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Fun for you and the kids: learn about 3D Printers, MaKey MaKey and more

December 27, 2016 | Dawn | Comments (0)

If you are looking for fun and the chance to learn something new on your holiday break why not come down to the library and check out one of our classes:

New Classes Added!

Toronto Reference Library - 789 Yonge St, north of Bloor

MakerBot_Replicator_23D Printer Certification Wed Dec 28, 2016, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm 

3D Printer Certification Thu Dec 29, 2016, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Play with MaKey MaKey Fri Dec 30, 2016, 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.


Mount Denis Library - 1123 Weston Road neat Eglinton Ave

Makey_MakeyMaKey MaKey for Kids! Thu Dec 29, 2016, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Snap Circuits for Kids! Fri Dec 30, 2016, 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.



Nor just for the holidays - try out one of our many classes throughout the year.

Take a class at one of the Digital Innovation Hubs

or a take a class at one of our Pop-up Learning Lab locations.


Happy New Year, everyone - here's to another year of learning!


Gift Idea: Create Your Own Book

November 21, 2016 | Dawn | Comments (0)

It's not too late to consider a self-published book as a gift for the holiday season -- and you can do the printing right here at the library with Asquith Press!

Consider these ideas:

  • your favourite childhood story
  • a collection of family recipes
  • those poems you've had tucked away for ages
  • that great Canadian novel
  • your family history
  • a personal memoir
  • a custom notebook or diary

EBMOnce you have your content completed, then you need to format your book and book cover to work on our machine. Download Asquith Press Book Printing Guide REV Jan 2016 for all the technical specifications. 

Asquith Press books are glue-bound paperbacks with full colour covers and black and white interior pages. You can include illustrations and photos in grayscale. And you can print as few or as many books as you like.

NoteBooks are usually ready for pick-up in five to ten business days after we receive your final files.

We are located in the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Reference Library. Contact us at 416-393-7007 or for an appointment to review your finished files.

Learn more on our website or attend a class or information session.

 Maggie Morris EditorStill editing that masterpiece?

Why not attend an Editing Workshop with Maggie Morris and pick up some tips to bring your project to life?

Maggie's next class is on Friday Nov 25, 2-4 pm at the Toronto Reference Library:

Learn practical tips and techniques for evaluating your own fiction and non-fiction manuscripts through a thorough description of the three stages of editing: substantive, stylistic and copy editing. This seminar will include hands-on activities, Q&A, and a handout with seminar notes, cheat sheets.

Instructor Maggie Morris is a writer and editor with a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University, and an active member of the Editors' Association of Canada.

If you still have questions about the service just phone us: 416-393-7007 or email us at

Our Innovator in Residence Reflects on Virtual Reality

October 18, 2016 | Lina | Comments (0)


Photo credit: Ashley Lo Russo

As we move into October, I wanted to reflect back on the past month in my role as the Innovator in Residence for virtual reality (VR) at Scarborough Civic Centre branch. Up until now, I have spent all my time at the Scarborough branch and I have been taken aback by people’s curiosity and enthusiasm for this burgeoning medium. For instance, I have done two courses on live action production where I’ve focused on both storytelling and production techniques and on both days I had the same people attend. This was very gratifying, as I can see people are really excited about the possibilities of making live action content for VR and despite the challenges, they are really jumping in with both feet.

October as it happens, also turns out be an important month for VR as there are (and were) a lot of key events scheduled. First, Google has announced the release of their mobile Daydream VR platform and on October 20th, will be shipping the Google Pixel, first phone that will be capable of running on it. This is a watershed moment, as in the next year you will see a lot of different manufacturers making Daydream-ready devices, which will open up the market considerably for both consumers and developers.  

Secondly, on October 13th, Playstation released PSVR. This is a moment a lot of people in the industry have been waiting for as it represents the time that VR truly hits the mainstream. There are an estimated 50 million PS4s in the world and all of them are capable of running PSVR. As a result, high end VR has never been easier to get into from a cost perspective when compared to the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. We will know in the next few months if this is the case, but so far all the reviews are pointing out that Sony has a winner on its hands.

