PRESENCE, IMMERSION AND THE PANORAMA
A theoretical, technical and artistic inquiry into the nature
of presence and immersion in virtual reality.
MATTHEW MCGINITY 2014
In this thesis, the phenomenon of presence in immersive media is explored through three bodies of work: a theoretical account of presence and immersion, the development of a multi-user panoramic virtual reality theatre and the creation of an immersive artwork.
The concept of immersive mimesis is introduced to understand the assumptions and ramifications of the very idea that the "being there" we enjoy in the real world might be possible in a mediated experience. Drawing on J. J. Gibson's ecological approach to perception, presence is identified as active perception of a light field, a notion which is further refined to the act of creating and detecting invariant structures in multi-modal stimuli. This framing of presence serves as a common basis for understanding the immersive roles of a variety of perceptual phenomena, including the 10 degrees of freedom of vision, ecological optics, stereoscopy, ego-motion, vection and perceptual rest-frames, binding of stimuli into singular percepts, cross-sensory enhancements and transfer, interaction and perception of causality and the destructive effect of the image when adopted as a surrogate for the light field.
The second part involves the creation of a panoramic immersive theatre based not only on contemporary virtual reality techniques and technologies, but on the understanding of immersion and presence arrived at above. Four pivotal features distinguish it from its panoramic heritage: omnistereoscopic imagery, spatial audio, real-time image generation and interactivity.
Finally, in order to explore the immersive and aesthetic potential of this theatre, a work of art is conceived. La Dispersion Du Fils, an algorithmic invocation of the tragedy of Actaeon, takes the form of a never-ending, never-repeating voyage through structures and landscapes constructed wholly from moving images and sound. In this work, all the elements of the theory of presence developed above are explored, demonstrating that contemporary presence theory can inform artistic creation and that the pursuit of an art of immersion can provide insight into the nature of presence.
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