“We are navigating an experimental field, which is still finding its form” Interview with Alex Segin

Project lead Franziska Ritter talks to Alexander Segin, Head of Event Technology Konzerthaus Berlin. During the 2020/21 season, which marked the concert hall’s 200-year anniversary, we had a chance to test workflows for virtual construction rehearsals with him and his team. Continue reading ““We are navigating an experimental field, which is still finding its form” Interview with Alex Segin”

“There is added value through the results that we derive from digitalisation” Interview with Christian Buschhoff and Fabian Schröter

Christian Buschhoff, who oversees the renovation efforts at Luisenburg festival, and Fabian Schröter, the technical director, talked to project leads Franziska Ritter and Pablo Dornhege about digital tools used to plan renovations and virtual construction rehearsals. Continue reading ““There is added value through the results that we derive from digitalisation” Interview with Christian Buschhoff and Fabian Schröter”

Welcome to the Future – Perspectives and Insights of the Project Participants

The main goal of the sub-project “Virtuelle Lehr- und Lernräume” was to initiate necessary structural changes at the universities. In the long term, access to XR laboratories is needed, such as those currently being established in neighbouring disciplines at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences, as well as dedicated financial and technical resources in the respective degree programmes. In order to work on VR projects, which are fundamentally interdisciplinary in nature, cross-disciplinary cooperation with external partners and academic networks is needed. For this purpose, the „XR Academic Network“ was founded last year at the TU Berlin – also on the initiative of the digital.DTHG – a cross-university network in which academic staff from Berlin and Brandenburg universities regularly exchange information about teaching and research in the field of XR technologies. The challenge in the future will be to create our own flexible structures within the university and to skilfully combine these with external practical knowledge.

Live coding session with Pablo Dornhege and students in small groups via Zoom. Both semesters took place exclusively online due to the pandemic.

In this respect, the two practical seminars at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences were an impulse in the right direction. Project leader and lecturer Franziska Ritter emphasises:

„It was very enriching for all participants to think together so experimentally and openly about how to prepare for the new professional challenges with good digital teaching.“

For many students, this way of working was new, unfamiliar and challenging.  Student Lukas Runge summarises: 

„Pain is temporary – Glory is forever! Through the seminar, our small team of three students – despite little previous knowledge – was able to get started with the game engine Unity3D in a short time and thus develop a functioning prototype. With our contribution „Sound Space“, you can train skills in the field of microphoning virtually.“ 

digital.DTHG team and Prof. Rolfes visit an architecture simulation in the CAVE at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences

Student Gilbert Adamek also sums up:

„The last academic year under pandemic conditions was extremely challenging, so it was very motivating to put ourselves in the role of a teacher for once in this seminar and to think about how we would like to be taught in the future. The seminar was extremely varied, from designing a task, to developing a didactic mediation strategy, to coding and implementing (which we had all never done before). And on top of that, I not only learned something in the subject area of theatre technology, but also about agile working, virtual working worlds and game design! It would be great if there were more offers of this kind in the future.“ 

An essential guarantor for the success of the project was the close didactic-conceptual cooperation with the teachers of the subject areas of the study programme „Theatre and Event Technology and Management“. Prof. Stephan Rolfes, head of the degree programme and professor in the subject area of machine elements and construction exercises, describes the work on the prototypes:

„We developed the first concepts for virtual learning spaces based on existing courses. In the process, the advantages of the technology became apparent very quickly: the possibility of making teaching content tangible, for which otherwise a considerable spatial, technical and also financial effort would be necessary. This is demonstrated, for example, by the exercise on the configuration of electric chain hoist systems, which would not be feasible in „real“ reality: students learn the requirements and safety-related components of electric chain hoists and their controls. They can then configure and use systems in a virtual exercise.“ 

For Stephan Rolfes, the introduction of virtual teaching and learning spaces is trend-setting:

„The innovative approaches and excellent results that have emerged have shown how sensible it is to continue with VR in teaching, but also in research. We still have a long way to go. At the Berlin University of Applied Sciences, we are currently building our own laboratory for this purpose, in which VR and AR will be used in teaching across all courses.“

Prof. Joachim Villwock, who heads the „CAE and Simulation – CAVE“ laboratory and the project „Interactive Teaching in Virtual MINT Labs“, also sees great potential in the use of immersive technologies in teaching:

„The learning tools presented here are an important milestone in the profiling of the degree programme. Beyond the project, the VR scenarios created form an important basis for further developments in the direction of hybrid teaching at the university. The goal here is to consistently link the possibilities of virtual laboratories with digital teaching and learning concepts and to bring them to the university at large. These innovative interaction formats in the virtual area must be anchored and thus strengthen the university through digitalisation. I was particularly impressed by the maturity of the virtual learning tools developed by the students. It shows how profitable the cooperation between IT experts and specialists in event technology and theatre can be and how quickly applications can be created that can be implemented in practice.” 

