Design

This Virtual Reality Experience Gives Users the Eyes of Animals

by DJ Pangburn

November 5, 2015
Image by Luca Marziale / MLF

Viewing reality through human eyes can be myopic—it’s difficult to imagine how other creatures see or sense the world. But the U.K.-based art group Marshmallow Laser Feast recently sought to change that with In the Eyes of the Animal, a virtual journey that allows users to experience the sensory world of animals.

Marshmallow Laser Feast’s real-time VR experience is built on a virtual reality headset, aerial 360° drone filming, as well as LiDAR and CT scanning technology. They debuted the sensory experience at the Abandon Normal Devices Festival (AND Festival), which was held in Grizedale Forest in North West England.

Image by Luca Marziale / MLF

“We’ve always had a hunger for hacking people’s senses by combining art and technology,” said Barney Steel, MFL co-founder and creative director. “Through the Eyes of the Animals gave us chance to use VR as a first person perspective medium—the ultimate way to hack someone’s senses. Using VR to immerse someone in the sights and sounds of animals creates empathy by simulating the way that others sense the world. This type of first person perspective experience is—in my opinion—VR at its best.”

When AND festival attendees looked through the headsets, outfitted to imitate nature, they saw trees and plants rendered as “VR entities”. These plant forms appeared in a number of colors and assumed a variety of virtual textures. There were solid, densely packed or fluid particles; bioluminescent surfaces with light traveling in waves; and thousands of circles swarming to form plant and animal life.

Image by Luca Marziale / MLF

To capture the animal life, MLF used a photogrammetry rig, while the United Kingdom’s Natural History Museum CT scanned others in super hi-definition close-up. This allowed MLF to “digitize the microscopic world and perspectives of forest animals using custom software”.

But MLF didn’t stop with the visuals. They also used binaural headphones and haptic feedback—the feeling of touch in virtual reality—to create other immersive sensations.

Image by Luca Marziale / MLF

Binaural sound, an audio technology that attempts to replicate the three-dimensionality of hearing, allowed MLF to elevate the users’ sensory experience of the virtual forest environment, “mimicking the natural perception of sound in space.” Users were also outfitted with a wearable haptic device called a Sub Pac on their back, allowing them to “feel” the sounds of the forest.

“Telling a story from the point of view of an animal in this immersive, 360º way has been made possible by advances in technology,” said Robin McNicholas, one of MLF’s co-founders and creative directors. “Aerial filming, for example, has traditionally been the preserve of Hollywood blockbusters with budgets big enough for helicopters. But new drone technology means artists can now get a slice of the action too. Thanks to AND, the Forestry Commission, and the Digital R&D Fund, this has been an amazing opportunity to merge nature and technology.”

In the Eyes of the Animal ran at AND Festival from September 18-20, but MLF are taking the VR experience to the Playgrounds Festival in Amsterdam November 5-6. The group hopes to next take the experience on tour.

Display image by Chris Foster

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This Virtual Reality Experience Gives Users the Eyes of Animals