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 nonfiction 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 degree medium. The project will document where nonfiction VR production has come from, where the current state of the art lies and how the technology and creative form are developing. It will evaluate how nonfiction 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 nonfiction 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

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

Mandy Rose / Co-Investigator

Mandy Rose is Professor of Documentary & Digital Cultures, director of the Digital Cultures Research Centre, UWE Bristol & Co-Convenor 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.

Eleanna Skoulikari / Research Associate

Eleanna Skoulikari is a Research Associate in Psychology at the University of Bath CREATE lab.

Jo Gildersleve / Research Administrator

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

Stuart Gray / Research Associate

Dr. Stuart

// 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

1 mo ago

Watch Professor Mandy Rose in conversation on the ethics of VR documentary

Mandy Rose was recently hosted by MIT Open Documentary Lab where she delivered a talk about the VR Docs project's work on the ethics of VR documentary:

Documentarists engaging with VR encounter ethical issues common to traditional documentary practice. Additionally, VR documentary gives rise to sp...

[read more]

2 mos ago

Join us for our Virtual Realities: Immersive Documentary Encounters Webinar

Fri, 20 November 2020, 16:00 – 17:00 GMT

Get tickets

We are delighted to be invited by Bristol Vision Institute to deliver a talk for their BVI Seminar Series, entitled “Virtual Realities: Immersive Documentary Encounters”, which will be introduced by BVI Director, Professor Dave Bull. Our speak...

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9 mos ago

Changing your Mind – the Ethics of Virtual Reality nonfiction

On November 29th 2019, an interdisciplinary group of over thirty UK researchers, VR documentary producers, immersive media curators and immersive policy leads came together in the Council Chamber at BBC Broadcasting House, London for our final project workshop. Watched over by portraits of the BBC’s...

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11 mos ago

The Waiting Room VR wins 2019 IDFA Doclab award for Digital Storytelling

We’re excited to report that one of our three commissioned pieces, Victoria Mapplebeck’s “The Waiting Room VR” has just won the 2019 IDFA Doclab award for Digital Storytelling.

Here is what the judges had to say:

The project was able to, by placing us in a very rare and unexpected point...

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1 yr ago

VR Docs team @ IDFA Doclab 2019

In November 2019, the VR Docs research team descended once again on IDFA’s Doclab in Amsterdam to take a look at what’s new and exciting in the world of VR nonfiction.

This year’s lab had a particularly healthy selection of VR nonfiction on display, with a VR cinema showing multiple works alongsid...

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1 yr ago

VR Documentary Encounters at FUTURES 2019: Insights from the general public on the ethics of virtual reality

On a rainy night In late September, members of the documentary encounters project team held a stand at FUTURES 2019 at Bristol’s 'We the Curious'. For the uninitiated, FUTURES is a free Europe-wide event dedicated to engaging the general public with cutting edge research through fun and interact...

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1 yr ago

From Bristol to the big screens of Venice Film Festival

Several members of the VR Docs team were very excited to visit the Venice film festival last month for the premiere of Victoria Mapplebeck's "The Waiting Room: VR". This piece, commissioned by the VR documentary encounters project was shown alongside some of the most important works of the year, a...

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1 yr ago

VR Docs project showcase event at Bristol Watershed

June 25th saw the opening of the Virtual Realities: Immersive Documentary Encounters Showcase at Bristol’s Watershed Cinema. This was the first opportunity for invited guests to get a sneak peek at the three VR pieces that were commissioned through the project, and to meet the creative teams behind...

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1 yr ago

Using Design Fiction to Explore the Ethics of VR 'In the Wild': A Workshop at ACM TVX’19, Wednesday June 5th, Manchester

In this half-day workshop, we explored the ethics of Virtual Reality (VR) through conversations framed around design fictions.

The workshop explored how, while affordable head-mounted displays (HMDs) and accessible VR content are now within reach of large audiences, many of VR’s most urgent chal...

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2 yrs ago

VR Docs project at the EPSRC Digital Economies 10 Year Showcase

Chris, Harry and Danae took a trip to the iconic BT Tower in London this week to represent the VR Docs project at the EPSRC's Digital Economy 10 year showcase.

As one of 10 research projects chosen to exhibit their activities at the event, it was a great opportunity for us to feed back our work...

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2 yrs 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...

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2 yrs 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.

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2 yrs 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]

2 yrs 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:

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2 yrs 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.

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2 yrs 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]

2 yrs 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]

2 yrs 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.

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// Publications

Using Design Fiction to Explore the Ethics of VR 'In the Wild'

David Green, Guy Schofield, James Hodge, Mandy Rose, Kirsten Cater, Chris Bevan and Stuart Gray. 2019. In Proceedings of the 2019 ACM International Conference on Interactive Experiences for TV and Online Video (pp. 293-299).

Did You See What I Saw?: Comparing User Synchrony When Watching 360 Video in HMD Vs Flat Screen

Farmer, H., Bevan C., Green D., Rose M., Cater K. and Stanton Fraser D.. 2019. 2019 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (VR).

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.