Immersive Arts lab 9 — Avatars and the digital worlds we live in

My feedback

RECAP — Avatars and the Digital Worlds we Live in — Immersive arts lab 9..

Ok.. so, I have had a few days to soak in everything that happened at lab 9, and I want to use this post, to create a conversation, based on my opinions, thoughts and insights, based on each section of the lab..

I also want to use this post to publicly thank all the contributors and also you, the community, all 80 of you for embarking on this journey with you us.. when i put these events on, I do so, knowing this could be the last one, and so always give it 100%.

Ok, I want to kick off with Jacki Morie opening keynote — firstly a massive thank you for speaking at such and early time, and also arriving an hour early, in case the time zones were out of whack!

and also for all the effort for making this an original talk, with insights you are also just putting together

- the big takeaways for me, are sometimes the most simple.. are we talking Avatars, or Digital humans — right at the start, you set that out, and took us down the avatar route — which is an expression of our human personas, we are like puppeteers using the avatar as an extension of our creative self.. our super ego -

another highlight was to begin to explore the digital sovereign individual and how our avatars will also have a kind of digital hard-drive / cloud within them, which allows them to move freely across a metaverse space — and to ask the big questions.. what happens to our avatars when we die…… morale, ethical and questions of a humans need to create a digital double… to create a vehicle for the persona — the ultimate selfie…

Like I hoped for, this moved us into a nice segway into Graham Shackell presentation on Mask’s, the history of performance and ritual, at least 10,000 years of humans using masks..

but not as we first thought.. I think the images of how Halloween used to be, and i don’t think this is the right word ‘ celebrated’ where extremely powerful, the chat exploded with people saying that they are doing to get a sack cloth and create a replica of what they saw for their covid19 facemasks, Kaye Dunnings

these grotesque, macabre homemade masks, by working people, to mark part of the calendar was profound.. and you can see how the disneyfication of holidays and the associated imagery now deletes any meaning out of things… and its this meaning,

that the Dogon tribe, towards the end of your presentation use Mask’s and the total embodiment of the performer to relay a message…

here we see Dogon tribe mask’s as a timeline, both linear and virtual, both 2d flat, and 3D universe, with 6DOF via the performers movements to take the viewer through a timeline of history and a universe — almost meta masks before the term was invented, and this by a tribe with roots back 1000s of years….

the mask having two meanings, that of the literal, to cover, hide, or to allow the persona to express be creative, but to do so hidden, or in a more abstract way to be a representation of another meaning, which through tradition, is remembered and observed.

The Avatar is sacred?

After that 2 hour opening, it was time to meet some creators, who use there avatars in a digital world to build communities — led by Nate Barsetti on loan from FB reality labs, he was joined by Artsy Marie Michael Nash and Paige Dansinger.

Here we got to understand the motivation and the ways that world building in a virtual space allowed for the creator as avatar to truly express themselves, by allowing the restrictions of the real world, to fall away and allow for total free expression within a virtual space

- what i got from everyone is this group, was the sense of empowerment — how virtual reality design and by being present as a designer in a virtual space, allowed for connection within a metaverse idea to become something tangible — whilst some people spend their evenings in front of the TV as couch potato netflix consumers, this co-hort are building worlds, meeting new friends, and forging communities, one pixel at a time.

Plenty going off here, and so want to give a big shout out to Keith Myers who kept all the interesting URLs logged on this very page and moderated the chat — Keith is also a 360 film-maker and unity developer and a founder member of this lab, and always happy to chat story, technology and Drones.

From here we moved into our workshops, 3 x 20 minute sprints, led by Antonia Forster, who was on her 3rd presentation of the day! and i think 9 of the week — what I really like about Antonia is her style and communication methods, she takes a complex looking subject, and presents it, at speed and with detail, but in a manner that even non programmers can understand (me!), this was her 2nd lab, and I can see us carving out a section at every event!

the 2nd workshop was by Anna Nierobisz (Ania) who showed us how a performer in theatre, can learn over the process of one year, the skillset to develop a fully realised and distributed VR project, which not only pushes forward the boundaries of contemporary theatre practice, but also that of Avatar’s for VR, in the same project, from a novice, turned pro — an inspiring journey through mocap performance.

