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Using social media AR to bring back to life the venue where 'Ziggy first played guitar'

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

When The Community Brain, a southwest London not-for-profit, wanted to mark 50 years since pop legend David Bowie first performed as Ziggy Stardust at the Toby Jug pub by digitally recreating the venue, they turned to Bright Immersive for help.

The organisation wanted to shine a spotlight on the venue as an important - but lesser-known - part of British musical heritage. In it's heyday during the late 1960s and early 70s, the pub was a prime venue for upcoming artists, many of whom, like Bowie, would become megastars, they included: Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Rod Stewart, The Stranglers and many more.

More than 50 years on, however, and this important musical landmark is no more - it was demolished and the site cleared in the early 2000s.

So, The Community Brain challenged Bright Immersive to create a digital experience that would:

  • Give local people and music fans an opportunity to see the Toby Jug as it would have looked in its prime

  • Enable users to understand and appreciate the pub’s connection with David Bowie

  • Create a digital version of the pub that was accessible to as many people as possible and offered an experience that aligned The Community Brain’s goals.

  • Deliver a high degree of accuracy in the replica to engage with people who remember the real pub and enable others who never saw it to visualise what the pub looked like on the night of the gig.

A grand-looking pub with cars parked in front
The Toby Jug Pub Circa 1960

What we created

We created The Toby Jug 'Changes' experience for Facebook and Instagram mobile apps. The short 3D audio-visual experience was designed to give people a chance to "trace time" back to 10 February 1972 to see and hear what the pub might have looked like on the night of the gig. To ensure maximum reach, we created a 3D 'world object' experience that gives people a chance to see the pub rise from any flat surface - such as a tabletop or a floor. Users can then enlarge the pub to take a closer look or move their phone around its exterior as the experience unfolds.

The Biggest Challenge

While the Facebook and Instagram apps meant offered us the greatest reach and stability, the downside is that file sizes are capped at 10MB for Facebook experiences and 4MB for Instagram. By today's standards and given the different design elements needed for this experience, this wasn't a lot of space. Thankfully, we were able to use our expertise to optimise the experience and strike a balance between the elements that would take up the most memory, such as the textures needed to recreate the pub's look, the animation and sound files required for the story.

The Technical Bit

As the pub was flattened in 2002, we had to rely on archive imagery to recreate the building. Our research also turned up an original ground floor plan drawing. We then worked with a specialist CAD architect, who used the plan and exterior photos to create an accurate scale 3D computer model of the pub's structure. Finally, to meet the requirements for using 3D models on Instagram and Facebook's mobile platform, we used 3D editing software to simplify the CAD model to strike a balance between preserving accuracy of the pub's structure, while ensuring the experience worked across the widest range of devices.

The Digital Creative

Using old photos of the pub for reference and pictures of buildings by the same architect, we created the detail to turn the plain 3D shell into the Toby Jug pub. This involved creating models and textures for all of the pub’s exterior front windows and shutters, ground floor wall tiling and its large ornate arched concrete doorways.

What's the Story?

But to really bring it to life and share its Bowie connection, next we needed to give it the Bright Immersive treatment to turn a 3D model of the pub into an rounded immersive experience!

For the story component, we took inspiration from Bowie’s track ‘Changes’, in particular the lyric “Time may change me, but you can’t trace time” and explored what this meant for the site and the pub. This song was also especially apt because it was also on Bowie’s setlist at first Ziggy gig.

We composed a simple soundscape based on the recognisable opening chords of ‘Changes’. With the sound turned on, users will hear the opening chords repeated in different styles throughout the experience - starting with an industrial sound through the opening bars of a Changes being performed to a small audience, just as Bowie had done 50 years ago. To keep the audience engaged we made it so the volume of the performance increases the "closer" they are to the function room.

Users with a keen eye, may also notice that we selectively lit the letters of the two Charrington Ales signs (the name of the brewery that once owned the venue ) to spell out the word - Changes.

For the grand finale, the lyrics from Changes: “Time may change me, but you can’t trace time” appear on the inside of the fence surrounding the pub’s ground and an iconic Bowie thunderbolt with the key dates appear in the sky above the pub.

What happened?

Robin Hutchinson MBE, The Community Brain founder said: "With the Toby Jug Experience, Bright Immersive has created a piece of digital magic. For some, it’s brought back fond memories of the old pub as they remember it, while for others it’s helped them get a sense of what the venue would have been like in its prime.

“All this year, we’re celebrating Tolworth as a place of firsts and discovery, so it’s fitting that Bowie’s first Ziggy gig at the Toby Jug is the first music event and venue to be honoured with a 3D immersive experience on social media.

“It was a pleasure to partner with Bright Immersive. They delivered on time which meant we were able to make the experience available on the same day as our real-world celebrations and give anyone who couldn’t join us in-person the chance to feel involved.

He added: “It’s also exciting to know the legacy of Tolworth’s Toby Jug pub and its connection to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust is now digitally preserved on Instagram and Facebook for anyone anywhere in the world to discover.”

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