2014 was a great year for Creative Technology, with an astonishing array of fantastical work being produced. Assembling a decent Smorgasbord of treats has been difficult, but here’s just a taster of what last year had to offer.
Projection Mapping was super popular as the tools and services became cheaper and fathomable. You couldn’t walk down the high street without some fa�ade exploding before your eyes. Don’t get me wrong - I like a nice fa�ade, but I’ve seen so many building mapping projects that I’m starting to hallucinate them walking down the street.
For me, the galvanising projects included Joshua Harker & Bart Kresa’s Shogyo Mujo. This 30 foot low-poly Skull designed by Joshua Harker was projection mapped with an intricate kaleidoscope and animated in real-time (VJ-style) by Bart Kresa, using a specially utilised tablet app. The Skull made an appearance at Burning Man and also took pride of place at the Adobe Max opening ceremony later in the year.
Not content with just mapping the facade of a building, QED productions and NOVAK collective collaborated for the Branchage Film Festival, using the entirety of St. Aubin’s Fort in Jersey as their canvas. The result was an epic performance that has to be seen to be believed.
Face mapping was cool in Emmy Curl’s music video; but it was Nobumichi Asai who totally blew our minds with an amazing real-time Face Tracking performance, and then even more recently, this astounding piece of work surfaced.
Projection mapping continues to be used creatively in theatre spaces with this interesting dance performance called Pixel. The projected set becomes an integral, organic visual environment that synchronises with the choreography perfectly. Projection mapping will surely become an essential set design tool in theatre land.
The boundaries between Virtual and Augmented reality began coalescing in 2014 with Immersive Media being thrown around as an alternative epithet. There was plenty of CG VR, but also a good deal of 360� VR Video. Expect to see some high-budget immersive film making in 2015.
Oculus had an incredible year with a mind-boggling amount of commercial activity for a piece of unreleased hardware. We all had fun hoping and praying dev-kit 2 was going to be delivered on time with all the VR projects that had been promised to eager clients. EBay had so many DK1 headsets for sale, they were practically being given away.
Oculus are currently demonstrating the latest headset, codenamed the Crescent Bay Prototype, to eager tech journalists. With built-in headphones, a lighter form factor, and advanced head-tracking capability, this latest prototype looks tantalisingly close to a final commercial release, but there’s one thing still missing and that’s the built-in Leap Motion! But, just when I thought it was a no-brainer that Oculus and Leap would be getting cosy in bed together, they went and acquired the Nimble VR team. Their intentions for the headset are now looking clearer, with skeletal hand tracking being a key part of the VR experience in the near future. This is a welcome announcement, as it solves one of the main problems with VR, which is the ability to interact with a controller whilst immersed and unable to see your body and the real world around you. The controller becomes something in the virtual world that can be manipulated with your virtual hands - like a steering wheel, floating buttons, or maybe just a huge big axe to wield! This is where the boundaries between VR and AR start blurring, as video feeds, depth sensors and skeletal hand tracking starts to blend the real world into the virtual, to create an augmented experience. Things may get confusing in 2015 and already Microsoft have surprised everyone with the announcement of their Hololens headset. This looks to be very similar to the offering of Magic Leap who have been teasing us with rumours of a new holographic technology that promises magical results. What we know so far is that it uses some kind of fibre optic projection directly into your retina; and if that doesn’t turn you rhabdophobic and force you to immediately throw your laptop to the floor in horror then this article has more crazy speculation on what we may get a glimpse of in 2015.
Whilst AR has been popular with agencies looking to quickly link existing media, using services like Layar and Blippar, it is companies like Qualcomm and their Vuforia product that have been really pushing the boundaries with some amazing new AR innovation. Object Recognition without markers does away with image markers altogether and allows developers to add 3D models as the items to be augmented. Clearly this is perfect for toy manufacturers, allowing the customer to pimp their action figures and toy cars, but it could also be used to augment much larger objects like buildings or furniture. Imagine an interactive instruction manual, augmented over an industrial robot. There’s also fantastic work happening with Smart Terrain™ technology which will recognise surfaces and simple geometry - perfect for casual games over the breakfast table, as the cartoon character on your cereal box bursts forth and dances around your bowl of Choccy Krispy Flakes. Extended Tracking also allows you to deliver a continuous experience even when the marker is no longer in view. This is great for augmenting that huge full-size CG model of a sofa into your living room.
