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Researchers explore new ways to experience heritage attractions

Decorations on the bow of the ss Great Britain

Decorations on the bow of the ss Great Britain

9 May 2012

Four projects which aim to bring heritage attractions to life using immersive digital technologies have recently received funding. The collaborations draw on the expertise of researchers in the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Arts.

Two of the projects - 'Reflecting the Past', with the ss Great Britain, and 'Memory of Theatre' with Bristol Old Vic – have been commissioned as part of Heritage Sandbox, a scheme that brings together creative companies and leading arts and humanities researchers.

Heritage Sandbox is the first run of funding announced by REACT (Research and Enterprise in Arts and Creative Technology) – a collaboration between UWE Bristol, Watershed (and iShed), and the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.  REACT is one of four UK Knowledge Exchange Hubs for the Creative Economy funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.  Heritage Sandbox is funding six projects in total which together will make an investment of over £300,000 in the UK’s cultural economy.

Pioneering the use of augmented reality 'mirrors', the 'Reflecting the Past' project, led by Dr Tim Cole in the Department of History, seeks to offer visitors fleeting glimpses of the people who occupied past landscapes.  One installation will see a re-peopling of the ss Great Britain first class Dining Saloon with the people who ate, drank, gossiped and sang onboard.

For the Old Vic project, audiences, actors and staff will record their memories of Bristol Old Vic exactly where they took place.  Theatregoers will discover these memories stored in the ether by wandering the renovated theatre with a mobile device.

Two other related projects are being funded by RED's Enterprise & Impact Development Fund (EIDF).

Dr Peter Coates of the Department of History has received funding for 'Zoom', a collaborative project involving Thought Den, a local digital technology company, and Bristol Zoo Gardens.

'Zoom' will explore the application of Kinect technology to the Zoo's interpretation strategy for its forthcoming revamped gorilla site (with potential for wider deployment within the Zoo's evolving visitor education policy).  It will draw on visual and other materials from the Zoo's in-house, informal archive where two PhD students, funded by the AHRC's Collaborative Doctoral Awards scheme, are currently based.

Through Kinect, visitors will use bodily gestures to explore timelines and diverse heritage artefacts on a huge immersive projection, which will be linked to data about current wildlife conservation issues.

Dr Birgit Beumers of the Department of Russian has received EIDF funding for ‘How the Pictures Learnt to Walk’.  This project will create a touch-table interactive application which will allow visitors to cinemas and museums to learn about the different technologies used to create moving images between 1890 and 1930 (the advent of sound).

The application will show different optical devices (such as zoetrope, praxinoscope, phenakistascope) in motion and allow users to ‘operate’ such devices by inserting virtual film strips or disks into them to see how they work.  Users will be able to move images in different technologies and create their own (drawn or mastered) image sequence (not unlike a self-made flip book) and make the pictures ‘walk’.