News / Winnipeg

New augmented reality app reveals Winnipeg's hidden history

The App takes users to some of Manitoba’s greatest landmarks, like the Esplanade Riel and Gabrielle Roy House, in honour of the Cinémental film festival.

Cinemental25 App developer Corey King at the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge in Winnipeg Manitoba, October 13, 2016.

Lyle Stafford/For Metro

Cinemental25 App developer Corey King at the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge in Winnipeg Manitoba, October 13, 2016.

A new made-in-Winnipeg augmented reality (AR) app allows users to peel back the layers of the city’s history.

Tied to the 25th anniversary of the Cinémental film festival, the “Cinémental 25” app released Thursday is an engaging, location-based AR scavenger hunt with enough surprising Winnipeg lore that the developers got carried away just making it.

“We just started learning that there’s all of these amazing things just below the surface,” said Corey King, the project-lead for Winnipeg’s ZenFri Inc, which developed the app with local start-up Bit Space.

More than 30 spots around Winnipeg—from museums and cathedrals to theatres and malls—have location-triggered interactive “posters” app-users engage through their smart phones. It's like a less random Pokemon Go experience tied to the film festival and Winnipeg’s history simultaneously.

Take for example an interactive location at Mon Ami Louis: upon discovery, the app informs users that the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge was designed by Winnipeg architect Étienne Gaboury, who is responsible for 300 projects worldwide including the Royal Canadian Mint, the St. Boniface Cathetdral, and Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain, which hosted Cinémental since 2008.

Gaboury has recieved the Orders of both Canada and Manitoba, won the Massey Award, a Heritage Canada award, an award from the American Institute of Architects, “and most people have no idea,” King said.

At the St. Boniface Museum, the app will tell users the building is “the oldest building in Winnipeg,” contains work of famed local artist Réal Bérard, who also designed the Louis Riel Bust near the museum’s entrance and was the subject of a 1999 feature length documentary screened at Cinémental.

King said it’s sort of a “very Winnipeg thing” to have world-class architecture and art that would be “world famous” if it were anywhere else, but “people who live here don’t even really know about them.”

The amount of research that went into interweaving the app elements with physical locations, the film festival and Winnipeg’s history was far beyond the project's scope, but King said he just found it all too interesting to stop.

Proven model

Zen Fri Inc. was also responsible for the hit AR alien-shooting game, Clandestine Anomaly, which predated the Pokemon Go craze and rode the wave of its success.

While that AR app had a large budget, King felt scaling the technology for local applications or clients was a concept he wanted to prove.

“It’s making cool city-wide or bigger location-based AR games at a price that is targeted more to festivals, businesses, museums, things like that,” he said.

King believes affordable, engaging apps like Cinémental 25 change the expectations of his industry.

 “We proved we could actually execute, get the cost down, and come up with a design concept that’s affordable but still awesome,” he said, adding that the collaborative project proves Winnipeg is “a great place to be innovative.”

App-users have the chance to win passes and tickets to Cinémental 2016 and 2017.

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