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Randi Minetor • June 2019Projection Design • June 15, 2019

Where does reality leave off and AR begin? It’s tough to answer the question in the Unreal Garden. (Photos courtesy Onedome)

Pushing the Boundaries of Art and Technology… 

On the day that Onedome, an interactive “digital wonderland,” opened to visitors, a news broadcaster on San Francisco’s CBS-TV affiliate declared, “Technology is helping bring art to life.”

Indeed, something brand new came to life in the former museum space — an art experience that not only invites interaction, but reacts as people reach out within it. “Leave your expectations at home,” co-founder Leila Amirsadeghi told the media, “because it will blow most expectations out of the water. I mean, some of the things we’re doing have never been done before.”

Epson projectors helped create the fantasy world of the Unreal Garden.

‡‡         Immersive Art Experiences

Onedome is an immersive entertainment company, creating entertainment experiences that combine visual arts, music, and technologies that bend or even transform reality. Visitors can wander through LMNL, a labyrinth of projected art forms; put on a holo-headset to see hidden animals in a spectacular digital Unreal Garden, or even share an elegant (and very real) meal with thirty other guests at F.E.A.S.T, while digital menus appear and vanish, colors and shapes dance across the table, and music and light increase their wonderment.

“Everything we do is a mixed reality experience,” said Amirsadeghi. “It fits at the intersection of art and technology. We’re getting it right here in San Francisco before we go into other markets.”

The intent, she said, is to open the world of art to a new audience. “Art has been very niche to date — it hasn’t expanded its demographics. This opens it up, opening monetization channels for artists who may not have been considered artists before. We have projection mapping, animators, augmented reality (AR) artists. We come out with elegant, beautifully curated things that are playful, colorful, and people have a very heady experience.”

The Unreal Garden in San Francisco uses real, projected, and AR elements to create a one-of-a-kind environment. “As you walk in, this whole scene is brought to life,” said Amirsadeghi. “You have 2D animals brought to life with projections, light scenes, and lasers. We actually have a river and a waterfall, so that was a great backdrop to build off of. We have five-foot LED mushrooms that are interactive, and we’re building a rock formation.”

The kinetic imagery, projection mapping, and interactivity all provide novelty that attracts visitors — 100,000+ in Onedome’s first six months — but the creators strive to provide a deeper experience, with solid storytelling at its core. “We employ a lot of theater people, who know how to create a thorough thread,” said Amirsadeghi. “There has to be engagement as soon as they walk in, and the story has to play through. It should have beautiful, funny, fantastical, quirky creatures. This is technology that can bring us back together in a social way. When you can create content, you can connect it back to the people.”

A combination of projections and real objects create the environment for the Unreal Garden

‡‡         A Technological Assist

Onedome found kindred spirits at Epson, who share their view of the future of projection and interactive imaging.

“Today, everything starts online” said Remi Del Mar, Epson senior project manager for visual display solutions. “From connecting with people, to entertainment, to research and purchases, there is a shift in expectations of digital content and content consumption. In many ways our analog world and digital world are converging. Combine the shift in attitude with enhancements in technology and you have the perfect combination to create new, engaging digital experiences that people are craving. As an industry leader in the visual display space, it is only natural for us to think about how to push the boundaries, and projection technology enables experiences like no other technology, as you can project content onto nearly any surface or material to bring it to life.”

Onedome creates a range of immersive and memorable experiences, from small micro-mapping projects to large scale projects, Del Mar continued. “The Onedome team understands the uniqueness of not just the technology, but also has the mindset that will propel things to the next level. Onedome aims to merge digital with physical experiences, blur boundaries, engage people, and enable applications that have not been done before. And we work to deliver projection technology that helps them meet these goals — it’s not just about watching artwork, it’s about touching and interacting with it.”

Visitors see a reality beyond their imagination at Onedome.

‡‡         Pushing the Boundaries of Projection

To create this fantastical environment, Onedome turned to Epson’s extensive line of digital projection technology. “The level of flexibility the Epson projectors offer us is amazing,” said Amirsadeghi. “We use the projectors in multiple ways to create immersion, whether it’s bringing a fixed art piece to life, adding life to a painting, or creating responsive interactions that audiences can play with, the malleability is extraordinary.”

Onedome’s leadership met Epson representatives at a conference and presented their ideas to the technology company. “When we learned what they were planning, because we’ve had enough field testing, we knew that we had what they were looking for,” said Del Mar. “Historically, projection technology was used to support productivity tools. What we are seeing more of now is the uprising of software solutions and the evolution in projection technology. Projectors are being leveraged more as digital paint brushes to help create an atmosphere infused with art.”

With so many projections and effects happening at the same time, it might seem that dozens of projectors are working to create all of the imagery. In fact, a small complement of projectors do the work. Onedome employs three Epson Pro L1505UH WUXGA 3LCD laser projectors, which provide 360-degree projection for large venues, and four Epson LightScene EV-100 laser projectors throughout the venue to create interactive environments and immersive dining experiences for guests.

“We have a breath of products to support and inspire ideation and creation,” said Del Mar. “From our 2,000-lumen LightScene to our Pro L-Series with up to 25,000 lumens, we offer a range of projection tools for artists. This means added variety and extended ways to do more fun, engaging and cool things. Whether illuminating a vase or the side of a building, we want to provide the right solutions to help deliver stunning digital content, the way the artist intended.”

Epson’s Pro L-series projectors created the Unreal Garden’s floor projections and other effects. “It’s like Alice in Wonderland as you walk in,” said Del Mar. “People get really engaged upon stepping into this space, and the projections really enhance your senses by creating real and surreal content at the same time.”

The Epson projectors’ versatility turned out to be a critical factor in Onedome’s initial installation, as the project had barely enough time to get its first feature, the Unreal Garden, in place before opening. “It was insane,” said Amirsadeghi. “It was much faster than it should have been. We moved into the building on May 1, and we opened the Unreal Garden on Oct. 8. The rest of the installations opened in December.”

Onedome’s leaders had the good sense to hire a team of people with background in entertainment and festival production, where compressed timelines are a fact of life. “It’s not something we really want to do that way,” she said. “What it took and what it should take are two very different numbers.”

With the initial experience behind them, Onedome’s creators plan to open a series of locations around the world, including permanent installations like the one in San Francisco, semi-permanent experiences, and self-contained touring packages. So far they have opened the three experiences in San Francisco with over 100,000 visitors since October 2018. Plans are in the works for The Unreal Garden to travel to the E3 video game conference in Los Angeles in June.

“We think we can replicate the dining experience as a touring experience for wineries and special events,” said Amirsadeghi. “We need eight projectors for a 32-person table. We can do that out of a truck, and have it at festivals. It’s fun to be making this stuff up, and making it available to many more people to be able to participate.”

Visitors wear holo-vision glasses to see and interact with animated AR images.

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