Eden Labs Works with Artists to Conjure Virtual Worlds

Eden Labs is an emerging technology research and design studio. They tailor internal projects and collaborate with artists and other collectives in the creation of immersive experiences. The vision behind setting up Eden Labs was to explore emerging technologies with a specific focus on virtual reality, augmented reality and various other technologies.

The Lab’s Rick Treweek and Gareth Steele talk us through a few top picks from the extensive list of projects in their stable of work.

The Lost Botanist
Eden Labs X Tulips and Chimneys

This is their most exciting project to date. It’s even more following its official selection in the  upcoming Annecy International Animation Film Festival.

Together with animation studio Tulips & Chimneys, Eden Labs are creating a 2D Virtual Reality (VR) experience. Rick and Ree are siblings, and have been wanting to collaborate on a project since they were kids. They felt that virtual reality was a perfect new medium to explore Ree’s magical worlds and combine it with technology to create new ways of media, between a game, a film and a dream.

Their prologue is being created for mobile VR (Oculus Go, Oculus Quest) and will also be used as a tool for funding a full experience to be published across VR platforms.

In this project Eden Labs and co. are focusing on not only what is inside the VR headsets but also the hardware and what you see on the outside. By using surrounding emerging technologies such as 3D Printing, they are now creating custom designs for hardware and supporting media, like the Oculus Go VR cases that allow the user to remove the straps and create a mask, already connecting the viewer to the world of the Under Garden. Their prologue will be premiering at Annecy from the 10th – 15th June in France.

The project aimed at challenging the norm of what has been seen in virtual reality. In teaming up, they wanted to see how they could create an immersive world, limiting themselves to only 2D assets, both challenging and extremely rewarding as the experience transports the viewer to a dream-like world of fantastical flora and fauna.

The experience sits between a game and a 2D Film; it is narrative-driven and interactive. The experience takes its user through various worlds of the Under-Garden where they must rediscover and document the various creatures that belong to this virtual world.

The Lost Botanist is best described as a VR puzzle adventure in which you, a young Botanist, are tasked with researching a spell-woven book of forgotten myths. But by reading it you find yourself transported to realms between pages in the shrouded world of Under-Garden.

A Crescendo of Ecstasy
Mary Sibande x Eden Labs x TMRW

This was one of their first major projects as Eden Labs. Artist Mary Sibande’s show was an amalgamation of a number of technologies including 3D Scanning, 3D Printing, Virtual Reality, Interactive Windows, Installation, Sound and Lighting, all hosted by the TMRW Gallery.

“We thought it would be interesting if people were able to step into my head, in a way, and to experience a virtual or fantastical world that was really an amplified version of the work. In my work, the figures are always in the middle of some action, and there’s already this suggestion of animation.”– Mary Sibande

Working closely with Mary in crafting the show and focusing on how to make it as easy as possible for patrons to engage with the art works, the concept was based strongly around exploring the digital twin concept. Various captures of the artworks were created, from photogrammetry 3D scanning to modeling and creating digital replicas of works based in the actual installation.

For the viewing of the 4 360 films that were created, Eden Labs created VR masks using a 3D Scan of Mary’s face that were then 3D printed with the mask and charging stations included. This meant that viewers literally stepped inside the artist’s head. Holding up Mary’s face to their own would then automatically initiate the experience. Each Mask was suspended in various points within the gallery space, with each experience in the VR world then created from the same perspective. As the viewer gazed at the sculptures within the VR world, they would come alive with various scenarios playing out within this digital reality.

The exhibition also featured an interactive wall using digital twins of the installation. Using an Xbox Kinect as the technology tool, the window display could detect people viewing and in turn would lock on to a person and react to them, changing the perspective of the space as they moved around outside the gallery.

This project was a great collaboration between various people, bringing together a Crescendo of Ecstasy, and hosted by TMRW Gallery.

Project HYENA
Eden Labs Internal

Project Hyena serves as Eden Labs’ internal Research and Development platform, as a collection of their best developments. The Data Scavenger acts as an interface between the physical and virtual world, meaning a combination of various technologies brought together into one system. The purpose of this project was for the team to see how far they could go to create an interface for the future – their own Iron man.

Using Virtual Reality as the display device, Eden Labs explore how the future of augmented reality might be used, and then aims to build a functional prototype testing these use cases. This system, when worn by the user, provides various feeds into the real world which could be controlled using virtual hands in a VR world. All the interaction happens within a Heads Up Display (HUD), familiar to those who have seen the movie Iron Man.

To interact with content, the user would move their hands around as if in the real world, while viewing a digital replica of this in the VR environment. One such feed is using live streaming from 360 degree cameras, meaning that within the interface, you could pull up and access 360 cameras, as if you were present in that space, teleporting you live to various locations, enabling you to explore and view the environment in which the cameras are stationed.

There are a number of additional technologies within Hyena, including a live translation system within the HUD, allowing for words spoken in English being transmitted in real time from the headset into various languages of choice. This is a constant R&D Project, as new technologies are proven and that function within the infrastructure, they are implemented within the working prototype.

The Invisible Exhibition
Less Good Idea X Eden Labs X Dondoo

Eden Labs joined up with The Centre for The Less Good Idea, a project and space established by renowned artist William Kentridge. They collaborated on Season 2 in the creation of the Invisible Exhibition. At the time of the workshop session, Apple had just released their new Augmented Reality platform, ARKit.  

In their trademark fashion of looking to push the limits of tech Eden Lab explored ways in which this new technology could be put towards the creation of an exhibition with various South African artists. Artists were invited in to create sculptures and, using a Virtual Reality creation tool Google Tilt Brush, they designed and produced digital sculptures.

This enabled them to make the leap from 2D to 3D drawing without complex technical know-how, in an intuitive, organic manner and to explore the seemingly intimidating realm of technology. Their creations were then curated into two categories, with one category being built into a VR app by Dondoo Studios and the other sculptural works which were extracted from VR and displayed in the gallery using an AR app that Eden Labs created.

This app enabled viewers to engage with the artwork without the need for traditional AR “triggers”, something that had not been possible before the new technology. Visitors could walk in and around, and through the sculptures that were based in the exhibition space.

Eden Labs also worked with William Kentridge in the creation of a 360 film entitled ‘Love Songs from the Last Century’, where they set up a drawing by William in a drum shape and then filmed the experience using a 360 camera. The outcome was a 360 degree film, where a user was placed inside the drawing. This was then displayed using mobile VR goggles.

Friday Sessions
Eden Labs X Various Artists

Eden Labs opens its doors on Fridays to various artists that are interested in exploring emerging technologies. As a group, Eden Labs believe in technology and the positive impact it has on the world, and in sharing knowledge and discoveries with others, in particular with artists, as they are generally more open to boundary pushing and exploration. On Fridays the tech lab opens its space to journey alongside artists, enabling them to use and explore the different technologies and together they pursue a variety of paths, all depending on what it is the artist is interested in.

From Augmented Reality, through to sculpting in Virtual reality, Eden spends the day showcasing and building, to answer questions asked in the sessions. Each of these sessions are documented and showcased via social media and Youtube, exposing other artists to this technology and including the greater public to these tools and techniques.

In addition to working with artists, Eden also invites various South African makers, as it is their firm belief that these are the artists of this century, with roots within the 4th industrial revolution.  Alongside this, Eden Labs are also actively involved in various workshops and labs showcasing and teaching these technologies.

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