The Many Facets Of New Reality Co.

The Virtual Reality Studio Unpacks Their Bag Of Tricks.

Perhaps no presentation at "Common Sense" was more comprehensive in its dedication to stimulating all the senses than that of New Reality Co. Led by Milica Zec and Winslow Porter, the design studio produces virtual reality experiences that make use of haptic feedback (that is, rumbling your seat), piping in smells (such as the startlingly sharp scent of wet soil), and affecting the immediate microclimate with heating and cooling elements.

Their two signature projects, Giant and Tree (on display at A/D/O through August), have origins in personal history as well as a sense of social duty. Giant brings the viewer to an active war zone, while in Tree the viewer experiences a Kapok tree's life-cycle in a perilous part of the rainforest.

Zec, who grew up on Serbia, reflected on what first drew her to VR. "With virtual reality, I could achieve an emotional connection with the viewer," she said. "When reading about it in a newspaper, it always seems like it's happening on another planet, even though we know it's happening even as we are sitting here. Somewhere else, someone is hiding from bombs."

For Giant, a system called DepthKit was used for realistically staging motion-captured actors in a three-dimensionally rendered space. Paired with a 3D audio, the coordination of effects creates an immersive experience that is more than the sum of its parts. (Porter described one key element for the actors in Giant: a "rabbit" made of a solo with tape ears provided a line-of-sight for to orient themselves relative to a volumetric camera.)

For some installations of Giant, the physical response was, compared to the rest of the production, comparatively crude. The "haptic stool" was "an Ikea chair with a $45 ‘butt-kicker’ on it — that's a term from the gaming community, meaning a modified bass transducer," Porter added. "But it's really important to have this physical response. When the bombs go off, it really transports you with a higher level of intimacy and emotion."

The experience even extended beyond the confines of its computer-generated space. "This is a floor plan for Giant," Zec said. "We decided to create this dark room where you are going to feel like you're already in a basement. That's sort of claustrophobic, so even before you put the headset on you're already getting this sort of feeling."

For Tree, likewise, the designers invite viewers to plant an actual seed in a nearby planter: to cue them up with a real experience before diving into a parallel VR reality. But IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances) contributed the peat extract that very strongly conveys the notion of being nestled in powerfully fertile soil.

The projects form the first two parts of a trilogy, the third of which New Reality Co. are working on during their residency at A/D/O. The experiences are united, not by a common storyline, but by a dedication to expanding the boundaries of expression through the full palette of sensory experience. And, perhaps more than that, to acknowledge, as Zec put it, "that we are all here together, we are codependent, and we can create something for the better."