In the arts and film world, it can be tricky to stand out and get noticed. But Ben Carlin found a way, when he decided to mix his interest in film making and storytelling with digital, using virtual reality headsets to get people fully immersed in his work.

With funding to help kick start his project Memories of Now from our friends at O2 Think Big, Ben’s exhibition ran for six days in Sheffield. The project bridged the gap between elderly members of the Sheffield community and young people, letting visitors use virtual reality to experience and explore different areas of Sheffield, from the perspective of Age UK members who grew up in the city after the war.

“Using 360-degree immersive video, the project reflected what Sheffield was like at the time of each story, enhanced by bespoke soundscapes and narration,” explains Ben. “In the performance, the young person wearing the VR headset was instantly transported to a decadent Alice in Wonderland themed hallway. Here they could choose from several different doorways, leading to the different stories.”

“After the VR experience, the young person received a handwritten letter from that particular Age UK member, and was encouraged to write back with their own experiences of growing up in Sheffield,” he added. “This culminated in a final meeting where the response letters were given back to the Age UK members.”

Ben says that being an O2 Think Big Project Leader boosted his people management, communication and budgeting skills, and also gave him heaps more confidence when it came to believing in his own work.

So what’s next for Ben now that he’s completed the project and established Epiphany VR as a company? “Epiphany VR and digital storytelling is definitely my main focus,” he told us. “I have just received Arts Council funding for my latest virtual reality production.”

“My dream job is to carry on doing what I’m doing, but to gain a higher profile for the company, which will enable me to receive more funding and take on clients, running as an independent business. I already have a virtual reality performance tour lined up with a series of digital workshops in selected universities and colleges around the UK.”

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Plus, Ben still has ongoing support from the techie team at O2. “Since visiting the O2 headquarters in Slough I have gained a useful contact who works as a Mobile Developer,” says Ben. “In the future he may help me adapt my projects into mobile friendly applications!”

“Because virtual reality is a brand new medium of story-telling I have received interest from numerous businesses and artists,” Ben told us.

So what’s his top tip for standing out in the arts world? Find a niche or something that makes your work unique. “I believe that it is really beneficial to have a unique selling point as an artist or company,” he says. “It makes you stand out, gives you a brand and helps you define the work that you are creating.”

If you have a digital idea that could improve your community, O2 Think Big could give you £300 to get started, as well as advice on how to spend the money and support to make your project happen. Find out more and apply here.

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