Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Presence, Immersion and the Panorama: a theoretical, technical and artistic investigation into the nature of presence and immersion in virtual reality.
Matthew McGinity
2nd Author
3rd Author
Doctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages
University of New South Wales
Thesis Supervisor
Ross Harley
Supervisor e-mail
r.harley AT
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
School of Media Arts / Computer Science
Languages Familiar to Author
English, French
URL where full thesis can be found
immersion, presence, virtual reality, perception, Actaeon, panorama
Abstract: 200-500 words
Robert Barker's 1787 invention, the panorama, was conceived to make observers “feel as if really on the very spot." It was a form of 18th century virtual reality, an immersive apparatus designed explicitly to provoke "presence," or the sensation of "being there." Over the next two centuries, the panoramic form would be repeatedly invoked in the pursuit of presence. In this thesis, the relationship between the panorama, immersion and presence is explored through three bodies of work: a theoretical investigation of presence and immersion, a modern-day re-imagining of the panorama, and the creation of an immersive panoramic artwork. The concept of immersive mimesis is introduced to understand the assumptions and ramifications of the very idea that the "being there" we enjoy in the real world might be possible in a mediated experience. Drawing on J. J. Gibson's ecological approach to perception, presence is identified as active perception of a light field, a notion which is further refined to the act of creating and detecting invariant structures in multi-modal stimuli. This framing of presence is shown to provide a common basis for understanding the immersive roles of a variety of perceptual phenomena, including the 10 degrees of freedom of vision, ecological optics, stereoscopy, ego-motion, vection and perceptual rest-frames, binding of stimuli into singular percepts, cross-sensory enhancements and transfer, interaction and perception of causality and the destructive effect of the image when adopted as a surrogate for the light field. The second part involves the creation of a panoramic immersive theatre based not only on contemporary virtual reality techniques and technologies, but on the understanding of immersion and presence arrived at above. Four pivotal features distinguish it from its ancestors: omnistereoscopic imagery, spatial audio, real-time image generation and interactivity. Finally, in order to explore the immersive and aesthetic potential of this new incarnation of the panorama, a work of art is conceived. La Dispersion Du Fils, an algorithmic invocation of the tragedy of Actaeon, takes the form of a never-ending, never-repeating voyage through structures and landscapes constructed wholly from moving images and sound. In this work, all the elements of the theory of presence developed above are explored, demonstrating that contemporary presence theory can inform artistic creation and that the pursuit of an art of immersion can provide insight into the nature of presence.