Immersive 360° artwork guides viewers through virtual universe
Image: Sébastien Roy
Audiovisual artist Joanie Lemercier has created an immersive installation at Montreal’s Society for Arts and Technology using laser scans, CGI and projection mapping.
Set to music by James Ginzburg, Nimbes is a 15 minute piece that guides users through a virtual universe, displaying constellations, rural landscapes and crumbling buildings. It is currently on display at SAT’s Satosphere, an 18-metre wide dome used to host theatre and art experiences.
“The audience is at the centre of the space, and the universe unfolds in front of their eyes,” explains Lemercier. “It starts out with stars, which connect to make constellations. The constellations become mountains and landscapes, and viewers are taken on a journey, discovering nature and architecture,” he adds.
The project has been designed specifically to be projected on to a dome and is the third Lemercier has developed for a spherical screen, following projects at Bristol’s planetarium and another in Sweden.
“The main challenge with shooting for a dome is that there is no framing – in the cinema you watch a screen and it’s always on a rectangle. The director chooses the framing and the lens. With a dome, people look around in every direction, above and behind them, so you have to consider it in a very different way,” says Lemercier.
The project combines CGI and photography, and Lemercier travelled from the US to Southeast Asia to shoot footage. “I shot in a lot of different locations, including a volcano in Indonesia and a desert in Utah. I had to buy six cameras and put them together with a rig so it would film in all different directions, then stitch it together to create a single image,” he explains.
“For the CG graphics, I had to juggle with a bunch of software, as there wasn’t a single programme that could do everything I needed it to. I also used laser scans of a forest – I had to take the data, and find a way to project that forest back on to the dome. I had to do some software development for this, and worked with a couple of other developers to make some modules and plugins,” he says.
It’s an impressive project, particularly considering it only took around 12 weeks to produce – although Lemercier has been planning the installation since early this year. After its debut in Montreal, he plans to take Nimbes to other planetariums around Europe, including Bristol’s, and says it may become a touring installation at events. He is also developing a version for virtual reality headset Oculus Rift.
“The idea is to release it as a film that people can download and watch [on an Oculus headset] as if they’re inside the dome,” he says. Designing for the headset is similar to making work for a spherical screen, says Lemercier, as users are able to look up, down and around, but as Nimbes was shot in 2D, he will need to make a 3D stereoscopic version. “We’re working on building 3D elements into the narrative, so it doesn’t just feel like a gimmick,” he says.
See more about the project at joanielemercier.com/nimbes