museum-of-other-realities2
robin-stethemRobin Stethem & Colin Northway want to start a movement of virtual reality art. They’ve built the Museum of Other Realities (aka “MOR”), which is a virtual gallery space that has VR pieces from some of the top virtual reality artists in the industry. Stethem design the virtual art galleries, and Northway did the majority of the programming on the experience.

colin-northwayNorthway previously worked on Fantastic Contraption, which he says gave him a lot of credibility when reaching out to fellow VR developers and artists. They’ve been holding regular events in a private beta for the past year to cultivate the artist community & allow them to show their work to their peers and be able to talk about it and connect on their social VR platform. They recently released an early access version timed with the launch of the Vive Index last month.

Northway & Stethem showed the Museum of Other Realities to press at GDC 2018, and I had a brief 25-minute slot to be able to have a brief demo, and then grab a quick 10-minute interview. We talked about the cultivating the VR artist community through social gatherings, the minimalist avatar representations, whether or not there are genres of art that are emerging yet, and future goals toward cultivating a viable economic ecosystem that can sustain virtual reality art.

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Music: Fatality

kevin-mack-anandala-blort

kevin-mackKevin Mack is a VR artist who has created a series of surrealistic immersive experiences including Zen Parade, Blortasia, and Anandala. Mack starts with mathematically-inspired geometric forms that are generated by collapsing a 5-dimensional icosodohedron down into 3D space in order to create a series of uniquely interconnected tunnels that allow the user to endlessly navigate. He then adds some psychedelical fluid shaders that are resonating at specific frequences to induce different levels of brain entrainment (more details on that in my previous interview with Mack).

At the Spatial Realities art show in October 2018, Mack was showing off the latest iteration of his next project, which is titled Anandala. It has a lot of structural similarities to Blortasia, but a big difference are the blorts who respond and react to your movement in such a compelling way that Mack feels like he’s on the cusp of creating some profound perceptual illusions of what feels like a level of creative and behavioral intelligence. Inspired by principles like embodied cognition, neuroscientist Craig Chapman likes to say “movements provide a window into deciding and thinking.” I learned from going through Mack’s experience, that we typically think of as “intelligence” may be based upon how an entity reacts to us based upon our movements within an environment. Moving in an unpredictable way that’s reactive to our own movements seems to be a critical threshold in our judgement of the intelligence of artificial agents within virtual environments.

Tuning these artificial agents has proved to be both time consuming and tedious. Mack uses a genetic algorithmic approach that involves “directed randomness” with random over production, and then selection based upon some criteria. Mack says that usually intelligence serves the function of selecting for competition, conflict, predator/prey relationships, selection pressures, environmental pressures, and resource management. But entities in virtual environments don’t follow the same type of resource constraints that biological systems do, and so Mack wants to cultivate conscious artificial life forms that are native to virtual environments that are based more on love, cooperation, and creativity rather than competition and conflict.

I had a chance to catch up with Mack at the Spatial Reality show back in October 2018 where we talked about his cultivation of these artificial life forms in Anandala. We also unpack how he architects for wonder and awe by,trying to find the sweet spot between order and chaos. We thrive on perpetual novelty, and so once we recognize the patterns of an experience, then it quickly becomes boring. The challenge for Mack is that in order to counter this dynamic and to maintain a constant regenerative feeling of novelty means that he has to create an experience that is in a state of constant evolution. It’s a tricky balance because we like to be able to predict things, but we like to be surprised. So we don’t want to be able to predict some completely, because it becomes boring. And we don’t want to be surprised constantly, because that quickly becomes overwhelming. Striking the balance means that the novelty generates a lot of learning, and results in a lot of dopamine hits.

Mack believes that there are universal patterns to design the character of these objects, and he’s determined to experiment and come up with the different mathematical parameters to help attune the fundamental qualities and character of these artificial intelligent blorts. It’s a slow process of establishing parameters, setting ranges, experimenting with adjusting plasticity of how random it can go, and then a series of manual adjustments followed by a slow process of observation. Mack says that humans have no problem with assigning a character or personality of these abstract objects moving in an unpredictable and non-human way. He’s hopeful that interacting with these types of entities could help to catalyze an expansion of consciousness and that there could be other immersive experiences that could lead us to the shortcut the road to enlightenment. He’d love to technology help to create a world that’s free of conflict and disease, and that provided that we’re in alignment and integrity with ecological sustainability with our technologies, then perhaps it’ll eventually allow us to be able to do anything, be anyone, and go any where. With so many potential dystopian potentials for the future of artificial intelligence, Mack wanted to provide a counter example of AI that is compassionate and collaborative, and helps humans reach into our own potentials for Art, self-expression, creativity, entertainment, and storytelling.

