The www.degreeshowonmars.com Project
After consultation with Liverpool John Moores University, AVimmese were invited to tender a bid for creating a degree show during the Covid-19 pandemic. During this unprecedented time, the University still wanted to provide undergraduate fine art students with a method of showcasing their work, as their degree show was effectively cancelled.
The first meeting took place with the Liverpool School of Art and Design department head, Rory Macbeth, Co-Director of the Experimental Technologies Lab LJMU Mark Wright, and Programme Leader for the MA Immersive Arts, Peter Woodbridge.
We quickly realised that we wanted to create an experience that would literally be out of this world, and therefore after discussing the project for some time we came up with the idea of having a degree show on Mars. But we also wanted to make it as accurate as possible with NASA’s Curiosity programme. This would be a challenge!
In the following meeting, I returned with design images and a visual look of how the show could be experienced. At this stage it was signed off by the university, and agreement to commence work was undertaken. What I wanted to do at this stage was involve my visual artist and have them have a direct input on the project approach. However, after much discussion this was objected in favour of keeping the aesthetic in line with realism. This decision would later prove to throw up several other design challenges.
Figure 1 - The Future of Exhibition Spaces Design 1
Figure 2 - The Future of Exhibition Spaces Design 2
In the first instance, using our skills as developers in Unity appeared to be the appropriate method for project implementation. We began to source models the students had chosen to use in the environment, which would ultimately represent their work. Then we converted these to an FBX format to be used in the game engine and on the web.
Although it was out of scope, we also started to create CGI movies of the landscape to enable LJMU to get a visual feel for the project and potentially use these for marketing. Link to first promo video of the project here.
However, there were some debates about how this should be done and the appropriate time resource was not within the project timescale.
Figure 3 - Warp Transition from Mars to Matterport
Delivery & Challenges
During user testing, and further consultations with our WebXR lead, it became clear that we needed to use three.js to deliver the main scene on Mars. It became apparent that the WebGL aspect of Unity’s engine would not support multiple devices, particularly mobile, in an efficient way. Therefore, we had to change tactics, but at this stage of the project we were approximately 80% towards project delivery, so a different design approach was needed.
Another issue was that the client wanted changes made to the look and feel of the scene during most stages of the project, and although most of these were out of project scope, we realised we need to allow these changes to take place to deliver the project. This was due to the decision to not use our visual designer extensively on the project, something the client had opted for. This ultimately lead to the project time being squeezed and an increase of labour costs.
We also had to source another contractor to assist with the implementation of the three.js scene and integration to Matterport via a link from Mars. We opted to use a local company: Scenegraphstudios, due to the locality of the company and recommendations we received. We also reviewed other procurement resources at this time, but this was the best fit for the project and we were able to work well with Director Dr David Tully. This turned out to be a crucial collaboration and they were a delight to work with.
Working closely with them we were able to make the design changes and deliver the platform to the web and reach our target audience on time.
As of writing, this project has so far exceeded the wildest expectations of LJMU and ourselves. The stats reveal the following:
Launch day pageviews: 60,993
Unique visitors: 3992
Launch day unique visitors: 1070
Figure 4 - Page Views from our Server
The site continues to be visited by people from around the world, and it has even been mentioned in several noteworthy articles from leading journalists and publishers, including articles via:
The Financial Times
The Creative Tourist
The Artists information Company (A-N)
Other mentions and viewings from leading curators include The Director of the Tate Liverpool, Helen Legg.
In summary, innovation can be hard, but it is possible with a good plan, a team of people working towards the goal, and a clear vision of where you want to take the project. This project has broken new ground in immersive technology and remote audience participation, and we are looking forward to our next innovative project.
Figure 5 - Poster Design by Rosie Dickins
Figure 6 - Resampling Models for the Web
Figure 7 - Optimising the Experience for Online Audiences