Creative expression is set to become even more engaging and interactive
In the best of times and worst of times, we seek entertainment and creative experiences to add more joy to our lives or find comfort and distraction in the face of adversity. We also routinely borrow from different means of creative expression to educate and inform.
Meanwhile, the methods of expression available to us continue to evolve. New media emerge to complement or displace traditional forms, and the sophistication of content presented to us grows daily.
We’re accustomed now to hyper-realistic animation and computer-generated graphics in film and television. Books are adapted to audio performances and interactive digital versions. Streaming services and live performances are increasingly amping up their staging, narrative choices and effects, as well.
Canada is a robust contributor to this landscape of creativity. Indeed, we have a thriving “experiences industry” that spans multiple sectors and produces attractions and performance events for both domestic consumption and international export. Even so, there is a continuing need for exploration, research and training to maintain and grow that ecosystem.
$18.8BForecast of the size of the global augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) market in 2020 (in US dollars)
Ryerson is playing a leading role in advancing new technologies and creative approaches that are shaping the world of entertainment, education and other avenues for expression today — and tomorrow.
Expanding the world of virtual reality
Immersive virtual experiences are not new. The notion of “something in essence or effect, though not actually or in fact” can be traced to the mid-1400s. Stage productions were regarded as such in the mid-20th century, while driving and flight simulators have been used for training purposes and amusement for decades.
What is relatively new is the technology that presents realistic images, sounds and other sensations, typically through a head-mounted unit, to simulate a user’s physical presence — and 360-degree awareness — in a virtual environment.
As is the case with many new technologies, there are challenges for those seeking to accelerate a transition from traditional media to fully immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences.
“We started out as a VR production company and found that the tools needed to showcase and distribute our content were not comparable to what is present in the traditional film or TV industry,” explains Josh Gonsalves, Ryerson alumnus and co-founder and CEO of Toronto-based Contraverse.
“So, we decided to establish ourselves as a full end-to-end production and distribution company. We are not just creating exceptional VR content, but we are also developing the software and processes needed to present that content both digitally and physically at events.”
For Gonsalves, a game designer and filmmaker who initially aspired to “break through a television screen and become one of the characters in a program,” Contraverse is now an extension of work that evolved while at Ryerson’s RTA School of Media.
We are not just creating exceptional VR content, but we are also developing the software and processes needed to present that content both digitally and physically at events.Josh Gonsalves, Co-founder and CEO of Contraverse
“The Transmedia Zone gave us the space and basic equipment to really get started,” Gonsalves explains. “If it weren’t for the VR-ready computers and headsets that we had access to in the early days of our company, we would never have been able to pursue our research and development and build the expertise we needed.”
The focus of that expertise now is Expo — an easy-to-use platform for presenting VR content to large audiences by synchronizing multiple headsets and gives an exhibitor the option of controlling these headsets with a tablet or laptop. It’s used for everything from immersive training applications to virtual real estate walkthroughs, as well as museum installations and, increasingly, at film festivals.
“We’re helping festivals expand their offerings by giving them an easy way to integrate virtual reality screenings into their programming,” adds Gonsalves. “This benefits not only those running the festivals, but also creators who can now see their content shared with much larger audiences. Plus, it expands the reach of VR by exposing more people to the experience, when they might not otherwise get the chance to consume VR content at home.”
A next step for Contraverse and its Expo platform would be to get Expo in the hands of as many enterprise clients as possible to create a deeper integration with their hardware, and possibly with a major production studio, which would provide the space needed to work on large-scale, interactive VR storytelling experiences, rather than just 360-degree video content.
As COVID-19 has put a premium on virtual experiences, the potential application of Expo for experiential learning and educational purposes is also a promising horizon for the company.
80%of consumers in the US and UK report increased media consumption during Covid-19
Indeed, where Contraverse wants to take its technology is very well suited to the shifts to virtually supported interaction and human engagement. The possibilities are nearly limitless.
Rethinking the boundaries of live entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for concerts, festivals and themed entertainment experiences have experienced annual double-digit growth over the last decade, but with shifts in how live events take place thanks to COVID-19, there are a host of areas within the live entertainment industry remain ripe for exploration.
To that end, Ryerson’s partnership with Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, the world’s leading creator, producer and distributor of live entertainment, to conduct boundary-pushing research on live entertainment has become even more urgent.
The Future of Live Entertainment Lab (FOL!E) at the Faculty of Communication & Design (FCAD) is examining how changes in audience preferences, emerging technologies and shifting economic conditions are creating new possibilities for the live entertainment industry.
“FOL!E’s mandate is to bring together faculty, students and industry experts to develop innovative projects in high-potential areas — performance, stagecraft and experiences — for academic and field-based investigation,” explains Louis-Etienne Dubois, the lab’s director.
“Unlike traditional industry-academia research, our projects are not focused on the pursuit of a single, predetermined outcome or need. Rather, they support broad exploration — even if it leads to failure — of new technologies, weak signals, trends and opportunities.”
The lab’s projects fall within three clearly defined application domains, according to Dubois.
Unlike traditional industry-academia research, our projects are not focused on the pursuit of a single, predetermined outcome or need. Rather, they support broad exploration — even if it leads to failure — of new technologies, weak signals, trends and opportunities.Louis-Etienne Dubois, Director of the Future of Live Entertainment Lab (FOL!E)
The first explores new types of human performance, especially those related to augmentations that enable performers to do things previously not humanly possible, as well as emerging unconventional, surprising or unexpected acts.
A second domain examines stagecraft, novel design and production approaches, including makeup and wigs, costuming, fashion tech and smart textiles, lighting, sound, set and prop design, robotics, projection mapping and tracking technologies.
And finally, the lab researches new approaches to ideation, novel business models, emerging types of entertainment experiences, as well as audience measurement, emerging industry trends and changing audience needs.
“At the moment, our work is filtering through to Canadian organizations and the domestic research community, but there is no reason for the results of our research not to have a global reach,” Dubois insists.
“The sector is growing pretty much everywhere, and competition with other entertainment media creates pressures for rapid innovation for everyone,” he adds.
Indeed, the next frontier might be to further blur the lines between themed experiences, attractions and live performances, and to launch research into any kind of entertainment that draws people together — in good times or bad.