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Shared VR at Somerset House, London

Shared VR experience at Somerset House, London

Geodesic domes have been used as pop-up venues for events for quite some time now, but Igloo Vision has taken the concept to a whole new level.

The Shropshire-based company has developed a technology that enables laser projection to be displayed on the domes’ 360-degree screen helping create an immersive experience. But that is not all. Igloo’s in-house software engineering team works on a real-time engine that allows the visuals to be controlled by an operator as opposed to displaying pre-rendered video content – Igloo Vision does that too.

James Sheridan, Igloo Vision chief technical officer, explains: “What we do differently to others in the marketplace is that we create real-time immersive experiences that immerse groups of people in a shared VR environment.”

Igloo Vision has been in operation for over 10 years. The company’s business areas range from construction and real estate firms to event organisers and brand awareness. One of Igloo’s first clients used a 21m dome as the festival’s pop-up venue with success.

Create an illusion

The company now operates with cylinders and domes ranging from 6m (12 people); 9m (35 people); 12.5m (220 people); and 21m (750-1,000 people), with the latter being popular with festival organisers.

“These are geodesic domes built in aluminium, and for the 21m the structure features a negative pressured inflatable screen. Like a giant inside-out jumping castle,” says Sheridan. He points out that it means the team gets a really nice screen to project on. The structure is something that they can just pop-up in a day.

Sheridan says that the company tends to use between five and 15 projectors rigged on the dome’s structure to create an extremely high-resolution 360-degree image. “This helps us create the illusion that the visuals are real. You can get transported to another environment be that microscopic worlds, space, underwater or even an abstract representation.”

The system offers people an immersive experience without the need to wear any device, such as the Oculus. Igloo Vision calls it “shared VR”. Sheridan explains: “You don’t need to be hooked up to anything and people can look each other in the eye and have a natural conversation with each other.”

In the festival space, Igloo Vision works with the likes of Funktion-One, the UK sound systems manufacturer, and Bowers & Wilkins. Outside of festivals, the company works with many businesses. Charities, venues, and brands of all sorts have chosen the concept of shared VR as a means of storytelling.

3D mapping projection

The latest innovation comes in the field of 3D mapping. In 2013, Igloo Vision teamed up with Alan King of Rockin Horse – the lighting and video company – and the art collective that runs Block 9 at Glastonbury. The partnership has seen the company provide the visual effects to the Genosys stage. Sheridan says the team is looking forward to the next outing.

Block9 at Genesys stage, Glastonbury

Block9, Genosys stage, Glastonbury

“People really have to look at it for a long while to know where reality ends and the visuals begin,” says Sheridan. “The aim was to blend the physical, lighting and projection seamlessly, so you don’t know where one ends and the next starts.”

Sheridan says the aesthetic and synchronicity with the music makes people question what it is they’re looking. “Everyone always comments on how it brings the stage to life and feels like a cohesive whole, not like the visuals are just bolted on.”

Igloo uses a real-time games engine for the projection mapping, and that makes its technology stand out from others in the marketplace working with video projection.

“Traditionally people use tools from cinema or from the motion graphics industry to render the visuals, and that’s what it is, you can speed it up or slow it down, but it never changes,” Sheridan says.

“It is a movie that plays in a loop over and over,” he adds. “But what you see at Block 9, for example, is that every time there is a beat the projection responds to that, so it is in real time. You can also use tablets and control surfaces to play it like an instrument.”

UK-based, Igloo Vision employs 40 people and has just opened an office in Los Angeles and New York in the United States, and Toronto in Canada.

According to Sheridan, the business is booming both in the UK and abroad and Igloo Vision will be starting a new branch in Australia in the coming months.