In September 2019, IOU was awarded R&D funding for new immersive production in development called Sea to Sea. With funding from the University of York’s XR Stories, IOU collaborated with Leeds Beckett University, Anti Limited and Northern railway to create a prototype that demonstrates that technology can be developed to create a location-inspired audio storytelling experience on a moving train.
Sea to Sea is based on a train journey from Scarborough to Blackpool. The concept is that by using an app, developed in partnership with Leeds Beckett University App Studio, that at every station halt, we hear (and imagine) a new passenger-come-storyteller board the train and sit opposite us. In the time it takes to reach the next station the storyteller describes their thoughts triggered by the view we share from the moving carriage window.
For the prototype, we used the section of the route between Halifax and Hebden Bridge as the test-bed to make the prototype.
A key part of the research was to develop an app that plays sections of pre-recorded stories that are written about specific locations along the route of a train journey. The challenge is to trigger and play the audio at the exact moment a listener passes by the relevant location, to enhance the storytelling experience by creating a clear connection between what we hear through the app, and what we see through the window of the carriage.
The research has focused on making an app that achieves this aim reliably and accurately when moving at high and variable speeds through tunnels, land and cityscapes.
IOU worked with writer and performer Jemima Foxtrot to create the narrative for the prototype. She grew up in the Calder Valley, which this section of the journey passes through, and so was able to write the narrative based on her knowledge and personal experience growing up and living in the area.
Watch the film below to see the app working alongside a video of the journey from Halifax to Hebden Bridge, combined with Jemima’s narrative.
IOU also researched the potential to create an immersive 360° VR film of the full train journey to be watched with the storytelling content so that audiences could experience sections of the train journey anywhere in the world online or as a VR installation at partner venues along the route.
An important part of the research was the design, engineering and testing of a 360° camera rig attached to the front of any train used on a regular service route.
Watch a video of the full 360° test journey below.
Current Partners Include Northern, Leeds Beckett University, Anti Limited, XR Stories, York Mediale, Bronte Society, Bradford Literature Festival, Bradford Impact Hub, Super Slow Way, Lancashire Encounter Festival, Welcome To Yorkshire, Calderdale Council.
“IOU’s Sea to Sea project has developed through R&D, and is an innovative and exciting project that is well-aligned with Bradford Literature Festival in its focus on shared experience, narrative, oracy and ‘storytelling’. Bradford Literature Festival welcomes the invitation from IOU to participate in Sea to Sea, alongside our colleagues from across the sector and the North.“
Kelly Holt, Bradford Literature Festival, Creative Producer.
XR Stories supports research and development for companies working in cutting-edge digital technologies in the Yorkshire and Humber region across film, TV, games, media arts, heritage, advertising and technology to champion a new future in storytelling.