NewImages Festival and Cannes XR launched “Alexandria”, a futuristic Virtual World to showcase the best of international VR creations. The Space was created and developed in collaboration with Kreis Immersive, a company specialized in the creation of virtual worlds.
We first visited Alexandria, during Cannes XR, and we were delighted by the concept, the design of space and visual elements, the presentation and installation of the VR works. Visiting the XR experiences – each with its own designed space that gives rise to an entire mini-universe to be immersed in – our first thought was that maybe Alexandria will recreate the space for Muses. Because The Great Library of Alexandria was part of a larger research institution called the Mouseion, a space for Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts. The Mouseion was an institution dedicated to experiences and learnings that attracted some of the best scholars at that time (unlike current museums that host sculptures and paintings). As such, we decided to contact the co-founder of Kreis Immersive, Yangos Hadjiyannis, to find out more about the space, its design challenges.
We found out that Yangos Hadjiyannis was always fascinated about storytelling in movies, interactive media, academic work, but also the kind of empathy that video games provide and all these led him to VR. Actually, in his early childhood, he used to play lots of video games (for example Atari), but never thought he would design virtual worlds.
After graduating, he had different jobs in advertising or marketing companies or as director of photography.
Yangos Hadjiyannis experimented with interactive public installation in Dubai, he set the stage for VR Theater at SIGGRAPH. And all these experiences led to start constructing virtual spaces, such as Immersive Space Alexandria.
Yangos Hadjiyanni is an international entrepreneur, creative director and mentor, and has completed over 250 collaborative digital media projects whilst working at the intersection of humans and technology. He focuses on directing culturally diverse, human-centred experiences that transport his audiences on voyages between realities.
In 2019 Yangos Hadjiyanni and Marco Cermusoni founded Kreis Immersive a company based in Vancouver that develops accessible, experience-oriented virtual and physical spaces for people to connect and consume XR experiences. They started with the mission to create an experience-centred way for the public to watch and fall in love with Virtual Reality content.
So, Techvangart was in dialogue with Yangos Hadjiyannis, about Alexandria’s future of immersive content, the challenges of VR platform, and the ‘’metamorphosis’’ of popcorn from cinemas to… VR 🙂
TVA: You have a very interesting path, from academia, to interactive public installations, VR theater experiments, to designing a VR platform. How did you decide to start a VR platform?
Yangos Hadjiyannis: We have always wanted to be at the intersection of culture and technology, which led us to shift a little bit when the pandemic hits, because we realized that ‘oh, no, people can do physical activities as much’, so we were interested in making our own platform. We call it Kreis (which in German means Circle ) – with the idea that we all want to belong somewhere and do things together. By making our platforms, we set the bases, such as the networking layer, the way that we do things, and construct the space. We call them spaces for a new generation of content – and I would really underline this part, because we know that it is a new generation of content.
A lot of people ask us, “can we do this in a web browser?” And I say, ‘maybe…but, how do you watch immersive movies, the way their creators envisioned them to be seen, right? ‘.
All these movies are meant to be seen in a 3DoF or 6DOF (degree of freedom) environment, they are all meant to be interactive, immersed, and do things as you uncover the story.
So, we made a platform for people to watch those immersive movies as they were intended by their creators.
TVA: I liked that you have emphasized ‘new generation of content’ and I would ask you how do you see the future of this new content type? VR is developing, but still many thinks it is a new kind of TV or film, but in VR you can do interactions, and go to new spaces, so it is something new without receipt and without a standard on how to do it – like you would have in theater or film. In VR, people are still searching for new forms…
Yangos Hadjiyannis: In this search of new forms, we find beauty. Because we’re all sort of trying to figure out how to do it, how to take people into new worlds, how to connect them with stories in a new way, but also with other people. That part I think we still need a little bit of work on – in a way that we can have these communal experiences where maybe we will be able to take pieces of those realities and bring them into this one.
For example, when you go watch a movie, usually, you go out with friends because you want their presence around you. And after the movie, talking about it while having drinks is what wraps the whole experience for you to remember, that discussions and exchange of thoughts about the movie.
For me, that is sort of the collective experience of being part of the story. Virtual Reality takes this one step forward, where you can literally be inside the story and change the outcome as well. Some productions lately have become much more elaborate, I see how it is maturing in terms of understanding how to tell those stories in a way that is a little bit more surprising. The design of the spaces is much better in terms of protecting people from motion sickness.
Some of the first year VR movies were more thrill seekers. Now they understand how to protect the viewer from nausea.
We have been damaged a little bit as an industry from badly made VR movies in the beginning that have created bad feelings for people. So that when they think of that experience where they almost vomited or simply did not feel good in it, they still have memories that are affected by.
But if we actually show them the best things that we have right now, it really changes their mind and blows them away.
So, we have to repair a little bit of that stigma that was done before. And, as the new headsets come out, we also make it more human, where people feel that this is not a huge bulky thing that they put out, but something that extends their ability to experience things.
TVA: I always said that it’s better to watch curated VR experiences that were included in festivals or galleries, because chances are smaller to have this kind of sickness. But coming back to the platform, Alexandria, why this name?