Finally, at the beginning of October, I had the opportunity to attend Oculus Connect. Connect is their development conference where they share important announcements about what they are working on and what they will be releasing. This year, the focus was Oculus Touch, their hand controllers about which they have been teasing the public for the past year. I got to try a bunch of demos with the controllers and they feel amazing. In addition, I got to meet lots and lots of creators who are building all sorts of applications for VR that ran the gamut from live sports experiences, room-scale games and big budget 360 video projects. It was truly inspiring.

Oculus also talked about a VR headset that they are building which is completely wireless and uses computer vision cameras for positional tracking. I anticipate the product won’t be out for the next year or two, but they did have a prototype which they were showing to journalists -- and all the articles I read gave high praise for comfort of the experience. It is clear that nobody is standing still while the technology is moving at an exponential rate. As I say in my classes, there has never been a better time to get involved in VR and if you have still have any skepticism, just wait and see what happens in November. 

- Elli Raynai, Fall 2016 Innovator in Residence


New Class - Audio Editing: Ableton Live Basics Workshop

October 4, 2016 | Dawn | Comments (0)

If you are interested in Audio Editing this new class at the Toronto Reference Library is a must.

Audio Editing: Ableton Live Basics Workshop

Toronto Reference Library
Learning Centre #1

Monday Oct 24, 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. [Registration now open]
Monday Nov 21, 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. [Registration opens Mon Oct 24, 9 a.m.]

Learn the basics of Ableton Live from an industry expert. Ableton Live is a premier software package designed for live performances a tool for composing, recording, arranging, mixing and mastering  as well as to be an instrument. Instructor Laura Dickens reviews the main features of the software followed by a hands-on demo of the Ableton PUSH controller.


Ableton Live Basics Workshop:
- Navigating the layout of Ableton Live.
- Audio: How do you record and process audio?
- Making and manipulating audio clips.
- Midi: What is it? How do you record sequence, and manipulate Midi.
- Controlling Ableton Live: midi and key control.
- What is an Audio/Midi Effect Rack? An Instrument Rack?
- Building a Track: Editing and Mixing in Ableton Live.
- Software Instruments: a brief overview of a few of Ableton’s most powerful software instruments: Drum Rack, Simpler, Impulse.

Ableton Push

Ableton PUSH:
 - Sequencing (synths and drums): playing, programming, and recording a sequence.
 - Loading drum kits, individual samples, manipulating samples.
 - Melodies and Harmonies: setting the scale, playing, recording, manipulating melodies and harmonies.
 - Manipulating instrument and effect parameters.
 - Mixing with Push.

Ableton Live is available to use for free with your library card at Toronto Public Library's Digital Innovation Hubs. Learn more here.
Instructor Laura Dickens is a composer and electronic music artist.  She graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor’s of Music in clarinet performance, and studied Music Technology at New York University.  She has written scores and created sound design for award winning films seen around the world: The Audience, directed by Rory Gory, winner of best feature at the Brooklyn Girl Festival, and The Yellow Room, directed by Assal Ghawami, shown at Cannes Courtes Métrages.  She studied audio post-production and recording at the Banff Centre in Alberta, participated in the EQ women in electronic music program at the Canadian Music Centre, and is currently working at Moog Audio in Toronto helping people build studios and make new sounds.  She is finishing up a synth-pop EP under her alias, LEUCROCUTA.

Recap: TPL's Second Annual Hackathon: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy

September 30, 2016 | Lina | Comments (0)


On Saturday, September 17 and Sunday, September 18 developers, data scientists, mappers and idea people were invited to learn about the City of Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy at Toronto Public Library’s second annual Hackathon. The library in partnership with the Toronto Open Data Institute, City of Toronto and Social Planning Toronto hosted the event at the Toronto Reference Library with over 50 engaged citizens and mentors in attendance.

Participants were challenged to develop ideas that support the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy and poverty-related issues. Ten challenges were proposed and each of the ten challenges were tied to one of the six issue areas of the poverty reduction strategy, which are:

Housing Stability: The city needs more quality affordable housing so that individuals and families with low-incomes do not need to sacrifice basic needs to live in decent conditions.
Service Access: Not all residents find the services they need when they need them; the City can do more to make services available and effective.
Transit Equity: Public transit needs to be affordable and reliable; it needs to take residents to opportunities and bring opportunities to neighbourhoods.
Food Access: Torontonians, especially in many low-income communities, need better access to affordable, nutritious food.
Quality Jobs and Livable Wages: Toronto cannot achieve its vision of being an equitable and inclusive city while so many residents are unable to find quality jobs.
Systemic Change: Mobilizing an entire city to reduce and ultimately end poverty will take new ways of thinking and new ways of working.

