25 October 2018

Transforming Theatre with Immersive Technology

Posted By Laura Thompson
3D Modelling animation interactive technology Unity virtual reality VR VR headset
In 2017, UK Theatre reported a decline in audience figures at theatres across the UK. In this blog, we’ll take a look at how the traditional medium of theatre can be reinvigorated so that audiences remain excited by performances and motivated to return time and time again.

Fiona Allen, President of UK Theatre, said "If a trend does appear over the next few years, the theatre industry will need to explore ways of operating ever more creatively to retain and grow audiences in a landscape of reduced funding and tough operating costs."
One way the theatre industry can keep performances fresh and contemporary is by embracing new and immersive technologies like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Projection Mapping and Hologram Technology. We recently collaborated with our parent company- Peel Entertainment- on two Virtual Reality projects to integrate into the onboard family product theatre shows it has produced for client Marella Cruises. One of these projects allowed us to create a Virtual Reality introduction to the ‘Neverland’ onboard show, which is currently live on Marella’s Discovery and Discovery 2 cruise ships.

The production was inspired by J.M Barrie‘s immortal stage play, ‘Peter Pan, or ‘The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up‘ which debuted in 1904 and tells the story of a mischievous little boy who embarks on magical adventures around his island home, meeting mermaids, fairies and pirates along the way. Our innovative, bespoke 3D virtual reality content makes ‘Neverland’ multidimensional. Wearing a VR headset, guests are introduced to the world of the story by one of the ‘Lost Boys’ who takes them on a magical animated journey around ‘Skull Island’. The VR experience acts as an introduction to the play and the concept was created by integrating the themes of the live show into the story. Storyboards were also created and used to direct the camera in the 3D modelled world.

The audience get to explore 360 degrees of colourful backdrops whilst meeting some of the story’s most iconic characters, finally landing on the Jolly Roger and coming face to face with the infamous tyrant, Captain Hook. From there, the live performance picks up on stage, in a scene that reflects the final part of the VR experience.

Our in-house programmer, Matt Murphy, expertly constructed the entire 3D island from scratch using Unity, a high end gaming engine. The island was built from the sea up and flora and fauna were created to give it texture, depth and life. 3D animated characters were modelled and rigged for animation allowing them to fly, move and talk with realism.

As far as hardware is concerned, all you need are smart phones with good graphics cards and basic VR headsets. The ease of this allows the onboard teams to deliver the experience to multiple users at one time and it is portable, user friendly and easy to set up.

Paul Forster, Peel Interactive’s Project Manager said “It’s a great way for guests to interact with our interpretive storytelling. It’s a new method of engaging the family market and one we’re proud of. It’s just a shame we had to move on from the testing phase – we had so much fun playing with it in the office!”

We have also integrated Virtual Reality into ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea at Sea’; a new children’s show produced by Peel Entertainment for Marella Cruises. We developed a VR experience wherein guests spiral down the rabbit hole and are introduced to the characters, until finally coming face to face with a small door. After removing the headset, guests will be able to enter a physical reproduction of the door and immediately be immersed into the live show.

These are just a few examples of Peel’s ability to create engaging entertainment experiences by utilising a unique blend of immersive technology and traditional entertainment techniques. If you’re looking to drive footfall, increase revenue and inspire your visitors, please contact paul.forster@peelinteractive.co.uk or call 01756 796176.