I sat down (over the internet) to have a chat with Helen Papagiannis, the person behind Augmented Stories, the @ARstories twitter account, and the very first augmented children’s pop-up book, Who’s Afraid of Bugs, experienced on iPhone or iPad 2 through the junaio augmented reality browser. Though I met Helen briefly and attended her excellent presentation in May at Augmented Reality Event in Santa Clara, CA, I wanted to learn more about her AR research – especially this new endeavor with augmenting children’s literature for the purpose of education.
You explained a bit on your blog already, but tell us a little more
about what led you to this project.
I was really excited to create something in AR for iPad 2 and take advantage of the beautiful screen real estate and rear camera, particularly as no one had done this yet with a children’s book, let alone a physical pop-up book. I adore paper engineering and pop-up books, as well as digital technology. And that’s what AR
can do really well, combine these two areas: the tactile with the virtual. The other important part for me was to design something with image recognition or natural feature tracking, as opposed to obtrusive markers that can really disrupt the design (to be dually noted, I’ve also seen this done well and such ‘glyphs’ can help signify that there is an AR experience waiting).
In the case of my AR pop-up book, Who’s Afraid of Bugs?, image recognition
was a natural fit as the reader is asked to use the iPad 2 to uncover these
creatures throughout the story, overcoming their fears, not knowing where these
bugs might pop-up! Ok perhaps that’s a little cruel but I really think it adds to
the wonderment (one of my favourite words for AR and the subject of my TEDx talk) of the experience in the unexpected reveals. “Wonderment” is probably not
the word someone with a terrible fear of creepy-crawlies would use, but even still,
I think there’s a moment of astonishment, which is startling, that arises when the
3D creature ‘magically’ appears through AR.
Lastly, the iPad 2 creates an excellent shift in how we view AR experiences – we
now have a real ‘looking-glass’ to use, with a direct sight line into another world,
as opposed to previous web-cam desktop experiences where, in my opinion,
there can be a real disconnect between the viewer and the AR/physical space.
Too often wee see those YouTube videos of someone trying very hard to peer
over a piece of paper they’re holding up to their web-cam on their computer.
Sure, again, there are successful examples of the magic-mirror approach, but I
think we’re getting closer to the future of the ubiquity of direct AR vision and
eyewear with the looking-glass method. Exciting times!
“AR, like cinema when it was first new, commenced with a
wonderment of the technology”. You’ve often compared the
beginning of moving pictures to that of Augmented Reality. Your
TEDx talk had eventgoers pass through “the ghost of Melies”; early
responses to the Lumiere brothers The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat
had reviewers speaking of haunting apparitions and phantoms
moving across the wall; compared to the initial reaction to film, is AR
a similarly-unnerving paradigm shift in the way we experience
We’re entering a whole new visual medium and language with AR, and thereby a
paradigm shift (similar to film when first new). This is an area of my PhD research
and one that I’m currently writing about. I mentioned astonishment – this is actually a term film theorist Tom Gunning uses to describe the initial reaction of
early film spectators, and one that I draw from. Gunning describes a sense of
shock that arises in the audience from a fear that they are threatened by a fastspeed
locomotive, which is charging at them from on screen.
There’s a wonder at the illusion presented. Similarly, we could say there is a moment where the AR spider evokes a similar reaction of threat and astonishment, although in reality, we know it’s not there. “Presence” is a term VR and AR researchers use to
describe the ‘sense of really being there’. Merging the physical environment and
digital objects in AR creates potentially large opportunities for presence. We
need to harness this alongside context to create compelling content and
experiences. Unlike film, and any medium before it, AR has it’s own unique
characteristics that we need to leverage. I spoke to this in my ARE2011
So far the response to your book has been overwhelmingly positive,
especially on Twitter. Do you plan to make other pop-up books along
the same lines for Ophidiophobes, Mysophobes, Walloonaphobes
Yes, I’d love to! I think there’s the potential to address numerous phobias here,
utilizing AR in a playful manner. As I mention on my blog, AR psychotherapy
studies were an inspiration to the narrative. Not sure about “Walloonaphobes”,
Mr. Lord. What are you trying to say about the Belgians?
I love Francophonic Belgians- but some people are irrationally afraid of them. Your research, your projects, even your twitter account convey the
importance of narratives within technology and media. How do you
see the progression of AR’s narrative so far?
As I’ve said in the past about AR: content really needs to catch up to the
technology. I really think we’re starting to get there! Developing compelling
content is a critical component to AR’s success: AR has to be fun, entertaining
and provide a valuable experience. The time is ripe for more AR explorers and
storytellers to help define where AR can go as a new format and to contribute to its staying power beyond gimmick or fad.
Let’s look at early cinema again. The first films were about the novelty of the
technology. (The subjects of these films would seem very mundane to us today:
workers leaving a factory, etc.) Narrative came later, and so with AR. I believe
this is what the next phase holds; a serious inquiry into what the technology can
do beyond captivation with the technology in itself.
If AR had a memoir, what would its title be?
When I divorced myself from other mediums and came into my own
Or Who I Was, Who I Am and Who I Want to Be: A Memoir by Augmented
Reality. Ok I cheated on the last one and used the ‘Memoir Generator’ on the
Or how about, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. Wait, no that’s a real
book and is actually kind of relevant to (the future of) AR in regards to
neurological functions and altered perception.
When can we expect the completed book?
I’m presently seeking a publisher. A shameless call out to publishers who see the
promise and future of AR in books and would like to collaborate! I may also self-publish.
Let’s put it in the ‘books’ for late Fall 2011/Winter 2012.
What was your biggest fear when you were a kid? What would have
been the best augmented reality experience to help you overcome it?
I was TERRIFIED of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz when I
was a kid. No lies. I loved that movie and watched it repeatedly, but whenever
the witch appeared I would jump over the couch and duck down until she was
gone. The best AR experience to help me overcome it would have probably been
a magic-mirror effect where I became the Wicked Witch and realized that
maybe she’s not so different after all — perhaps there’s a little wickedness in
each of us? Or it would have been potentially scarring.
But the point here is that one of the things AR can do really well is
personalization, whether it’s in branding, storytelling (aren’t they one in the
same?), information sharing, or play. AR also has the opportunity to be an
empathy builder, allowing for perspective shifts and seeing a new world, virtually,
from someone else’s point of view. Ok I should stop, I’m writing a dissertation
here. Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter. I also consult.