Immersive Art: Interview with Maureen Towey

Maureen Towey Headshot

Immersive Art: Interview with Maureen Towey

Immersive Art: Interview with Maureen Towey 1024 683 Frank McDermott

Q: For the New York Times Daily 360, you’ve said that some pieces were produced in a day and some took significantly more time. What are some factors that determine how labor-intensive a VR project will be?

There were a lot of factors that affect workflow timing. If we produced a piece in a day, it was usually because it was breaking news so it had to be turned around quickly for it to be relevant on the Times website. If we knew we had to turn around a piece quickly, we would plan a more simple shot-list so we could turn around the edit right away. If we were working on, say, a culture piece, we often had more lead time and could take more risks with our approach. For almost all our pieces, we were working with consumer grade Samsung 360 cameras that only had two lenses, so that made the post-production process a lot faster than if we were using bigger rigs. 

Q: How would you advise an art gallery or museum interested in exhibiting virtual works or creating virtual works get started?

If you are showcasing your work through VR, be very thoughtful about what qualities will work best in that medium. For example, objects that play with scale often work really well when viewed in 360 because you are able to move around with a big object or get super close to something small. Whenever we tried to place a camera in the middle of a room to look around at paintings or drawings, it didn’t work as well. If you can cover the work better with regular photo or video, then do that, because VR is heavy production.

Sensation of Sound illustration
From ‘Sensations of Sound’

Q: What’s one thing you’ve learned through experience that can be a pitfall in XR production?

Staying simple and slow can be really great. Remember that there is a lot of visual information in a 360 frame so, sometimes, you don’t need to do a whole lot to make it feel great.

Q: Do you see a growing space for XR in the fine art world?

There is always room for new technologies in the art world. Either as an artistic medium or as a way to communicate with audiences. 

Maureen Towey is a director working across artistic mediums. She recently premiered “The 8th Year of the Emergency” a short film she wrote and directed. For The New York Times, Towey directed “Sensations of Sound” for NYT VR and served as the Senior Producer for The Daily 360. Towey has worked as a Creative Director for award-winning musicians such as Arcade Fire, Ray LaMontagne, Tune-Yards and Esperanza Spalding. She recently directed a music video for Sharon Van Etten. As an ensemble member with Sojourn Theatre, Towey directs radical community-based arts events, such as Finding Penelope and The Islands of Milwaukee. A highlight of her live performance work was directing Black Mountain Songs, which was co-created with Bryce Dessner of The National and starred the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (BAM in NYC, Barbican in London). Towey has been recognized as a Fulbright scholar (South Africa), a Princess Grace fellow, and as a PBS/AOL MAKER.