VR Conversations – Content

Immersive technologies, while still in their experimental stage, are an emerging platform signalling serious future potential. The global market for VR / AR is projected to increase exponentially over the coming years from $4Bn in 2016 to $108bn by 2021 (Digi-Capital). According to McKinsey / WEF “Immersive technologies, namely virtual and augmented reality, will fundamentally alter how we interact with content”, representing the “cusp of a major revolution from mobile to immersive computing.”

Recent PWC mapping identified Bristol as the second largest VR hub outside of London, combining its world-class media industry, growing tech sector and ability to network innovation around culture and the arts, to address the new opportunities and affordances of immersive technologies.

Ahead of the upcoming opening of the new Bristol VR Lab I brought together three internationally renowned, Bristol based VR producers for a conversation on their view of the potential for immersive technology and their first hand experiences of creating content within an emerging industry.

Catherine Allen is a VR Producer and Curator and Founder of Limina Immersive. She is on the BAFTA VR advisory committee, won awards for Easter Rising with the BBC and is currently working on the Women in VR Manifesto, setting out the potential for an inclusive, diverse working environment and content output within this emerging medium.

Dan Efergan is Digital Group Creative Director at Oscar winners Aardman Animations. Their best known VR piece is ‘We Wait”, a dramatised story based on BBC News interviews with migrants, transporting you to the heart of the refugee crisis – recognised with awards from Broadcast, Unity and Kinsale and screened at the UN in Geneva.

John Durrant is Creative Director of BDH, multi-award winning digital agency and production house (BAFTA, EMMY, RTS, Grammy). Their latest VR experience, Wonderful You, commissioned by Oculus, plunges you into the expanding sensory world of your unborn self, a virtual journey through the strange world inside the womb and of your developing senses; sight, sound, touch, taste & smell. 


Q: What brought you to working in VR / AR?

Jon Durrant (JD): BDH is multi-award winning digital agency and production house, we are at the crossroads of creative content for film, television and all things pervasive. This sort of fusion of creative disciplines, visual effects, film direction and virtual reality has opened our eyes to a new range of exciting possibilities. It is blurring the boundaries between disciplines.

Dan Efergan (DE): It’s finally a platform which truly uses all parts of our company.  Productions bring together Directors, Writers, CG, Game Designers, Coders etc… and they’re all bound by their general geekery for new forms of storytelling… so VR/AR is a no-brainer for us.

Catherine Allen (CA): Before working in VR, I was a producer at a high-end educational app publisher. My degree and interests had always been theatre & the arts, so I felt that VR brought them together beautifully.

Q: What specifically excites you about the future potential of immersive content?

CA: VR’s future as an artistic medium really excites me, [the concept I describe as] storydoing rather than storytelling .

DE: [Completely agree]… something that was unexpected is how intimate VR is as a platform, how close you feel to the events and ‘people’ around you.  This makes it a powerful story telling tool, but a very different one.

On a geeky side [reduced render times will] allow developers to have a greater understanding of viewers emotional states.  This’ll allow some pretty powerful stuff when viewers and virtual actors are bouncing off each other.

And that’s just the VR.  Although we’ve not done much AR, it’s AR that’s actually going to change the world.

JD: We are particularly intrigued by the fact that there are no age barriers to the new Immersive technology. Both our public installations, Magritte VR and Bosch VR have had installation have been popular with ages 9 to 90.

Q: Is there a Bristol effect? 

JD: The historically high calibre of producers, directors and animators from Bristol has been a strong creative influence on the quality of ideas in the city.

CA: It is about the combination between creativity and technology. The rebellious, experimental spirit that Bristol has is exactly what VR needs right now.

DE: We’re definitely rocking it right now.  At a recent London BBC VR pitch 3 out of 4 companies were from Bristol, not bad.

We’ve got a strong community, strong media scene, great story tellers and VRWC is pulling people out of their offices to see each other.

Q: We are at an early stage of content development in VR / AR – is there a specific discovery that you’ve made during production which feels unique to this medium?

DE: We Wait was about using eye contact and body positioning to transfer emotions.  It was also used in a UCL study on how embodiment and presence affected engagement.  We’re continuing that development in our latest piece.

CA: You can feel you are getting to know people in VR. You can build bonds, you can feel close – even intimate. These people may or may not be real, but it doesn’t really matter. If a character looks you in the eyes in a 360 video, for instance, and smiles, it is likely you will smile back.

We remember VR experiences as something we DID, rather than as something we saw, or were told. And because we bring our sense of self – all the bias’s, hopes, dreams and mood to every VR experience we do, then even the most simple VR experience is a co-creation between the audience member and the VR creator.

JD: Initially we were concerned that we would be isolating our audiences with VR experiences. Now, a few years on, we have audiences of 50 holding hands in a giant bowler hat, celebrating the genius of Rene Magritte together and loving the experience.

With Wonderful You VR we have families experiencing together in the living room, interacting and pointing excitedly at virtual worlds inside the womb


Bristol VR Lab (BVRL) will be a landmark new facility creating a development hub for VR and AR skills and content – establishing a new innovation cluster around emerging immersive technologies.

BVRL will be managed by Watershed as a sister space to the Pervasive Media Studio. The founding partners are Opposable Group, University of the West of England, University of Bristol, We The Curious and the BBC.

BVRL will open shortly.

(btw if you’d like to use any of this article somewhere else, just ask)

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