The IRC is delighted to announce that former faculty fellow, Lynn Cazabon, is showing her new virtual reality project Ecomimesis in the exhibition Hustle at the Science Lab Gallery Detroit, June 16 - Aug 25, 2018. An initiative of Michigan State University, the Science Lab Gallery Detroit is part of a network of international galleries featuring projects that blend art, science and technology aimed at reaching young audiences. The exhibition features the work of 15 artists from all over the world and will include public programming throughout the summer.
Ecomimesis is the result of two years of work at the Imaging Research Center, drawing on our expertise in photogrammetry, 3D modeling, and virtual reality. Cazabon received an IRC Summer Faculty Research Fellowship in 2016, and began by setting up growing plants in the IRC photogrammetry rig. The plants were scanned every 30 minutes for two months. Later, versions of the plants were built and rigged in Maya. Finally, the animated plants were imported into a generic virtual environment.
Ecomimesis was inspired by Charles Darwin's The Power of Movement in Plants in which Darwin documents his observations of how plants move as they grow. Darwin’s research laid the foundation for more recent research into the subject of “plant intelligence”: the study of the myriad ways that plants sense and respond to their immediate environment. The species featured in the project, Erigeron canadensis, is a common urban "weed" chosen for its prevalence in human crafted landscapes. Yet, for all its ubiquity, it is often 'invisible' to most people as they choose to ignore such so-called nuisance species. The resulting project is a dynamic VR environment containing animated virtual plants that collapses conventional distinctions between inside/outside, natural/cultural, and human/non-human to explore the world from a plant's perspective.
The animation was customized for the Hustle exhibition with the virtual space designed to mirror the physical details of the Science Gallery Lab, so that as viewers don the Oculus headset they will see over a dozen plants emerging in a virtual and slightly idealized version of the space in which they are standing. The viewer’s body is intentionally not represented in the animation, resulting in an intimate encounter with the plants as the viewer floats around and merges with them. Ecomimesis will be shown at two adjacent stations in the gallery, but each viewer’s experience is unique. The plants appear at randomly generated locations and at varying points in their growth cycles. As one plant dies, another emerges.
This most recent iteration of Cazabon’s project has pushed the limits of longform organic animation in real time. In order to closely match the organic movement of real growing plants the animations were created leaf by leaf. Animated leaves were then assembled into a full plant and additional layers of deformation were applied to create the plant's overall motion. The completed plant animations were finally exported as cached Alembic files instead of joint-based animation loops and brought into the game engine. This workflow proved more computationally intensive, but it allowed the animator to produce layers of nuanced deformation previously unachievable with traditional game-focused animation rigs while keeping the geometry modifiable, even late in the animation process.
The IRC has learned so much working with Cazabon, and is looking forward to continuing this collaboration in the future.