WALLPAPER VR

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATIONS – Judi Alston

It seems a long time ago since my first ever film commission, which was for the NUM filming the Miners Gala in Durham. It was in the days of large cameras with dock-able lenses and huge battery belts like something The Terminator would wear. In 1989, I thought I’d do my own film making until the time I got my act together and got a proper job (it wasn’t even known as ‘Indie film making’ then). 28 years later, having made over 300 films, some for broadcast, I have now given up on the notion of “regular 9 to 5 employment” altogether. For me working in the arts is a way of life.

I do feel proud that somehow – often against all odds – our team and I have managed to keep One to One Development Trust (formally One to One Productions) going throughout different governments and recessions. There have been many changes and different paths in my journey as a film maker. The biggest change has been in technology.

Bands and Banners Judi Alston on camera 1991

I remember using a cranky old typewriter to produce our first ever business plan in 1988 which won us an award of ‘The Most Innovative Business in Yorkshire and Humber’ from Barclays Bank. Our first ‘public funding’ came shortly after from Wakefield Council, allowing us to get a whole suite of video equipment including an AVID editing system. In the early 1990’s we felt like pioneers of non-linear editing and community film making. Visitors would come from all over the region to see our ‘cutting edge’ studio. I remember some peoples shock and prejudice when we were filming – a woman with a camera! TV cameramen were the worst.

Shuttling through the timeline of our work, the common thread throughout it has been our core values and a strong set of ethics about working with communities; engaging people often on the margins; promoting, celebrating or exploring heritage; engendering a sense of community pride and well-being.

Whizzing onto July 2017, a rainy night at Castleford Tigers RLFC, a packed-out ‘best room’ full of fans, players, supporters and other well-wishers. We are launching the Cas Tigers Heritage Project: a two-year Heritage Lottery funded project with Tigers Trust to create an online ‘Memory Box’ and Virtual Museum to engage fans, the Club and the wider community on a massive move to their new purpose-built stadium (imminent but delayed). It’s been a truly amazing and very enjoyable heritage project. As our guests are trying on VR headsets and exploring the Virtual Museum we’ve created, I have one of those weird out-of-body type moments where I can see so clearly what it means to have kept our integrity as artists, but to have also been open to changes in technology – and being able to adapt creatively to use it.

Packed House Cas Tigers Heritage Launch

I love how media can be used now, the way it has converged. How ‘digital’ can bring things together. At One to One through our in-house studio Dreaming Methods we are advocates and pioneers of what many describe as a new artform: ‘digital storytelling’. I am still passionate about film and documentary – but my interest and appreciation of media is also now on how we can fuse it together; how we as artists can push the boundaries both creatively and technically and how we can engage others in this creative journey, using our skills to influence what will come next.

We’re currently creating a digital story called WALLPAPER VR with funding from Creative England’s Games Lab Leeds initiative (check out our teaser trailer). In my experience of working in the arts, it’s not often that you get the opportunity to take an existing project into a second phase or to develop it further. However, this is the case with WALLPAPER, a narrative game originally funded by the Arts Council back in 2014 as an interactive installation for a gallery setting at Bank Street Arts, and part of a research project with Sheffield Hallam University (SHU).

WALLPAPER is the story of PJ Sanders, Head of Product Innovation at US based company POPPITECH. Following the death of his mother, PJ returns to the UK to his historic home, Dalton Manor, which has been in his family for generations. Needing to clear the house and prepare for sale, PJ toys with his latest product; an experimental device primed to help him uncover the mysterious history behind a room in the house that has remained locked since his childhood. It’s an immersive experience about family secrets, mysteries and the future of technology.

Mrs Smith Cas Tigers Heritage Project launch 2017

Re-purposing WALLPAPER from a digitally projected installation to a Virtual Reality experience is indeed a challenge. We tested audience reaction by creating one scene in VR as a prototype – the reaction was very positive (as you can see in our Being Human Festival film documenting responses).

To do this type of intensive processing work you need easy access to the right tech and a highly resilient attitude to problem solving! A big challenge for us now is being able to keep to date with the hardware and software that we need to do the work. Capital Local Authority grants like those that funded our production studio in the early 1990s seem like a distant dream.

There is a creative buzz around Wakefield now. It’s been gathering momentum over recent years. Big initiatives like The Hepworth and the recently successful Cultural Destinations funding from the Arts Council are the headliners but there is also a rich DIY culture of pop-up events and festivals.

We are currently preparing to showcase WALLPAPER VR at two local events. The first is at Nostell Nights – a great initiative by Nostell Priory to run themed events every few months with a rich art focus and different performers. Explore the beautiful Nostell environment (and its attics!) and enjoy a DJ set provided by Long Division, a bar by Wakefield Beer Exchange, poetry by Paul Bateson and other creative stuff. We will be showing WALLPAPER as in interactive projection and VR experience. It should prove to be a magical night and well worth the visit.

Friday 9th September WALLPAPER at the Nostell Nights: Hidden Spaces event https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/629f94bb-6c75-4192-900b-3fcc0c6fbbdd/pages/details

At the end of September, we are delighted to be part of the Wakefield Literature Festival ‘Talking Loud and saying summat’ organised by BEAM and A Firm of Poets. We are part of the ‘We Need to Talk About Music’ programme talking about music, literature and life.

Saturday 30th September 11.00am Mechanics Theatre: WALLPAPER VR Launch and talk about developing a narrative game with soundscape for VR https://www.wakefieldlitfest.org.uk/events/331-wallpaper-vr

It’s been an interesting and exhilarating journey to get where we currently are and to be launching our latest projects. We would love you to attend Nostell nights, and our Lit Fest Launch. Both events are free (£5.00 to book on the Nostell Attic Tour in advance).

So, if you fancy experiencing something “out of the ordinary” (or out of reality), and having a hands-on play with our latest technology – which is somewhat different to the “cutting edge” tech we used in the 90s! – you know where to come. 🙂