This VR project lets you experience Grizedale Forest through animal senses

VR headsets with binaural sound, aerial 360° drone filming, LiDAR and CT scanning offer a wonderful sensory experience of the wild.

Artistically interpreting the sensory world of the animals, Marshmallow Laser Feast has built a real time system that dynamically visualises precise LiDAR scans of the forest and CT scans of the animals. 

The project, called In the Eyes of the Animal, takes users on a fascinating journey that allows them to fly above the forest canopy, come face-to-face with hi-definition creatures and embody various animals as they traverse the Grizedale landscape.

Through the use of virtual reality, aerial 360° drone filming, LiDAR and CT scanning, Marshmallow Laser Feast creates a unique experience allowing Abandon Normal Devices Festival (AND Festival) visitors to see the forest through the unique eyes of its creatures.

In addition to recreating trees and plants as VR entities, MLF also added many creatures.

Some were captured via a photogrammetry rig and others CT scanned by the Natural History Museum in breath-taking close-up, super hi-def detail.

These scans gave MLF an opportunity to digitise the microscopic world and perspectives of forest animals using custom software

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Binaural sound design also increases the audience's sensory experience of the virtual environment by mimicking the natural perception of sound in space. 

People will not only be able to hear the animals’ environment through headphone-delivered audio, they will also be able to ‘feel’ the sounds thanks to a wearable Sub Pac device that turns the audio vibrations into a tactile experience.

The ultimate goal is to create an understanding of how these animals process optical information and so give people a chance to reflect on their own visual perceptions of the forest.

The immersive experience was commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices and Forestry Commission England’s Forest Art Works, and supported using public funding by Arts Council England and Forestry Commission England. It aims to expose the rich sculptural history of Grizedale Forest.

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The project was created as a feature of the AND Festival using learnings gained from Project Daedalus, a Nesta-funded research project aimed at investigating the creative potential of drones and aerial 360º cameras.

Robin McNicholas, one of MLF’s co-founders and creative directors, said, “Telling a story from the point of view of an animal in this immersive, 360º way has been made possible by advances in technology.

"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.”

Barney Steel, MFL’s other co-founder and creative director, said, “We’ve always had a hunger for hacking people’s senses by combining art and technology. ‘In the Eyes of the Animal’ 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."

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Gabrielle Jenks, Abandon Normal Devices (AND) Director, added, “Developing In the Eyes of the Animal with MLF has enabled us to continue to create new cinematic experiences for audiences and support artists working with new storytelling techniques.

"Bringing this outside of the gallery into the forest adds another level of ambition to the production and we look forward to hearing the responses of audiences as it tours to different sites."

AND Festival took place in Grizedale Forest on 18-20 September  and brought together international artists, designers, scientists and filmmakers to create artworks, experiences, trails and films that use the newest technology to give visitors fresh sensory perspectives.