3d scanning on mobile devices will make it even easier to augment content into the real world and Google’s Project Tango is a very exciting innovation that will revolutionise Augmented and Virtual Reality, by open it up outside of gaming and marketing. This technology will allow us to use our mobile devices to 3D scan objects and the environment, so we can use the resulting data in apps on the device. The potential uses as an accessibility tool are particularly exciting - imagine how useful this would be for the visually impaired? Auditory cues would alert the user about obstacles as they walk around. This technology would also allow you to create a gaming experience out of the objects in your living room - Characters in the game would interact with the furniture and the walls. Microsoft Research demonstrated something similar called RoomAlive using projectors and Kinect, but with these depth sensors built into our devices we should be able to avoid installing projectors all over our living room. It will be a little while before we all own the kit to justify agencies commissioning content, but it will be interesting to see what experiments people build with the development kits that Google will be giving away. And let’s see what Apple pull out of the bag - or who’s bag they buy! Keep an eye on Structure too - they have a nifty little 3D scanner that you can plug into an iPad.
Here are some more standout VR projects from last year:
Marriott Teleporter. This was a wonderful experiential piece from Marriott Hotels that transported users to one of three holiday destinations. To enhance the experience, Framestore built a booth with the mechanics to blow air and spray a fine mist of water on the participant when they landed on the beach, or were suspended over the city of London.
Interstellar 4D Experience. This VR experience was a more sedate journey in zero gravity through the tunnels and shafts of the Endurance.
Elite: Dangerous. This amazing MMO reboot of the classic BBC Micro game from the 80’s is even more spectacular when played through an Oculus Rift headset. Sadly not quite ready yet, but look out for an official release in 2015.
Eve: Valkyrie. Dogfighting has never been so exciting and futuristic with CCP Games’ soon to be released Valkyrie. As a huge fan of Eve, I’m personally looking forward to playing this one.
Alien: Isolation. The reaction videos on YouTube are enough to convince me that I DON’T want to play this game in VR. But if you do want to be frightened to near death, then you can unlock the VR mode on this game and give yourself a heart attack for the lolz.
WebSocket technology was big in 2014 and seems set to continue to offer developers amazing opportunities to connect devices to screens out of home. Janet Echelman and Aaron Koblin demonstrated this wonderfully with their amazing art installation called Unnumbered Sparks. A huge woven net was installed at the Vancouver Convention Center for the TED Conference’s 30th anniversary. Projectors then brought it to life with an enchanting light-painting that was created by multiple participants below using their devices and a HTML Canvas UI. Expect to be connecting to screens on the high street in 2015, to browse product catalogues in shop windows, fill your virtual basket and walk away to finish the transaction at home.
WebGL was also officially supported by Apple in their new Safari browser as a part of the Yosemite release. You would be forgiven for thinking that Google Chrome owned WebGL and it was a technology constrained within the confines of their secret laboratory. However, the Experiments are breaking free in 2015 and you should expect to see some really impressive Web content released to the masses. Don’t forget to try the Google Cardboard VR Experiments as well, although maybe buy these 3D printed goggles instead.
Casual gaming was huge and even more popular on the big screen, with indie developers branching out onto consoles. Agencies can no longer get away with building simple 2D Flash games in-house, as the demand for slick 3D console-quality games increases. Expect to see relationships forged between agencies and dedicated games development studios in 2015. Console titles like Nike+ Kinect Training have proven that gamers will accept big brand involvement and we should expect to see more money being spent on titles like these in 2015.
Brands are seeing the benefits of enhancing the gaming experience, instead of just obstructing with pop-up ads and infomercials. Brands that offer in-game swag like Nissan’s Leaf charging station in SimCity or McDonalds Stores in Zynga’s CityVille will benefit from engagement with their audience. As long as they don’t do it too intrusively.
Sponsorship of and advertising in eSports events has been profitable for brands with the growth of this new category of sport and sporting entertainment. Check out MLG for an idea of just how huge eSports is becoming.
Gaming as passive entertainment was also a surprising success and Twitch.tv didn’t go unnoticed by Amazon, who bought them for $970 million after a Google deal fell through because of anti-trust issues. A staggering amount for Amazon to fork out and one of their largest acquisitions.
GTA for the PS4 gave everyone a glimpse of what Second Life could have been as demonstrated in this fantastic Machinima video by the XXI called Los Santos by Night. There was a wealth of crazy GTA in-game footage released, some of it just bizarre (NSFW) but also intriguing.
