James Hurman book gets the VR/AR treatment in NYC

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A children’s book written by NZ adman James Hurman – a former Colenso chief strategist, and Y&R NZ managing director – has been brought to life via VR/AR technology by Ponsonby digital agency M Theory, which took centre stage at The Future of Storytelling event in New York this week.

M Theory managing director Samantha Ramlu has just returned from New York, and promises to write more about the event for M+AD in the next few days.

“The presentation was a wonderful success,” she told M+AD this morning. She stresses the tech behind the book, The Boy and the Lemon, is meant to enhance, not replace, traditional storytelling.

The Boy and the Lemon is a children’s story designed to explore life’s most magical lesson – how to be lucky. And for every book sold, a second book is donated to a school, library or less advantaged family.

What began as a seven-year passion project for author Hurman, the founder of innovation agency Previously Unavailable, quickly transformed into a collaborative affair.

Illustrator Juliet Burton came on board, the funds to get the book off the ground were raised on Kickstarter and then Method/M Theory managing director Samantha Ramlu caught sight of the book and wanted to bring her VR and AR nous to the table.

“The story is experienced in different ways – with the tactile book, a phone, iPad in augmented reality, or with a VR headset.”

“I really loved what James was doing and his whole idea of giving it to not-so-lucky kids,” Ramlu said.

“There a lot of kids these days that don’t actually like reading books, so how can we get them reading and enjoying books?

“The illustrations are beautiful, we thought the story was amazing and we thought it could be brought to life quite well. It was one of our first projects in terms of AR storytelling and we wanted to do that with a lovely story that wasn’t too cumbersome.”

Ramlu and her team took Burton’s illustrations and Hurman’s words and brought them to life via a virtual reality version and augmented reality version of the book.

The tech is based off using the illustrations on each page of the book as markers, which the free-to-download accompanying app on a phone or iPad picks up when pointed at the illustration.

The Method team have then redrawn and animated the illustrations as overlays to the story, with the augmented reality version showing the drawings ‘popping out’ or leaping off the page.

The virtual reality version is understandably more immersive and doesn’t involve the book itself, instead just showing the 2D and 3D animations.

A narrator reads the story aloud in both the AR and VR versions, but there is a mute option available in the AR version.

“The reason we added the mute option is we found while user testing with kids, it was really nice for the child or parent still being able to read it themselves,” Ramlu says.

“The most exciting aspect about drawing in the different methods of technology is the story is experienced in a different way each time – either with the tactile book alone, with a phone or iPad in augmented reality or with a VR headset.”

As for the reading purists, Ramlu says although it’s incorporating sophisticated tech, it’s meant as an enhancement, rather than a replacement for books.

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