In addition to the potentials, the cooperation has also made clear which framework conditions will be necessary at the training institutions in the future. Prof. Dr. Alexander Lindau, who has supervised the content of two virtual teaching projects in the field of media technology, states:

„The potential of virtual teaching spaces can only unfold when technical and operating barriers for online or face-to-face users are minimised. We have gained valuable experience in this regard within the framework of the project. In my opinion, a successful integration of virtual teaching into higher education requires long-term investments in personnel and technical infrastructures. Only then can virtual reality fully exploit its advantages in higher education.“

This sub-project and the prototypes created show in a convincing way that this practical type of cooperation requires an agile and creative way of working and the strong commitment of everyone involved in order to be able to react quickly and flexibly to constantly changing conditions. In this way, a new way of learning could be tested together with students and digital teaching could be advanced. Welcome to the future!

Presentation at Bühnentechnische Tagung Ulm

In June 2022, the 61st stage technology conference of the DTHG took place in Ulm: with an extensive program of presentations, panel discussions, round tables and lectures, the theatre landscape was finally able to celebrate its industry meeting live again.  71 companies and more than 1,100 guests were on site, got to know each other and exchanged ideas. Continue reading “Presentation at Bühnentechnische Tagung Ulm”

Bauprobe – why virtual?

The Bauprobe is an important milestone in the theatre production process, where the participants usually come together physically for the first time in a large group: the artistic team (first and foremost the stage designer, but also the director, costume designer, make-up artist) and the technical team (usually with the technical director, stage manager, lighting, sound, video and workshop manager). During the rehearsal, the stage design previously submitted in the model is marked on the stage – with simple means and standard materials. This enables all participants to see the ideas and dimensions on a scale of 1:1 on the stage and to perceive the overall impression in the atmosphere of the theatre as well as to check sight lines. The Bauprobe is used to discuss and check the technical feasibility and implementation ideas. Depending on the stage design, it is also about the materialities, the use of light and projection. 

There is an interesting parallel here to the development process of computer games: There, so-called greyboxing takes on very similar functions, in which all parts relevant to the functioning of a computer game are simulated prototypically. This does not involve the final visual appearance, which is why simple grey cubes (hence the name) are usually used as placeholders for a later level architecture. Based on the greyboxing, the decisions and changes necessary for further work can then be made.

In this sub-project, methods and tools were sought for conducting virtual rehearsals – that is, rehearsals that cannot take place physically in the theatre and on stage, but in virtual space and independent of location. How can VR technology be integrated as a visualization, design, construction and communication medium at the theatre, even beyond the construction rehearsal phase? The basis for our research is this prototypical theatre production process that represents the complexity of the creation process and shows potential intersection points for working with or in virtual reality. 

The result is over 30 blog posts on the  digital.DTHG website, providing basic knowledge for beginners, explaining terms, recommending projects and revealing connections. This knowledge has been presented in detail at over 12 conferences and symposia so far.  The core of this sub-project is the workshop series „How to go Virtual“, which was conducted in cooperation with associations and cultural venues with the teams of nine different theatres and will be continued.

Results of project Virtual Bauprobe

Workflows and Guides for Virtual Bauprobe

In this subproject, methods and tools were sought for conducting Virtual Bauprobe – building rehearsals that do not take place physically in the theatre and on stage, but can take place in virtual space and independent of location. How can VR technology be integrated as a visualization, design, construction and communication medium in one’s own work process at the theatre? 

For this purpose, we developed the workshop format “How to go Virtual” in order to test possible applications in an uncomplicated way with theaters and venues on site. Together with our cooperation partners, the focus was placed on practice, both in trying out existing applications and programs, as well as in developing theatre specific usage scenarios: for example, adapting a stage design to a different venue, presenting construction variants, or visualizing a spatially particularly complicated design. 

