In Conversation with: Michael Winkelmann, Lukas Oehmigen + Brook Cronin of CR8TR

INTERNATIONAL NOTICE chatted to CR8TR about Omnidome, their upcoming collaboration with Prinzip Gonzo and their ideas about a VR future.

IN: How does Omnidome work?

CR8TR: Omnidome allows you to map multiple projections onto a given surface geometry to transform the whole space into one 360-degree immersive display. It’s a mapping software, so it creates the environment, but you still need to create the content somewhere else. We’ve been working on lots of different plug-ins that take input from other platforms, such as Unity or VJ software, and then project it into the space around you.

IN: How long have you been developing Omnidome?

CR8TR: Brook and Micha started work on Omnidome a couple of years ago with some very basic software prototypes for dome projections. We founded CR8TR together with Lukas at the beginning of 2016 to push the idea of shared immersion forward. We made an alpha release of the source code for Omnidome with the Chaos Communication Camp (CCC) last year, and now we’re ready for a public beta release. This new version has all the installers, a proper UI and lots more features. It can turn more or less any space into an immersive display.

IN: How can Omnidome be used by performance makers?

CR8TR: In terms of set design and interaction with audiences, we know it has a very broad range of applications. We’ve designed it as an open toolkit so people can do what they want with it. We are currently exploring its potential and are inviting everybody else to do the same. We have a learning by doing approach with our work.

IN: Tell us more about your collaboration with Prinzip Gonzo’s interactive game performance …

CR8TR: We’ve been given a lot of artistic freedom on this one. They sent us their concept for the performance and we came up with a visual concept they liked, so it was pretty straight forward. Their frame for the piece is a life-sized interactive board game they made using the TOTO gaming platform, and the theme is Alice in Wonderland. We immediately came up with the concept of recreating the rabbit hole and having the board constantly falling through it. Micha is currently working on getting the TOTO to communicate with Omnidome so we can incorporate the TOTO events which steer the performance into the visual experience that we project onto the stage. We’ll try it all out together for the first time live at the event so it will be quite interesting to see what happens. It’s the typical free-fall approach!

IN: Performersion has the ambition of bringing the performance and tech worlds together. What is your take on that?

CR8TR: We fully support what Performersion is doing. At CR8TR we are playing with the convergence of tech and art, as we think art is the liberating factor which enables technology to be more than just an efficiency layer added to society. This is our core approach.

Omnidome is designed specifically for artists. We’ve been working hard to make the interface friendly and the workflow logical, and to make sure it’s all meaningfully documented. Most importantly, it’s open source, so independent artists and performance makers can experiment with it and use it as it fits best into their workflow. We want to support artists and not strangle their creativity before they have even found our tools useful. We hope that the people who successfully base their work on it will support us in return and help us bring the project forward.

IN: Do you work directly with artists to realise their ideas?

CR8TR: We are currently only working with artists as they are usually the first to explore new technologies and to try and make something awesome with it. This applies to Omnidome and it makes sense as the software was created with live performance in mind in the first place. As with any tech, there is always a multitude of approaches to realise one thing. Artists are rightly most concerned with their art, so we’re here to help with advice and guidance so they can work with the software in a way that takes their art forward.

IN: You must get some pretty strange enquiries … ?

CR8TR: The strangest come from industry. We recently had an enquiry about a big oil event in Turkmenistan. They wanted a big dome show with 24 projectors and 8K UHD footage – that’s 16 x HD! And it was all just for one day! That speaks for itself …

IN: How do you see your work fitting in with the future of tech and performance?

CR8TR: Omnidome represents something we think of as social or shared VR. With classic VR, you have your goggles or your glasses or whatever, and you are on your own in a VR environment. With shared VR, everyone enters into the environment at the same time. We project virtual worlds into the real world so we can experience them together. It’s kind of a new approach towards VR. It’s possible that in the future everyone will be walking around in solitary individual immersion with an augmented device on their head, but we are developing tools for something different. The social aspect is of particular interest as augmented virtual layers are emerging in the city and changing the essence of what is happening around us. So in a way we are trying to make this information less exclusive. These layers wouldn’t have to always be on a huge scale, such as the whole city – it could be a virtual object, or a virtual object nested within a real room. The interplay of VR and reality could become very complex.

IN: And how do these ideas connect with performance?

CR8TR: Omnidome is a visual interface between the complex possibilities of virtual realities and those created through performance and stage-craft using lighting and a whole lot of ingenious analogue techniques. It’s definitely not a replacement because the actors will always want to handle props and interact with their environments – it’s part of the essence of a live performance. It’s an addition which gives rise to the possibilities of what can be achieved when you connect the real to the virtual. The way in which the analogue and the digital are blended together is where the art and craft lies. All this tech magic is starting to move out of the controlled studio environments of Hollywood and into the real world. These augmentation layers are appearing all around us. It’s a new kind of medium to be explored and shaped.

IN: What would you say to people who are nervous about these new realities?

CR8TR: Even though it’s exciting, it can be scary. By making the infrastructure open source, people can decide for themselves what should happen rather than just having the future served up to them as a ready-made product. It’s a question of taking responsibility and taking part in shaping the direction it will evolve in.

You can attend CR8TR’s Shared Immersion workshop and see Prinzip Gonzo’s interactive game performance RE:WONDERLAND or FOLLOW THE WHITE RABBIT at Performersion.

  1. APR 2016