Participants worked with the data sets provided by the Library and our partners including the City of Toronto's Open Data catalogue

The Hackathon's challenges were introduced weeks prior at the Toronto Civic Tech Meetups and some participants started to work on their ideas before the hack day on Saturday. The Civic Tech community were instrumental in providing valuable feedback to the challenge owners.


On the Sunday, participants showcased their work to their peers and also to members of the public. The day started with a panel discussion that consisted of representatives from the partnering organizations and hackathon participants. The discussion touched on how partnering organizations in the city are supporting the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy and how citizens can get more involved. The ideas from the presentations ranged from apps to improve access to city and library services to a deeper look into datasets that could provide insights into existing or future initiatives. The common thread among all the ideas was that everyone has a role to play in supporting the City's Poverty Reduction Strategy and poverty-related issues.

Big heartfelt thanks from the library to our participants, partners, mentors, our food sponsor Panago Pizza, and our beverage sponsor Starbucks, for feeding and hydrating our participants.


Project Presentations

Check out the different team presentations below and a description of their projects in their own words:

Project 1: Parks and Rec Program Demand
Challenge Owner: Social Planning Toronto

Geoff Martin, Hanifa Mamujee, Bill Yang, Jacob Zimmer

Project Overview:

  1. Ensuring that services are being deployed effectively (eg. that Older Adult programs are available in areas with large elderly communities, etc) using data analytics
  2. Increasing awareness of Parks and Recs programs, funding offers and access to facilities (eg. where somebody can play pick-up soccer, what financial assistance is available to a single mom, etc) using UX approach
  3. Addressing challenges with regard to registration and enrolment (eg. ensuring all demographic segments have access to programs, improving registration experience, etc)


Project 2: Automating Digital Innovation Hub Bookings
Challenge Owner: Toronto Public Library

John Spragge

Project Overview:

In my participation in the hackathon, I aimed to address the automation of Digital Innovation Hub bookings. At this stage, I believe I can present at least an outline of a Tomcat servlet based application using AJAX technology and implemented primarily for mobile phones. With luck and a little energy, I may successfully demonstrate a basic working model of such an interaction.

Project 3: Automating Digital Innovation Hub Bookings
Challenge Owner: Toronto Public Library

James Teow, Joshua Gorner, Ryan Petroff, Alex Volkov

Project Overview:

We explored how to improve the process of both library employees and users of the Digital Innovation Hub. We believe that the Digital Innovation Hub is able help reduce poverty by providing access to technology and resources that would otherwise not be available to many people. We feel that improving the booking process would lower the barrier for people to access these services, and alleviate pain points experienced every day by library staff giving them more time for other activities. We also feel that it would make it easier to scale the Hub to other branches and would help provide more data that could be used to better understand the Hubs users.


Project 4: Automating Digital Innovation Hub Bookings
Challenge Owner: Toronto Public Library

Jonathan Mikhail

Project Overview:

This year, TPL's challenges boiled down to four major objectives: making it easier to find services, improving information gathering of those searching for these services, facilitating bookings, and better engaging the city's youth. In all cases, these needs can be addressed with a streamlined native mobile app, incorporating these and many other additional time-saving and usability features. The attached mockups illustrate what such an app might look like, including some of the service finding, booking and engagement functionality. Early feedback has been overwhelmingly positive; there is clearly much interest in such a development, and I certainly hope that TPL considers pursuing it!


Project 5: Neighbourhood Level Income Analysis
Challenge Owner: City of Toronto

Chux Ejieh, Dustin Gadal, Derek Howard, Leon Lukashevsky, Charmalee Sandanayke, Railye Shen, Sarah Shoker, Jane Zhang

Project Overview

Chux Ejieh - I worked on Keith's dataset that was about Poverty Levels based on Tax Returns. Specifically, I explored the relationship between Employee Insurance Benefits and Income levels in Toronto Neighbourhoods. These two charts show some of the findings made: chart 1 and chart 2.

