We caught up with Chris Haughton, the creative mind behind our recent project blending art and augmented reality. SCALE, was developed as part of The Festival of Curiosity’s 2021 Prototype Programme and aims to bring the solar system to people’s homes. Our creative technologist, Hannah Corrie, worked closely with Chris to create an experience where users could explore the size and scale of our nearest planetary neighbours and understand the complexity of our universe. Hear from Chris on how the project came about and its future potential:

Can you tell us about SCALE?

Illustration has the power to make concepts understandable through visualisation in a way that words cannot. I am making two books at the moment for older children and adults that make use of this side of illustration, one is about evolution and one is about the cosmos. It occurred to me that this way of illustrating would be very powerful in conjunction with augmented reality. We all know the earth and the other planets orbit the sun and the moon orbits the earth. But we have very little idea of the scales involved. The sun appears quite small in the sky but in fact it is more than a million times the size of the earth. Our brains don’t really understand what ‘a million times bigger’ really means until we see them both together.

How did the project come about?

Myself and another illustrator Oliver Jeffers had the idea to make an 8km walkable scale model of the solar system in 2013. I wanted to work with Augmented Reality in conjunction with GPS location to offer an exciting way to explain not just the solar system but all sorts of scales. When I was young my dad explained to me the scale of the solar system, if the sun is the size of a very large beach ball at our front door, then earth is the size of a pea 100 meters down the road and jupiter is the size of a grapefruit at the traffic junction a kilometre away from our house and pluto would be tiny speck of dust more than 3km away in the local town of Dún Laoghaire. I always love telling this to young children and it is understandable if it’s told relevant to their home or school location. It literally brings it home. I explained my idea to the festival of curiosity and they were so excited by the prospect of the project that they agreed to develop it.

How has it been working with Nexus Studios?

It has been fantastic working with Nexus Studios. I have always loved their animation work but recently I got very excited when I saw the BigBang AR app. It is exactly the sort of thing that I wanted to do with my app ideas. They managed to make quite complex ideas very clear, fun and accessible through visuals and sound.

What’s next for SCALE?

We plan on doing other modes to explain the size of the milky way and the size of the known universe as well as explaining the size of atoms and cells. It’s all very exciting.

Visit Chris’s website here.