Are we still willing to stand in quiet wonder before a work of art, taking time to explore its complexity, or are we more interested in the selfie which simply proves we were there?
For artists working today, this is the challenge they face. Because, in our new digital era where every hand holds a smartphone, the way we experience art is changing faster than ever before.
Meta Open Arts was created in response to this transformation. Its mission is to put the power back into the hands of the artists, build community through creativity and offer new ways of thinking.
In 2022, Open Arts brought together 17 artists and creators from across the world to answer the key question head-on: can technology deepen, rather than hinder, our experience of a work of art?
As The Electric Factory, we were given responsibility for one of Meta’s biggest markets, Brazil, and tasked with a simple objective: take today’s technology, and put it to work for the artist.
As we looked back at the history of art, we found that the viewer’s experience has always been vital.
As Edgar Degas said in the 19th century, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
But of course, artists working in Degas’ time had no ability to influence the viewer once their work had left the studio. They had to rely on the viewer’s imagination to bring to life everything from the movement of a brush stroke to a pop of color, the flutter of a bird’s wing to the warmth of a streetlamp.
Today, technology gives us the power to change that.
Because, by using augmented reality, we can at last let the artist play an active role in the viewing experience.
To explore this idea, we collaborated with Brazilian artist Talita Hoffmann to bring her 20 foot mural located inside Meta’s São Paulo office to life through AR.
First, we worked hand in hand with Talita to agree on an artistic vision for the project. This allowed us to create a symbiotic relationship between the physical and digital forms of the artwork from the very start. As a result, each stage of the mural was developed with an awareness of how it might adapt digitally through the AR experience.
But since the filter could not have an unlimited number of triggers, we also had to decide which specific elements of the mural to hero.
To make this important decision, we started by speaking to Talita about the visual choices she wanted to make in the different areas of the piece. We then coupled her vision with our understanding of the platform’s capabilities to create a series of nine animations that would enhance the viewer’s enjoyment of the work. In this way, what we created was more than a simple digital replica, instead, it became an organic extension of the art itself.
Users were able to experience things like the intricate skyline transitioning from day to night, as city lights turn on and off, while oranges ripened with the passing of the seasons . But whether it was as grand as watching an entire tree gliding off the wall into the room itself, or as delicate as a butterfly in the sky flapping its wings, each element was carefully crafted to spark the viewer’s imagination just the way that Talita intended.
Of course, to pack a fully immersive experience into less than 4MB, we also had to get creative with the tech build. So, our team developed everything from custom 3D and procedural animations through to a bespoke color shader for the AR to bring the mural to life. When combined with staggered layers of interactivity, including directional sound design, the result was a seamless experience between the physical and digital worlds.
This was a challenging project from both a technical and creative perspective. In order to allow people to experience the AR mural through their smartphones, we had to ensure that everything we designed offered highly engaging interactions whilst using only a very small amount of memory.
In response, we succeeded in delivering nine fully animated experiences, including sound design and immersive storytelling, within an AR filter that weighed just 3.7MB. That size is really important, because it means that these new interactive artistic experiences don’t have to be limited to the wealthy few artists or galleries who can afford to put on major digital installations. Instead, they can be embraced and adopted by all.
In addition to democratizing access to these new tools, our work with Talita proved that:
Technology can enhance and not detract from the viewer’s experience of a work of art in an original way.
It can empower artists, giving them new tools which can help them to better communicate their creative vision.
In this new intersection between the physical and the digital, the end result can be greater than a timid copy. It can be a new work in itself.
Ultimately, we believe our success will be reflected in the way that artists embrace this new medium to enhance the enjoyment of their work. So, the simple fact that Talita was so inspired by the project that she decided to design several extra motifs exclusively for the AR experience, shows we’ve made a promising start.