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Catholic Vancouver Nov. 30, 2017

Virtual reality fills in for cathedrals of the past

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

A woman uses virtual reality glasses Nov. 17 at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre to look around the inside of a church only she can see. (Photos by Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

VANCOUVER—Pilgrims spend hours standing in line in the hot Roman sun to see one of the world’s most famous pieces of history: the Sistine Chapel.

Yet, when they finally get inside, they are literally herded out within five minutes. It’s a problem former video game and animated film director Wilson Tang hopes to change.

“Five minutes is not enough to learn anything,” said Tang, now the CEO of Yumebau, a brand-new augmented and virtual reality company.

“Mixed reality has an incredible power to transport people to these places and in fact probably give them a more intimate experience than they would in real life.”

Tang, speaking to 50 creatives and professionals at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre Nov. 17, said new technology can allow a person to learn about and experience the Sistine Chapel as if he or she was the only pilgrim in line.

Wilson Tang shows how an application on a smartphone can make historical objects appear in a room.

“Maybe you get to see Michelangelo on the scaffolding, at that first moment when he touches the brush to the ceiling. What is he thinking? Does he know what he’s about to do is about to go down in history? Let’s see the painting as it progresses over eight years. What does it mean? What is the religious significance? What is the political significance? What is the artistic significance?”

Others might be interested in holy sites in Israel, but may never get to see them due to religious or political conflict, physical disability, or just not being able to afford the trip.

With virtual reality technology, “we can allow people to really learn in these places in a way they are not able to physically anymore.”

Tang spent some 20 years working in architecture, computer graphics design, animation, and app design before creating Yumebau this summer. 

“It entertained people, but in the end there was an emptiness,” he said. “There is a lot of need for positive messages in the world today.” 

Tang is most interested in the educational and cultural possibilities of transporting people to another world, virtually.

An audience member views statues that appear to be standing in the John Paul II Pastoral Centre.

He told his audience to imagine life six centuries ago. “There’s no lights, there’s no movies, virtual reality, or television. For the most part, you probably lived in hovels and it was pretty dark at night. But you went to these cathedrals, you looked through the rose windows, you looked at sculptures hidden in the shadows, and you were transported to another world,” he said.

“Architecture, and art, were the medium of their time, even though they were made of concrete and steel. They were made for the Church, to transport people’s lives away from the world they lived in.” This is what Tang, with new technology, hopes to do.

The Nov. 17 event was hosted by the Archdiocese of Vancouver and Catholic Creators, a network of professional writers, designers, and other creatives.

A woman tries out a pair of virtual reality glasses after the event Nov. 17.