HITLabNZ: Magic Book

Writing about Rita King’s Second Life and augmented reality Story Cubes reminded me of the Magic Book project I came across a while ago.

Developed by researchers at the HITLabNZ and led by Mark Billinghurst, Magic Book enables readers to augment their reading experience with 3-D images. Viewing the pages of the Magic Book through a handheld display reveals digital content superimposed over the physical pages. Viewers can choose to fly into the digitally augmented scene and experience it as an immersive virtual environment. There is a great video of it in action on YouTube here..

From the YouTube video of Magic Book produced for the Australian Center for the Moving Image

One aspect I especially like is that the reading can be collaborative. Viewers each have their own device for seeing the digital content and if they are looking at the same page of the book they will each see the same image but adjusted so that it is viewed from the particular angle at which the viewer is held to the page. In addition, when one reader zooms into the immersive virtual experience the other readers see them as a computer-generated figure in the scene.

During the time the Magic Book project ran (2002 – 2008) the potential of augmented reality was transformed by increasingly powerful mobile phones equipped with cameras, sensors such as accelerometers and compasses, and wifi that are able to act as handheld displays for augmented content. Given this, I wonder if augmented reality could be a way for eBooks and Story Cubes to share time-based and digital content – videos, 3-D graphics, audio files and so on – as well as text and images? How great would it be to receive an eBook via email describing your friends recent trip to Peru (or your grandchild’s performance in the school play) and when you print out and make up the eBook as well as reading the text and looking at photos, you can use your phone to view a 3-D model of an ancient site, watch a video of a performance or hear the musicians. What would this add to the experience of reading?


Rita J. King: StoryCubes in a Virtual World

Story Cubes in Second Life

As I explore Story Cubes I thought I would investigate how artists have used these objects in more successful ways than  my fabulously unsuccessful pinhole camera experiments.

Rita J. King of Dancing Ink Productions was commissioned by Giles to contribute to Transformations on Transformations asks writers, artists, performers, thinkers and makers to respond to two questions from different perspectives, why are we who we are? and, what do we want to become? In response to these questions Rita created 27 Story Cubes exploring aspects of how we construct our identity in a technological world and the role of imagination in this. The Story Cubes were only one aspect of the work which went by the title The Imagination Age. As Rita describes it The Imagination Age is a broad approach to rethinking systems through a prism of technology, held up to amplify the bright beam of the imagination.”

In the first instance, 27 Story Cubes were designed on paper. These are meant to act as a catalyst in the physical world for people to build stories in the way children build castles out of blocks. You can download these Story Cubes here..

Rita then recreated these physical cubes as virtual cubes within Second Life. The cubes could now transcend physical constraints of scale, gravity and fixed-ness and they explore the potential of the virtual world to stimulate and inspire creativity as it becomes possible to construct ideas which previously could only exist in imagination. There is a video  showing the Second Life StoryCubes on YouTube.

Finally, Rita blended the two virtual and physical worlds to create a hybrid digital/physical space. The 27th cube has an Augmented Reality marker which can be activated at using a webcam. This allows you to see the alternative reality of the 27th cube created by Rita.

In my opinion The Imagination Age takes the bookleteer concept of using digital networks to enable the sharing of handmade physical objects and extends and transforms it. As a result of Rita’s personal interests and skills the project opens up the question of what is handmade? The Second Life Imagination Age Story Cubes were crafted by Rita using digital processes, are these cubes any less handmade than the paper ones because of this? Another question concerns the different kinds of communication and social networks that let us share bookleteer objects; there are increasing numbers of these networks and how do we find out which type of sharing is most appropriate for our needs? For me, Rita has started a new way of thinking that goes beyond the content of the eBooks or Story Cubes to consider processes of production, consumption and dissemination. Thanks Rita!

Read more about the project at