Virtual and augmented reality are changing the creative industries and putting a bigger and bigger imprint on the way markets such as media & advertising, arts and architecture are developing and evolving on the Romanian landscape.
By Romanita Oprea
According to the Digital Recap 2018, created by The Bridge – Golin’s social media & digital hub – and blogger Alex Ciuca (Hoinaru), Augmented Reality (AR) is making changes to the interaction between brands and consumers, and will therefore raise the mix of offline-online experiences through viral elements added in real time to a store visit or while looking over a flyer. A growing trend is Virtual Reality (VR), powered by the diversity and increasing accessibility of VR glasses’ models.
Marking its 18th edition, Internetics Festival, a project initiated by The Institute, aims to celebrate the digital industry through VR, AR and the digital installations exhibition, Internetics Interactive Expo. The exhibition showcases the way that digital technologies and creative industries interact, allowing visitors to explore creative content in a new context and from an immersive perspective. At the same time, it provides a space where the visitor interacts with digital projects in the art, gaming and entertainment, social, and commercial fields, produced by international studios, as well as by the local digital sector.
The section on international projects is curated by Maria Guta and brings to Romania works selected for some of the most high-profile international VR festivals in Europe. Guta is an independent artist whose creations, especially VR installations and photography projects, have been exhibited in Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, Milan and Zurich. Between 2016 and 2018 she collaborated with the World VR Forum, from the position of chief curator and art director.
The expo also includes projects that propose a new perspective on education and immersive ways of learning. Representative of that is the app created by Vreestory that allows the vivid reliving of the Great Union on December 1 1918. In Romania’s centenary year the exhibition’s visitors will have the unique opportunity to interact with major personalities of that time, recreated with precision. The same category includes the project The Anatomy Lesson, created by UniVRse, which allows the didactic exploring, in depth, of human anatomy.
The VR section features The Real Thing documentary, by the director Benoit Felici, which offers the viewer a virtual trip in a parallel universe whose action develops in China’s false cities. In Shanghai’s surroundings the viewer can discover amazing replicas of Paris, Venice or London, transformed into everyday neighborhoods.
From art to education and back
Internetics will also host in its exhibition a special edition of the project One Night Gallery, which will be presented as a retrospective selection of the works that have been exhibited so far. The viewer is encouraged to enter the creative universes of artists such as Raluca Bararu, Paul Dersidan, Bianca Dumitrascu, Livia Falcaru, Victor Fota, Kitra, Sweet Damage Crew and Ioana Trusca. The selected works will be augmented and visitors will be able to discover their extensions through the Culturesc 100 by Samsung app. The VR section will also see the reactivation of the video mapping projections that presented the super-dimensioned characters of the artists on the facades of the buildings in which the One Night Gallery art shows took place. Moreover, works created in VR by Raluca Bararu, Victor Fota and Kitra will be explored by Samsung Gear VR. One Night Gallery is the bridge between artists and technology and facilitates the creation of the first works of virtual art in Romania. They are promoted during a monthly art show that combines the physical exhibition with the virtual one. The extension of these works can be accessed by the public through AR and video-mapping. At each gallery opening the artists have at their disposal a place dedicated to experiments in order for them to present their creative universe.
“The first edition of One Night Gallery was held in late November 2017, Love Dersidan, and it gave me the chance to test my idea. It was a complete experience for me that I enjoyed and I was able to learn a lot from. It also brought new opportunities to further develop. As I said before, we’re now offering a mix between art and technology. Art has always been hand in hand with technology, and now we are the first local platform that encourages Romanian designers to create a new type of content using new ways of visualization and digital storytelling,” said Sorina Topceanu, the project’s co-owner.
Although designed for Bucharest, the project was also presented this summer in Brasov, during the Amural Visual Festival. Besides their VR versions it was the first time the works also had been transformed with AR, with the Artivive app that let the public see the works animated and the paintings’ timelapses.
