the pRoject so faR

In late 2022 Klaus Fried had vague plans to write and direct a 360° ghost-story experience., when Ana Despina-Tudor suggested a collaboration on something about climate change. Klaus was initially sceptical; ‘worthy’ projects often prove didactic, dull and disempowering. But the idea of an environmental ghost story was kind of intriguing and Ana had some interesting notions about how MR might offer users some agency over outcomes. That’s how we stumbled across the cross-platform idea of a sci-fi ghost story in VR, followed by an MR experience that would allow users to reclaim an uncertain future. It was too good a concept to let go of and The Departure Lounge was born.

Ana and Klaus enlisted artistic director Luke Losey and sound designer Tim Harrison at Aumeta, whose skills and experience would complement their own. Ana had the idea that the four of us might mentor postgraduate students at MIDA (the Moving Image and Digital Arts programme at UAL). This secured seed funding and things snowballed from there. We had a producer, a writer, an artistic director, a sound designer, a small team of busy bees, a great idea and the necessary finance to build some basic proofs of concept.

Next, we established a viable process for meeting the technical challenges that the VR component of the experience presented and over the next few months, we honed the narrative, identified optimum levels of interactivity and developed an appropriate aesthetic. Alex Green was recruited to develop that aesthetic further and produce concept art.

None of us had worked with MR and we weren’t sure how best to maximise the potential for this aspect of the experience. We wanted an application that would encourage users to create alternative futures, by providing the levers to make a positive impact, but to identify which levers and what effect they might have required technical and scientific minds. So we initially recruited a small team of climate science academics and consulted with a commercial catastrophe modeller. These were positive encounters, which helped clarify our thinking about what that MR component might look like. But could such a thing fly?

To address that challenge, we recruited digital toolmaker Paul Harter at Glow in the Dark, who confirmed that the MR component was possible and identified reliable existing technologies that might be appropriate. The MR component was still embryonic, but we felt ready to take the next step.

We were invited to Rotterdam at the end of 2023 to participate in VR Days, the immersive market at Impulse 2023, where the project was enthusiastically received. Interest from a host of potential partners; studios, tech developers, co-producers and crucially funding bodies, confirmed that The Departure Lounge had real traction on an international stage. But with so much interest and so many potential collaborators, the idea was in danger of mushrooming out of control. Was it primarily an exhibition piece for festivals or a downloadable game? Was it an educational device or a tool for international diplomacy? Would it be a desktop experience, site-specific or an app that could be used anywhere?

So, in early in 2024, we set about tying down the concept for the MR component, which we knew would ultimately define the experience. It was agreed that both VR and MR components should utilise the same headset (Oculus 3) and we settled on an exciting desktop experience for the MR component, with all the bells and whistles offered by state of the art AR technology.

We have since incorporated Perfect Tense Ltd to be the hub of any future co-production and now turned our attention to recruiting the right climate scientists to guide the development of the MR experience. To that end, we are planning an event as part of London’s Climate Action Week in May.

As of April 2024, “Departure Lounge” is part of the ARC Accelerator program, which supports the transformation of research into business opportunities. We are currently in the VR prototype phase and conducting mixed reality R&D. The accelerator is crucial for enhancing our technology and positioning our project for future success as we embark on our entrepreneurial journey.

Next stop the immersive market at NewImages, Paris where we hope our MR component will attract the finance necessary to move into production. See you there!