The result of the collaboration was a series of workflows and methods that are now being made available to the theater community as guides and tutorials:

Workflow 1 – Sketchfab / Zoom “Semi-Virtual Pre-Rehearsal”
https://digital.dthg.de/workflow-1/  (german)

This scenario uses the free internet platform Sketchfab to present models. Here, meetings can be presented via screen sharing in a video conferencing tool or made available time-shifted for illustration via a link across different end devices. This scenario does not allow live editing of the Virtual 3D Model during the meeting, but is convincing as a starter scenario due to its easy accessibility and implementation for all production participants.

Workflow 2 – Mozilla Hub’s “Bauprobe for Everyone
https://digital.dthg.de/workflow-2/ (german)

This scenario uses the free Internet platform Mozilla Hubs with the associated editor Spoke. Meetings can be held simultaneously in the virtual room via various end devices with several participants. This scenario does not allow live editing of the virtual 3D model during the meeting, but is convincing as an entry-level scenario due to its easy accessibility for up to 30 people.

Workflow 3 – Virtual Bauprobe with VR sketch
https://digital.dthg.de/workflow-3/ (german)

This scenario uses the paid plugin VR-Sketch for the program SketchUp. Meetings and build rehearsals can be conducted in Virtual Space via VR headsets simultaneously with multiple participants from different locations. This scenario enables live editing of the virtual 3D model during the meeting and also offers many other possible applications. 

Link to the project
https://digital.dthg.de/en/projects/virtual-stage-rehearsal

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The results, workflows and methods are now available to the theatre landscape via the digital.DTHG website as guides and tutorials. In addition, a comprehensive compendium of „knowledge articles“, glossaries, programme comparisons has been created like a kind of WIKI. The blog articles are already linked to other knowledge platforms such as Nachtkritik.plus and thus reach a large audience.

The knowledge transfer, which was already achieved during the project period in the form of lectures at many congresses and symposia, is currently being carried on within the framework of the newly created „Bildungsbühne“ of the DTHG. Free online impulse lectures and the further development of the workshop series have already been practised by Vincent Kaufmann and the DTHG team for several months. 

The workflows developed are largely based on applications that we have adapted for our scenarios, but which were actually designed and developed for other purposes and areas of application. The discussions we have had with software companies such as ShapesXR (Tvori VR) or Vektorworks in this regard give us hope that tools will be developed for the specific needs of the theatre and event industry and application scenarios such as the Virtual Bauprobe.

Results of the CANON Project

The CANON project will end in December 2022. Until then, the participating students and lecturers from the partner universities will develop the content for the database in various workshops in Stockholm, Rome and Berlin.

Through the cooperation and practical collaboration, synergies could be created, ideas visualised at an early stage and potentials uncovered. The developed 3D data will be stored and accessible in the CANON database.

Updates for the project: https://www.canon-timeline.eu/

Results of the project Virtual teaching and learning spaces 

The current situation shows how important digital teaching and learning formats currently are and will be in the future at universities, but also in training and learning situations in the theater and event sector. In cooperation with teachers and learners of the Theater and Event Technology and Management course at the Berlin University of Applied Sciences, we have developed prototypical new teaching and learning tools in virtual reality. In a practice- and project-oriented approach, we developed and tested specific scenarios and tried out new ways of learning. The result is a series of digital, interactive training units.

Individual articles on the developed prototypes
https://digital.dthg.de/en/projects/virtual-training-tools/ 

Open source code on Github
https://github.com/digitaldthg/BHT-VR-Prototypes  

Link to the project
https://digital.dthg.de/en/projects/virtual-training-tools/ 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Training institutions, like large theatres, move only slowly. The digital competences needed now and in the future must therefore be urgently anchored in the curriculum of training institutions and universities. Above all, this includes a critical and value-based approach to digitality. Here, new competences are clearly needed in all disciplines, if not completely new job profiles, for example virtual scenography, digital event technology and hybrid real stage work. 

The DTHG has already processed some research results for a sustainable further training offer for the theatre landscape and offers online impulses and workshops. Within the framework of the EU programme „PACT FOR SKILLS“ the prototypes are currently being tested and further developed with international further developed. 

