Nick Hanson, producer on the project talks us through the BBC’s first dedicated augmented reality app
So what is Civilisations?
Civilisations is an epic new BBC Two series presented by Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga, spanning 31 countries and covering 5000 works of art across human history.
Alongside the show the Civilisations Festival is bringing together museums and galleries from across the UK through digital products and events. As part of this we’ve created an augmented reality app that allows users to bring the treasures of these collections into their own homes. Put very simply, AR, or augmented reality overlays virtual objects in the world around us that can be seen through a smartphone, tablet or headsets.
Why have we built an app for you?
With Civilisations AR you can use the app to look at wonderful artefacts from around the world at home, at school, out on a walk…anywhere!
For some time the BBC had been talking to the UK’s culture sector about making the art and culture of the UK more accessible. For example, what if you can’t get to one of the big museums in London? Or, how can everyone see the hidden gems from the more remote locations?
This was really important to us. Not just working with the big museums but also with the smaller regional galleries to get access to the hidden treasures they hold.
So, we invited the museums to submit artefacts from their collections that fitted the themes of the BBC Two series. Over 280 artefacts were submitted from over 50 museums and galleries. Those that were selected were then scanned to create 3D models. The final app features about 40 artefacts in total.
Why does your feedback matter?
We want to know how people feel about AR being used in this context. Does it bring these artefacts to life? Does it encourage them to learn more about artefacts? Does deepen their engagement the BBC Two series or make them want to visit their local museum to see these treasures in real life? We certainly hope so.
We’ve already learned so much about creating augmented reality through the process of developing the App, curating, scanning and modelling the content. We hope to apply this and your feedback to future projects, so don’t forget to leave a rating once you’ve had a go!
What were the challenges?
There are always challenges when bringing together so many people from all these organisations. This becomes even more challenging when you’re doing so whilst exploring the potential of an emerging technology.
Editorially the biggest challenge was curating the content so that we had an even spread of artefacts tied back to the nine themed episodes of the BBC Two series. We also wanted to find a good spread of artefacts from cultures across the whole globe, organisations across all parts of the UK and throughout human history.
From a technical point of view, as augmented reality is still an emerging technology, we were learning every day about what makes a compelling augmented reality experience using these technologies.
Who made it?
Civilisations AR is a collaboration between BBC Arts, BBC R&D, Nexus Studios and around 30 museums and galleries from across the UK.
How was the app made?
The app was built by Nexus Studios; using the Unity middleware. Unity was initially created for multi-platform video game development but, more recently, has become a leader in AR & VR content creation. The App uses native marker-less Augmented Reality frameworks on both iOS (ARkit) and Android (ARCore) to allow us to place and render realistic looking objects (3D scans) that react to the real world on mass-market mobile phone handsets.