencing and also not knowing what hardware will be accessible.  Assume you know - consider what hardware will be accessible and how that user is able to interact with the aR experience.  So if it's just mobile that's great but consider the AR.  It actually could be desktop as well with the snap plugin for ZOOM, for example, but consider is it handheld or not? What's able to be tracked? Can I use touch?  Can I use tracking like hand tracking or facial movement to impact the content in certain ways, or even voice?  Definitely consider the hardware, but also the usability that's possible through the hardware and the platforms that can be powering that hardware.  That's also just important to consider as well when you're thinking of catering to people with different physical abilities.  Don't just have one way to interact.  Have multiple ways and make sure it feels intuitive as well, so it also doesn't spoil the experience so.  Going back to let's say handheld a mobile phone if you're using a mobile phone to interact with air content. The phone is right in front of you, you see the phone so have a reason to be interacting with the phone as a part of the experience. So yes, you can have touched to interact with a world, on the other side of the phone or you can use your face to impact what's happening in front of you, but maybe that actual physical object is given different meaning within the story experience itself. Beyond the physical streets being that you're holding, those distractions that are the technology versus the story experience the learning experience, consider the other parts of the users’ physical reality.  That will be a part of what they're experiencing, so no matter what you're looking through the physical world the environment around you, you are all part of what users are experiencing so consider how that can be leveraged within the story experience being built.

IB:  I love that.  You make the device itself immersive because it's a part of the story.

LM: Exactly, it becomes a prop, not only a way to access the content.

IB: What are some of the limitations, both for the designer and the user, with the current technology?

LM: There's limitations, but I would say the number one limitation to the designer part of the question first with the current technology is a self-imposed limitation.  That's just focusing on building content with the current technology that's available.  What I mean by that is it's important to not build for specific technology first especially specific technology that's available, given how rapidly things are evolving.  Focus on building that solution or building that experience that story world, the characters the, focus on like what that takeaway is how you want people to feel or what you want people to remember.  Build that out, and then find the technology that makes sense.  You never know you could it could then evolve to let's say, broadly speaking, another form of augmented reality which could be projection mapping, on top of real world spaces without a headset or a mobile phone, no handheld devices.  Or it could be content that comes to life in a Dome or an immersive cave system. It also what the story as it's created or the experiences it's created, you could say hey technology doesn't exist yet to satisfy everything that I need so, consider that how that comes to life may actually be integrating a few different pieces of technology together if one piece of hardware it doesn't yet satisfy your vision.  For example, layering the use of air and mobile phones with something cool that's happening within an immersive physical space with live actors and virtual actors,  I'm making the stuff that doesn't exist yet and that's super complex and expensive to create but, but the number one message is focus on the story and don't be confined by the tech that exists, right now, and just consider how you can solve for what doesn't exist.  Also know that once you're building story in in using a popular digital game engine let's say through Unity or Unreal, you have those assets that could then be used in the near future, or down the road once the solutions that you were hoping for do exist.  You can continue to advance that story experience as technology catches up to your vision.  A big constraint as well would just be skill set.  Everyone's constantly wanting to learn or hopefully wanting to learn and don't, but technology as its advancing there's a lot more to learn, and a lot of skill sets gaps that exist. The good news is there's platforms like Spark AR studio through Meta, Stop Lens studio through Staff and Niantic Lightship, through Niantic, the company behind Pokemon Go, free courses on Unity and Unreal, to get you more familiar with how to use even their game engines.  There's a gap there, but there are solutions to closing those gaps.  I'd say make sure, just as a as a creator that you're familiar, always with the user limitation;  knowing that they won't just discover your content.  Be really smart about your discoverability strategy and also be familiar with the fact that tech is new to people and there's no standard for how people are even onboarded into content, so make sure that the experience itself doesn't limit people's ability to even use it.  Make sure it feels intuitive

IB:  If you're brand new to the world, where do you suggest they begin their journey of discovery.

LM: Let me give you four responses to that.  Number one would be try everything.  Get an understanding, not only of like high level what's possible but actually step into the experiences, virtual reality virtual and augmented reality, as much as possible, based on what you can access. As you do that note your initial reactions so, for example, what did you like about what you saw?  What didn't you see that you would have liked to see and what worked and just didn't work?  That's important, especially because some of the content may be older some maybe newer but may inspire some solutions that you may choose to create.  Number three is starting to narrow down.  There's a lot going on within the space, it's super exciting and like I said it's rapidly evolving, so focus on what excites you most and become an expert in that.  How to do that, beyond trying the content, some examples of media to follow would be upload VR, the Ghost Howls VR, Scout Road VR, the Immersive Wire, Charlie Fink from Forbes, Dean Takahashi from GamesBeat.  You can follow people that you see, for example on social media platforms that are sharing unique opinions, but a trick is also follow people that they follow that you find interesting.  You can follow me @laura_Canada on Twitter, but just focus on what excites you most and become an expert in that.  Number four would be trying to build something.  So it could be daunting because it's definitely new platforms that you're learning it's uncharted territory for many people, even people who have been in this industry, “veterans” who've been in this industry for seven to 10 years like myself.  Find something new that excites you just to test and build on, so it could be building within a Social Platform, it can be testing with one of the platforms I just mentioned, where you can go to learn.  For example, I used Alt Space VR to create and I just happen to actually make history as creating the first live magic show ever in virtual reality.  You never know what you can create until you really start to experiment with the tools and start to step into the experiences.

IB: So, needless to say, there are lots of different avenues and places to to start that journey.  I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to speak with the MADE community, we really appreciate it.  For anyone who was on Twitter or Mutter or whatever it will be called after Elon Musk purchases it, you can follow Laura on Twitter @Laura_Canada and thanks everyone again, have a great rest of your day.

LM: Take care, bye guys!


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Article Category: M.A.D.E. Podcast