Narrative Affordances of Scale in VR: Remediating Iranian Traditional Storytelling in VR

7 pardeh

7-Pardeh is a Virtual Reality experience I have been developing as part of my research-creation project Narrative Affordances of Scale in VR: Remediating Iranian Traditional Storytelling. Living in an era where cultural species are as endangered as the biological ones, I brought to the fore an almost extinct form of storytelling known as Pardeh-Khani (reading off curtains) through the lens of the state-of-the-art medium of VR. Pardeh-Khani is a particular type of Naqqāli, the oldest kind of dramatic performance in Iran, which was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2011. The narrator stood in front of Pardeh (illustrated curtain) and recited the stories while acting the painted characters. This ritual was typically practiced in the traditional coffee houses (Qahveh-Khane).

Adapting from the M.C. Escher’s Relativity (1953) and architectural elements of Qahveh-Khaneh, I designed a labyrinthine space which invites the experiencer to take different scales of virtual embodiment and follow a seven-act tale depicted on various sizes/proportions of paintings. I explored through this project, how the VR-specific perceptual cues of scale could leverage unique ways of experiencing stories. Integrating this particular story was a response to my questions of cultural identity which was especially kindled after my recent immigration to Montréal, which I still feel is craving richer intercultural communications.

The full dissertation file is accessible from the following links:

Latest iteration of the VR experience will be available to download soon. Steam VR and a tethered HMD is required. This file was tested on Oculus Quest 2 via USB link cable. 

Under Progress

Navigation Mechanics

7 Pardeh
Rules: 1. You need to get back to the physical center to be able to teleport. 2. Each teleportation point offers three unique scales of embodiment. 3. Each chosen scale makes certain number of teleportation points available. 3. Once you teleport, you can scale yourself up and down via joystick and find your next teleportation target.

2D/3D Artworks

7 Pardeh
The story of "Haft Khan-e Rostam (Rostam's Seven Trials) was chosen for this experience. It has been a popular Iranian folktale and a common subject of "Pardeh-Khani" paintings. "Rostam", the persian hero accompanied by his unique horse "Rakhsh" embarks on a heroic journey of seven stages in order to free "Kay Kavus" (King of Persia) and other Persian paladins. Besides seven distinct segments of the story which facilitate its spatial composition over multiple "Pardehs" (Paintings) within the architectural space, this story is full of characters of various sizes. This was well in line with one of the objectives of this experiment which was to exploit the dramatic capacities of scale in relation to the characters.
7 Pardeh
Seven 2D artworks (Paintings) each illustrating one stage of the story are scattered around the space. After encountering each artwork, a 3D artwork is revealed which portrays the key shot of the completed part (colored shot).
7 Pardeh
Similar to the main 2D Pardeh which is composed of all colored frames, we also decided to have a main 3D diorama which is a composition of all 3D art works. We tried to exaggerate the scale differences especially between Rostam and Div-e Sepid in the 3D artwork of the last Khan.

Physical Research Exhibition

7 Pardeh
Crafting a physical diorama of the space with scale figures was part of the exhibition design strategy, so that the visitors could start engaging with its architecture before jumping into VR. This would have put into an immediate comparison the rigidity of the scale in the physical space with its malleability in VR. The physical exhibition which was planned to be held during April 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic.
7 Pardeh
a) project poster, b) contextualizing information about Pardeh-Khani, c) 2DArtworks, d) graphs/documentations/snapshots, e) 3D architecture, f) 3DArtwork, g) process & final iteration, h) VR projector, i) VR-ready PCs

This project won the Hexagram Student Members Grant in 2018 and the monetary award greatly advanced bringing a number of collaborators on board in a professional fashion. Design and implementation of the navigation mechanic was done in collaboration with Mahdi Sadri. 2D/3D paintings were created with the help of my sibling Maryam Tabatabaei.

Deepest gratitude to the members of Milieux Institute especially Marc Beaulieu, and members of Sensor Lab especially Elio Bidinost for the technical support and provided facilities. Heartfelt thanks to the members of Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG), especially Jonathan Lessard who supervised this research, also Pippin Barr, Rilla Khaled and Enric Llagostera for their constructive criticism and thought-provoking feedback along the way.

Thank you to Simin Farrokh Ahmadi for loving me and professionally supporting my projects.