Digital Ecosystems is a VR interactive cinematic project that explores the intersection of ancient rhythms and philosophies with a mix of contemporary signs and processes. Digital Ecosystems: Cyclical Patterns allow users to freely travel through four different worlds that examine cycles of water, influence of architectural form, technology and an immersive mandala.
INTRODUCTION- Digital Ecosystems uses virtual reality to investigate the visual capacity engendered by an ever-advancing social and technological landscape. The project combines a 3d bimanual interface with a computer imaging application designed to graphically render and physically simulate the four different ecosystems. The project then extends the experience by deconstructing mythologies and symbolism found replicated throughout our cultural lexicon. Digital Ecosystems is an agent of ancient rhythms and philosophies, it uses technology to disrupt the boundaries between ancient symbolism and leading edge interactive imaging technologies.
The project immerses users in a virtual environment that encourages thoughtful reflection of our deconstructed collective digital ecosystem. “New findings from Stanford researchers show that people who were immersed in a three-dimensional virtual forest and told to saw through a towering sequoia until it crashed in front of them later used less paper in the real world than people who only imagined what it’s like to cut down a tree” (Gorlick, 2011). This concept of a virtual action affecting a real world action is used as a way to entice viewers to examine two- dimensional symbolism in three dimensions. Some of the three-dimensional objects examined include: mandalas, bridges, utility poles and structures with doors as portals to different times and places. The project also aligns with what engineer Richard Hamming pointed out (1997, cited by Roads 2015), it is insignificant if the novelty and innovation make no cultural impact on human history. Digital Ecosystems tackles the issue of perception and scale by questioning the size of objects placed into the environment. The project also explores the current cultural lexicon through creative activities in a novel way by using the HTC Vive virtual reality headset and the Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) game development tools to create experiences.
Production Methods – Digital Ecosystems: Cyclical Patterns generates creative experience in a new and novel way by using the HTC Vive virtual reality headset and the Unreal game engine. The project uses technology to craft worlds were sound and message capture the imagination and transport the user to environments that will educate and engage.
The project began with the production of a script and storyboard. In the production phase 3d models(created with Maxon Cinema 4D), materials, lights, sounds were introduced and the look and feel of the environment was crafted. The parts were then added to the UE4 game development platform to produce the actual images for the immersive headset. The ending digital product is a virtual reality piece with the final piece housed in a mobile furniture piece for exhibition. This project is not designed to assess the impact of virtual reality but to create a deliverable to highlight the use of virtual reality, capture the imagination and transport the user to a space that will engage them with this new technology.
The project was first exhibited in March 2017 at the School of Communication gallery at Northern Arizona University. Minor adjustments were made after initial user testing and and subsequent exhibition opportunities are being explored.
Discussion – After exhibition of Digital Ecosystems with multiple audiences the project will confirm not only the successful application of this technology, but also the ability of virtual reality to bring to life ancient art forms and philosophies for contemporary audiences. Some of the preliminary results confirm the idea of using a strong virtual reality piece to disrupt existing boundaries between past cultures and contemporary practices as an effective way to instinctively enrich artistic expression. At the same time additional questions were raised including: the use and application of spatial interaction, game vs. interaction, length of user interaction to experience and interactive narrative vs. cinematic linear narrative.
Conclusions – In summary, Chris Johnson has created an experimental and systematic exploration of virtual reality through a creative project. The hopes of Digital Ecosystems: Cyclical Patterns is to build on the skills that developed push virtual reality in ways that will give valuable insight into 3d modeling, rendering, animating, the HTC Vive and Unreal game engine.
Acknowledgements – This work was partially supported by the Northern Arizona University Scholarly and Creative Awards and by the IVR Lab.