Yangos Hadjiyannis: What we wanted to design was this feeling of going to a location that will take you to other places. We were thinking of ideas: how does it feel to be in an airport? What is that feeling that we want to give? We came up with words such as freedom, ability to feel that you’re at the intersection of different roads.
Alexandria for us was this anchor or this base; And it was me that bridged an old idea of a place of knowledge and wisdom, a place where not only stories would go by, but also people would intersect with each other in the search of knowledge or experience. We bring it into the metaverse now in its new form.
So Alexandria, the metaverse now is the space to go to, meet other people, socialize and from that point on together, transport yourself to other realities
TVA: What would you say are the challenges of these kinds of platforms?
Yangos Hadjiyannis: Well, not many people have headsets. Even now, our target user is the same first VR users, at least a big chunk. Most people don’t know what VR is, at least yet. They’ve seen it on TV and definitely Meta has done a big favor for us to kind of like start killing the idea of what it means to go somewhere in mercenaries. But, it’s still not in the majority.
The larger majority of people haven’t had the chance to experience VR so far. We designed it as such – we spend a lot of time making sure it’s very simple to navigate this. We made it as simple as possible, but at the same time to be inspiring to watch a movie. Also, the way that we designed the spaces are introverted-friendly, too. So, if you don’t want to socialize, there are always corners that are around the space, where it’s just you and the virtual sea, where you hear the waves, contemplate, and you can be in your own space. And when you want to go back to the busier areas, you go to the main spaces and you can talk to people and share your experience.
We tried to understand the type of people who could watch VR and we were designing for that.
TVA: I didn’t know that you can be alone in space, and this is great.! When I was in Alexandria at Cannes XR, I was fascinated by the entire design. And it was so nice also how you made the installation for each XR-film participating in the festival, in those igloos, and those were designed accordingly. OK, it was a little bit of a heavy download, but… it was worth it. Also, on the interaction side, it was nice and fun, that you had to take the virtual headset to watch. So, congratulations for the entire space!
Yangos Hadjiyannis: Related to the download, we’re trying to figure out ways to make it smaller, but that’s the smallest we can get it. I understand it’s a bit of a barrier for many people, but this is where we are, is the best we can do at this point. Especially because you’re basically launching full executables with all of the graphics. So do we have like I think 10.
I want to tell you something about the CannesXR space itself. The little igloos that were spread around and contained each of the experiences, we had given to the artists themselves and they designed the little decorations inside them.
Every view is unique, and it’s a little mini experience itself. So it’s really nice to have seen some you’re just ready for work and as you enter in the week knows that it’s kind of contained. You find that we’re surprised of how the artists themselves were designing those igloos.
It was lovely to see the work that they did and totally integrated. Of course, we had to tweak things and make them work in our space, but it was beautiful to see the individual expression of each person.
I think it’s a symbol of the space; the space wants people to own it, and it is like a community-space.
I think it’s important for the artist to feel it’s their space as well, it’s not just another platform.
TVA: Now that CannesXR and NewImages are finished, what are the future plans for Alexandria’s space?
Yangos Hadjiyannis: Alexandria was built as a permanent virtual platform that will host different events throughout the year. Having a digital platform that lives in the cloud gives the festival owners the ability to do multiple events throughout the year versus a very complex physical event that would happen once.
Canadian organizers are very thrilled to do that, and maybe co-host other festivals from different organizations in Alexandria.
It is interesting to have a place to display, a place that is familiar to the VR users, and it’s always an ever changing space with new content.
TVA: Aha, so throughout the years, you will always have new content and events…
Yangos Hadjiyannis: Yes, that would be the plan. And hopefully we’ll get people throughout the year, being engaged with it, and seeing what’s the newest and greatest.
As we have become accustomed at the end of the dialogue, TECHVANGART asked some Crazy Question
TVA: And one last question. Cinema was associated with popcorn a lot, you know, it was part of the party, you go to the co-name and tackle popcorn. Will we have ‘popcorn’ in VR or What will be the ‘popcorn’ in VR?
What will be the popcorn in VR…? Well, it can still be popcorn, now with the rise of mixed reality headsets, we have an opportunity to start mixing realities in an even more profound way, and switch parts of realities.
Maybe there could be points of the physical world when a popcorn that comes in at a particular time. And as you watch your movie, it's replaced with something else - kind of a more performative act.
Or maybe we go beyond that, in a way that is more meaningful than just popcorn.
I could see elements of different movies at one point finding a way to imply reality, so that people can buy something they can take home; and to be able to see that as a difference in terms of the experience. Food will always be food.
The more lightweight the headsets become, maybe you will be able to watch movies while you're eating.
ABOUT KREIS IMMERSIVE – Spaces for a new generation of content
Alexandria, Port of Worlds a new futuristic virtual world — was designed to host immersive events throughout the year and take you on a voyage to different realities. This complete virtual world – created and developed in collaboration with Kreis (a company specialized in the creation of virtual spaces) – has been conceived and designed as a futuristic port, acting as both a symbolic cultural hub and a launching point into other worlds.
Kreis – Realities experienced together ⭕