Q: What was the research process like? What type of research process did you go through in order to ultimately get to the solution?
Hilary: A fairly forensic one, I think, with curators and the conservators working in collaboration. This was a project that, from Tate’s point of view, spanned different departments that don’t often work together. We were looking at original source material including letters, diaries and some photography (although there are no photographs of Modigliani’s studio itself).
Phil: Excitingly this research was all happening while we were making it, with a fixed deadline. We were discovering things as we were moving forward so this was very much a live project. This also meant we had to change our approach as we went along – having discussions around adding new objects, taking objects out and moving things around the space.
Hilary: When we started and were in the ideas phase, scoping things out and beginning the research, our curator got in touch with the owner of the final studio. This was a private property and a space that nobody could go into, but we were very lucky to be given access to go in and assess the space. That’s when the decision came to use that studio, because it’s a gift. We had our guiding principles that were holding us true to ourselves, and being able to map that against this opportunity told us that this was the right thing to do.
Phil: The prospect of having a place we could go and build an authentic story around, that was completely new and that nobody had ever told, was amazingly exciting.
Q: Did you consider incorporating objects into the actual space so that they are put into context when visitor put on the VR headset?
Hattie: Even though specific objects you see in the virtual reality space aren’t seen externally, the experience itself does represent artworks seen previously on the visitor journey, plus sketches they’ve seen on their journey, and also puts into context the artworks that they will go on to see.
Hilary: So if you consider artworks as art objects – then yes we did!
Q: Can people handle objects within the experience?
Phil: Our early view on this was that, even though Vive is an amazing high-fidelity, room-scale VR experience, we felt very uncomfortable about allowing people to walk around in it, given that people have potentially never experienced VR before. So the actual experience is seated. Also, from my experience, if you give people controllers they spend 2-3 minutes learning how to use them, and we didn’t have that time. So as mentioned previously, for the installed version of this experience there are no controllers and you can’t see your hands, and therefore handling objects would just feel strange. The interactions are triggered through gaze which has become quite a simple convention for interaction, and actually delivers the level of agency we were looking for. But there is another version of this experience delivered on Viveport which is what we call the ‘standalone experience’, which allows you to move around the space with controllers on your own volition, picking up objects and manipulating them how you want to. We tried to include the best of both worlds, but certainly the installed version adheres to our low-threshold principle.
Q: What do you think is the optimum length of time for a VR experience?
Phil: We’ve done a few at Preloaded now, and have discovered that one of the challenges of VR is that it’s very overwhelming, and the cognitive load so high, that you need space to be able to absorb and take things in even for very small amounts of learning. Handley Page, for example, was 5 minutes and we felt that was the shortest it could go before you lose the ability to take in the information. For Tate, it’s slightly longer, and I think a great length.
Hilary: The experience is about six and a half minutes. There are people saying “that was amazing I could stay in there all day!” but we had to balance the desire for people to linger and enjoy it with getting as many people through the experience as possible so that everyone can enjoy it.