Looking for a Modern Day Chaplin

As long as we define media as “the storage and transmission channels or tools used to store and deliver information or data” (Wikipedia), we might as well consider augmented reality as a medium. And not just any medium, but a mass medium, if our hopes and predictions come true.
I find it interesting to look at the development of past mass media in order to gain a historic perspective on augmented reality. Following is the first post in a series of three doing such a comparison. Since it’s far from my typical posts, I’ll decide whether to post the other two depending on how well this one is received. Please comment and let me know what you think!

Content, not Technology is the best way forward
Augmented reality is in its “Lumière stage”. At the turn of the twentieth century, a new technological spectacle was enchanting people from all around the western world. The moving pictures, or films were all the rage in Europe and the US, showing short scenes from everyday life. Early movie goers got excited seeing a 50 seconds long film portraying a train arriving at a station.

The animated photographs are small marvels. …All is incredibly real. What a power of illusion! …The streetcars, the carriages are moving towards the audience. A carriage was galloping in our direction. One of my neighbors was so much captivated that she sprung to her feet… and waited until the car disappeared before she sat down again. (source)

The similarities to augmented reality are obvious, and I don’t think that it’s just a coincidence that Total Immersion (which is French, like the Lumière brothers), chose to show an augmented train on their site’s front page. When people are first exposed to augmented reality, most are impressed, as evident from the numerous videos on Youtube showing folks trying GE’s AR application.
But novelty wears off, and in the case of the film industry it wasn’t a new technology that rekindle the fire, it was content. Talking films only became popular in the late 1920’s, and films in color came 10 years later. Yet, some early film makers have successfully created black and white, silent masterpieces. As a matter of fact, when Chaplin started to work on Modern Times, which some consider to be his greatest creation, he imagined it as a talkie, but soon decided to make it silent (with some sound effects), because he found it better suits the story’s atmosphere.
Now, I know there are some major differences between the realm of cinema and the realm of augmented reality, and the world itself changed in a significant way in the last 100 years. Yet, there are some striking similarities, and though no one will run away from an augmented train these days, many are still excited about the novelty of this new medium. And maybe, just maybe, when the time comes and people will get bored sticking markers in front of their web cameras (and this time will come soon enough), an artist, not an engineer, a modern Charlie Chaplin, will rise and create exciting content for us to explore.

4 Responses

  1. I absolutely agree with the post. But it’s also to say that an engineer can be an artist too. Hopefully, all our AR designers have a bit of Chaplin in them to unlock the magic of the technology.

    Solutions not gimmicks. :)

  2. Love the post; couldn’t have said it better.

    Another pioneer artist from the Lumière age is George Melies which single-handedly invented special effects in movies. He literally made augmented reality movies as referenced in a previous post https://gamesalfresco.com/2008/12/04/9-movies-that-will-inspire-your-next-augmented-reality-experience/

  3. Hi Rouli,

    I really enjoyed your post. My vote is to continue the thread. Three things struck me as I contemplated your post. The first thing is the multitude of applications beyond storytelling that AR will address. It seems to me that a company like Layar will find it difficult to create an AR platform that is able to be all things for AR’s multiple purposes. Showing me where a public toilet is and playing a game of AR Doom are two very different objectives and being the best at both seems like a tall order. The second thing that struck me is that, within the scope of entertainment (e.g. AR games and AR tourism), the current technology limitations and the ultimate variety of AR viewing platforms force storytellers to think hard about how they craft an entertaining experience – viewing AR content through an Android cell phone versus a pair of Microvision’s wearable mobile device displays will play a big role in how we develop content – perhaps in the same way the green screen affected our ability to tell stories in the movie medium. The last thing that your post made me think of was that, as excited as I am about AR finally coming to fruition, I don’t think AR is the be-all-end-all solution for location-based storytelling. I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of creating content in this space, but I think creating it solely for an AR experience would be a mistake – sometimes it’s easier to look a plain old Google map to see where I need to walk to.

    Thanks for all the work you put into this. It’s a wonderful resource to keep me up to speed on AR.

    If I could make one request, it would be to add an investor section that gives tips on public companies in the AR space or at least companies that will benifit from the rise of AR. I’d love to get some advice on where to place some bets.

  4. Good idea with the investor section, Id love to buy shares in some AR firms.
    While individual AR companys are going to come and go, I believe firmly in the industary as a whole, and spreading investment between as many AR firms as possible could be profitable and help the industary :)
    “Showing me where a public toilet is and playing a game of AR Doom are two very different objectives and being the best at both seems like a tall order. ”

    Indeed, which is why I feel the way forward is the seperation of AR-Browser and AR content providers.
    Not that a company cant be doing both, but by establishing protocols and APIs to let systems work together, hopefully a Doom app can be made that can work -at the same time- as viewing Layers data.
    We need a way to get different sources (local, web based) in the field of view. Preferably even separating the rendering out to let true artistic-freedom on the game side, while still given the end user the ability to see it as merely one layer of many.
    So, imagine a direct-x like system purhapes where many companys can use it for different things, then at the end it all gets rendered in the same fov with correct occulusions.

    Anyway, great post.
    Couldnt agree more about content driving stuff forward.
    I think with AR it will be games driving it forward at first. That art form is easiest to adapt, especialy ARGs.

    The interesting thing will be to see where other artforms go.
    AR gives such an amazingly wide pallet of possibilities it will be awhile till we even scratch the surface.

    Perhaps we will see “plays” acted out in your living room?

    Perhaps we will get dynamic music that gives a soundtrack to your life based on your situation and movement?

    Perhaps we will see collaborative sculptures made by editing shared AR meshs. Or even furniture…that you can send to be rapid-prototyped into physicality.

    AR will open up so many possibility for current artforms and probably invent new ones altogether.

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