Charmalee Sandanayke - I have a GIS/mapping background so I came into the open data hackathon hoping to map some data. I waded through the tax filer income data and found it hard to focus on one thing because the data set is very detailed. My team member Leon was very helpful and extracted child poverty data, which I mapped by neighbourhood per year.

Derek Howard - I've put together a map showing the economic dependency ratios for all persons averaged across 2010-2014. The EDRs are split into quintiles with the brightest being those with highest dependency ratio. I've attached an explanation of the EDR as well. Economic Dependency Ratio (EDR): Is the sum of transfer payment dollars received as benefits in a given area, compared to every $100 of employment income for that same area. For example, where a table shows an Employment Insurance (EI) dependency ratio of 4.69, it means that $4.69 in EI benefits were received for every $100 of employment income for the area.

Dustin Gadal - If you massage existing data a bit, you can convert it into Google's Dataset Publishing Language (DSPL) format.  A guide for doing this is available hereOnce in DSPL format, you can upload it to Google's Public Data Explorer.  A guide for doing this is available hereHere is the T1FF_N2010-N2014.xslx table browsable online.


Project 6: Tool for Remote City Council Deputations
Challenge Owner: Social Planning Toronto

Patrick Connolly, Sharon Kennedy, Vincent Li, Devin Nathan-Turner, Anna Skrypnychenko

Project Overview:

  1. To create a user friendly way for residents to submit video deputations to City Council’s subcommittees
  2. To create a simple and integrated tool for City Clerks to review and approve video submissions for inclusion within agendas
  3. To use automated tools to create rich data (i.e. issue-specific tagging, transcriptions, flagging abusive content)


Project 7: Digital Divide
Challenge Owner: Toronto Public Library  

Gordon Chan, Chris Graham, Edgar Valencia, Nora Vega

Project Overview:

We worked on "Bridging the Digital Divide," specifically looking at the Library's new Portable WiFi HotSpot Lending Program.  Specifically, we looked at how the Library could best ensure the program serves reduce poverty by targeting key communities.  At the same time, we don't want to get the library into the business of screening borrowers.

Our solution was to encourage the library to promote the program using external organizations that serve target communities (new immigrants, low income people, people with disabilities etc).  This should ensure a higher awareness of and demand for the program among those groups.  Additionally, these organizations would be able to survey these communities more broadly to allow the Library to better understand the demand for this program.

This approach also allows the library to administer the lending program using the same model and approach that it uses for any other lendable item in its collection.

Project 8: Ontario Works Wayfinding Improvement
Challenge Owner: City of Toronto

Jon Alexander, Raymond Ang, Adrian Haldenby, Bill Mann, Ryan McCormack, Muriel Schvartzman, Danny Tshitumbu

Project Overview:

Currently, the process for Ontario Works (OW) clients to access programming is almost completely dependent on the client's caseworker.  Our proposal empowers clients to take an active role in their case plan through the creation of an interactive application that will look at what programs may be suitable for the client based on the client's interests, skills, and personal attributes.  Creating a more engaging and client-centred process will hopefully result in improved success rates, better program development, and more time for caseworkers to work on other important tasks.


Project 9: Improving Tenant Info for Affordable Housing
Challenge Owner: Social Planning Toronto

Alex Belloni Alves, Leonel Oliveira, Greg Uchitel

Project Overview:


  1. It helps people to search for good affordable housing in a great neighbourhood, as well as assist these applicants to keep their places in waiting lists
  2. A better housing choice can lead people to be proud of their home
  3. Applicants should choose a great, comfortable, and hassle-free housing


Project 10: Improving Youth Access to Services
Challenge Owner: Toronto Public Library

Phillipa French, Jane Zhang

Project Overview:

In order to address the challenge of what services Toronto Public Libraries should be offering in their Youth and teen zones, we looked at 211 data of youth services and the library catchment area in order to see what services were offered, and what gaps may exist. We used a Value Proposition Canvas to understand our end users and looked at their needs and how the library services meet those needs. As a result, we created a simple prototype of how to categorize services and also summarized our key findings to guide our next steps.

