Events like World Expos showcase a diverse range of media-based attractions, offering a fascinating comparison of spatial design approaches. With each installation utilizing similar equipment to tell a similar kind of story, the differences in planning and execution become even more apparent. The most successful designs blend content with the space, augmenting immersive video with interactive or sensory elements to deliver a captivating experience.
Achieving such cohesive design hinges on co-creation. This involves collaborating with the studio, tech partner, and installer to ensure that every aspect of the attraction, from the spatial layout to the multimedia elements, works in harmony. However, even with meticulous planning, gaps between the initial vision and the finished product can emerge, potentially impacting the final experience.
This is where facilities such as Panasonic Connect’s XR Lab can help. Situated in Tokyo's Shinonome district, XR Lab is a dedicated co-creation space where new ideas for immersive storytelling are brought to life. The process begins by understanding the client’s requirements. From there, a team of experts collaborates to develop and test solutions until the final vision is achieved.
Uniting Stakeholders in the Creative Process
But what exactly is XR Lab? Takuya Haruta, Chief of System Architecture (Immersive UX), emphasizes that it's more than just a space to simulate concepts and solve problems before construction.
“It's a place where customers can feel the products for real and learn about them in ways that don’t show up in the specs,” he says. “As they are visiting the space, clients often come up with ideas about ways to create content and utilize the products. With visual content, there’s a lot you can’t really understand until you see the final product.”
But hardware isn’t the sole focus at XR Lab. Instead, the emphasis lies on co-creating spatial designs that enhance engagement by merging digital and analog elements. Yasuaki Sakanishi, Head of System Architecture, explains, “First, we think about what the space will look like together with the customer. We then figure out how to realize that vision with our products and technologies. But we rarely discuss hardware; it’s mostly discussions about the spatial design.”
Masami Osada, Chief of System Architecture (Personalized UX), echoes this idea. “It’s necessary to move beyond simply projecting images; we need to provide features that enable new experiences for guests. I think themed entertainment relates especially well to the value of these new types of experiences.”
However, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve in this rapidly evolving landscape. “As a technology innovator, we are constantly testing technology with an eye three to five years in the future,” Haruta says. “There are many things that we don’t release publicly but are able to show to partners with whom we have a special relationship, which is a unique value we can provide.”
Investing in the future is vital. Collaborations between engineers and artists at XR Lab and the Panasonic Center in Tokyo not only shape the development of visual technology but also foster creativity. Artists gain insights into the science of display technology, while engineers witness content development under diverse conditions. This collaborative spirit extends to supporting showcases like “Endless Imaginary” at the Panasonic Center in Tokyo, where XR Lab provides technical expertise to nurture tomorrow's talent.
Spatial Design Trends
Daizaburo Matsuki, Senior Engineer of System Architecture (Immersive UX), highlights the benefits for engineers: “As an engineer, it has been helpful to learn about presentation and content creation, learning from customers about new ways of presenting content.”
Matsuki emphasizes the excitement of collaborating with clients to achieve their vision. “It’s exciting to collaborate with customers and to determine the best setup to achieve their vision. We are in a position to receive direct feedback about our products and solutions from customers, and we are able to apply that feedback quickly.” XR Lab's collaborative approach is pursuing some impressive spatial design ideas. Let’s take a quick look at some highlights now.
Holographic Storytelling Adds a New Dimension
Holographic displays offer a mesmerizing and interactive way to engage visitors. They create the illusion of three-dimensional objects floating mid-air, captivating audiences and inviting interaction.
XR Lab is investing in the development of holographic technology, utilizing flexible, space-saving mesh screens to break free from the limitations of traditional Pepper’s Ghost holograms. These screens allow holograms to move beyond the confines of a backdrop, floating freely above and around the audience, even in brightly lit environments. XR Lab’s partnerships with leading screen manufacturers enable the development of customized holographic solutions tailored to specific needs.
Black Screens for Improved Contrast
In environments with high levels of ambient light, traditional white screens can suffer from color washout and reduced contrast, hindering the viewing experience. To counter this, XR Lab experiments with high-brightness projection on black screen materials. These specially designed screens absorb ambient light, resulting in deeper blacks and richer colors, even in brightly lit spaces. This allows content to be displayed with stunning clarity, ensuring visitors see every detail as intended. XR Lab collaborates closely with screen manufacturers to tailor black screens according to specific requirements.
A World Unbound: Spherical Mapping
Spherical mapping has long been a popular technique for creating immersive experiences. However, traditional methods often require multiple projectors, leading to complex installations and limitations in space utilization. XR Lab has demonstrated a way around the problem using Panasonic’s wide-coverage fisheye lenses. These lenses allow for high-quality spherical mapping using two projectors instead of four, simplifying installation and reducing the initial investment and running costs.
This opens up new possibilities for creating immersive experiences in smaller spaces or on unique surfaces. Furthermore, XR Lab’s partnerships with screen manufacturers enable the creation of customized spherical screens tailored to specific needs.
Immersive Storytelling Beyond the Screen
Projection mapping has become a staple tool for creating immersive experiences. However, XR Lab takes it a step further by integrating content production with spatial design from the outset. This holistic approach ensures a seamless and cohesive experience that resonates deeply with audiences.
Looking ahead, XR Lab is continuously exploring the possibilities of immersive technology. The focus on co-creation, collaboration, and innovation ensures that clients remain at the forefront of this exciting field. If you’d like to explore XR Lab and Panasonic Connect’s co-creative services in greater depth, feel welcome to contact me at email@example.com.
Chad Kunimoto is the Global Business Development Manager for Themed Entertainment and Immersive Experiences at Panasonic Connect