Virtual Realities

Assent (Oscar Raby, 2013)

While cinema offers an optical illusion of movement, Virtual Reality offers a new generation of illusion - a powerful sense of being there within a scene. By offering novel forms of witnessing enabled by 360 degree perspectives, and new interactions of sensory engagement with media which reflects our shared world, virtual reality may have significant potential to inform public debate.

Funded by the UK EPSRC, Virtual Realities - Immersive Documentary Encounters is a collaborative research project that seeks to examine the production and user experience of non-fiction virtual reality content. Through a process of investigation, dialogue, and shared findings, researchers from human-computer interaction, psychology and documentary studies will work alongside internationally recognised creative industry collaborators to support the development of this new production sector, keeping the interests of audience and subjects to the fore.

Leading international content producers will share their approaches to storytelling in this new 360 medium. The project will document where non-fiction VR production has come from, where the current state of the art lies and how technology and creative form are developing. It will evaluate how non-fiction VR content is experienced across multiple platforms, comparing these with 2D and 3D experiences delivered without headsets.

The project will investigate engagement, attention, understanding and emotional reaction to immersive non-fiction media content with carefully selected audience groups - who we will follow from their first encounter with VR.

Research Questions
  1. How can forms of spatial storytelling within virtual environments contribute to the work of documentary for witnessing “the real” compared with traditional documentary forms?
  2. How does the feeling of being there, known as presence, contribute to a knowledge of and engagement with the people and situations reflected with virtual environments?
  3. How do different VR platforms and their associated sociality and isolation mediate VR documentary experiences?
  4. What are the ethical implications of virtual encounters with images of real people and places?
  5. What challenges arise in designing a shared grammar of VR experiences involving real-life subject matter with an interdisciplinary mix of stakeholders from experienced documentary producers to technologists designing new VR platforms?
  6. What business models are emerging to support VR documentary production?
// Project partners

// Research Team

Kirsten Cater / Principal Investigator

Dr Kirsten Cater is a Reader in Computer Science at the University of Bristol, specialising in Human Computer Interaction and Tangible User Interfaces.

Mandy Rose / Co-Investigator

Mandy Rose is Director of the Digital Cultures Research Centre, UWE Bristol and Co-Director of i-Docs.

@CollabDocs  Homepage
Danaë Stanton Fraser / Co-Investigator

Danaë Stanton Fraser is a Professor in Human Computer Interaction and director of the CREATE laboratory at the University of Bath.

Chris Bevan / Research Associate

Dr Chris Bevan is a Research Associate in Computer Science at the University of Bristol, specialising in Human Computer Interaction and human-centred design.

David Green / Research Associate

Dr. David Green is a research associate at the UWE Digital Cultures Research Centre. David has expertise in documentary making, immersive media, computing, prototyping, HCI, co-creation and participatory methods

@cinehacker  Homepage
Harry Farmer / Research Associate

Dr. Harry Farmer is a Research Associate at the University of Bath CREATE lab. His research focuses on the role of the self and the body in social cognition.

Helen Brown / PhD Researcher

Helen Brown is a psychology PhD student at the University of Bath. Her research is exploring emotional and physiological responses to virtual reality encounters.

Hannah Brady / Producer

Hannah Brady is South West Creative Technology Producer at Watershed's Pervasive Media Studio and is an associate artist with artist group Blast Theory.

Jo Gildersleve / Research Administrator

Jo Gildersleve is the research administrator for the Virtual Realities project at the University of Bristol.

// An Interactive History of Virtual Reality Nonfiction

VR Nonfiction: A Mediography

VR Nonfiction - A Mediography is a database of virtual reality nonfiction content covering the period 2012–2018. Our database charts the emergence of VR nonfiction on a timeline, placing the release of content within the wider context of international film festivals and key milestones of VR technology development.

Beginning with Nonny de la Peña's initial explorations of immersive journalism in 2012, the VR Mediography project is the first attempt to comprehensively map the emergence and development of VR as a new medium for experiencing nonfiction content.

Link: VR Nonfiction: A Mediography.
// Project News

8 mos ago

Three immersive documentaries commissioned to research effects of Virtual Reality in nonfiction

We are delighted to announce the commissioning of three new bold and distinctive VR documentary works. The winning commissions were chosen from among over 150 applications based on their originality and innovation.