Which leads us to our final workshop by Ryan Garry, who showcased real time rendered performance by just released epic meta humans.. and there it was… a performer, powering a VR puppet / Avatar in real time, full body, full face and almost perfect lip sink… did the animators in this cohort take a deep breathe and think, we need to start working with actors to embody our creations, or did they think their industry had just changed -

i started to think about woody from Toy Story, actually being played by Tom Hanks — or if Tom Hanks did the voice, but a physical comedic actor, just did the body — anyway… huge change is a foot.. and also… indie animation, what will come from the counter culture.. what new animation voices will be heard — technology empowerment.

To wrap this up, saw the return of VR Manchester and BBC Rob Scott, who led the questioning with Tina Maxwell Wheeler Laura Tag Mein and Lkewis Hackett .

Tina is a great advocate for non developer types, being able to enter VR via the quest and build virtual worlds in FB Horizon, and do so by working with other horizon community members to build things that she may not be able to do,

I get asked a lot by teachers, saying how do they start in VR and how do they work with students in VR.. I think Tina has insight into this.. drop her a msg.

Tina also demonstrates how through creation, she is meeting other world builders..

Lewis was here for the 2nd time, as I wanted him to share his knowledge on world building, and also on his freeptvy space which he has created, and was available for free download during the event -

created in Unity, this space, replicates the warehouse free party music scene, with its music, art installations and avatars, and when i tried it after the event, a couple of people where floating around checking everything out, what’s impressive is that the space is high defination and works with really amazing graphics, and the avatars are neon representations of an abstract human, which creates an equality within the space, and allows for the art and music to take centre stage,

instead of say, who has the best avatar — this insight i think is important when we discuss virtual worlds, and our place in them.. i suspect the avatars are created as neon line sculptures to save on processing, but having uniformity across a collective group, also creates a sense of belonging.. a uniform, defines who you are in a space, as much as complete freedom to design..

Which leads us to Laura the mastermind behind VR Girl… VR Girl was born on facebook spaces, and when that closed down, the avatar which represented her died with it, but the spirit of the hero protagonist carried forward and has over the past few years, evolved and changed into many different skins, whilst also bonding with an audience and world building the spaces that avatar needs for its human counterpart to freely express herself

- i think what i took away from this, besides VR girls innovation, and humour, was that humans, like in Phillip Pullman’s ‘his dark materials’ are connected to their avatar / demons on an emotionally invested level..

this is a nice call back to what Jacki Morie said about the ethics of ownership of our avatars and what happens to them as we evolve or even when we die… but what laura showed as a creator, is that she has already had to mourn the loss of VR girl on a couple of occasions.. and as she commits further to this space, as the technology evolves, deeper still, will her connection with avatar grow… and so, who owns the avatar as we move forward, should be of the most importance…. as with data… who owns our digital persona likeness… is the future battle with the tech giants….

and so.. just a few thoughts… i’m now looking towards lab 10, which will be a milestone for this community, and one that I want to share and collaborate with my peers on.. i know this much, the event will be global and free.. yes free, I want to remove the barrier to attend…

the event will take place over two days, and be split, into real world immersive — covering innovations in theatre, art, AR, and immersive, and day 2 covering the metaverse, and the future of VR and its associated technological partners (NFT, Social tokens, world building and such)

If anyone knows of any sponsors, or has 10k spare (i take crypto) then get in touch!

I was speaking to Amy Peck on a call before writing this, and what i realised and tried to explain, was that this groups dynamics and community is an evolving idea — but one now that we have the combined cross community collaboration tools of virtual worlds (roblox, sansar, de-centraland) a campfire space (hopin) and social spaces to share ideas and discuss daily (facebook group) that this triangle of virtual metaverse real estate is owned and created by the future artists community.. and to be a cross cultural collaborative space , a knowledge exchange, a global classroom.. is i think, our number one objective… the immersive arts lab will evolve, as it enters it 5th year with Lab 10..

I want to say a massive thank you to you all for being part of this.. and please, do drop your thoughts on lab 9, and perhaps what we should do for lab 10, in the comments below.. also, if you know of anyone that should be part of this community, and get a free ticket to the next lab.. please invite them to the group.

Thank you

Mark Ashmore — Founder / Producer Future Artists

PS: the picture below is my avatar that I am designing with an artist as part of my PhD and will one day be born into this world…..




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Mark Ashmore

Mark Ashmore


Mark Ashmore is a Ph.D Researcher at LJMU and founder of Future Artists - He writes about Computer Science, the Arts and Entertainment - He is also Dyslexic