Bristol Old Vic – Window to the Past

The 253-year history of the Bristol Old Vic theatre comes vividly to life with the help of our groundbreaking augmented reality app.

Zubr were asked by Limbic Cinema and Bristol Old Vic to collaborate on a new heritage project to be part of the theatre’s 250-year anniversary celebrations. With the goal of allowing visitors to peer into the theatre’s history, we created a bespoke augmented reality layer which allows anyone to step back in time just by exploring the theatre foyer with an iPad. Step through the augmented portals to see what the theatre used to look like, and discover items of interest and the stories behind them. And you’ll never be at a loose end when you’re guided by the words of a ghost…


Step through our augmented portals

Central to the experience are the augmented portals we placed around the Bristol Old Vic Theatre foyer and the 1766 Bar and Kitchen. Approaching a portal will cause it to open up and pull you in – before you know it, you’ll be standing in the exact same spot in the 1760s. Simply walking away from the spot will cause the time bubble to burst; with a breathtaking transition effect that will return you to the present day.

Immersive 3D renders

Throughout the project we worked closely with Limbic Cinema, who created a number of 3D scenes rendered 360 images which we embedded into the AR scene. Limbic Cinema liaised with the Bristol Old Vic and Bristol Archives to ensure the renders were historically accurate. These immersive viewpoints allow visitors to see what would have surrounded them in the theatre hundreds of years ago.

The Theatre Wall

The radical architectural overhaul of the Bristol Old Vic theatre concluded in 2018, putting the original theatre wall front and centre of the new foyer. This presented an exciting opportunity to reveal the key moments in the history of the wall with the use of augmented reality. Simply by holding up their iPad, visitors can be transported back to any of four different time periods and discover what the space looked like in front of the feature wall.

Your tour guide from the past

To help you find your way around the wealth of content augmented around the theatre, we built a bespoke, AR-integrated tour guide into the experience. A unique character in the voice of theatre historian Kathleen Barker, who has taken up her new role within our app as a time-travelling ghost. With hundreds of unique lines of commentary written, Kathleen responds to each user differently; narrating stories only when you are interested, encouraging you to visit undiscovered areas, and reminding you to hurry up if you’re being too slow!

Within the app, the Ghost of Kathleen Barker records each location, time period and item a user discovered, and presents the results in the form of a custom letter at the end of the experience.

Curate your own History of Bristol Old Vic

In most of our heritage projects, 3D scenes in AR is enough to make a powerful experience, and Window to the Past is already a great example of that. However, when Bristol Old Vic Artistic Director Tom Morris suggested that visitors could ‘curate their own history’ of the theatre with the app, we gamified the experience with a number of hidden items. Each item found, and the length of time spent unravelling the accompanying stories, contributes to your cumulative ‘History Curation’ of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre.

Powerful anonymised data collection

With the extremely varied audiences expected to use the app, we seized the chance to find out more about how they used the experience and what they are interested in, for the benefit of the theatre. Thus we decided to build anonymised data recording into the app – telling us where people go in the foyer, which time periods, items and locations they discover, and how long they spend absorbing the many stories. This information gathered from hundreds of recorded visits is already being used to help direct attention towards the lesser-known content in the app.