Project 11: Improving Tenant Info for Affordable Housing
Challenge Owner: Social Planning Toronto

David Dou

Project Overview:

A dashboard for exploring municipal rental buildings inspection data.  Shows the problems associated with each property and the frequency of inspections made by the city.  


Project 12: Qualitative Data on Poverty Reduction Consultation
Challenge Owner: N/A

Howard Tam

Project Overview:

Deeper Human Experience Insights from Public Engagement Data
The City of Toronto (and many other municipalities) host a lot of public consultation exercises. Often, the comments collected may not pertain directly to the question being asked so it isn’t used in the final report. Yet, this participant feedback is based on real lived experience and as such is potentially a rich source of amazing insights waiting to be discovered. How can we capture these insights better? This project analyzed consultation comments collected during the development of the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy and looked at developing a basic taxonomy as well as testing natural language processing tools like sentiment analysis and topic extraction. Outcomes may include developing an aggregation and classification system for City-collected public consultation data to better connect this information across departments and allow us to learn deeper insights from this data.

Editing for Writers

September 23, 2016 | Dawn | Comments (0)

Are you writing a book? Do you have an unfinished novel or collection of stories tucked away in a desk drawer?

Why not attend an Editing Workshop with Maggie Morris and pick up some tips to bring your project back to life? Her next class is on Friday Sep 30, 2-4 pm at the Toronto Reference Library:

Learn practical tips and techniques for evaluating your own fiction and non-fiction manuscripts through a thorough description of the three stages of editing: substantive, stylistic, and copy editing. This seminar will include hands-on activities, Q&A, and a handout with seminar notes, cheat sheets.

Instructor Maggie Morris is a writer, an editor with a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University, and an active member of the Editors' Association of Canada.


EBMDid you know - you can also print your book right here at the library?  Asquith Press is the library's book printing service that lets you design and print quality perfect bound paperback books at a low price.

Books have high-resolution colour covers and black and white interior pages that are great for illustrations and photos. You can print as few or as many books as you like.

We are located in the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Reference Library. Contact us at 416-393-7007 or

Making Music at the Library with the Ableton Live & Push Controller

September 19, 2016 | Greg Astill | Comments (0)

Music production at the library has gotten a whole lot easier. Thanks to an amazing donation to the Toronto Reference Library's Green Screen Room, there has been influx in new music recording tools. The Ableton Live 9 software and the accompanying Push Controller has been great for new music experimentation and creating new productions.     

Ableton Push Controller

These two new tools are great additions to the Hub for anyone who wants to experiment with music recording and creating. These are essential tools for anyone expressing an interest in constructing loops, tweaking samples and adding effects to make your sound stronger and better.

DJ Live

Whether it be for use in a studio or in a live setting, some of the world's most popular artists and DJs use this tools. Some of the artists listed as being a fan and avid user of this powerful tool are Nine Inch Nails, Daft Punk, Underworld and even Canadian DJ deadmau5 to name a few.

To understand the device and software a bit better, try a few videos like the ones below from the Ableton YouTube Channel or check out tutorial websites like or Safari Tech & Business Books Online to to help you conquer the equipment.

For those who don't know, the Push Controller is a pad that helps users create music at their fingertips.  Play and tweak samples, construct loops and add instruments, samples and effects to your sound. The device is meant to allow the user to construct sound with just a touch of a button.

Get into more detailed arrangements, and edit your song using the software tool Live. All your work is already laid out, as the software has been powering your session the entire time. Improved waveforms and enhanced metres are just some of the tools that have been updated to make editing and arranging easier.

Ableton Live Software

The software and device doesn't scream easy use at first glance.  A lot of it is trial and error but the staff at the Toronto Reference Library are in the process of scheduling a few workshops for the fall.  The sessions will show you how to better use these two wonderful tools.  

Please check back regularly for announcement of dates and times.  

Have fun!!

Is There an Easy Way to Learn How to Create and Use Augmented Reality?

September 16, 2016 | Eric | Comments (0)

If you are interested in learning how to create some augmented reality (AR) content for free, you might be very interested in looking at Aurasma, a simple app and web-based studio application that’s fun and easy to use.

What is Aurasma?