Selected from the Open Call, Transplant is a new work by producers Oscar Raby an...

[read more]

1 yr ago

Virtual Realities - Immersive Documentary Encounters Commissions

In partnership with Watershed, we are excited to invite bold and distinctive proposals to create nonfiction experiences in virtual reality. We are seeking to commission three original works, each receiving a £50k production budget and support from the commissioning and research teams.

Links to further application details and call document are here. Closing Date: Friday, 28 September, 2018 - 17:00.

We are open to ideas that engage deeply and creatively with the potential of VR for documentary or journalism. Proposals might ask questions of the relationship between participant and subject, reflect on the ethics of immersion, or give voice to underrepresented communities or individuals. This opportunity allows for ideas that push boundaries and challenge the orthodoxies that are emerging in immersive nonfiction.

[read more]

1 yr ago

DIS18 papers about VR

Your Place and Mine: Designing a Shared VR Experience for Remotely Located Users

Misha Sra (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA) Aske Mottelson (University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark) Pattie Maes (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA)

Virtual reality can help realize mediated social experiences where distance disappears and we interact as richly with those around the world as we do with those in the same room. The design of social virtual experiences presents a challenge for remotely located users with room-scale setups like those afforded by recent commodity virtual reality devices. Since users inhabit different physical spaces that may not be the same size, a mapping to a shared virtual space is needed for creating experiences that allow everyone to use real walking for locomotion. We designed three mapping techniques that enable users from diverse room-scale setups to interact together in virtual reality. Results from our user study (N = 26) show that our mapping techniques positively influence the perceived degree of togetherness and copresence while the size of each user's tracked space influences individual presence.

Misha Sra, Aske Mottelson, and Pattie Maes. 2018. Your Place and Mine: Designing a Shared VR Experience for Remotely Located Users. In Proceedings of the 2018 Designing Interactive Systems Conference (DIS '18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 85-97. DOI:

[read more]

1 yr ago

Alternate Realities at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018

Researcher Chris Bevan visited the Alternative Realities exhibition at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018 to catch up with the latest and greatest in non-fiction VR.

[read more]

1 yr ago

Technologies of Seeing and Technologies of Corporeality: currents in nonfiction virtual reality

In an article in the first edition of the online journal, World Records, edited by Jason Fox, Mandy Rose surveys the contemporary nonfiction work being developed within the framework of VR, and explores the opposition between the promise of VR as escape from materiality and a promise of corporeal engagement. She makes the case that VR nonfiction reflects divergent currents, engaging “technologies of seeing” with a lineage going back to the Renaissance while introducing novel “technologies of corporeality”, and asks what is at stake for documentary epistemology in these developments.

[read more]

1 yr ago

Stakeholder Survey Results

In Jan/Feb 2018 we conducted an opinion survey with 30 leading producers, curators and directors of VR non-fiction (VRNF) to identify key priorities for our audience studies (planned for Spring/Summer 2018). We asked eight open-ended questions about aspects of past, present and future audiences for VRNF.

[read more]

1 yr ago

Project Workshop

Our first project workshop What do we need to know? will be held on Friday 19th January at the Watershed Cinema, Bristol.

What do we need to know? is the first of four workshops to be held over the course of the project, providing a framework through which partners and stakeholders can co-design the research.

[read more]

1 yr ago

Virtual Realities at DIS'18

DIS is the annual conference on Designing Interactive Systems, organised by the ACM (Association of Computer Machinery) and SIGCHI (Special Interest Group in Computer Human Interaction). It brings together an international community of researchers, designers and developers (and more) for a programme of activities including workshops, panel discussions, paper presentations and demos.

[read more]

// Publications

Behind The Curtain Of The “Ultimate Empathy Machine": On The Composition Of Virtual Reality Nonfiction Experiences

Bevan, C., Green, D.P., Farmer, H., Rose, M., Cater, K., Stanton Fraser, D., Brown, H. 2019. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 19). ACM, New York..

The immersive turn: hype and hope in the emergence of virtual reality as a nonfiction platform

Mandy Rose. 2018. Studies in Documentary Film, 12:2, 132-149.

A Mediography of Virtual Reality Non-Fiction: Insights and Future Directions

Chris Bevan and David Green. 2018. In Proceedings of the 2018 ACM International Conference on Interactive Experiences for TV and Online Video (TVX '18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 161-166.