ITHACA, N.Y. — A free application created by Becky Lane and Jacob Madden, of VisionLab360, will serve as a portal for people to step inside the magical world of GorgeKeep, Ithaca’s own school of magic that only opens during Wizarding Weekend.

GorgeKeep was created by the minds behind Wizarding Weekend, Ithaca’s annual festival celebrating magic, fantasy and science. Organizers wondered if Ithaca had its own school of magic, what would it look like? The answer is a school of magic founded on the principles of “collaboration, creativity and community.”

The school’s motto is “Partum Et Vires Per Civitatem” which means “Strength Through a Creative Community.”

The school has four guardians inspired by New York State flora and fauna. They are Koltarn, Flitspark, Lilican and Tathom. This weekend, students of magic are invited to demonstrate their magical abilities, the website states, with the annual GorgeKeep Guardian Quest. It includes four challenges that must be completed during the festival like solving riddles, building a waterfall and navigating a labyrinth. During the festival, the magical school will be housed on the first floor of Ithaca’s Clinton House and hosted by New Roots School, 116 N. Cayuga St.

Screenshot of GorgeKeep Portal. (Provided Photo)

Related: Magic Returns: 6 things not to miss this Wizarding Weekend

Lane and Madden put a lot of time and love into the application, GorgeKeep Portal, that they created pro bono.

Seeing how much work and spirit has gone into creating Wizarding Weekend, Lane said it inspired them to want to do something special for the magical weekend too. The application uses augmented reality to let users step through a portal into GorgeKeep, where they can walk around a grand digital room and search for the four guardians. Once found, a guardian will impart some advice related to social justice, community building, conservation and ecology.

From left, Becky Lane and Jacob Madden of VisionLab360. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
From left, Becky Lane and Jacob Madden of VisionLab360. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Augmented reality superimposes computer-generated images onto a person’s view of the world, usually by way of a smartphone or tablet. Augmented reality really hit the mainstream with Pokemon Go! — a popular app that lets people catch Pokemon out in the world as they go about their daily routine. It’s different from virtual reality games and experiences because it doesn’t require a headset that blocks you off from the world. Instead, all you need is a smartphone and a little space.

Lane and Madden met at an AR Hackathon at MIT and together founded VisionLab360, which is a member of Rev: Ithaca Startup Works. Lane has a background in storytelling as a creative technologist and Madden’s background is in software development.

Lane said she likes using augmented reality because it’s a great way to tell a story, it’s fun and it’s accessible.

“Almost everybody has a phone that will be able to play and do AR,” Lane said. “I just think it’s such a great and challenging medium to tell a story in.”

In just 30 days, Lane and Madden created a small world for GorgeKeep. Lane crafted the story and scripted the dialogue and teamed up with local actors Sylvie Yntema, Brett Bossard and Chris Cornelius to voice characters. Meanwhile, Madden designed the virtual space using ARKit and ARcore with Unit, a 3D game development tool.

Screenshot from GorgeKeep Portal. (Provided Photo)

Users with the GorgeKeep Portal app can step through a rectangular portal into the digital space that is intricately decorated with historical photos, Ithaca is Gorges signs and other local details. In some areas of the space, users with phones in hand can look up and see leaves or snow lightly falling. Users have to move around in the real world to explore the full space.

Augmented reality experiences and uses will only keep expanding, Lane said. It has applications beyond games, such as for learning and teaching or guides in cities.

Madden said augmented reality is a great bridge technology and believes it will “revolutionize the way we do everything.” He expects the technology will keep growing as products like Google Glass become more popular.

The other great aspect of augmented reality is the social aspect, Lane said. People can interact with each other as they use the app and wander around GorgeKeep.

The app is pretty large, so Lane and Madden encourage people to download the app ahead of time on WiFi. The app is available for Apple and Android devices. People who want to try it out are encouraged to bring their own headphones.

Learn more about GorgeKeep and Wizarding Weekend here.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included the wrong street number for New Roots School.

Featured image: The GorgeKeep Portal app lets users step into Ithaca’s school of magic. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.