Aurasma is an augmented reality platform created by HP Autonomy. It’s a free app for iOS and Android mobile devices via Google Play. Aurasma's image recognition technology uses a smartphone's or tablet's camera to recognize real world images and then overlay media on top of them in the form of animations, videos, 3D models and web pages.

The Aurasma app is free to download, and the company provides free access to their web-based Aurasma Studio for creating and managing augmented reality. Aurasma says “we want our technology to be completely accessible to schools and non-profits without their having to worry about costs.”

What can you do for free?

  1. View and experience augmented reality content by following accounts in app or finding Universal Auras.
  2. Create your own AR content in the Aurasma app.
  3. Create your own AR content in the Aurasma studio. 
  4. Publish as much content as you'd like to the Aurasma app by making your Auras public for others to follow in the app by using Aurasma Studio.

Toronto Public Library is always interested in experimenting with new technologies and ideas, and our current exhibition in the TD Gallery, The Art of Cartography, was a perfect venue to test-drive this app. Aurasma enabled us to creatively animate items on display without disturbing the actual objects. We were able to create some test “Auras” within the gallery that are triggered by certain maps within the show.

Aurasma Studio screen shot

Multitudes of potential uses quickly come to mind once you start to play around with the software and app. Imagine creating scavenger hunts or building interactive activities in an educational walk through a historic neighbourhood, or teaching your students how to embed AR video reviews of books they were assigned to read in class. 

Whether you’re a teacher creating an interactive lesson for your students, a librarian setting up a scavenger hunt around the library or a non-profit promoting your cause, Aurasma’s free platform is available to enhance the experience!

There are many Aurasma video tutorials and examples available via YouTube to help you get started.

Aurasma iPad app tutorials:



Aurasma library tour:


Aurasma for book talks:

Aurasma book reviews for kids:


Teaching with Aurasma:




Jacket Required: Design a Cover for Your Book

August 18, 2016 | Winona | Comments (2)

So you've written a book, and it's all ready to publish with Asquith Press, the library's book printing service. But have you thought about the cover? After all, as we all know, a book's cover is its most important part!*

Learn how to make a simple book cover fit for publication with Asquith Press using Photoshop at a free hands-on workshop at Toronto Reference Library on Saturday August 20, 2016, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm. This workshop is free but you must register online.

NOTE: The August 20 workshop is now full. There will be another workshop on Saturday September 24, 2016, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm. Online registration is required. Registration opens on Saturday August 27 at 9:00 am at this link. Space is limited! 

Cover by Peter Mendelsund

*I am kidding, of course; it's what's inside the book that matters most. But many people do judge a book by its cover. Good book jacket design can make a big difference when a reader is perusing a bookshelf or display and trying to decide which book to pick up. 

Fortunately, the library has everything you need to design a beautiful cover for your book and help make it a self-publishing success story. That's right: we've got you covered. (Sorry.) And it's all free with your Toronto Public Library card!

  • We offer free introductory digital design classes and workshops on a regular basis. Check our website for upcoming programs.


The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams

The Non-Designer's Photoshop Book by Robin Williams The Non-Designer's Illustrator Book by Robin Williams The Non-Designer's InDesign Book by Robin Williams
Robin Williams' "non-designer's" design books are popular classics and a good introduction for those new to graphic or print design.

You can also take an online video tutorial on graphic design principles or software from There's even a course called "Designing a Book Cover."

This is a preview; for free access to the complete video tutorial, go to via the library website (, enter your library card number and PIN, then search for "designing a book cover." For quick tips on using download our Lynda com info sheet (PDF).

If you're looking for inspiration, check out these books that feature great book jacket and cover designs -- which I have selected, of course, based (mostly) on their covers.


Penguin 75 edited by Paul Buckley


Penguin by Design by Phil Baines  Classic Penguin Cover to Cover edited by Paul Buckley


The Art of Romance by Prestel


Strange Sisters by Jaye Zimet  Out in Paperback by Ian Young


Puffin by Design by Phil Baines


 Front Cover by Alan Powers  Children's Book Covers by Alan Powers


The Best of Cover Design by Rockport Publishers


Innovator in Residence: Focus on Virtual Reality

August 9, 2016 | Greg Astill | Comments (2)

Starting on September 12 to December 10, the library's new Innovator in Residence Elli Raynai will deliver lectures and teach classes on virtual reality content development. 



