Boulevard Arts and Nice Shoes Break Down Barriers to Art with Augmented Reality
A velvet rope and a stern security guard that’s just itching to say “don’t touch that” are normally in between the museum visitor and a work of art. Now, thanks to Boulevard Arts, a company committed to developing arts-based experiences shared through augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies, and creative studio Nice Shoes, art connoisseurs, educators, and students can all get closer to art than ever before with Boulevard AR.
The Nice Shoes team was led by AR/VR creative director Tom Westerlin, and head of production Nancy Giandomenico, who along with executive producer Angela Bowen, have grown the studio’s immersive capabilities, delivering the AICP and Ciclope-nominated Mio Garden roomscale VR experience as well as Flexon Eyewear’s mobile VR application. The collaboration with Boulevard Arts marked the studio’s first delivery of an augmented reality experience.
“When Boulevard first got in touch, we collectively considered the project for VR, but as the Boulevard team gathered feedback from the National Portrait Gallery, it evolved into an AR concept,” said Westerlin. “The timing couldn’t have been better, with Apple making a huge push for AR adoption. The Boulevard AR app stands out as an effective educational and promotional experience, as it both brings the museum to the user, while also creating a desire to visit the museum itself.”
The first painting available at launch is The Portrait of Sir Henry Unton from London’s National Portrait Gallery. Users scan their environment, and choose where they’d like to place the portrait. Using ARKit 1.5, the painting can either be mounted on a wall using a device running iOS 11.3, or standing on an easel when running a previous version of iOS 11. Boulevard AR is the first augmented reality app on the App Store to incorporate this functionality, detecting and applying context for where the art is displayed, introducing a new level of believability to AR.
Once the painting is placed, Charlotte Bolland, the Gallery’s Curator of 16th Century Collections introduces the viewer to the painting, and they’re able to move as close as they’d like through the window of their iPhone or iPad, exploring an 8K rendering of the portrait. Bolland then takes the user through nine individual vignettes highlighting Sir Unton’s life.
The ability to place the portrait anywhere offers a unique and entertaining aspect to the app, as the painting can be placed in the user’s home, classroom, office, in the middle of Times Square, or at their own local museum. “We’ve been encouraging everyone who has tried it so far to #ShareYourUnton,” said Giandomenico. “The app is very effective at educating the user, but the magic and fun aspects of augmented reality make it a shareable experience. You can’t help but want to call over your friends, or screenshot where you’ve hung this iconic painting. We’d love to see screenshots of the painting from all over the world!” “The team at Nice Shoes is great to work with as they not only have the high-level talent, but also clearly understand our fundamental goal of blending museum quality content and access with innovative and engaging immersive features and functionality.” Co-Founder and CEO Elizabeth L Reede said. Boulevard AR was constructed by Boulevard Arts and Nice Shoes, and the two companies expect to develop more AR projects for the app with special objects and paintings from museums, private collections and arts institutions from around the world.