Besides being a form of art and technological exploration, VR can be a method of confronting one’s own fears and finding the necessary courage to confront them. Richie’s plank, the app proposed by Loop Virtual Reality Solutions, challenges the public to confront their fear of heights. The action takes place on the top floor of a skyscraper. The same category also includes Box of Fears, which brings together over 100 human phobias presented by Wikipedia. The installation was created by the architect Alina Rizescu, who sought to create a connection between the physical and digital space through interactive experiences, and Dorin Cucicov, inspired by the manner in which new technologies are assimilated by people and what is their acceptance limit beyond which fear appears.
Also connected to the centenary, through the launch of the project Acum 100 ani (100 years ago), Historia Rediviva marks the start of the concept Visual History, an immersive, gamefied approach, a dramatized manner of presenting historical information, brought into the present through visual means, using 3D technology and virtual reality. In this way history becomes entertainment. The project targets mainly the young generation, using technology as an authentic interaction tool, based on empathy. “What attracted us the most to this project was that it shows history in a cinematographic manner. Visual History is not about told or mechanically recited history, but about history in which you become an indirect witness because you can see it in simulations, journal fragments and documents,” said Anda Visan, PR & marketing coordinator at Humanitas. On the education platform, the pieces of information are divided into intuitive sections: armies, battles, personalities, autobiographies, decorations. “Each medal on the site can be seen in 3D, transforming the documentation experience into an almost sensory one. It’s our way of putting an accent on the fact that we are choosing to paint a picture of history in authentic shades,” added Radu Olteanu, the project’s initiator.
The project also had an activation with the occasion of the National Day and the Centenary, on December 1st, that took place at Mega Mall Bucharest. Over 200 people played the game and learned more about the real history of Romania.
“This type of exploration is also happening now in Romania with a challenging speed, more than anywhere in Eastern Europe. Courage should be our local quality, and I think that we are working on it: all the big Romanian cities have instigated AR, VR, MR to enter the people’s agenda, through local VR agencies, studios and edutainment festivals fully dedicated to digital technology. So I really feel that Romania has a very passionate connection with the AR and VR industry. It certainly has huge potential and a creative spark. I personally know at least four to five local VR studios, entrepreneurship examples right here in the capital. We are friends and work closely with Gateway VR Studio, who on the second edition of Bucharest Technology Week have enriched the city with V/ART – Where Reality Meets Street Art, an event where I appreciated collaborations on live painting with street artists such as Ortaku, Serebe, D21, Lucian Sandu-Milea and Irlo Doidoi,” commented Andrei Bucureci, co-owner and creative director of Creionetica.
The agency itself (Creionetica), is now building in Bucharest and Romania its own special project: A4Activism – Activist Poster Week. This is a platform building a bridge between associations and organizations of civil society (environmental and social causes) and artists/designers, both local and international. This year, inspired by One Night Gallery, they approached Pisica Patrata – Alexandru Ciubotariu, the first Romanian street artist, also an engaged artist who has worked with WWF-Romania and architect associations, and created social comic books on human rights. According to Bucureci, they wanted to challenge his style again and try to bring it to a different audience and medium: VR with the help of Stefan Andrei, one of the partners of Gateway VR Studio Bucharest. At Creionetica’s event, Pisica Patrata did two 45-minute sessions of live painting in VR.
“These videos are a showcase of his unique talent of creating energetic symbols of the human-nature connection. The next step is for him to transform these characters and animations into stories. The whole session was developed on the spot; it was a showcase of his incredible skill to improvise. But I can proudly say that we kept it interactive, during the whole of our fifth anniversary, which coincided with the closing of Activist Poster Week 2018. At the POINT cultural hub, with the background powered by our partners PosterJam 20 poster expo on activism, the dozens of people attending could not only experience the creations of Pisica Patrata live, but also try and explore their imagination and create something with their own hands in VR afterwards,” added Creionetica’s co-owner.
