is a virtual reality film directed by Milica Zec and Winslow Potter, that transforms you into a rainforest tree. With your arms as branches and body as the trunk, you experience the tree’s growth from a seedling into its fullest form and witness its fate firsthand.  I designed and constructed the tactile experience throughout the film in collaboration with Yedan Qian. With precisely controlled physical elements including vibration, heat, fan, and body haptics, the team created a fully immersive virtual reality storytelling tool, where the audience no longer watches but is transformed into a new identity, a giant tree in the Peruvian rainforest.

Tree premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2017 New Frontier and was also presented in TribeCa Film Festival 2017.

Installation view at Sundance New Frontier 2017

 Scents (dirt, rain forest and …) generators at TribeCa Film Festival 2017

Tree’s tactile experience has been favored in numerous press articles:

Forbes “this experience features wind, fire, and smells, helpfully provided by a team member who stage manages the real world elements to enhance the immersion of the experience. I loved the earth smell that accompanied me from seedling to sapling. ”

New York Times “Once they are wearing headsets, participants will be made to feel as if they are rising through dirt, sprouting branches and, finally, basking in the sun as a full-grown tree.”

TechCrunch “In Tree, you start your experience by planting a real seed in a box of soil. Inside the headset while wearing a subwoofer backpack, you become that seed, watching and feeling as you grow from beneath the ground and sprout into a rain forest sapling. As you burst above the canopy, a real-world fan blows cold air in your face, simulating the foggy sky you’re entering. ”

 

Our hyper-realistic whole body haptic experience used Subpac, a pair of customized vibration oversleeve with six local points and a vibrating floor powered by four based transducers. Technicolor’s Scott Gershin designed multi-track bass audios for each part of the body, the audience could feel the thunders, disturbance of the forest fire as well as a bird landing on the branch. There are also additional physical elements including an air mover for a breath of wind and heaters as the final fire threat. The whole tactile experience is controlled by Max/MSP and Arduino, while communicating with the Unreal engine through OSC. The physical experience was precisely counted to sync with visual experience inside oculus. We went through various iterations to match the virtual visual details with the intensity, texture and timing of physical experience.

Shoots in side the virtual environment. Credit: Jakob Steensen

Project funded in part by the Council for the Arts at MIT.