Being Lenin

BBC Research and Development

Virtual Reality (VR) has been widely applied to cultural heritage such as the reconstruction of ancient sites and artefacts. It has hardly been applied to the reprise of specific important moments in history. On the other hand immersive journalism does attempt to recreate current events in VR, but such applications typically give the viewer the role of mere spectator in the scene of interest.

We wanted to show how VR was used to reconstruct a specific historical event, where a famous photograph was brought to life, showing Lenin, the leader of the 1917 October Russian Revolution, giving a speech to Red Army recruits in Moscow 1920.

With BBC Research we were interested in understanding how VR can be used for story telling. We were trying to explore whether actually being part of the story would help in getting people interested in understanding history better.

The findings and research of this project were published in Frontiers in Robotics and AI.

We were interested in how the portrayal of an event following the Revolution might give people the illusion of having been there and taken part in it, and also how to engender sufficient interest so that they would later follow-up on those events after their exposure.

Our goal was to bring this photograph to life in immersive virtual reality, where participants could experience being in the crowd, or delivering the speech as Lenin, standing in the place of Trotsky, or even floating above the crowd to obtain a bird’s eye view of the scenario.

The director of the BBC Audience said: “We know how difficult it can be to drive audiences to online content; from all of BBC’s research up to date we might expect a small proportion of the audience to go online to a related website after watching a TV program for example. So whilst this was a small study 17% conversion rate is very impressive, and potentially indicative of the significant impact VR could have at scale.”