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 is a Professor in Psychology at the University of Bath and Director of the CREATE Lab.

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, prototypi...

@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.

Verity Mcintosh / Producer

Verity McIntosh is Managing Producer at Watershed's Pervasive Media Studio and is a co-founding member of Bristol VR Lab.

@veritymcintosh  Homepage
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 Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction Documentary VR: A Mediography is an interactive history of non-fiction documentary VR.

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 non-fiction content.

Through use of an interactive timeline, the Mediography presents how non-fiction documentary VR has developed since 2012, highlighting leading works and content producers along the way.

The VR Mediography project remains under active development and will continue to grow in scope and functionality as the project progresses. Please do drop us a line at hello@vrdocumentaryencounters.co.uk with any comments or feedback.

Link: Non-Fiction Documentary VR: A Mediography.

Project News

6 days 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 re...

[read more]

3 wks 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 program...

[read more]

1 mo 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.

One of the challenges of studying the emergence of VR non-fiction is the fact that many of the bleeding-edge experimental pieces are shown f...

[read more]

4 mos 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...

[read more]

4 mos 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...

[read more]

6 mos 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-desig...

[read more]