Seyed M. Tabatabaei

Re-media-tion of Pardeh-Khani: Narrative Affordance of Scale in VR

This research revolves around two main questions; 1st. What are the medium-specificities of VR which could provide unique narrative instruments? 2nd. How could those elements benefit the revitalization of an Iranian traditional form of storytelling known as Pardeh-Khani (literally: reading off curtains/screens)?

Pardeh-Khani is a pictorial form of Naqqali (dramatic storytelling) which was overshadowed by the advent of cinema in Iran during the 1900s. (img.1)

Image.1 - Naqqali. | Naqqali is becoming entirely extinct and in 2008 it was inscribed on UNESCO's list of intangible heritage in need of urgent safeguarding. Retrieved from

Pardeh-Khani mainly relies on the 2D-framed illustrations and it encompasses spatial, interactive and linear narratives at once. The framelessness of the VR, its spatiality and all the characteristics that it borrows from the prior digital mediums makes it an effective host for the adaptation of Pardeh-Khani. The embodied perception of the cartesian coordinate system is where the medium-specificity of VR is investigated in this research. Particularly, study of the narrative possibilities that manipulation of scale and proportions allows in VR is the main objective of the research.

Reviewing a variety of literature about the notion of immersion and experiencing a wide range of VR contents were the very first steps taken which resulted in a framework which shaped the initial experimentation with the scale in VR. (img.2)

Image.2 | Scoping the Scale | Three small projects were done based upon the three pillars of the framework; 1st one explores the visceral effects of walking inside a Solar System gallery to scale. 2nd one focuses on the playful aspect of scale by inviting the players to enter multiple gates which either scale their sizes up or shrink them down. 3rd one examines the affective effects of encountering a 3D character in three different scales resembling the cinematic shot-framing language.

Exploration of different facets of the Iraninan traditional culture was the other phase of the research, conducted in three main avenues; architecture of Qahveh-Khaneh (traditional coffee houses) where the performance of Pardeh-Khani used to take place, 2nd. types and semiotics of Pardeh (illustrated curtains) and 3rd. characters and stories of Shahnameh (Book of Kings) which was a main source of narrative reference for Pardeh-Khani. Several graphs were drafted in order to visualize the connections between components of these categories and narrative layers stem from the notion of scale.(img.3)

Image.3 - Joining the Cultural and Narrative Goals | The main purpose of drafting the graphs was to bridge the cultural and narrative layers of the whole experience.

Dominance of the spatiality in this room-scale VR project heightened the significance of the architectural decisions. The goal was not only to replicate the typical features of a Qahveh-Khaneh but also to come up with a space that could afford a playful/narrative use of embodied transformations and scale in particular. Relativity (M.C. Escer, 1953) became the key inspiration for designing a labyrinthine architecture that well satisfied those requirements. Different navigational mechanics were designed at this stage and examined in multiple playtest sessions. (img.4,5)

Image.4 - Labyrinthine Qahveh-Khaneh  | The resulting museum-like space hosts various sizes of Pardeh and thus it brings about an interactive embodiment of scale along the navigation. Image.5 - Navigational Structure. Rules/restrictions applied were to make the spatial navigation smooth and meaningful and also mitigate the limitations of the physical room.

To bring a temporal structure, causality and intention to the experience, the story of Haft-Khan (seven labours of Rostam) was chosen from Shahnameh. It consists of a clear sequence of plots which could easily be translated into a spatial composition that guides the viewer throughout the journey. It is also full of human/non-human characters of various epic sizes and hence it supports the examination of the scale’s dramatic functions in VR. (img.6)

Image.6 - 2D/3D Artworks  | seven 2D artworks (Pardeh) illustrating the seven parts of Haft-Khan were scattered around the space. After interacting with each artwork visitor is awarded with a 3D artwork which portrays the key shot of the completed 2D Pardeh.

Image.7 - Exhibition Strategy: a) project poster [2D print 1], b) contextualizing information about Pardeh-Khani [screen 1], c) 2DArtworks/CharacterSheet/Haft-Khan synopsis & timeline [2D print 2] , d) graphs/documentations/snapshots [screen 2] e) 3D architecture [plywood maquette], f) 3DArtwork [3D print], g) process & final iteration [VR HMD1,2], h) VR real-time mirror [projector], i) VR-ready machines (PC 1,2)

Image.8 - Maquette  |  Making the physical model of the virtual space supports the idea of a research-exhibition by providing a gap for conversation before and after the VR experience. It also helps smoothing out the transition between physical and virtual by integrating the waiting time into the experience.