Future Landcapes: Participant Experiences – Attracta Brennan

Future Landscapes was an intensive four-week, full-time workshop created in a collaboration between the Moore Institute and Galway 2020, and run by the School of Machines, Making and Make-Believe. This is the third in a series of posts by NUI Galway-based participants who reflect on their experience with the programme.

Dr Attracta Brennan is a Lecturer in Information Technology at NUI Galway.

And so the day of the course dawned. I had truly been very excited about this course and thrilled that I had been accepted as a participant. Whilst I am fascinated with the possibilities of AR and VR (especially the latter), I had found it impossible to allocate the required time to really engage and learn. Hence an intensive 4 weeks was just what I thought would propel me from beginner status to a state where I could appreciate the work involved and carry out a lot of it myself. I enjoyed getting to know and sharing experiences with the others; and also looking at challenges from a different perspective. The creation of an experience for a nonsighted person requires one to really see, really hear and really feel. It showed how much we take for granted and how the mundane can be made into the fantastical. During the 4 weeks of the course, we were taken on journeys both technological and story filled. We saw projects which explored spatial and immersive storytelling through AR, VR, and volumetric capture. We had an opportunity to experiment with different technologies and finally, we selected the technology most suitable to our project idea.

Artist talk by Marta Di Francesco at the Future Landscapes workshop, Galway, May 2019

I decided to create an immersive world set in space. Drawing on ancient Irish Shamanistic symbols, the user could navigate to 4 different spaces relating to the symbols of dog, dragon, tree and bird. Once the user entered the different realms, a version of a John O’Donoghue poem was narrated. As an example, the tree is one of the most popular Celtic symbols symbolising beginning and renewal. Amidst a profusion of light displays to reinforce and celebrate new beginnings, the audio was :

“In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.” (John O’Donoghue – For a New Beginning)

The triskele – symbolising the integration between the physical, mental and spiritual – was the portal through which one returned to the space of all symbols.

Whilst nerve wracking, I loved the reactions from demonstrating my VR work. I saw a small child duck and dive and gasp with delight as the dragon swooped and swerved in the virtual space of my spiral galaxy. I saw a woman stand stone-still as she listened to the adapted poems of John O’Donoghue. Later she told me that she worked as a nurse and was well acquainted with patients experiencing mental health issues. She commented that the space I had created would be of benefit to those suffering depression.

This introduction of how to create an immersive virtual world was fascinating as it has now fostered an interest in creating other worlds and other landscapes. I now have a small appreciation of what can be done. Through this 4 week intensive course, I have commenced the development of skills and abilities to explore, design and develop immersive technologies to support my research interests.