Stories in the Sky VR
- Joe Empsall, MSc student, University of York
- Prof. Dawn Hadley, academic supervisor, University of York
- Nick Bax, industry partner and Founder of Human
Stories in the Sky VR was an MSc project funded through the XR Stories studentship scheme.
Stories in the Sky VR is an immersive storytelling experience focusing on Park Hill flats, Sheffield. The MSc project explores the way that immersive technologies can be used as part of heritage-led community engagement.
Park Hill represents one of the most divisive buildings in the country; it was regarded as a success in the 1960s, saw a period of dramatic decline in the 1980s and 1990s, and is currently being regenerated by Urban Splash, following the estate’s Grade II* listing in 1998.
Park Hill constitutes an ideal testing ground to investigate the potential of immersive technologies, with storytelling embedded in these “flats of the future” since their inception. While the estate’s value derives from its innovative design, Park Hill also has strong roots in its sense of community.
In Stories in the Sky VR, Joe Empsall implemented a “bottom-up” approach, giving stakeholders more control over the narrative and nature of the immersive experience. Stories in the Sky VR was also able to utilise previously recorded oral testimonies, using them to shape the focus of the immersive experience.
The feedback for Stories in the Sky VR demonstrated that immersive experiences are valuable tools to communicate about history and heritage.
Joe Empsall, the MSc student who worked on this project, says:
“The MRes studentship allowed me to develop my technological skillset, in the use of 3D modeling using 3DS Max, and video editing using Adobe Premiere Pro. Despite the difficulties imposed by COVID-19, XR Stories were able to provide me with a laptop capable of taking the strain of model rendering and a VR headset. I was also able to undertake a placement during lockdown with the Park Hill-based digital creative agency Human VR, who offered invaluable industry experience and technological guidance. The project output was a VR immersive storytelling experience for the building, which considered Park Hill’s history and development, its reputation, and the enduring sense of community.”
Nick Bax, Founder and Creative Director of Human, and industry partner on this project, says:
“We really enjoyed working with Joe, he made excellent progress in collaborating with our team despite being forced to conduct his placement in a virtual capacity during the very challenging initial weeks and months of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. We were happy to advise him on both technical and creative aspects of his XR Stories project and, as a result of the placement, he gained experience and knowledge that should prove invaluable within his future work. Joe brought renewed energy and a fresh perspective to the studio and impressed us all with his approach to problem-solving and the high-quality of the outputs that he was responsible for during his time with Human.”
Associated project: Space, Time and Streets in the Sky