We invited you all, the curious and the creative into BOM HQ for our Open Worlds and Immersive Arts Bootcamp events this February. You joined us to find out about new artists, sound designers, performers, and creators of immersive experiences. You came to play with the new tech, got to consider how broadly the definition of an immersive experience could flex, and lit lightsabres using only the power of your brainwaves. Some of you also stayed on for some intensive training with Unity game engine and got to create whole new worlds of your own.

For anyone that missed out on these experiences, join us as we take a look over the glorious time we had discovering the 21st Century immersive media that have evolved from the very ancient, very human drive to play and share stories.

To pivot our viewpoint firmly forwards from day one, futurist Amelia Kallman opened proceedings with a look at the future of the internet and gave a nuanced take on how the metaverse and other forms of extended realities could impact on all our lives and shape human interactions.

James Mates and Marius Matesan of PlayLabz set up a pop-up motion arts zone, bringing their hacker cyberpunk spirit to the basement studio, predominantly introducing us to GenieMo, a way for users to incorporate motion capture into projects without needing the mega bucks resources of a big studio behind them. In a typically left field move, they also bought along a massage chair that worked it’s soothing visceral vibrations using the electrical charge from apples. 

A photograph of the PlayLa.bZ set up at open worlds. A wooden desk has an arrangement of screens and tech, laptops and also a potted plant. There's a tripod to the left with what maybe a webcam mounted and to the right is a chair with a massage back. There's an iPad mounted on a tripod behind it. A green fluorescent flag hangs from this, with the logo of Extinction rebellion on it. On the wall behind the desk is a the words 'Open Worlds' projected on the wall, with a multicoloured burst of rays in the background.    

Tre Azan demonstrated the much anticipated Myndplay headset, this extraordinary bit of kit is the world’s first research grade, EEG Neurofeedback headset which also integrates directly into VR headsets allowing brainwaves to go beyond the lab and the screen into the real and virtual world. usually used in medical research or gaming applications, Tre had us playing with it, using only the power of our brainwaves to open up a treasure chest and power up light sabres like a Jedi Knight. 

Taran Singh of Taran 3D started off his tenure at Bootcamp by introducing us to his virtual reality hospital simulator, designed to teach best practice bedside protocols to medical students. Our participants probably learned as much about having a professional bedside manner as they did about the creation of a VR simulation, which can only be a good thing. 

Taran and his team were with us for the whole three weeks bringing a wealth of training expertise to the task of easing our participants into working with 3D software, Blender, Unity and augmented reality application Spark AR. 

Before students got stuck into learning new skills, we invited interdisciplinary artist Jack Hardiker to lead an ideation workshop. He took participants through a variety of methods for generating ideas that specifically work within extended reality media. He covered the basics of ideation, collaboration, audience research, rapid prototyping and peer review. All the better for getting students’ ideas in line and ready for the next part of the creative process.

We were delighted that established Immersive story telling company MBD VR could spare their Outreach lead John Whall on Tuesday to introduce everyone to the creation of 3D objects and Immersive Worlds. Over the course of a few hours 35 laptops began to reveal novel new forms and blocky cityscapes, it was as exciting for staff to see these new beginnings as it was for those taking part.

Inspirational artist, academic and creator of playful immersive experiences Mirabelle Jones flew in from Denmark to talk us through some of their projects, many of which were commissioned by Meow Wolf, the extraordinary artists’ theme parks in the USA. Meow Wolf have a BOM fan club, we’d love to see them bring these creative, thought-provoking spaces to the UK, but maybe we’re already training creatives that’ll make their own.

The picture shown here is of Mirabelle interacting with one of their AR installations, a department store style makeup counter where selecting the cosmetic products results in the digital application of an unconventional maquillage as you peer into the mirror.

Mirabelle stayed with us to take a group through a projection mapping workshop where students were introduced to the techniques involved in bringing to life sculptures, spaces, and buildings through the use of structured light. 

For our day devoted to audio as an immersive experience, we set up an 360 degree speaker array for sound designers and music artists Lucie Štěpánková & Christian Duka enabling them to fill every corner of the room with soundscapes and audio adventures, starting the journey with the haunting ‘A thousand feet under’ by their collaborative project, Vādin. They went on to take us deeper into the idea of spatial audio and how to start working with music creation software Ableton.

Composer and sound artist Duncan Speakman gave an expansive and eloquent talk, taking in sound and weather, he questioned where immersive experiences start and end, how these experiences are entangled with the real world. He bought in 60s art happenings, climate catastrophes, and he succeeded in conflating the past with the present by mixing in recorded sections of his presentation amongst his live address, which messed with our heads and completely delighted the audience.

Thursday was all about performing immersion and PlayLa.bz returned with their GenieMo motion capture rigs to lead our participants through a workshop on adding performance to their projects. GenieMo is a low cost approach to motion capture, and a great tool for artists and other independent creative practitioners. It also repurposes Kinect cameras, which can be purchased cheaply secondhand. In the afternoon we had an introduction to a more expensive technology, with a session from Taran and dance entrepreneur and cultural producer Caramel Soldier who put a Rokoko suit through its paces for a workshop in volumetric motion capture.

Dancer Caramel is wearing a motion sensor suit and dancing. We see three images taken in succession. On a screen on the wall behind her is a digital avatar replicating her dance moves.

Our performing immersion talk was from the ebullient and inspirational Joumana Mourad of the IJAD Dance Company. Joumana travelled from London to present some of the history of the company and discuss Sensography – the art of creating work for multiple realities. She looked at ways audiences can be woven into performative experiences from the inception of a project and shared with us some of her methodologies for creating in hybrid realms.

To round off the first week we held an evening meetup event, our Open Worlds | Social. We wanted to create a relaxed social environment where participants, contributors, industry professionals and the wider BOM community could all meet up for some end of day hospitality, to see our students’ work in progress but also to experience a series of works we installed for the event. We were delighted to be able to include Beholder by United Visual ArtistsFacades by Displace Studio912 by Niya B and a sneaky pre-launch preview of the online version of A Moment of Madness by The Other Way Works.

The following two weeks, were a more quietly studious affair, as students became more deeply engrossed in their own projects, being guided through a skills based programme by Taran and team, learning the tools necessary to realise their individual projects.

We all got to see how far everyone had progressed at the end of bootcamp, and the students’ achievements were extraordinary. Projects presented included an innovative use of AR for deaf children, a virtual Viking museum, an artist’s apocalyptic ice world, the design of eco skyscrapers, wholesome games and an app being put together to engage young readers with additional educational needs. For several participants, their projects will be ongoing and we’ll be keeping in touch to see if we can assist with the progress.

The Immersive Arts Bootcamp was funded by the West Midlands Combined Authority and this and future bootcamps are very much aimed at delivering impact in peoples professional lives, either as freelancers or in a new role.

Open Worlds and the Immersive Arts Bootcamp have been such an uplifting inspirational experience that we’ll just have to do it all again. We have two more bootcamps planned for the next 12 months, another introduction to games engines, and a second one at intermediate level. Sign up for our newsletter and be the first to hear when registration opens, or to receive details of our next Open Worlds | Social event in May.