Another big brand, this time a bank, BRD – Groupe Société Générale, took part at the 25th edition of the Gaudeamus International Trade with the installation Laboratorul de Imaginar (The Imaginary Laboratory). Developed by the stage designer Adrian Damian and BRD – Groupe Société Générale, it proposed a new experience in augmented reality, letting the public interact in unique manners with a series of written works by famous science-fiction writers. Guests were able to interact with the installation through Hololens glasses with a hologram and LEAP Motion sensors following their hand movements. The concept of the new installation – Cititul in viitor (The Reading in the Future) – is by Adrian Damian alongside the Les Ateliers Nomad studios, Aural Eye and CINETic and explored the opportunities offered by the new technologies with the digital book. “We want to create a bridge between taste for reading and the technological show. We want to cultivate readers’ imagination, in order for them not to go too far from the written text, no matter the support used in the future. During the activation we will challenge visitors to imagine other interaction possibilities with reading in the future, confessions that we want to implement on the first occasion,” said Sabina Stirb, brand communication manager at BRD – Groupe Société Générale.
VR and AR go nationwide
And Bucharest is not the only city where VR and AR exhibitions and events are taking place. Since 2016 Cluj-Napoca has had its own VR club and this year, during Cluj’s Days, the first VR app exploration of the city, Experience Cluj, was launched. The app currently offers three different virtual tours, created as three unique experiences, that allow 360º panoramas, with users able to move at a height of 70 meters and with an average speed of 50 km/hour. More virtual tours are set to be added soon.
Moreover, Cluj is the host of Clujotronic tech and culture festival, where VR and AR fans can enjoy various experiences.
A virtual museum, in VR and AR, will also be created in Timisoara, the app being able to “tell the stories” of Timisoara’s historical buildings, when users pass them.
“Timisoara also had, and I hope still has, the Simultan Festival, which in 2017 had its 12th edition, called Possible Future. The aim is so simple and representative: creating a platform for contemporary cultural projects which use technology as an artistic mean of expression. Moreover, Cristian Vieriu, with his business Wild Draft, is also constantly pushing boundaries and provided a few years back some interesting 360 documentary videos of performances at the Jazz TM festival in Timisoara. His portfolio includes a lot of digital tech animations and sound designs such as Interior8. Last, but not least, I have to mention The Funky Citizens NGO, our neighbors and friends, who have used AR very interestingly with an interactive expo of photographs: Protest, which came to life for the audiences experiencing it through their smart phones,” added Bucureci.
“I want to see more conversation about digital technologies. I think things are happening right here right now in line with what I see outside Romania. But the conversation still isn’t enough on billboards or TV screens. Too many people are aiming to give all Romanian generations what they think they want, instead of what they need: freedom to decide. I think that, for example, grandparents need to know about VR and AR and they need to make up their mind whether they want to try it or not. But curiosity is there only if it’s triggered. Authentic local investment in tech, culture and art is still needed. I want a rewarding heritage for my daughter and her children,” said Bucureci.
According to George Cretu, founder and executive at CGArtefacts, the marketing use of VR and AR will continue strongly and, hopefully, in a more integrated/holistic manner. “Then I see VR and AR being more and more used in industrial environments but also in more soft-skills environments at a production level. I don’t think consumer use will reach meaningful levels in the first half of the year – this is highly dependent on both hardware and game releases,” added Cretu. But for now, he believes that In Romania there is a very small consumer market for VR and most of this is through VR arcades. Cretu considers that we all have AR in our pockets, but for both AR and VR in Romania we’re still at a superficial level of insight into what these technologies can do – specifically, marketing related. Slowly, but steadily we’re seeing more and more large enterprises seeing a productivity and/or technical advantage in their core operations from VR and AR technologies.
As for his hopes regarding the future of the industry, Cretu thinks it would be great if we could call VR and AR use and development an “industry”, to be recognized as such and have the kind of infrastructure any industry has. “I don’t think that’s the case globally, let alone here. Currently VR and AR development is mostly associated with traditional coding and also it’s done by web/mobile app developers. Both VR and AR are much more similar to game development. So what I wish for Romania is that more awareness is brought to these mediums and, with that, an awareness of their potential.”
On a more positive note and coming back to the connection between VR, AR and the local art scene, the Creionetica representative believes in the power of Romania’s young artists, saying that the country has very talented artists and tech experts and its cultural legacy is tremendous, but, somehow, it still reaches only tens of thousands of people when Romania is a nation of millions. “Future generations deserve roots and identity just as much as westerners have and are investing in,” concluded Bucureci.
Main photo credits: Alexia Dumitriu Modul Carturesti Launch Event Curated by One Night Gallery