We Dwell Below

Category: Job, Personal project
Tags: costumes. Daily Life VR. eat. MASK. physical computing. VR.

I was contacted by Gabrielle Jenks, Director of Abandon Normal Devices, in May 17′, about creating an experience for their biennial festival, which took place in September 17′ in Castleton, a village inside Derbyshire Peak District National Park of UK, with tons of caves!

Inspired by the cave theme, we settled down the idea to transform participants as cave dwellers, using Chewing Device to traverse the underground, to explore alternative habitats together.

Luckily Planeta, where I work at, was interested in co-producing the piece, or this would never happen in this short amount of time! We were all working hard until the last minutes, in the stone cottage near the installation site.

The project turned out to be a huge hit – thanks to the arrangement of AND Festival, we had a tent thus looked very secretive and seductive ;) Also the costume and weird behaviors with the Chewing Device, both make the experience not just interesting to try, but also entertaining to look at.

AND Festival 2017 - We Dwell Below

In 2018, we brought the project back to England again, this time a two day installation in The Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle. The participants are mostly kids this time!

We Dwell Below - Hancock Museum

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System breakdown

We Dwell Below (WDB) roughly has four parts involved: 1) multi-user (networking) system in Unity, 2) Chewing Device, 3) costumes, 4) scenarios and environments.

Chewing Device

The idea and design are originated from my Google Cardboard hacking for Daily Life VR, Ch2 Eat (see the instructables here!).

The idea is to capture the chewing data and use it to affect what user sees.

(<– Andy demonstrating the action)

For this project I need to redesign it completely for it to work with HTC Vive headset and Unity3D.

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/post/163062921898/button-spring-mechanism

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/post/163062953598/chewing-device-v2-for-htc-vive

I made the prototype with FSR sensor and Arduino, and Joseph Saavedra helped on perfecting the hardware design and making! It uses Teensy board in the end. The wonderful chin strap is made by Kelsey LaSeur.

Final looks of the Chewing Device. I laser-cut the base and used leather for strong strap in the end. Circular pressure sensor (FSR) for the input.

Model: one and only Jimi Stein

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Character & Scenarios & Environment Design

Throughout the journey, the participants will transform (both visually and mentally) from normal human to wilder, hence the shape and texture of the avatar will change every level down as well.

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/post/164008177368/face-shift

As for environments, it’s the part I probably spent the least time on because of the tight timeline. Luckily with Dan Brewster and Nick Dangerfield’s advice and encouragement, we settled on the heavy hand-drawn textured style.

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/post/165771366162/snippet-of-the-ritual-scene

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Multi-user / Networking VR in Unity

This is really a pain in the butt lol

I’ve spent a lot of time on the Unity Networking system. The documentation improved a lot but it’s still quite limited in 2017. Websocket is so much clear and transparent compared to this!

According to the latest news, Unity is going to re-write all its way to do networking (2019), so I guess all my efforts won’t be able to reuse anymore hahaha (cry cry).

Still, I could share some thoughts on multi-player in VR— it’s really fun to be able to interact with other people both virtually and physically. It is still awkward to interact with strangers, but with people you know, it feels like going through a great trip together.

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Costumes

Suggested by AND Festival to have some elements of the scenography manufactured in material which was wearable like my project brain, we went a bit far :) Based on the cave theme and idea of participants having some sort of tribal ritual together, costume designer Kelsey designed 4 big coats and head-wears that are easy to take on and off. All 100% hand made!

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/post/165120125018/patterns

To reduce infrared blocking for HTC Vive sensors as few as possible, we used mostly mesh fabric for the headwear.

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/post/164567788278/tea-tests

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/post/165154431618

https://wedwellbelow.tumblr.com/post/166185819593/dwellers-waiting

For the 2018 Newcastle tour, we modified the helmet to make it stronger with more obvious face outlines. I used steal wire to make difference eye contours.

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