Virtual Reality for the mainstream

Tate had a bold vision for a museum ‘first’: an integrated HTC VIVE VR experience at the heart of the blockbuster Modigliani exhibition at Tate Modern, which would connect visitors with one of the 21st Century’s greatest artists, and provide a unique insight into his work.

VR experiences had been created by museums and galleries before but Modigliani VR was to be a first – a VR experience that is fully integrated into a wider exhibition, and not simply a standalone add-on.

It was an exciting challenge.

On one hand, the in-gallery audience would be completely new to VR (on average 45-65-year-old traditional museum-goers) but on the other, the experience needed to be available on VIVEPORT for those who used and were familiar with the HTC VIVE hardware.

The experience needed to be accessible and enjoyable for both the art newcomer and the art connoisseur alike, and not assume any prior understanding of either the subject matter, or the technology.

Modigliani VR was to be a first – a VR experience that is fully integrated into a wider exhibition, and not simply a standalone add-on.

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Establishing clear principles

Preloaded collaborated with Tate Curatorial, Digital, Conservation, Installation, and AV teams to establish the core principles for the experience. It needed to:

  • Be low threshold, promoting comfort and accessibility to all
  • Create empathy with Modigliani as a man we might have known
  • Uphold authenticity, conceptually, and in detail
  • Meet Tate’s standards for intellectual rigour and accuracy
  • Be an experience you can’t get any other way

Guided by these principles and informed by extensive research, Preloaded came up with the central concept for the experience: a meticulous VR reimagining of the Parisian studio, where Modigliani lived and worked in the final months of his life.  

Modigliani moved into this studio, which doubled as his home, during a momentous period in his life. He was about to marry Jeanne Hebuterne and he had a young baby, but his bohemian lifestyle meant that his health was declining rapidly. The studio was a place of hope but also of uncertainty, for the artist.

By recreating the studio, Preloaded and Tate aimed to provide a glimpse of the conditions in which Modigliani painted some of his seminal artworks, including his Self Portrait (one of only two), and to give an insight into the artist’s state of mind when he painted them.

Creating authenticity

Drawing directly on the work Modigliani made in this studio, archive records, and historical research, Preloaded brought this hitherto unseen, and unphotographed space meticulously back to life through 60+ objects, materials and artworks.

We used archive materials, artefacts and photography to model Modigliani’s furniture, possessions and art materials in meticulous detail. We also uncovered first-hand accounts from Modigliani’s friends, peers and sitters and incorporated them into the experience, offering visitors an immediate and intimate connection to the artist, almost 100 years after his death.

Two key pieces of artwork, including Modigliani’s final self-portrait, were painstakingly recreated by Preloaded 3D modellers. This was done using Tate’s technical research, in partnership with other galleries and lenders, and informed every detail, down to the layering of paint, and the specularity of the model and canvas stretcher.

It’s an experience that’s technically stunning, and wonderfully simple.”

The Memo

Audience-led design process

To ensure that the experience delighted diverse audiences, regardless of different levels of comprehension and tech familiarity, Preloaded tested it early, and regularly, throughout the project lifecycle.

In VR, testing starts with onboarding hardware that might be alien to the average gallery goer. Given that Tate’s traditional Modigliani audience member was likely to be aged between 45-65 and mostly female, we worked with Tate to understand visitors’ preconceptions, and how to make them feel comfortable with VR experiences. Many users felt nervous about putting on headsets and unsure about how to use them, which made simple and intuitive onboarding critical. Above all, we wanted to ensure that technology did not detract from the VR experience.

With this in mind, we designed the in-gallery experience to be seated, so that visitors could relax and enjoy it without worrying about tripping over or navigating controllers. In testing, although some people did express a desire to move around the space we were designing, a larger proportion said that they would be too nervous to stand up given it was their first time experiencing VR.

Working with PRELOADED has been fantastic. They brought creative talent, rigorous processes and smart thinking to our large, complex project. Their agile, collaborative approach meant they were able to translate Tate expertise and academic research into a beautiful VR experience accessible to all. The result is a product we are proud of and which amazes and delights our exhibition visitors.”

Hilary Knight , Head of Digital Content, Tate

A genuine complement to the static paintings and sculptures in the halls beyond. (...) I looked upon everything in a more intimate light.”

Engadget on The Ochre Atelier

As a way of encouraging a new perspective on looking at the artist's work – not only in terms of context but also in terms of peering close to the surface of his canvases – it is a success.”

ALPHR on The Ochre Atelier

A stunning virtual reality recreation of Modigliani’s last studio”

The Times on The Ochre Atelier

An integrated experience

The exhibition opened at Tate Modern on 24 November 2017, and the VR experience is viewed in-gallery by approximately 3,500 visitors every week.

Preloaded and Tate designed Modigliani VR to be an integral part of the exhibition at Tate Modern, complementing the artworks. The experience successfully immerses visitors in the last studio where Modigliani lived and worked – and recreates a place that cannot be visited in person. The experience offers a new angle on the artworks and characters that the visitor might have seen earlier in the exhibition, and crucially, it provides powerful context when visitors emerge into the last room of the exhibition, which contains Modigliani’s final Self Portrait.

Preloaded created a VR experience that enhances, rather than detracts from the exhibition by understanding the visitor’s journey, and how the experience relates to the rest of the show.

D&AD - Wood Pencil
Creative Review - Best in Book
MUSE - Games & VR/AR (Silver)

Award recognition

Webbys - VR: Interactive, Game or Real-Time
Museum and Heritage - Innovation category
GLAMi - Exhibition Media or Experience

Nominations

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