• Jed Ashforth

The Light in the Shadow: The Brushstrokes of VR UX Design

Updated: Jun 21

Case Study | (Hi)Story of A Painting: The Light in the Shadow


Co-created by Gaëlle Mourre (Fat Red Bird) and Quentin Darras (Monkey Frame), (Hi)Story of A Painting is an immersive VR series with two episodes to date, produced by Gaëlle Mourre and Charlotte Mikkelborg, set for upcoming general release (details to be announced) as well as exhibition installations.


Each 12 to 15-minute episode focuses on an iconic painter and tells the story of the Artist’s life through the lens of one of their most important and influential works. Each episode uniquely adopts a bespoke visual style that replicates the style of the painting, and features narration from influential contemporary UK artists, like award winning DJ and singer/songwriter Cerys Matthews and Mercury prize winning rapper Speech Debelle. Creative XR (Digital Catapult and Arts Council England) provided financing for the first two instalments, with Story Futures Academy, Innovate UK, British Council and British Underground also providing support on the second episode.



The Challenge


Jed was introduced to Gaëlle, Quentin and Charlotte through Liz Rosenthal at Creative XR at a point in time when ‘(Hi)Story of a Painting : What’s the Point?’ was nearing completion. This is the first chapter in the series, concentrating on Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”.



While busily putting the finishing flourishes on this, Gaëlle and Quentin were planning ahead for the future of the series. Both were keen to further elevate the ambitions of the next chapter, and to avoid any VR implementation issues that could be costly to solve further down the line. Like every immersive project, the team had hit a few unforeseen hurdles along the way, and thus invited Realised Realities to scout out their route ahead and offer any insights and advice to make their new journey as smooth and comfortable as possible.

"On our second episode ... we used our first episode as a learning opportunity to create a more ambitious episode, with a more engaged perspective." Quentin Darras and Gaëlle Moure, co-creators of (Hi)Story of a Painting VR series.

In addition, Gaëlle and Quentin knew they were laying the foundations for a multi-part project that would span multiple aesthetic styles. They were keen to define a clear brand through-line for the series, to make every chapter feel individual, but also part of the greater whole. The team wanted to make sure this would emerge through the user’s experience, because adopting different visual styles for each chapter necessarily leaves less room for visual unity. Unifying feel, approach and experiential qualities across the chapters would help create the family to which each of these unique creative experiences would feel they belonged.


  • Artemisia was born in late 16th century Rome, when women had virtually no rights and were essentially men’s property.

  • Artemisia's real life struggles are artfully evoked through an effective mix of painterly realism and puppetry.

  • Being immersed in Artemisa's story is enhanced greatly by a world that is rendered in her Italian Baroque style.


After an initial consultation and discussions, Realised Realities prepared a 25 Page detailed report including SWOT analysis, VR Design recommendations, Interaction Suggestions, and investigated what could be learned from the successes of similar experiences. This was followed by several progress meetings spaced a few months apart where Jed gave feedback and suggestions as the project developed.


"Every new project is filled with doubts and questioning. With every meeting with Jed, we felt listened to and understood. On top of all the work Jed achieved, it is also his reassurance that helped us move forward with confidence" Quentin Darras and Gaëlle Moure, co-creators of (Hi)Story of a Painting VR series.

There were lots of tweaks to the formula established in chapter one, more a case of neatening up and improving on the user experience that had already been defined. One interesting change from the first episode was that the team wanted to bring in some kind of guide to help the user. Quentin and Gaëlle were aware that while having all that space in VR is great, it also introduces a unique problem of how to cue the user’s eye line, to stop them looking away at the wrong time and missing parts of the story. They wanted to be able to develop a solution that wasn’t intrusive for the viewer, but it had to reliably ensure users didn’t feel like they’d missed anything important happening in the 360° scene. We encouraged and helped develop the idea of using a bird in each chapter to be the moving attention cue, hopping and flitting from one point to another to help lead the user’s eye and guide their journey through the narrative as it is delivered in 3D space.


Users at SXSW 22 enjoying (Hi)Story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow
Users discovering Aremisia's story at SXSW 22 | Photo by Caleb Pickens

A minor supporting idea, a helpful tree who could be found in chapter 1, got promoted to the job of guide for the user in Chapter 2, but undergoing a major body change. Everyone loved the fact that the guide took on a new form; it was a fat little red bird who got the role ultimately, and it’s just such a neat and natural fit because of the Studio’s name.


And we think the implementation Quentin’s managed here is just perfectly judged – she’s cute, very natural feeling and feels part of the scene, but she’s subtly and effectively used to dynamically guide the user’s eye. And because as a character she’s tied to the studio name so neatly, this is an evergreen solution that can be applied in any of the Studio’s future projects. No matter the aesthetic, theme or subject matter, everyone will quickly recognise the Little Red Bird, the user’s familiar companion. It feels like a perfect fit. Quentin’s also included some great secret interactions to find by looking around the scene, which work great now because the team have the confidence that they can get their users back onto the narrative thread should they need to thanks to their clever little bird.



From our point of view, this was a wonderful project to help with. Fat Red Birds’ goals for the level of quality they wanted to hit, how they needed it to function in an out-of-home setting, and what they wanted to do to increase the users moment-to-moment delight were already clear in their mind. Jed was able to reinforce their confidence that their many wonderful ideas were not only valid, they were also completely awesome, and then was able to propose suggestions to help develop them further, and ensure the implementation would give them what they needed. It was fantastic to work with a client who was already working with such strong creative ideas and were keen to know how they could best spend their extra time and effort to make the user’s experience as wonderful, informative, immersive and entertaining as possible.


" VR is such a new media, a large part of the visual and interactive grammar isn't well known. From our first meeting with Jed, we felt we had found the sounding board we needed, challenging us and working with us towards solutions that fit perfectly with our project" Quentin Darras and Gaëlle Moure, co-creators of (Hi)Story of a Painting VR series.


The Results


On March 13 2022, the production companies of Fat Red Bird and Monkey Frame held the world premiere of “(Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow,” at South by Southwest. It was awarded Special Jury Recognition for Immersive Storytelling.


Plans are being sketched for the series format to extend to cover other mediums as well, such as Sculpture and Architecture.


“(Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow” awarded Special Jury Recognition for Immersive Storytelling at SXSW 22
Quentin Darras and Gaëlle Mourre receive the Special Jury Recognition for Immersive Storytelling at SXSW 22 for “(Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow”

‘(Hi)story of a Painting: The Light in the Shadow’ can be seen at Burghley House from the 23rd July to the 31st August 2022. It will also be screening at Mediamorfosis in Chile and BIFAN in South Korea in July. More dates and countries to be announced soon.

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