background image
The pedagogical benefits of THEATRON are strong, allowing theatre and classics stu-
dents alike to experience the differences in acoustics that would be perceived by specta-
tors during a performance, as well as giving a representation of the `sightlines' that actors
and audience would have enjoyed. In fact, the educational benefits of the project have
exceeded expectations, and it has been very popular among students in a number of dif-
ferent countries.The application is distributed across the student network at the
University of Warwick, and students from a variety of disciplines have accessed and
explored it successfully.
THEATRON is an excellent example of a project that manages to integrate technolo-
gy, education, preservation and entertainment while remaining profitable at the same
time. Site copies have been sold to organisations in Australia, Israel and the US, and
annual subscriptions continue to be sold every day.
Case Study II Blast Theory (www.blasttheory.co.uk)
64
Blast Theory's
groundbreaking Desert Rain is an amalgamation of performance, game,
virtual reality and political polemic.The piece takes the variance of different accounts of
the first Gulf War (military, media, political) as a starting point, and addresses issues of
perception and deception via innovative applications of virtual reality and other related
technologies.
65
Desert Rain is a collaborative effort between a number of specialist parties including
the European Commission's eRENA project, the University of Nottingham's Mixed
Reality Laboratory (MRL) and the ZKM Center for Art and Media
66
. It was approximately
three years in development, premiering in Nottingham in 1999.The project had an ini-
tial budget of
167,000, plus the additional expertise and time of the technical personnel
and the artists themselves, which is estimated to have been worth a further
80,000.
A team of five at the MRL, most often Professor Steve Benford, worked together with
the artists at various times and stages of development, and some of the more technical
projection and display work was carried out with material assistance from AGFA and
Sony
.The real-time interaction between real-world and virtual elements was perhaps the
most difficult and time-consuming element of the performance and, as an untried tech-
nique, much of this work consisted of trial and error, and finding the optimum position
for the different pieces of equipment.The VR system employed was the MRL's own vir-
tual conferencing software, MASSIVE v2.0, a stable and mature system with which the
technical team were already familiar. A couple of changes were made over the course of
development in order to allow collision detection and terrain following, each of which
was felt to be essential in meeting the group's aims for multiple simultaneous avatars.
One member of the MRL continues to tour with the group in order to handle potential
technical difficulties.
Virtual reality is only one of the many aspects of Desert Rain. Other technologies
employed include magnetic swipe cards, back-projection onto a rain curtain and pur-
pose-built wooden platforms which act as the motion interface between the real and
Virtual Reality and
Display Technologies
105
64
The following material is based on an interview with Matt Adams of the Blast Theory group of artists,
and on information from the group's Website and that of the University of Nottingham's Communications
Research Group.The interview was conducted via telephone on 09/01/2003.
65
A fuller description of the piece can be found online at
http://www.blasttheory.co.uk/work_desertrain_desc.html
66
http://www.erena.kth.se/; http://www.crg.cs.nott.ac.uk; http://on1.zkm.de/zkm/