Is it possible to experience being another life-form?
<Tree> is a hyper-realistic VR experience that transforms you into a rainforest tree. With your arms as branches and body as the trunk, you experience the tree’s growth from a seedling into its fullest form and witness its fate firsthand. Seeing and feeling are the main building blocks of synthesizing new reality and eliciting body ownership illusion. With precisely controlled physical elements including vibration, heat, fan, and body haptics, the team created a fully immersive virtual reality storytelling tool. It was a collaboration between MIT Media Lab (Xin LIU and Yedan Qian) and filmmakers Milica Zec and Winslow Potter. The film was present at the Sundance Film Festival and the TriBeCa Film Festival in 2017.
TIME: 6 Weeks ( Oct, 2016 - Jan, 2017 )
SCHOOL: MIT Media Lab, Fluid Interfaces Group
TEAM: Xin LIU
COLLABORATION: Milica Zec, Winslow Potter
CONTRIBUTIONS: Wearable design and prototype, tactile feedback
SKILLS: Hardware prototype (Arduino), tactile prototype (pattern-making, sewing, modeling, sketch, 3D printing)
Embodied Storytelling with Sensory Alteration
Tree is an experiment of a more embodied way of storytelling. We tap into various novel sensations to help audience build up bodily connection with the story. Unlike traditional mediums that only have visuals and sounds, Tree provides a comprehensive, hyper-realistic sensory alteration, delivering a vivid body illusion of being another life form. The sensory alteration is provided by our automatic system featuring vibration, scent, temperature and wind to unlock a higher level of realism. Audiences has claimed “You know it's not real but your body really believe it!"
"Virtual reality has been an increasing Sundance focus, and this project is especially ambitious. Participants won’t just be handed an Oculus Rift headset and told to have fun."
"Virtual reality at its core is just a way to transform a person or place through a reappropriation of senses. Tapping into other senses can unlock a whole new level of immersion."
"Tree takes the concept of virtual reality empathy to (literally) new heights, letting participants become a rainforest tree as it goes from its growth as a seedling to its death in a slash-and-burn farming operation."
"Notably, your movement changes the story: hold out your arms, for instance, and birds will land on them. How much you want to interact will change what you feel,"
"You become that seed, watching and feeling as you grow from beneath the ground and sprout into a rain forest sapling...I watched one woman come out of VR crying, having so fully identified with the now fallen tree"