Photo courtesy of Elli Raynai


Elli Raynai is a writer, producer, director and Virtual Reality (VR) filmmaker. He formed the production company Cinehackers in early 2015 to focus on making cinematic VR experiences. He has made two feature films and eight short films but his passion for art and technology led him to explore the possibilities of telling stories and creating experiences in virtual reality. His latest experience 'I Am You' was the official selection of the 2016 Kaleidoscope VR World Tour and can now be found on the Gear VR store.  

The Innovator in Residence program offers a fun and hands-on way to learn about the technology offered at the library's Digital Innovation Hubs. Past residencies have included programs on mobile app development3D printing, filmmaking, audio production, Arduino, 3D design and robotics.

We got to know Elli better through our Q&A below: 

1. What made you interested in applying to be our Innovator in Residence?

I was interested in applying for the Innovator in Residence position because I love this idea of sharing knowledge and creative ideas. More specifically, I believe that for virtual reality to succeed as a medium, people need to share what they know because that’s the only way that it can grow. If people are secretive about their methods and techniques, the community can’t learn, support and push each other to make content that is compelling and will in turn make VR successful. In addition, it’s very exciting to perform this role at the Toronto Public Library because of the wide range of people (everyone from kids to seniors) that I will have the opportunity to interact with in order to help shape their thoughts and feelings about this amazing technology.

2. What are you looking most forward to in your residency?

I am really looking forward to the one-on-one sessions because I’m really excited to hear about what sorts of projects people are dreaming up. On the other side, I’m excited to show people virtual reality for the first time as it’s such a thrill to see them teleport to another world. Once they return, we can talk about how they felt as well as talk through some ideas of how they could use the technology for their own projects, be it a game, film or even a education piece.

3. For someone who is completely new to virtual reality, how would you describe it? How do you think it will impact our daily lives?

I would describe virtual reality as a mix between video games and film. It allows the viewer to not just look at world through a screen, but feel like they are actually in the world and have the ability to interact with it. This feeling is often referred to as “presence”, but in order to fully understand this technology it has to be experienced in order to fully grasp the way it makes you feel. I believe that virtual reality has the potential to impact every aspect of our lives; for example with virtual tourism you could go to any place in the world and feel like you are there with the click of a button. Student doctors are also already experimenting with VR to accelerate their training during surgeries, and in theory, it can make education easier in any field. Finally, it can also help people get over psychological traumas such as PTSD and anxiety over a fear of heights by allowing them to relive those experiences in VR and ultimately heal them.

 4. Please tell us about the first virtual reality content that you created. What were the most important things you learned from that process?

The first virtual reality content that I created was a short narrative film called “I Am You”. The film used a mix of computer generated graphics along with stereoscopic live action images. The project was a big challenge as we were trying to tell a narrative story in virtual reality and wanted to ensure the viewer knows when and where to look. I worked very closely with a computer programmer to make the film, as we took a very specific approach that I learned hadn’t been tried before by other VR creators. In this project, we focused on tracking exactly where the cameras were looking while the actor was wearing our camera. This allowed us to force the viewer’s perspective upon playback and get them to look exactly where the action was happening, so they didn’t miss any part of the story. I also learned how acting can feel quite unsubtle in virtual reality, which breaks the immersion, and therefore it was incredibly important to work closely with the actors so that we could create a natural style that puts the viewer at ease. From a technical perspective, we learned how to get the film into unity and out into a Samsung Gear VR, which was incredibly useful as we could not only have a mobile setup to show the film, but we were also able to distribute it on the Gear VR platform. Finally, if it wouldn’t be for this project, I’m not sure if I would have entered the world of making content for VR as working through the process of making it gave me the confidence to make things that have never been done before.

 5. Which virtual reality experience really impressed you?

The latest virtual reality experience that has really impressed me was Destinations for the HTC Vive. Destinations is an experience that uses the process of photogrammetry as well animated computer graphics to create highly resolution spaces that the user can walk around in. The sense of presence that this experience creates is so powerful because you have the ability to walk up to objects in the space and get close to them, exactly like in real life. I’m impressed by Destinations not only because of the technology that they used, but also for the ideas that it can give you to start thinking about your own projects and the different ways that you can take it.

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