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How immersive can change how we view the climate crisis

We have always told stories. Whether fiction or fact, they are how we tell our past, present and what we believe to be our future.

But we have never told stories quite like how they are experienced inside Plymouth’s Immersive Dome at The Market Hall in Devonport.

This awe-inspiring 15m 360-degree space places you inside a story. You don’t simply watch or read. You become part of the experience.

It’s a remarkable way to consume the stories of our past and present. But for what our future might hold, the immersive nature of the Dome gives the viewer a new understanding of what our world might become.

This is exactly how South West artist and filmmaker Michaela French has used immersive storytelling in her recent work, Climate Crimes.

Her large-scale immersive fulldome video installation explores the complex relationship between global air pollution, climate change and human migration.

It tells the story of our present and future in a way like no other. It communicates the climate crisis in shocking new ways. And it is only possible to create this kind of urgent experience in a place like the Immersive Dome in Plymouth.

“For me to be standing in this space is a dream come true for me,” says Michaela, speaking inside the Dome at the recent Fulldome Festival.

“To have this here on our doorstep and to have access and open availability and discussions with the team from Real Ideas about how this space might get used is just wonderful. It’s really an amazing landmark.”

Climate Crimes investigates how anthropogenic aerosols and other atmospheric particles originating in the wealthy nations of the global north – Europe, USA, China, and others – impact global climate systems and contribute to the desertification and migration in the Sahel region of north Africa.

The spatial video content is designed to immerse the viewer in this cyclic story of cause and effect. The imagery shifts from microscopic to universal scales, incorporating the physical dome structure in the narrative movement across complex data sets, global perspectives and human stories.

It is told in a way that would only be possible with immersive technology.

Michaela said: “We are so absolutely utterly inundated with science visualisations and climate visualisations and data visualisations in every news feed or every kind of screen-based media.

“And it’s completely abstract and it’s remote and you feel like it’s just more stuff that you should deal with, but you don’t have time. So you just dismiss it.

“And I think in choosing to make Climate Crimes in the Dome, it puts people at the centre of the story and presents the material in a way that people almost had to engage with it.”

The difference of how the Immersive Dome tells a story compared to traditional film (including the 3D version) is hard to pinpoint, but in the experience it’s all-consuming.

“Imagine that you’re in it, not watching,” says Michaela. “I think for me, that’s the difference between presenting content in a normal cinematic or screen-based environment or in the Dome.

“So in the Dome, the body is central to the story, the person in the body, the mind in the body, the consciousness in the body has to engage with the content that’s around.

“It’s a lived experience. It’s not an abstract idea that you can look at remotely. The relationship between the content and the audience changes a lot in a Dome.

“In the Plymouth Dome at the Market Hall, this space is amazingly accessible for people with disabilities. A group in wheelchairs apparently came to Dome recently and reported they were inadvertently moving their joysticks and that the wheelchairs were choreographing with them with the movement of the image on the Dome.

“For me, there’s a fantastic power in that because it’s a direct link. The body’s engaging subconsciously with this space around it in the same way that we do in the world. So, I guess as a filmmaker, it’s understanding there’s that potential there and that in telling the stories, using that potential to kind of make people think or feel differently about how that.”

Michaela is under no illusions of the power that the facility in the heart of Plymouth could wield in the future.

“What kind of stories we can tell and the access we have to the Dome means we can start to kind of play with what kind of questions we want to ask.” she says.

“So, whether that’s from the community, talking about issues at ground level, or whether it’s opportunities to bring a bigger kind of research and other kinds of real-world storytelling into this space, or whether it’s much more exploratory and artistic experience-based events that take place.

“It’s basically an open canvas and we can do whatever we find here. It’s fantastic. I’m excited.”

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