IMAX and Conversive launch an AR app with chatty pandas

While IMAX has become synonymous with enormous theatrical screens, Chief Marketing Officer JL Pomeroy told me the company has “been an innovator at the forefront of technology breakthroughs for the last 50 years” — for example, it recently started creating virtual reality centers.

And today, IMAX is releasing its first augmented reality project, developed in partnership with conversational technology company Conversive and tied to the release of the new IMAX documentary Pandas.

With Pandas AR, children don’t just watch an animated panda in real-world environments — they can also talk to it, getting educated on facts about pandas and taking quizzes about what they’ve learned. The experience is part of a new, free iOS app called Yakables, which Conversive plans to expand with more talking animals.

Pomeroy said she first met with Conversive CEO Kevin Cornish for a general discussion about how IMAX might incorporate AR, but it just so happened that he showed off his platform using a talking panda —  so a collaboration around Pandas seemed obvious. She described the work of Conversive and Cornish’s agency Moth + Flame as “miraculous,” particularly since they had to work on “a very quick timeframe” to get the app ready for the documentary’s release.

In fact, Cornish said that writing the script and finding the right voice actor ended up taking the most time, with the actual animation requiring only a day. That’s because Conversive’s technology can combine motion capture with the “intent” behind an actor’s words to programmatically generate character animations.

“The content can be generated really quickly, at a really low cost, so that having hours of conversational education is actually a realistic thing,” Cornish said.

He also argued that by placing the panda in a real-world environment, the interaction becomes more immersive: “The screen disappears and it becomes about you and this subject.”

And while this is just one project and one app, Pomeroy predicted that we’ll see more AR from IMAX in the future.

“This particular app in support of the documentary Pandas is a great test for us,” she said. “We fully anticipate this will be the first of many.”

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