New Work: Attenborough Studio at The Natural History Museum
William Russell and Daniel Weil have collaborated to create the physical environment and experience for the first augmented reality theatre in the world. The Attenborough Studio is a high-tech audio-visual venue on the ground floor of the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum. The space hosts events shows and films about all aspects of life on Earth and scientific discovery.
The project is the product of a partnership between the Natural History Museum and BBC Research & Development, and is the first time augmented reality—the blending of computer graphics into real life—is being used in a high profile public space in this way.
The augmented reality technology provides a live feed of transmitted images, which can be captured on screen using bespoke handheld devices. These devices enable a shared, virtual, visual experience providing a unique opportunity to engage with the evolution of the natural world and biological sciences.
The theatre has a capacity of 65 seats arranged around a horseshoe shape which engenders a communal, almost intimate environment. The seating is made out of pre cast GRP (glass reinforced plastic) using only 4 modular shapes. It is arranged in pairs to accommodate the handheld devices as well as a variety of audience types and allows each audience member access to a device. The rake of the tiers was designed to enable the handheld devices to receive unobstructed transmissions and the LED lighting adjusts to the images on the screen enhancing the immersive nature of the experience.
A team of technical experts equiped the control room and the theatre for live broadcast, the Pentagram scheme incorporates concealed cameras which do not detract from the magic of the experience.
The first full augmented reality experience will be the recently launched interactive film, ‘Who do you think you really are?’ Which uses cutting edge technology to recreate the past and bring to life the story of evolution. Guided by Sir David Attenborough the film uses three independent screens, web cams and the bespoke handheld devices that allow the audience to take part in a virtual journey back through their evolutionary past to where extinct creatures appear to roam around them in the studio. The interactive film uses a mix of CGI models developed with support of the Wellcome Trust, BBC natural history footage and interviews with leading Natural History Museum scientists to explore how humans have gradually evolved from the earliest life form.