Enhancing audience experience through VR

With the hunger for Virtual Reality increasing, we’re seeing more and more opportunities to explore this exciting new frontier. But as the platform becomes more popular, what separates work with real impact from ‘VR for VR’s sake’? Here, Laura Newman-Cardwell, Output Group, looks at the summer’s best events and the different ways they create magic for their audience.

 Here at Output Group, our Oculus Rift headsets have barely cooled from our Brancott Estate ‘Virtual Vines’ activation at Camp Bestival, and we’re straight in to our next VR experience with Havana Club rum.

The much-anticipated ‘Casa Havana’ is a pop-up experiential space that transports guests to an authentic Cuban paladar, capturing the essence of this unique and fascinating country. Taking over a whole Soho townhouse, the Cuban-inspired drinks, food, music, theatre and set design plunge visitors into a local man’s story, enhanced by the tastes and smells of Havana. 

Here, we have a brand that truly values the power of creating a human experience, combining technology and storytelling to enhance a bigger brand idea of providing the ultimate escape. Allowing guests to fully immerse in the brand’s heritage builds a deeper connection, showing the provenance and history behind Havana Club’s production and values. The VR journey accompanies authentic Cuban cuisine, street art designed by local artists and traditional music, providing a focus to a broader experience.

Transporting to another time or place

There’s something exciting about breathing new life into historic artefacts, otherwise confined to dusty display cabinets. VR can do that, so the culture and heritage space is one we’re watching with interest. The British Museum did exactly this last year, creating a an experience that allowed visitors to explore a traditional Anglo Saxon roundhouse and interact with VR versions of objects they could then see in real life in the museum. 

In a similar vein, David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef experience is currently running at the Natural History museum. Visitors can explore the corals and wildlife, while Sir David’s voiceover guides them through this beautiful and endangered landscape. In this instance, VR immerses guests in a world they would never otherwise see, educating the audience about the challenges it faces, and hopefully inspiring young minds to make a difference themselves.

Bringing your audience closer 

Also in September is a trip to the Southbank Centre for the Philharmonia Orchestra’s ‘Digital Takeover’. The Universe of Soundinstallation will feature a VR experience created by Inition.

With this 3D audio experience, viewers will be given bespoke binaural microphones, allowing them to focus in on specific musicians or sections of the orchestra. They’ll be able to hear layers of sound and sense the details of a classical performance only usually known to the players themselves. This style of VR allows members of the public to be transported beyond the front row, creating a truly personalised performance.

Pushing the boundaries

Björk has spent over two decades pushing the boundaries of sound, art and technology, and returns to London in September with her immersive virtual reality exhibition, Björk Digital. Coinciding with a special performance at the Royal Albert Hall, the exhibition runs for almost two months, continuing the artist's fascination with digital art and emerging technologies. 

Just as the Philharmonia experience explores intimacy, this is a fascinating study into how VR and performance can come together to create compelling and unique experiences. The exciting thing about projects like this (and artists like Björk) is they’re prepared to take risks. It’ll be interesting to see what people make of it.

VR is undoubtedly the buzzword of the moment, with everyone from our favourite brands, bands and even museums experimenting with this exciting new platform. There will be dozens of experiences that fail to hit the mark, using the technology for the sake of using it. By enhancing broader experiences, transporting people to another time or place, bringing audiences closer and pushing the boundaries, we’ll see some gems that really move the genre forward, creating real impact that can only be achieved through virtual reality.

Laura Newman-Cardwell is a Creative Producer at Allez! Studio, part of Output Group