Phantom Limbs

Limb Poster

Conceptual Statement

Phantom Limbs is a project where Finley and I create a virtual reality experience which explores the functionality, history and future of prosthetic limbs to inform viewers about issues that amputees look at due to losing their limb. Our aim is to make a virtual documentary experience for viewers. By merging technology with personal experiences we can create empathy in the viewers towards other amputees and cause awareness of prosthetics and what the future could hold for all amputees. We're hoping that the more viewers see what we've worked on, the more likely that something amazing could happen in the future that could change lives for all amputees.

Limb concept Limb concept

The title of this project refers to the lack of physical feeling of a limb that causes amputees to often feel pain of a limb that is no longer present as part of their body. We know that we can't recreate the feeling of a lost limb physically, but even giving the viewer a first-person view on what it looks like to have lost a limb then it can cause awareness straight away, that's how effective immersion is. This has also created irony of with viewers will be experience an arm they cannot feel as amputees experience sensations from a limb that isn't present. We had the choice of using Unity or Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) for this project and we chose UE4 because it's one of the most 'new user friendly' software to use for virtual reality, along with Steam VR (Virtual Reality). Using this software we created a virtual space of a hospital bed and an amputated arm, hoping to achieve what we set out to do.

Limb concept

We've used text conventions, little to no modelling skills, animations, props and materials to inform viewers about limb amputations. We've also created sort of a story-telling feel to it by making the viewer wake up on a hospital bed and look around, the bed shows a body lying under the bed sheets while an amputated arm sits beside them to look at but not feel.

Throughout the semester we felt that we may have bitten of more that we could chew - as the saying goes. However personally I feel that we have accomplished a lot, even if it's not polished it's on its way to becoming something awesome. This whole project was a real challenge, but I feel that Finley and I worked great as a team, it did feel kind of slow at the start but that was nothing we had much control over because of our lack of experience with game engines. Finley mostly worked on texturing because he had a loose understanding behind them while I worked mainly on 3D modelling thanks to my experience with Maya from last year. Everything else about the project was either common skills or we had to learn them from scratch. One thing I would like to do next time is to look up proper courses on learning different software because I could've saved a lot of time and stress learning everything from the beginning.

Our finished project has met our goals as described above, however I believe that we can make heaps of improvements which is good because it gives someplace to go after this.

Contextual Statement

This project unifies Virtual Reality (VR) and the first-person experience behind limb amputations and prosthetics. By using simulations of a physical space, we've recreated an experience to inform the viewer about prosthetic arm limbs. As with research into Virtual Reality [1] , it is becoming evolutionary and has led to an arms race to arise between companies like HTC and Occulus. Now it is finally in reach of the average consumer, just like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, which uses mobile phones to create limited but effective experience for the viewer. For a larger price, viewers can experience a more immersive package using the Occulus rift or the HTC Vive. Along with a larger audience, VR has increased availability and quality when it comes to experiences which formed a market far beyond normal gaming which fuels VR to evolve even more.

There are many examples of VR such as the prosthetic limb simulation created by the Vienna University of Technology [2]. This example shows how virtual reality requires immersion to be effective as they use special tracking and Unity to build a simulation of mechanical arm prosthetics. Their aim was to make prosthetic fitting less of a frustrating experience for amputees, using electromyography input to make a moving virtual hand prosthetic.

Virtual Reality was decided by us to be the most effective method to create a sort of affinity or appreciation for the viewers. People have been known to be easily affected by even the most shocking pictures on television, VR allows for an effective and immersive way of conveying messages that we want to convey. We want to be able to show that VR can be used more for documentaries, just like the documentary On the Brink of Famine in South Sudan [3], who used six GoPro's to record a panorama which would "take you places that you might not get to go to otherwise" in the words of Evan Wexler, the technical director. Our project informs the viewers and conveys useful information about prosthetic limbs in the form of a immersive documentary which relates to the previous example.

Because of our interest in prosthetic limbs, we were able to make use of having an amputee as a classmate to discuss the idea of people having a larger understanding of amputees, to which he said "People need to understand that amputees can be perfectly capable, and not just some broken object." He has seen that amputees have a much harder time obtaining jobs that they are perfectly qualified to do, but because of their missing limbs they were unable to obtain those jobs. This helps greatly in getting empathy from our viewers.

While we were working on our project, a video was uploaded on the internet which showed the 'world's first tattoo gun prosthetic', this expands on the idea behind empathy and amputees being fully qualified for jobs. This man [4] , Jc Sheitan, didn't let an amputated limb get in the way of his passion for tattoo art.

[1] Halligan, P. W. (2002). Phantom limbs: The body in mind. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 7(3), 251-269. doi:10.1080/13546800244000111

[2] Kaufman, H. (2012, October). Interactive Media Systems, TU Vienna. Retrieved June 12, 2016, from https://www.ims.tuwien.ac.at/projects/arm-prosthesis

[3] Fitch, N. (2016, March 05). Video: How one team created a VR documentary in South Sudan. Retrieved June 12, 2016, from http://arstechnica.com/video/2016/03/video-how-one-team-created-a-virtual-reality-documentary/

[4] (2016, June 12). Retrieved June 13, 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/12/footage-shows-worlds-first-prosthetic-tattoo-gun-arm/

Reflection

Unfortunately due to many reasons including lack of experience, time and there being only two of us we have a proof of concept but not a fully complete VR experience. It's still a documentary but with a few missing elements that could finalise our project. Overall communication between us was great in and out of the studio, we divided work between us with little difficulty however I feel that we've been tackling problems by ourselves, which took up most of the time throughout the project.

Throughout the whole semester it seemed that we could never see the finish line, in some ways this is good but for our first time creating a virtual environment this may have been bad. Working right until the last minute to make sure we got all that we can get by the deadline, this was a terrible way to think and plan our project. We had high standards for ourselves and because of that we feel that we let ourselves down rather than impress ourselves with what we could do in the given time. Our proof of concept was creating a documentary that informed viewers of the history, functionality and future of prosthetic limbs. We may have conveyed the message through text, but in terms of modelling we had trouble displaying them to the viewer while keeping the immersion.

I feel that I've learnt heaps over this studio project and not just about the practise but about effeciency and composure throughout the project. We should always aim high but only in the necessary areas to avoid dissapointment. Hardware was an issue for a good chunk of this project as we found out that occulus doesn't support laptops, which only meant borrowing someone else's desktop for the exhibition.

Studio Critical sessions were quite helpful, next time I want to make more use out of it and provide others with feedback from the very start of the semester where ideas are in early blooming stage. Later I felt I made less use of the critical sessions because I was afraid that we were way too behind or have nothing to properly critique for others. We had Charles have a go at viewing our project the day before the deadline and he says that at first it's disorientating and confusing and to us that's a success because it's already informing the viewer about the feelings of amputees when they first wake up from amputations.

Overall it's uncertain if this project has been deemed a failure or a success, however I do feel our proof of concept is present and by only improving on the project can we make it happen, I'm very happy once I've sit back and looked at this project as a whole. Our ideas are all here and only need to be looked at and hopefully appreciated.