Bringing stories to life, part 1: co-creation at XR Lab

Chad Kunimoto and the System Architecture team at Panasonic Connect’s XR Lab on why co-creation is the future of media-based attraction design

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Events that gather media-based attractions in one place, such as World Expos, are a great way to compare approaches to spatial design. Since every installation tells a similar story using similar equipment, the differences in planning and execution become even more obvious.

The most successful designs seamlessly merge content with the space and augment immersive video with interactive or sensory elements. This brings the story alive in an accessible, sustainable way. Cohesive, immersive design can be achieved when the attraction is co-created holistically with the studio, tech partner, and installer.

But even with the most meticulous planning, gaps between the visualization and the finished product can emerge when it’s too late to correct course.

That’s where Panasonic Connect’s XR Lab comes in.

What is XR Lab?

XR Lab in Shinonome, Tokyo is a co-creative space where new ideas for immersive storytelling are proposed. The process begins by understanding the client’s unique requirements. From there, solutions are developed and tested until the final vision is achieved. XR Lab has been so successful in enriching relationships between stakeholders that it forms a blueprint for similar facilities planned around the world.

XR Lab in Shinonome, Tokyo is a spatial design and research facility where clients can collaborate on projects from the blue-sky phase to opening day.

According to Takuya Haruta, chief of System Architecture (Immersive UX), XR Lab isn’t only for simulating concepts and solving problems before construction. It also allows clients to explore possibilities they might not have otherwise considered.

Rhizomatiks × ELEVENPLAY multiplex, an exhibition staged at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo with support from XR Lab, captures the movement of dancers, converts them into data, and syncs it with projection mapping.

“It’s a place where customers can feel the products for real, and learn about them in ways that don’t show up in the specs,” he says. “As they are visiting the space, clients often come up with ideas about ways to create content and utilize the products. With visual content, there’s a lot you can’t really understand until you see the final product.”

“Here, we bring together the best equipment and figure out what can be downgraded to fit the budget,” Haruta continues. “The most significant role of this lab is that we are able to do that while looking at the result together with the customer.”

Embrace the space

Perhaps surprisingly, hardware isn’t the focus at XR Lab. The emphasis is on co-creating spatial designs that enhance engagement by seamlessly combining digital and analogue.

The team at XR Lab worked for months to prep next-gen projectors for use at NISSAN Pavilion before they officially debuted.

“First, we think about what the space will look like together with the customer,” says Yasuaki Sakanishi, head of System Architecture. “We then figure out how to realize that vision with our products and technologies. But we rarely discuss hardware, it’s mostly discussions about the spatial design.”

Masami Osada, chief of System Architecture (Personalized UX), agrees. “It’s necessary to move beyond simply projecting images; we need to provide features that enable new experiences for guests. I think themed entertainment relates especially well to the value of these new types of experiences.”

Keep ahead of the game with XR Lab

Due to the pace of technology, attraction designers are often unaware of what game-changing products are in the pipeline and their potential impact. Not only in terms of building out a specific project, but also in setting future trends within the industry.

“As a technology innovator, we are constantly testing technology with an eye to three to five years in the future,” Haruta says. “There are many things that we don’t release publicly but are able to show to partners with whom we have a special relationship. This is a unique value we can provide.”

These partnerships allow the next-generation tech to be installed early while extending the lifespan of the attraction. For example, a special relationship with NISSAN Pavilion in Yokohama allowed the deployment of next-gen projectors before they were released.

Invest in the future

For engineers, working with artists shapes the development of visual technology. For their part, creators are eager to learn the science behind novel screen materials. They like to experiment with content under different conditions. As such, XR Lab continues to foster tomorrow’s talent by providing technical support for showcase events. For instance, Endless Imaginary at the Panasonic Center in Tokyo.

“As an engineer, it has been helpful to learn about presentation and content creation, learning from customers about new ways of presenting content,” says Daizaburo Matsuki, senior engineer of System Architecture (Immersive UX).

“It’s exciting to collaborate with customers and to determine the best setup to achieve their vision. We are in a position to receive direct feedback about our products and solutions from customers. And we are able to apply that feedback quickly.”

Collaboration with a wide variety of clients at XR Lab has yielded some impressive spatial design innovations. I’ll explore this in Part 2 of this series. Stay tuned! In the meantime, to learn how co-creation with a technology partner can maximize your capital investment in a media-based attraction now and in the future, please click here or contact me via email.

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