FEED Issue 25


ou don’t wake up as a child and say, ‘I want to do VR’. In fact, when Kim-Leigh Pontin came to the UK to be

a photographer, with a degree in design from her native Australia, virtual reality was not something you worked in – rather it was something you read about in academic papers. “I had minored in multimedia design,” Pontin says. “Back then it was CD-ROMs. The internet was just text and colours. On CD-ROMs you could do interactive video.” Pontin went from doing this early work on removeable media to working with touchscreen content and then into doing interactive TV for the BBC. The BBC’s early trials in interactive TV used ‘red button’ interaction to allow a viewer to choose between different scenarios or storylines in select content. Pontin worked on an interactive TV experience for the spy series Spooks in which viewers could ascend the ladder of spy training. It was distributed on satellite, digital terrestrial TV and Freeview The Spooks interactive story tree had nowhere near the scale of something like Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch , but the limits of the system, which only ever allowed choice between two options, encouraged creativity. “It was a way of simulating the idea that there were lots of options, even though there really were just two channels being broadcast at the same time, which you were switching between,” says Pontin. “It was a precursor to a lot of the interactive narrative that’s going on now. All branching narrative has to think about that now – you can’t build endless branches.” SKY VR Pontin took a break to do a masters in interactive design at the Royal College of Art in London with the express purpose of getting back into making content. Afterward, she spent some time doing R&D at Apple and then moved to Sky, where she has been the UK broadcaster’s creative interaction director for VR and AR for seven years. She has done three big VR projects for Sky including the latest immersive experience based on Sky’s psychedelic

Roman Britain drama Britannia , currently in its second season. One of Pontin’s first VR projects partnered with the Sky news department to build an interactive experience around a recent archaeological exploration of what was conjectured to be the tomb of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, in a hidden chamber in the tomb of Tutankhamun. A small team – Pontin and a couple of designers – used 3D scans of various artefacts to create an experience that allowed the user to discover and explore their history, eventually ending in the user becoming Nefertiti herself. The experience made it into the Venice Film Festival. “It was a speculative factual piece. We couldn’t have an ending like in a traditional documentary, because we didn’t know what the actual findings were going to be. The next project was built around the popular Sky drama A Discovery of Witches , which used volumetric capture scans of the two main actors in the show, as well as a photogrammetry scan of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, where a lot of the show was set. A team of three developers, three designers and a VFX post-production technician built the entire project internally. “Tying up the production schedule of a big shoot is really difficult. Getting in before the set is struck and getting access

WHO RUN THE WORLD? More and more women are entering the VR field as it demands new ways of thinking to create content

to the actors, sets and props is something that has been unique at Sky, I think,” says Pontin. The project allowed users to experience a dual narrative of two different types of supernatural characters on a quest for a magical book. This was also a Venice Film Festival contestant. The biggest project Pontin has helmed at Sky is the recent Britannia VR experience, which also features a dual narrative. One thread invites the user to experience a magical Celtic ritual, ending in a kind of druid ‘rave’, the other allows the user to enter the world of the Roman army. The Britannia VR experience has real scale and includes a vast range of environments, from beaches in Wales and magical caves to Roman streets and bathhouses. The team was able to scan sets, actors and props to create an amazing array of assets for the piece. They were also given access to the actors to shoot the character performances, which appear in the piece. It’s an impressive achievement.


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