Cornhill at Christmas: Augmented Reality Experience

In November 2021, we were delighted to be appointed by All About Ipswich and The Cornhill Partnership (LEP and IBC) to create an interactive Augmented Reality experience for visitors to Ipswich Town Centre over the Christmas period.


We jumped at the chance to bring Augmented Reality to Ipswich, and after several visits to and conversations with our project partners, we soon decided that Ipswich Town Hall would be the most suitable location. After confirming the location, our team brainstormed over a narrative and a concept that would help to transform the Ipswich Cornhill into a digital Christmas spectacular.


Check out our video below and watch how we made the magic happen!


Mapping the Location

We started the process by scanning theTown Hall, taking hundreds of photos that were then stitched together and made into a 3d model.


The Creative Process

After several conversations on what characters we would introduce to the Augmented Reality experience, Sammy the reindeer was decided upon; a young, beginner reindeer, who would be practising his flying skills over Cornhill and pulling Santa’s sleigh for the very first time.


We created a storyboard of the characters and objects that would feature in the experience; Sammy, Santa and of course his trusty sleigh. These 3d elements were then designed and brought to life by our animation and game development team. Our geolocation software allowed us to map the town hall and place the animated content accurately so that it could interact with the town and square in front. As well as the AR experience we also were commissioned to design and deliver a building projection piece to complement the AR experience. This work featured Sammy taking flight over renowned Suffolk landmarks that scrolled along the front of a vacant building overlooking Cornhill Square. 



Every week for 2 months throughout the development stages, the UrbanXR team travelled to and from Ipswich, testing and choreographing Sammy’s journey. We had to test a variety of elements, such as making sure he didn’t go too fast, that the graphics were clear throughout his planned flight path – and ensuring there was enough of a pause for the occasional selfie! The sleigh’s sparkle trails were added at the end, along with an original soundtrack composed by Andy Robinson, plus a tweak to Santa’s flight path to avoid the Christmas tree! The biggest challenge was the level of testing that is needed in a real environment – it’s a bit like rehearsing a digital play each time, as the interaction between the user and the physical and digital spaces is so important. After final rehearsals, the animated experience was fixed to the location permanently. This means that Sammy and Santa are always in the same place in relation to the town hall and can be viewed by many people from many angles once the application was activated. This is achieved with a very high level of accuracy (within a few centimetres each time). We then sent our final free public app proposal to Apple and Google stores to review and approve.


Bringing Sammy to Life

Once the Cornhill at Christmas app was launched, users were instructed to download the app from either Google Play or the Apple Store. Once opened, users received instructions to stand directly in front of Ipswich Town Hall and slowly scan the face of the building with their phones. The software recognised the front entrance of the building and then overlaid the Augmented Reality animation of Sammy the Reindeer appearing out of the front doors of the building and tentatively descending down the steps. Users had an opportunity to snap a quick selfie with Sammy before he bounded into the air, taking a test flight around the Cornhill Square before meeting Santa on the roof of the building to take the sleigh for a spin. The app and projections projects both launched on December the 2nd 2020 with the projection running for 2 weeks to cover late night shopping and the AR app running throughout the Christmas holidays.


We’re delighted with how the Augmented Reality experience worked and received some great feedback from the team at All About Ipswich and users of the app. We would like to thank our project partners; Unity Developers who worked on the app development, UX Cambridge who designed the user interface and Eggbox Studios who created the animation of Sammy, Santa and his sleigh and the projection animation. 

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