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Marshmallow Laser Feast Launches Treehugger: Wawona at London’s Southbank Centre Winter Festival

Virtual reality (VR) is at a point in time where two things are happening, studios are either trying to find the best way to monetize content or simply throwing out the industry rule book on the tech and really seeing what can be accomplished. UK creative studio Marshmallow Laser Feast (MFL) is in the latter of the two, exploring human perception through bleeding edge tech. Today the studio has unveiled its latest immersive project, the first chapter in an interactive installation called Treehugger: Wawona.

Treehugger: Wawona combines art, environmentalism and technology in an attempt to highlight and curb deforestation. Commissioned by the Cinekid Foundation, STRP, Southbank Centre and Migrations, Marshmallow Laser Feast collaborated on the piece with leading researchers at London’s Natural History Museum and Salford University.

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The first chapter centres on the giant Sequoia from the famous Sequoia National Park in California, US. Wawona is the local Native American Miwok’s word for ‘hoot of an owl’, imitating the sound of the Northern Spotted Owl – believed to be tree’s spiritual guardian. Treehugger: Wawona uses a combination of LIDAR, white light and CT scanning to create highly detailed textures that distort our usual sense of space & time and make the invisible visible.

Marshmallow Laser Feast plans to create a virtual archive of rare and endangered trees, assisting conservation efforts by building digital fossils and virtual spaces in which people can connect with the natural world.

Visitors to the festival don a HTC Vive head-mounted display (HMD) along with a Subpac for a fully immersive experience they can feel with their body as well as see with their eyes. Participants place their heads into the tree’s knot transporting them into the Sequoia’s secret inner world. The longer they hug the tree, the deeper they drift into ‘treetime’ and embark on a journey of abstract visualisation, following a single drop of water as it traverses from root to canopy in these enormous living structures.

To add to the abstract visuals the team presented the tree’s vascular system through a soundscape. Sounds were generated by capturing bio-signals and sonifying them via Mileece I’Anson’s custom-made hardware and software. While the tree’s external binaural soundscape, was built by weaving audio layers of birds, insects, amphibians, rain and wind to create an immersive sound field, with certain sounds being mapped to movement.

Barney Steel, MFL’s co-founder & creative director, said in a statement: “What if we could shift our perception of the world, accelerate time, see microscopic detail or even see through solid objects? Well, now we can. VR makes this possible by making the invisible visible whilst distorting time and space to transform our perception of the world around us.”

After the Southbank Centre Winter Festival, Treehugger: Wawona will head to the STRP Biennial in Eindhoven from the 20th to 27th March 2017; and at Migrations in Wales from April through to June 2017. VRFocus will continue its coverage of Marshmallow Laser Feast, reporting back with the latest updates.