• joshwilsher

Grad Week 2021 | Fall 2020 to Spring 2021 - Capitol Reef AR

To celebrate my graduation in May 2021 I am sharing highlights of my coursework through the past 4 years in Utah Valley University's interaction design program. These projects are not perfected but ones that I enjoyed working on and I think show my progression and understanding through the years as well as give a window into the work that is done through the program. Think of them as bite-size case studies.

While my previous posts have focused on what has been, this final post will be to show the capstone project that I was a part of. For the end part of 2020 and this spring of 2021, myself and 3 other team members have been working to create an augmented reality app as a proof of concept for the National Parks Service at Capitol Reef in Utah.

(Image by Emily Hedrick)

Initial Concept

Our concept began when Utah Valley University Digital Media partnered with the National Park Service to create a proof of concept for an interactive experience based around the site of the Capitol Reef field station.

The proof of concept is to include an augmented reality experience and a virtual reality experience. One experience for the field and another that can take visitors to Capitol Reef without leaving their home. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, during these 2 semesters, we were unable to start the VR experience. This documentation covers our work through the AR experiences as we pivoted to focus on that element due to the restrictions that arose.

During our research we were able to learn about the history of the area, the family that settled and ran Sleeping Rainbow Ranch. We used these facts and stories to help shape what content would be included.


After our research effort, we had to create for two experiences, the first, the pamphlet.

  • What would the pamphlet look like?

  • How would it interact with the AR aspect of the experience?

  • The second experience, the AR app.

  • Should we host or build the app and its content?

  • How would the general public access it in a remote area, like the ranch?

  • Do we use existing 3D models to build parts or create our own?

Many questions came up as to how the pamphlet would deliver a solid tangible experience but also compliment the companion app that was the star of the show.

During ideation, we create mood-boards based off existing content and proposed color themes to move towards a look for the pamphlet. We also looked at current AR technology to explore what could actually be done with AR and if it was possible to build with our skills and time frame.

Build and Testing

The most difficult part of this project was building the AR app. We originally started by trying to build it natively but we ran into issues such as:

  • The app being confined to iOS

  • Difficult development time and coding

  • AR tracking issues

We were able to pivot during this time to build the AR experience in a web app. Ben Perkins and Tyson Omer led the development of building the web app which turned out to be better for the project as it made the experience more accessible and universal with it being web based.

With building the assets, Josh Wilsher used Adobe Medium in a VR setting to hand sculpt custom 3D models that could be inserted into the web app. The custom 3D models were created to better fit the content we were creating for.

We also ran into testing issues with the 3D models as they would appear with no color which was crucial to the experience. We worked together to troubleshoot and research the behaviors of OBJ files and how color is read from those files. In the end we were able to correct the issues.

Proof of Concept (Final Deliverable)

For the final proof of concept we settled on three experiences for the pamphlet

  1. AR 3D model of the site

  2. Interactive AR models of the evolution of the geology

  3. Living picture.

The 3D models are to allow a more in-depth look at the landscape of the ranch while the living picture is to convey more of the history of those who settled the ranch. The 3D models are scalable and can be viewed on the screen or in AR.

The living picture is viewed in AR to create a seamless experience. When the viewer show the camera a pre-defined image, it anchors to the image and begins to play a video like the image has come to life. Below is an early build of the living picture.

(Video and build created by Ben Perkins)

The pamphlet itself was design by Abby McPhail to give a continuous experience. Each panel of the pamphlet feeds into the next and is most effective in helping present the timeline portion of the pamphlet.

(Pamphlet Created by Abby McPhail)

What We Learned

While this project was meant to include a VR element, the restrictions of COVID-19 prevented us from traveling to the site to gather assets for that portion, therefore we focused on the AR aspect of the project.

This worked in our favor as the AR portion proved to be a full project in and of itself. As mentioned previously, we each had to learn new skills and practically take a crash course into AR creation and development. We hit our bumps along the way but through testing and iteration we were able to solidify our experiences and create a solid proof of concept to present to the NPS.

We learnt of the difficulties of development for native apps as well as augmented reality. You might say that we set our goals too high but we decided at the start of the project that we did not want to settle for a hosted option like “zapworks”. We wanted to explore the realm of AR from the ground up.

As we look back at our research, creation and testing, we believe we made right moves in the experience and know that there are areas we can improve in. Given more time and resources (such as an AR developer) then we could have elevated the experience more and most likely fine-tuned it.

For the proof of concept we created, we believe it stands as a great example of what can be done with AR technology and that while it's hard work, it's possible for other students and designers to participate in this technology.

We think that the experiences in this project are educational, informative and interactive to where it will entertain and edify those who have the chance to interact with it.

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