At the Berlin University of Applied Sciences, two of the prototypes developed are currently being further developed within the framework of the funded project „Interactive Teaching in Virtual MINT Laboratories“. The project, which is funded by the „Innovation in University Teaching“ foundation, started on 1 August 2021. In order to enable students to use their skills in applied, scientific work and carry out experiments despite limited access to laboratories, so-called virtual laboratories were created at the BHT. 

Here, students have the opportunity to carry out experiments virtually and step by step before they will then practise them in reality. This has the advantage that material costs are reduced and fewer errors occur. In addition, students can repeat experiments as often as they like, which in turn results in a high learning effect. Additional AR and VR options for gesture and voice recognition offer realistic interactions. The innovative idea of the project is to consistently link the possibilities of virtual laboratories with digital teaching/learning concepts and to carry them into the breadth of the university.

Results of the project Bringing Theatre Heritage to life

On the occasion of the 100th stage anniversary of the Friedrichstadt-Palast Berlin, the goal was to bring the no longer existing predecessor building “Das Große Schauspielhaus Berlin” and its stage art back into public awareness. The VR project “An Evening at the Großes Schauspielhaus – Virtual Reality Time Travel Berlin 1927” opens a digital experience window into the past: the history(s) of the theater, its architecture and its art can be spatially experienced in the here and now. The special feature of this project: historical objects from the Stadtmuseum Berlin and other archives are integrated into the virtual narrative. In this way, the digital exhibits such as posters, props or stage-technical apparatus convey theater-historical knowledge in a poetic way.

Link to Steam / Download VR Project
https://store.steampowered.com/app/1535360/Opening_Night_at_the_Groen_Schauspielhaus__Berlin_1927 

Links to the open source code
https://digital.dthg.de/data/Unity-VR-Grosses-Schauspielhaus_WithoutAssets.zip
2.6GB Unity project without assets

https://digital.dthg.de/data/Unity-VR-Grosses-Schauspielhaus_Assets_Audio.zip
4.8GB Assetfolder: Audio and FMod

https://digital.dthg.de/data/Unity-VR-Grosses-Schauspielhaus_Assets_Models.zip
1.9GB Assetfolder: 3D Models

https://digital.dthg.de/data/Unity-VR-Grosses-Schauspielhaus_OtherAssets.zip
700MB Assetfolder: all other assets

Link to the project
https://digital.dthg.de/en/projects/bringing-theatre-heritage-to-life/ 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

“This VR experience pulls you out of the day. I felt like I was in the middle of the action. Interesting insight into the time of the Golden Twenties. It would be great if this process could be expanded to include other cultural, historical and architectural experiences!” an enthusiastic user writes to us. After all, the project is repeatedly brought to life as a mobile VR production at congresses and symposia. At the moment, there is a seminar at the Technical University of Berlin in cooperation with the Department of Art History under the direction of Prof. Dr. Wittmann-Englert and Prof. Dr. Hopp entitled „Theatererbe virtuell erlebbar machen”, which explores the topics of architectural reconstruction, digital handling of archive objects and narratives in virtual space on the basis of the VR project. The aim is to develop further concepts and ideas for the Großes Schauspielhaus Berlin; at best, these will be implemented in the near future as part of other research projects. 

Results of the project Hybrid-real stage spaces

Cocreative performances in analog-digital interstices 

The central field of investigation in this subproject is the relationship between physical reality and virtual space and interaction processes between spectators and musicians/performers. With the development and realization of the VR performance “Spatial Encounters” we explored the extent to which the linking of a real/physical space with a digital/immaterial space can be used as a design tool, thus enabling new spaces of experience. The aim was to explore cocreation processes in the context of artistic stagings and performance spaces, with a focus on musical experience.

Continue reading “Results of the project Hybrid-real stage spaces”

Results of the project Augmented Reality in event technology

Interactive user manuals of complex constructions and systems

Highly complex equipment is used in the event sector and on theater stages. The technologies and products used are so diverse that their operation cannot be taught comprehensively in training. In addition, assembly and operating instructions available as paper documents are often too unspecific and – especially in the working environment on stage – impractical to handle. At this point, digital instructions can support the work of stage technicians and create a decisive added value by increasing the readability of digital 3D models.

As a basis for a practical examination of the requirements of such assembly aids and for discussion with the various stakeholders and dialog partners, we created a first functional prototype for the AR-supported assembly of a curtain rail. The instructions – in the form of an interactive website – guide the user through the assembly in ten simple steps after an overview of all required parts used and tools. A short accompanying text (theoretically also possible in several languages) describes the procedures and points out pitfalls. The individual construction steps are stored as three-dimensional animations and can be sequentially triggered, whereby the viewing angle and zoom factor can be determined by the user. 

