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Civilisations AR to host virtual exhibition

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The BBC is launching its first augmented reality app, as part of a major collaboration between the BBC and more than 30 museums from across the UK and to mark the launch of new landmark arts and culture series, Civilisations.

‘Civilisations AR’ is being developed by BBC Research & Development and Nexus Studios, enabling people to explore some of the most important exhibits from UK museums in the comfort of their living rooms. The app will be available for IOS and Android from the beginning of the new series.

A range of fascinating artefacts have been digitally scanned and will be available to view as part of a new virtual exhibition. The app will feature exhibits like an ancient Egyptian mummy from the Torquay Museum, Rodin’s The Kiss from the National Museum of Wales, The Umbrian Madonna and Child from the National Museum of Scotland, as well as shining a light on treasures from smaller UK museums.

Major themes from the new Civilisations series will be incorporated into the AR app, allowing people to view, explore and discover the artefacts like never before. At the heart of the experience is a core ‘magic spotlight’ feature, allowing users to uncover annotations, audio and imagery that enrich the story of each exhibit. 

Other features will include:

  • X-ray – users will be able to see through or inside an object, such as seeing through a sarcophagus to the mummy within
  • Restoration – this feature can be used to rub through the layers of history, bringing lustre to a metal chalice or colour to a faded sculpture
  • Navigation – users can browse the exhibition geographically using an AR globe or via the themes of the series 

In addition to the AR app, BBC R&D will be using its own Story Explorer tool to let people discover the series and its themes in a digital way through a range of text, clips and images. This enables audiences to delve into the rich content and see how the history fits together at their own pace.

BBC R&D is also making a range of in-house and third party digital tools available to Civilisations Festival partners to help them find new ways of telling stories, to develop their in-house digital skills and to provide them with a digital legacy following the festival’s conclusion.

Live broadcasts

Throughout the Civilisations Festival, museums, galleries and libraries will be able to use a tool, built by BBC R&D, enabling them to produce live broadcasts of talks, panel discussions and Q&As to a professional broadcast quality. 

The SOMA tool (single operator mixing application) is a browser-based mixer that lets a single operator to cut between any number of cameras, pre-recorded video, audio and graphics for live broadcast from a remote location, via the internet.

Live broadcasts will be hosted on museums’ websites and on BBC Taster.

User-generated content

BBC R&D is also making another tool, SeenIt, available to cultural organisations to help them actively engage communities and audiences by making them contributors. Museums, galleries and libraries can set challenges or tasks for their audience to contribute a film on that topic, such as one of the themes from the Civilisations series. Their footage is then sent via the app to the SeenIt Studio, where a producer can collect, curate, edit and publish the user-generated content as part of a wider story.

Stories will be hosted on organisations’ websites and social media profiles.

360 collections

Cultural organisations can also use a 360 video tool being made available by BBC R&D called EEVO to immerse people in their collections. Within a 360 environment, audiences can use hotspots, branching narrative, and 3D audio features, to explore a collection however they choose to. 

360 collections will be hosted on the BBC Taster VR app.

Visual stories

A visual storytelling tool, Canvas, has been made available for arts organisations to help them tell stories in a visually compelling way. Arts organisations taking part in the Civilisations Festival can focus on one artefact to tell a story about history or culture, or create a narrative around a range of cultural pieces and what they tell us about civilisation.

Visual stories will be hosted on museums’ websites and on BBC Taster.

Eleni Sharp, executive product manager for BBC R&D, said: “The Civilisations Festival has opened BBC R&D up in a brand new way. Not only has it brought innovative digital tools and skills to hundreds of museums, galleries, libraries, archives and other arts organisations from all over the UK, it has enabled us to trial our ideas and technologies on a huge scale which is going to influence and inform our work over the coming months and years.

“The work we’ve done with these organisations will enable fans of the series new ways to engage with art and cultural artefacts from across the country. The BBC’s first ever AR app is a great example of this, offering users the ability to explore a personal, virtual exhibition of fascinating pieces whenever and wherever they want.”