AR app adds people of old Hong Kong to your photos of the modern city

  • Using augmented reality, Japanese new-media artist Masaki Fujihata superimposes scenes from the 1950s onto your photos of Wan Chai
  • App users must hunt for real-world logos to collect all 48 scenes
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 12:34pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 7:10pm

Japanese new-media artist Masaki Fujihata is always full of whimsical ideas, and his latest creation is no exception: an augmented reality (AR) app that lets Hong Kong people travel back in time.

The engaging mobile app, called “HKACT! Act 1 BeHere”, takes users on an unconventional tour of the Wan Chai district – in the process upping their Instagram game – by providing 3D figures that can be added to photos in the same way as filters.

Travel back to old Hong Kong with these photos of 1970s Nathan Road

Scalable, spinnable and eerily real, the figures form scenarios of old Hong Kong street activities – men eating peanuts at a dai pai dong, a hairdresser cutting hair on the street, waiters balancing trays of dishes on their heads. They blend in so well with the modern environment that it creates an illusion likely to fool your social media followers.

To collect all 48 scenarios, users need to hunt for “Be Here” logos placed in 10 different areas of Wan Chai and scan them with the app like a QR code.

The idea came to the 62-year-old artist when he googled “Hong Kong 1950s” and was drawn by the buzzing street activities depicted in the range of black and white photos.

He also sought out local residents for their input. “I do not want to make a textbook of history. I have no interest in history made by power. I'm more interested in individual stories,” Fujihata says.

Actors recreated the scenes in a studio, where 70 synchronised cameras were used to capture photos. The images were then made into 3D figures using photogrammetry software, which is typically used for map-making.

The project was commissioned by the Hong Kong Design Centre and the Osage Art Foundation as part of Design District Hong Kong, the government’s HK$60 million scheme to boost local creative tourism. Despite the project’s ingenious use of AR technology, Fujihata says that it is not the focus. “I don’t want it to be a demonstration of AR technology, but a platform to connect the past with the present,” he says.

A creative pioneer in the field of computer graphics and media art, Fujihata looks for neglected aspects of certain technologies and finds alternative ways to apply them.

Take the GPS. In 1992, long before smart phones were introduced, Fujihata bought a navigation device the size of a shoe box and climbed Mount Fuji in Japan. “This technology was originally made for weapons, to locate enemies and target them. I wanted to turn this technology upside down as a philosophical means.”

Using the timestamps and geographical coordinates recorded by the GPS device, he recreated the mountain as a computer graphic that formed spikes and peaks relative to how slowly he was hiking at the time – the slower his pace, the taller the spike. The resulting work, Impressing Velocity, was first shown at the ICC Gallery in Tokyo in 1994.

Taking the piece further, his students at the Tokyo University of the Arts, where he taught at the time, turned the graphics into actual sculptures. They did, though, choose the wrong material perhaps; the felt layers struggle to maintain their shape and droop. “Like a pineapple,” Fujihata chuckles.

Those sculptures, along with more of Fujihata’s works, are now on show at the Osage Gallery in Kwun Tong, East Kowloon. The exhibition also sheds light on the laborious behind-the-scenes work of the AR project in Wan Chai.

Being Parallel by Masaki Fujihata, Osage Gallery, 4/F, 20 Hing Yip Street, Kwun Tong, Kowloon. Runs until February 28