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the national trust

sight, sound & sea

The National Trust hosted a show in Somerset House called Sight, Sound and Sea. The experience focused around three artists who provided work for the Coast. We were approached to provide an interactive virtual walk around the Coast. Stills and sound would be provided by Ben Wigley and visitors would be able to interact with the artwork at set points within the experience.

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the brief

We were tasked with a creative brief, to create a bespoke walkthrough platform that allows visitors to travel through a series of stills of the coastline that give the impression of going on a journey, with audio and visual triggers. There was to be a series of 'layers' combining video and audio that gave the impression of being by the coastline and immersing the user into a world away from where they were using the system.

Three artists would then create a commission using video, visuals and sound in a unique, cutting edge digital / art collaboration and we would be required to piece their visions together in tech. Not the simplest of tasks, but a challenge we were excited to tackle!


our approach

step 01

Creating the visuals

We started with some visual mockups, provided by the Swarm that allowed us to lay the building blocks down for how the system worked. They began their work, bringing everything together with Benjamin Wigley, the man behind the vision – and the camera. Side-by-side, they began doing test photographs of coastal landscapes and created mock content that at first was how we created the walkthrough.

step 02

We created the spec documentation

We set project goals, deliverables, milestones as well as a series of user journeys, planned and specced the API from scratch and created success criteria as well as performance targets among other details. For those of you who are interested in this type of information, you can see some screenshots of this below

step 03

Creating the backend

Our main challenge was how to structure the backend to allow simple administrative updates to be made to all of the content and each component by the client. The requirements were to allow multiple (hundreds, if not thousands) of images to be uploaded and split off into sections, subsections and points of interest, as well as defining the parameters for images, audio and video within these sections.

We also included manual controls for each slide speed and zoom / fade functions to navigate between each of these – This proved to be far more intensive than it sounds, as we later discovered.

Working with Django, we created a CMS that allowed the client the ability to batch upload this large quantity of images. Alongside that, it allowed them to create ‘sections’, ‘sub-sections’ and ‘points of interest’ throughout that were reflected directly on the Angular frontend.

step 04

Creating the frontend

We crafted the frontend in to an Angular App and and hooked up the Django backend to support this. There were key functions required that translated on to the front-end such as:

Audio to play throughout the walkthrough journey
As scrubber bar that tracks where a user is at any time in the walkthroughs
Points of interest on the scrubber that allowed users to jump to a specific point on the walk and view a panorama image or video to get a further look into that location.

Up and down arrows to navigate forward or back through the walk, along with
Walking sounds that play when holding the up and down buttons

All of these components combined were intended to create the feeling of being in control of the walk, as well as giving the user the flexibility to ‘look around’ the landscape without creating a 360 tour within the system (which was never the intention by the way!)

step 05

Creating the commissions

We were tasked to create 2 of the 3 commission’s to be installed (Martin Ware and Owen Sheers) and though we were not involved in the filming, or theory behind the commissions, building them was a great task – but one that came with it’s own set of challenges.

We created these commissions in static HTML which were then simply integrated into the angular app itself, which allowed flexibility and updates of each separate component during the build process.

When working through Martin’s commission, streaming multiple layers of videos became a real issue when it came to bandwidth for the user. Luckily, we were hosting this on an Amazon EC2 instance which helped us manage the load time from our servers, but we needed to implement pre-loading of content as we were dealing with 3 backgrounds videos and 2 foreground video displays, each with up to 60 videos.

The interactive experience was available both online and at Somerset House for three months for visitors to interact with. The platform quickly loaded multiple images in a row and faded between static and walking sounds to give users an in-depth, interactive experience of walking through the Coastal walk. Videos, panoramas and even poetry was interspersed along the journey. We developed the specifications for two of the artists and incorporated their videos into the overall experience.

the outcome

The outcome of the project has been a great success! The physical experience was launched on a digital screen in Somerset House, London on November 3rd 2015 until December 13th 2015.

It attracted a huge amount of press across major newspapers and via the National Trust as well as being recognised as a fantastic piece of work in speeches on the launch from Sir Peter Bazalgette of the Arts Council, as well as Dame Helen Ghosh of The National Trust.

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