Hybrid CGI and Stereoscopic Augmented Reality Video Trial

Focal Point VR Ltd are delighted to report the successful conclusion of the trial phase for the ‘Virtual Veronese’ project in conjunction with the National Gallery and Royal Holloway, University of London. Virtual Veronese is ‘a first of its kind’ R&D prototype created in collaboration with StoryFutures, based at Royal Holloway, University of London. The experience was produced as part of the £80 million Creative Industries Clusters Programme, which is funded by the Industrial Strategy and delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Many of the National Gallery’s paintings would have originally hung in spaces that are very different to the gallery setting they are in today. Paolo Veronese’s ‘The Consecration of Saint Nicholas’ was commissioned in 1561 as an altarpiece to hang in the church of San Benedetto al Po, near Mantua, Italy. During the recent two-week trial, visitors to the National Gallery were able to experience the history of this Renaissance masterpiece in a completely new way. Through the prototype, visitors experienced new forms of immersive storytelling to understand what this painting would have meant in 16th century Italy. With the inquisition at the height of its powers, a Catholic Church anxious about growing Lutheran influence, the public heard how the simple commissioning of a painting was a powerful act of loyalty to Rome. As a guide to this experience you could choose either Veronese’s patron and Abbot of San Benedetto al Po, Andrea Asola (played by a modern actor); or, The Howard and Roberta Ahmanson Fellow in Art and Christianity at the National Gallery, Dr Rebecca Gill. 

Focal Point VR designed and built a custom Stereoscopic AR video capture rig specifically for the project. Filming covered Dr Gill and also the actors playing the renaissance monks. Working with scriptwriter Catherine Skinner, Focal Point VR produced Augmented Reality versions of the experience for the Magic Leap and Mira headsets. These allowed the public to see the real painting set in the recreation of the 1562 chapel and to watch the stories unfold with real video located in the scene. A further trial was run with Oculus Quest headsets to give comparative research in Virtual Reality.

Focal Point VR developed the entire application and worked closely with teams at the National Gallery and StoryFutures to ensure the smooth, public operation of AR & VR headsets.

Ian Baverstock, Chairman of Focal Point VR said “The opportunity to tell the story of this amazing painting was a great challenge. We wanted visitors to understand the political and religious significance of the art but in a short, intense experience. Most of all, we really wanted the viewer to directly connect the painting on the gallery wall in front of them with the dramatic developments in European history that it symbolises from 400 years and 2000 miles away. Using AR or VR based on the painting is a great way to make that connection“.

Lawrence Chiles, Head of Digital Services at the National Gallery said “We’re thrilled to bring this exciting research project to fruition, which helps achieve our ambitions for innovation at the Gallery. It will help us understand how our visitors respond to new technologies and enable us to tell the stories behind our art in new and compelling ways”.

Professor James Bennett, Director of StoryFutures, said “We hope this gives visitors to the National Gallery a real feeling for the magic and transformative nature of what immersive storytelling can do. This is research that tests out the potential for immersive storytelling to engage audiences in new ways and showcases the brilliance of companies in our creative cluster like Focal Point VR”. Will Saunders, Executive Producer said, “we hope audiences will love this experience and that StoryFutures’ work can help organisations like the National Gallery adopt cutting edge technology and innovation in story form to help the UK become a world leader”.

Initial responses from its audience testing in the gallery are overwhelmingly positive. One art and history teacher stated… “It brought the era of the painting to life, I’d love to use this with my students”. Another gallery visitor said, “I really felt I was in the church with the monks”.

‘Virtual Veronese’ was live in the National Gallery from 23rd July through to 5th August 2019.


Supported by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson.
©The National Gallery, London