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Music: Fatality

chelley-sherman-dispersion

chelley-shermanChelley Sherman is an XR artist who has been working in VR for 4 years, creating audio-visual performances, and exploring how to created heightened, highly-perceptive experiences. Sherman says that her experience with scoliosis early in her life severely impacted how she perceived her body, and that one of her first experiences in VR completely transformed her sense of identity and body representation. She was able to see a volumetric capture of her body using Depthkit technology, which was able to giver her a completely new perspective on her body in what she describes a form of phantom limb therapy or mirror box therapy. She’s been hooked on the visceral power of VR ever since pushing the boundaries of perception by creating art that explores the cross-section of the mind and body, with a particular focus on trauma therapies that use techniques like EMDR, brain entrainment, and vibrotactical experiences using the SubPac and other haptics technologies like UltraHaptics.

Sherman was the featured VR artist at the immersive screening of the UN Women Global Film Festival in San Mateo, CA in May 2019, and I had a chance to sit down with her to learn more about her journey into VR and some context about of some her creative explorations. We talk about the sonic architecture of spaces, the importance of embodiment & visceral haptics, and some of her explorations in the frontiers of neuroscience and chaos theory looking at topics ranging from creating differential growth patterns, coral reefs, diffusion reaction patterns, self-organizing patterns, flocking Patterns, swarm patterns, and dynamical cognitive systems. We also talk about the challenges around disassociation, including how multi-participant VR experiences with an AR app on a phone still feel isolated. Finally, we talk about the need for more sophisticated critical discourse about virtual reality work, and the unique challenges around solidifying a brand and identity around success and career advancement versus the need for anonymity for creative experimentation in a context that allows for innovation being born out of many iterations with failures that include fast cycles of candid and authentic feedback.

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Here’s a video of Sherman’s Dispersion piece that was showing at the UN Women Global Film Festival, as well as at the Immersive Design Summit party before the opening day.

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Music: Fatality

omer-shapira-horizon

omer-shapiraOmer Shapira is a developer for VR who does both art and software development, and he’s interested in the reciprocal relationship between humans and technology. Shapira started working as a graduate student with Ken Perlin at NYU in 2012, and started developing for virtual reality in 2013 when an Oculus Rift DK1 arrived at Perlin’s lab. Shapira created immersive virtual experiments and art using high-end motion tracking, hand tracking, and vibration motors. He quickly realized that these were some of the richest experiences he had ever made, and he has continued exploring the frontiers of human computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

I had a chance to talk with Shapira back on July 2016 after a VR meetup in NYC while I was traveling to New York to cover the International Joint Conference for Artificial Intelligence for the (still nascent) Voices of AI podcast. I talked with Shapira about his background in mathematics, linguistics, and visualization. He explains his rapid prototyping system for immersive design that involves a blind fold, post it notes, and your imagination. We also talk about the importance of designing accessible systems, which forces creators to hone into the affordances of specific modalities of input. He’s also very interested in virtual experiences that allow him to feel powerless, vulnerable, or unfamiliar since he sees these are more interesting constraints, and that it’s also more likely for him to cultivate empathy and awareness for people who don’t have able bodies.

After NYU, Shapira had some of his creative coding work appear in Jonathan Minard & James George’s CLOUDS documentary that premiered at Sundance New Frontier 2014. Shapira then headed up the VR department at Framestore where he worked on a number of cutting-edge VR advertisement experiences including Interstellar VR, Merrell Trailscape, and Avengers VR: Tony Stark’s Lab. Soon after this interview was recorded, Shapira went on to work at NVIDIA, where he worked on systems that allowed you to train neural networks within a virtual environment, which could then be deployed to an actual robot. I interviewed him in episode “#623: Training AI & Robots in VR with NVIDIA’s Project Holodeck” at SIGGRAPH 2017.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Shapira continues to apply his artistic sensibilities to the cutting edge of human computer interactions, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

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Here’s a video of Omer presenting about his thesis project, which is a game that uses space-time as a game mechanic to solve puzzles by altering objects via scrubbing time:

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Music: Fatality

amelia-winger-bearskin-your-hands-are-feet

amelia-winger-bearskinAmelia Winger-Bearskin is a VR director & performance artist who is building communities for artists, creators, and technologies working in emerging technology. She uses metaphor as her primary method for exploring emerging technologies like virtual reality by asking questions like, “What kind of analogy does it have in the real world?” She sees that all stories are metaphors, and that stories are the primary currency that humans have used for thousands of year in order to efficiently communicate with others.

I had a chance to talk with Winger-Bearskin about her creative process at VRTO in Toronto, Canada in July 2019. She shared her journey into VR through her background in opera and performance art, her hands-on and project-based approach to teaching emerging technologies, why she sees VR on a continuum of communications mediums that’s not exalted above and beyond other ways of telling stories, the value of critique and theoretical frameworks for people learning about new mediums, and her indigenous perspectives of not believing in time and not believing in individuality. (Note: There is an excerpt that is taken from Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human episode #134 recorded live at VRTO.)

