Our aim for our part of the project was to create an interactive experience for the Old Gaol’s visitors that would give them the impression of looking through a window through time. By picking up and looking at the screen of a tablet computer disguised as a historical artefact, visitors would witness a scene from the Border Rievers time unfold in front of them as if it was happening live in the same room, only revealed by the “time window”: When looking at the room through this window, do I see the present day? Or am I looking at the exact same room and what is happening in it, only several hundred years ago?
In order to achieve this experience, we used Augmented Reality, a technique becoming increasingly popular in museums, in which digital content blends with a live video and/or audio stream in real time to make it appear as if it was actually part of the space. Lalya worked on the technical and interaction design aspects – using the animations created by Arcus Studios which were based on the stories written by the prisoners – while Anya worked on the physical aesthetic appearance of the artefacts. By combining physical and digital designs, we were able to create a tactile and audiovisual experience that transports the visitor into another time and makes them engage with the History of the Border Rievers both narratively and experientially.
Each of the three rooms of the Hexham Old Gaol has one tablet computer running an augmented reality programme, one hidden wireless speaker and one space marker (a small visual icon). A visitor picks up the “time window” and points its camera at the space marker in the room, which situates the animation in space. The visitor(s) then watches a character’s story unfold on the screen, as if it was taking place in from of them and the character was narrating their story to them. To design this, Lalya studied the Old Gaol’s rooms, the way people move through them and how they’d be interacting with the tablets in them. She used the development environment Vuforia for Unity to create the augmented reality effect and used wireless bluetooth speakers to make the audio come from inside the room instead of the tablet, thus strenghtening the illusion that the story is happening in the room itself.
To transform the tablets into “historical artefacts”, Anya dressed each of them with materials typical of the time: wool and linen textiles, leather, and wood – all of which are strongly feature in the environment of the museum. She also brought in elements symbolic of the characters and their stories into the appearance of the artefacts. This was to create a subtle backdrop to the stories that provided a tactile dimension and made the stories enter the space in a physical form that can be explored side by side with the animation. The space markers that are placed in each room are the actual Border Riever family crests of each of the characters, which Anya also used to decorate the back of the artefacts.