Within is known for its creative approach to VR. Founded by Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, the Los Angeles studio has combined new technologies and old-fashioned craft to create compelling documentaries, music videos and animated films.
Now, it is stepping into the world of AR with the launch of Wonderscope – a free iOS app for children that hopes to offer an alternative to passive screen time.
Wonderscope uses AR to place characters and scenes in children’s surroundings using the camera on their iPad or iPhone. Built using custom voice-detection software, it encourages viewers to read aloud to move stories on.
The app launched with a free story created by Preloaded – a London studio that has developed VR experiences for the Tate, the Science Museum and the BBC.
A Brief History of Stunts by Astounding People tells the story of Helen Gibson, Hollywood’s first stunt woman, Betty Bromage, an 88-year-old grandmother who stood on the wing of a plane in mid-air, and Charles Blondin, who tightrope-walked across Niagra Falls.
Each stunt unfolds around readers in response to their speech and movement. We see Betty Bromage fly a plane before jumping on its wing, and Gibson engage in a high speed motorcycle chase. Each story is simple, short and fun – you won’t find the kind of character development or build up you might expect from a physical book – but stories follow a clear narrative arc and allow readers to interact with characters through dialogue.
“They’re short stories – it’s about getting to the heart of what that person did and why it was exciting in a way that’s age appropriate,” says Preloaded’s Creative Director Phil Stuart.
Stuart likens the process of developing an AR narrative to designing a physical set or working in VR: “A lot of what we were doing was like constructing a mini film set to figure out how we could tell the story,” he explains. “The story structure was the most challenging thing – we knew we needed a start middle and an end … and then we went from storyboards and concept work to looking at different art styles. We wanted to create a very physical, toy-like aesthetic, as if your toys had come to life in front of you. After that, it was a process of 3D modelling and working Within to work out how we could use their tool in the most effective way.”
“The story changed a lot as we went through the process,” Stuart continues. “We initially planned more of a linear experience, but we quickly realised it wasn’t interesting just having it narrated – it was more interesting to have a conversation and more of a dialogue with the characters…. Interaction was really important as well. We needed to make sure there was enough for [readers] to do. Agency is so important, and I think the connection with the character and the interaction is the thing that drives it forward.”
Within hopes Wonderscope will encourage children to engage with their surroundings (and other people) while using devices. In a press release announcing the launch, Milk said: “Millions of kids use screens as much or more than adults and they often do it alone. With AR, we see an opportunity to change that dynamic.”
Nexus Studios has also created a paid-for story, Little Red The Inventor, directed by Tuna Bora, and more tales will be released on the app over the next few months.