'Night Vision' is the working title for an interactive 3D environment that will be available on multiple platforms including Virtual Reality systems. The following provisional treatment aims to sketch out the conceptual framework of the project and to outline some of the ways that the visual content will be developed.
I take a critical interest in VR. I find it fascinating and compelling as a user but watching another person engaged in an imaginary world whilst absently sharing the same physical space can appear slightly disconcerting. Despite this small reservation I can see it has educational potential to explore and learn about the World and gain empathy through having a deeper engagement with those who are forced to endure tough challenges in situations and environments such as refugees struggling to escape war zones and being stranded in harsh conditions. Simultaneously it is used by popular demand to simulate conflict and warfare in gratuitous ways or can be yet another platform for commercial product promotion
Additionally it is ironic how the exponential proliferation of all the various forms of digital media is inversely matched by homo sapiens' voracious consumption of and dumping on the Earth as if we are generating a fake alternative for when the real one is clapped out.
Contrasting the cynical commercialism that seems to have found renewed energy in collective so called 'social media' there is some emerging potential for new expressive forms and hybrids incorporating emerging and traditional media.
Can technology save us from ourselves?
One of the reasons for the title 'Night Vision' is because the cybernaut is blindfolded to physical reality and is in a sense dreaming. Also the invisibility of the mesh of electronic circuitry as well as the neurological mesh of brains and nerves are subjectively invisible to the spectator. There are of course some exceptions such as when you dismantle a device and see wiring and circuit boards and also when with eyes closed one sees the flashes and pulses called phosphenes that are believed to result from residual retinal and possibly cortical electrical activity or when examining micro anatomy.
Night Vision alludes to the collective unconsciousness embodied in technology. The collective technical infrastructure of pipes, wires, engines and other structural support systems and processes is largely taken for granted unless you happen to be an engineer engaged in the construction and maintenance of this infrastructure. So in a sense the intricate mesh of these devices and their inner workings are a form of embodied collective unconscious physicality. From this digital unconscious screen imagery emerges. Conventional flat screen imagery is normally mediated by a shared physical space and the screen image occupies a relatively small area of the visual field. The intimate technological immersion of VR enables total visual engagement projecting a stereo image across the retinal fields convincing the brain it is experiencing 'physical reality' but concurrent with this illusion the cybernaut knows that they are experiencing a fake reality. This can create an odd and often overwhelming sense of vertigo that seems to combine with the emotional cues in the imagery to produce an altered state of consciousness. One of the aspects that I am interested in investigating is whether VR could be used to explore the nature of consciousness. This conceptual branch will require further research as a separate project.
The creative process I am interested in exploring is building a virtual, populated environment that raises questions about subjectivity and objectivity and how they interface and overlap.
The virtual experience is arguably a suitably appropriate medium to work with in this context. The disturbing intimacy that emerges from this meshing of biological and digital processes is what I want to examine in the creation and execution of 'Night Vision'. My origins in engineering and creative production are pre-digital and I want to include analogue pre-production material in the work such as the drawings in this post, along with motion captured human movement. I have an interest in figurative, environmental and abstract imagery and intend to include all of these in the production. VR is already developing as a social media platform. Identity and remote interaction is an interesting subject and, in the context of VR, the use of avatars and artificial identities and intelligences are intriguing areas of exploration.
I intend to include characters that can act as guides, gatekeepers etc. The drawing 'Babble' aka 'Picnic' has characters and fragments of characters entangled within the mesh like environments of wiring, plumbing, neural and visceral networks suggesting how the experience could appear. The narrative will be progressive and labyrinthine. There will be a beginning, middle and end but the progression through the maze will be determined by the decisions of the user as navigator of the environment. Certain cinematic conventions will be translated into this immersive cinema. The protagonist is the participating spectator and there are provisional ideas for secondary characterisation including a shadowy antagonist, allies, gatekeepers and other archetypal figures.
Night Vision sets out to be an expressionist work, an immersive, interactive, animated, cinematic painting. Drawings, some of which are shown here, provide a visual template and source material. I have an idea for a world but I don't want to reveal the nature of it at this stage in the project's development however it will start in an interior space and the objective will be to find a way to an exterior space via an imaginary, alternative reality.
Production will proceed in a similar way to film production. Pre-production, Production and Post-production although Post will differ somewhat as it will involve encoding the Production materials into an interactive virtual space rather than adding effects and editing. I will go into greater planning details at a later stage.
I have produced a VR experience that was shown alongside other contributions from staff and students working in Central Saint Martins 4D department at the following event at Tate Modern's Tate Exchange:
I built a virtual art gallery and nightclub, for this event, populated with motion captured animated dancers. See edited screen recording below:
I teach 3D animation and visual effects at various institutions including Central Saint Martins and The National Film and Television School and have worked on many productions. I specialise in 3D animation, motion capture and compositing and have recently started working with game engines to produce VR. Many of the skills I've evolved with former applications have transferred smoothly to interactive production as the fundamental CGI principles apply to both disciplines. I have built a dedicated workstation for the project and will be seeking funding support in order to finance the project. I will put a schedule together shortly and update further developments as they progress.
All images, excepting Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders' 'Earthrise' from NASA, are my own.