Social media got creative too with Vine breaking through to the mainstream and creating superstars of Jerome Jarre and Nash Grier. Brands also saw the potential in this new form of naïve art, with Dunkin’s profile being particularly well handled. There’s some other great examples here.
Hyperlapse was released by Instagram and was an immediate success. Not to be confused with Microsoft Research’s Hyperlapse technology, which in my opinion is way more interesting. Also, hat-tip to Teehan+Lax Labs who termed the name Hyperlapse a few years ago with their incredible WebGL StreetView animation experiment.
Donut Selfies were a thing that was quickly snapped up by Beats and re-branded as the #soloSelfie.
The Selfie stick was a thing, but if you really want to impress you need a Nixie. The wearable, flying drone will launch itself off of your wrist and take your selfie for you. Nixie recently won the Intel Wearable Challenge pocketing a cool $500k, so we should expect to see it become a real product very soon.
Brands finally started to see the benefit of making an effort with their YouTube channels, with two standout examples. Honda released their new Type R with an amazing film that was really two cleverly synchronised films playing simultaneously. You press the R key to flip between them. Can you see what they did there? Starbucks also used their channel to create a wonderful piece of modern storytelling. Meet me at Starbucks plays out like a trailer, showcasing several small films that they commissioned across the world. The clever bit is in the films playback controls, where the timeline branches to play the extended version of the film. The common theme here is great content foremost and an empowering user experience.
and more …
The Internet of Things / Everything / Stuff or, as Seb Lee-Delisle calls it, Stuff that talks to the Interwebs was big business in 2014. It seemed everything was connected to the internet, including a whole bunch of Baby Monitors that were hacked to the horror of parents everywhere. The holy grail of connected appliances is, of course, the Fridge that orders its own food. Sadly, that didn’t quite materialise but there were some other interesting developments, including a new robotic Mother to look after you and a creepy personal assistant called Jibo that will read your kids bedtime stories for you.
Philips Hue had a great year and have carved out a little corner for themselves, owning the connected lighting space. There was a whole bunch of useful recipes appearing on IFTTT that would soon have your house lit up like a Christmas Tree all year around. SyFy channel are offering a light track to their new 12 Monkeys series that premieres in January. Viewers with the SyFy app can allow it to control their Hue lighting, creating a unique and capricious viewing experience.
Apple Watch is due for release in 2015 but the Wearables scene has already been flourishing. In fact, it seems that most tech can be classed as a wearable nowadays, with tiny cameras from Polaroid and life blogging tool Narrative Clip, offering a glimpse into a future where we’ll soon be covered in small electronic accoutrements recording our every move (but not all of our movements hopefully…).
XO Studios got emotional with Saatchi’s New Directors Showcase and continued to blend the boundaries between Art, Fashion and Technology.
There were Bluetooth Smart Beacons stuck on everything, with Estimote selling a huge quantity of the strange little plastic gems. We also saw some intriguing innovation from the people at Pathfindr, who have an ingenious technology that will provide accurate indoor navigation capability without an internet connection or Bluetooth.
FitBit designers NewDealDesign threw a swerve ball with this intriguing concept video of a Digital Tattoo that you would have implanted under your skin. Project Underskin does look interesting, it’s just that tricky installation process that bothers me.
Chris Milk’s The Treachery of Sanctuary made its way to the Barbican Centre in London for the Digital Revolutions Exhibition. This was a fantastic show that had an interesting archive of old digital art that took me back in time. My kids really enjoyed Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s piece called This Years Midnight, which burns out your eyes until they burst into great plumes of smoke - yea, the kids loved doing that! This video has some great highlights - as does this review from TimeOut.
I spent most of 2014 trying to justify to myself the purchase of a 3D printer as a plaything for creative endeavours, so I was overjoyed to discover an animation called Bears on Stairs. This is a charming piece of work by DBLG, demonstrating a love of just because you can process. They tortured themselves by 3D printing every frame of an animated CG bear walking up some stairs and then recreated the animation as stop-motion. The result is quirky and well worth all the pain. The alternative version is hilarious too.
So, as you can see, things really are looking promising for 2015 and I will be blogging regularly with some of my highlights. There may be some gadgets, some art performances, a bit of web, and some OOH, but one thing you can be sure of - they will keep you furiously curious!
Lee Probert, Creative Technologist