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Music: Fatality

jakob-kudsk-steensen-re-animated

jakob-kudsk-steensen

Jakob Kudsk Steensen
is a Danish artist who has been creating virtual landscapes for 15 years, and has recently been creating virtual reality environments. Steensen comes from the fine arts world, and he’s been working as a VR artist with different galleries creating installation pieces that he licenses out. He was showing his latest installation piece at SXSW 2019 called Re-Animated, which was inspired by a video on YouTube of the last mating call of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird that since has gone extinct due. Steensen said that this bird call and the emotion around it was haunting him until he eventually decided to re-create the environment of the bird in VR, and then he 3D-scanned bones of the bird so that he could re-animate the bird in a VR experience dedicated to Kauaʻi ʻōʻō and reflecting upon humanity’s impact on the world around us.

I had a chance to catch up with Steensen at SXSW in March 2019 to talk about his journey into VR, his process of world building, why he created a broader context for an installation piece with video and looping sounds of the last call from the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird, strategies for financially surviving as an independent VR artist, how he’s focusing on creating a sense of materiality and space in virtual environments, and why he strives to create calm, slow, and poetic experiences in VR.

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Here’s the last song of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird that inspired Jakob to created Re-Animated:

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Music: Fatality

estella-tse-art

estella-tse
Estella Tse discovered Tilt Brush at the Unity Vision AR/VR Summit in February 2016 where she met the developers, and became a beta tester where she provided feedback. She was invited to become an artist in residence with Google where she transitioned into becoming a full-time VR artist with her background in 2D illustration and web development. I had a chance to catch up with her at Oculus Connect 4 in October 2017 where she shared her journey into virtual reality, how she’d spent over 700 hours in VR up to that point, the differences between the major VR art programs and why she prefers Tilt Brush, her independent studies of sculpture, how VR has been impacting her spatial memory, her studies of film scenes in VR, how she relies upon rhythm and fully embodied movements to get into flow states to create art in VR, and why she embraces imperfection and takes inspiration from painting in how there’s no undo.

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Music: Fatality

ben-vance-irrational-exuberance
Buffalo Vision‘s Ben Vance is the artist, designer, & director behind Irrational Exuberance: Prologue. He started developing this experience on the Oculus Rift DK1 in 2013, and it wasn’t until he saw the Valve Room demo that he was convinced that motion sickness was solvable and that he absolutely wanted to have his hands within the experience. He focused on exploring gameplay in VR that was based upon interaction with your hands, and cultivating a sense of curiosity, vastness, wonder, and awe.

Vance was showing a sneak preview follow-up to Irrational Exuberance at Kaleidoscope VR’s FIRST LOOK in September 2017, and I had a chance to talk to him about his journey into VR, designing for wonder and awe, and the magic of trying to find the balance between control and chaos. Vance says that too much control, and it feels like a mundane tool, and too much chaos feels too opaque and that there’s no trace of your agency. They key is finding something in the middle where it’s enough to see that there’s a pattern, but too unpredictable for you completely understand the logic and rules of behavior in the absence of interacting with it over a period of time. He’s interested in exploring rich, interactive experiences that he doesn’t fully understand using motion controls as he’s on the search for experiences that resets his senses and gives him a sense of wonder like he felt as a child when he saw that the world was an expansive place. It’s this design intention and purpose that is embedded within the fabric of Irrational Exuberance: Prologue, and I’m looking forward to experiencing whatever Buffalo Vision and Vance produce in the future.

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Here’s the trailer for Irrational Exuberance: Prologue

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Music: Fatality

wesley-allsbrook-cosmoramarama

wesley-allsbrookWesley Allsbrook is an artist, art director, and writer who started as editorial illustrator and comic book creator before working at Oculus Story Studio as the lead artist on Dear Angelica. Allsbrook has been working with Quill since 2015, and she created animation vignettes within Sun Ladies, and recently collaborated with the Washington Post on 12 Seconds of Gunfire focusing on gun violence in America.

Allsbrookwas showing excerpts from Cosmoramarama at the Spatial Realities art show in Santa Monica in October 2018, and I had a chance to catch up with her to talk with her about her journey into VR, how comic books inspire her spatial storytelling, her experiments trompe-l’œil effects in 3D where she creates shallow spaces that seem deep, the open problem of closed licensing of art creating from VR art programs, future projects exploring consent of objects and the architecture of illustrated poetry spread out through spaces, and some of her thoughts on the state of the VR industry.

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Music: Fatality

goro-fujita-last-oasis

goro-fujitaGoro Fujita is an artist in residence at Facebook, and he’s been creating virtual reality art and animations since 2015 when he started working at Oculus Story Studio as an art director. I had a chance to talk to him at F8 in 2018 where he told me about his journey into creating spatial art and experiential stories with Oculus Quill as his main tool of choice. He shares his turning points and transformative moments that including adapting to creating spatial perspective through sculpting & painting in 3D, working the emotions of scale, meeting characters his been drawing in 2D for his entire life within VR for the first time, being able to embody animation movements, creating weather in VR, and creating rhythm sketches as a reference for character animation.

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Here’s Fujita’s Worlds within Worlds Quill drawing that went viral

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Music: Fatality