Open source codes on Github
https://github.com/digitaldthg/Web-XR-Digitale-Aufbauanleitung  

Link to the project
https://digital.dthg.de/en/projects/augmented-reality-in-event-technology/ 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Based on the findings from the first prototype, which was developed for the construction of a specific curtain rail, and in combination with the WebXR editor/viewer application, which was created for the visualisation of theatre architecture, a transferable workflow for the creation of augmented assembly instructions and operating aids was developed. This combination brings to bear the special advantages of an editorial system with an easy-to-use web interface. Thus, manufacturers can compile new instructions from existing 3D modules and publish them immediately. Knowledge of coding and 3D modelling is not necessary. This means that the tutorial can later be transferred to other theatre technology products and elements. A further expansion stage would be the connection to an online configurator in combination with a product library. This way, customers could have their individual combinations of products displayed directly at the respective venue.

Through the development of the augmented assembly instructions, the draft for a utopian, infrastructural concept emerged in collaboration with the cooperation partners, which could not be deepened within the framework of this research project. Building on the vision of a manufacturer-independent database for theatre technologies, the aim is, among other things, to recognise and augment objects or products in order to precisely determine the origin, compatibility, test history and life cycle of a machine or object. Linked to the findings of this research project, these data sets could be used to support safety-relevant work, such as risk assessment, functional safety checks or remote diagnosis and maintenance.

Results of the project Augmented reality as a communication tool

Complex building projects, new buildings and renovation projects for theatres and cultural venues bring great communicative challenges for all involved. Not everyone is trained to read floor plans and many find it difficult to translate a plan drawing into a three-dimensional image. To what extent can digital technologies such as augmented reality be used to support communication on models, on drawings and in real space and to present complex architectural transformation processes in a comprehensible way? 

Together with the Luisenburg Festspiele in Wunsiedel we outlined an easy-to-use, „augmented“ presentation format: Using a tablet, smartphone or AR glasses, users can present three-dimensional content on a drawn floor plan or a physical terrain model, for example the current planning status or variants of a stage design. The physical-real objects serve as anchor points for the overlay of digital three-dimensional content. The presentations can be prepared in advance by the presenters and contain a wide range of information. Similar to the slides of a PowerPoint presentation, the presenter and viewer can then click through the different 3D models. The developed application consists of two related components: On the one hand, this is the WebXR editor, in which the „slides“ are compiled and prepared, and on the other hand, the WebXR viewer, which can be called up online to display the presentation. This browser-based and device-independent use allows the same content to be played out in different ways. 

  • The WebXR editor, where the “slides” are compiled and prepared.
  • The WebXR viewer, which can be accessed online to display the presentation.

Both applications were designed in such a way that they are not only specific to this subject area, but can also be transferred to other areas: Thus, with this application, we were able to develop parallel adaptations for the topics „Augmented Reality in Event Technology“ and „Digital Twins of Theatre Technology History“.

The technical basis for the application is the new WebXR standard, which allows three-dimensional content to be displayed on a wide variety of devices, whereby the type of display depends on the technical capabilities of the hardware. This browser-based and device-independent use allows the same content to be played out in different ways.

Open source code on Github
WebXR editor (backend): https://github.com/digitaldthg/Web-XR-Editor-Backend
WebXR viewer (presenter): https://github.com/digitaldthg/Web-XR-Editor-Presenter  

Link to the project
https://digital.dthg.de/en/projects/mixed-reality 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Even though the development of the platform within the research project has been completed, the servers will remain online for the time being and our cooperation partners and the digital.DTHG team can continue to work with the application and gain important experience. We also discuss further questions with external stakeholders and outline further use scenarios. Such use cases include, for example, interactive presentations with school classes (for example for theatre education), site and building overviews for the safety briefing of new staff or also the communication of tourist information for an interested public (for example in the outdoor area of a venue).

This leads to an extension of the desired functionality, for example, an option for georeferenced tracking is needed for outdoor use. The development of new applications also expands the circle of possible users. This shows that a further development of the application is also interesting for actors outside the theatre landscape and that independent and usable products and communication tools can be created on the basis of the prototypes.