A dystopia, as defined by many, often refers to a post-apocalyptic world or totalitarian society. Loss of control is a central theme for both of these scenarios. We see environments as dystopic precisely because we have no individual agency (freedom) within them. Instead of creating an environment that creates the context for this loss of control, I decided to directly capture this feeling within the piece: loss of control in eternal free fall. Free fall takes away a person’s most basic security by removing the ground beneath them, and thereby removing any comfort in being grounded somewhere. The audience is forced to experience irresistible gravity from the void below while bound in place by invisible constraints.
To create this environment, I did not create a normal terrain, as those must remain horizontal. I needed a surface that was vertical, something that exists behind the player to limit their space and vision to what is in front of them. They must confront and not look away. To mimic the effects of falling, I created two custom particle systems that discharged high speed smoke particles directly upwards from below. This is paired with an altered 360 video of skydiving mapped onto the skybox, the combination giving a more realistic sensation of falling.
Utopia is a word that escapes my vocabulary at this current time. But the only utopia I can imagine is through escaping reality. My “dystopia” project explored loss of control through recreating a freefall experience: the feelings of being unable to escape and endlessly fearing what is below. As its opposite, my utopia attempts to capture the sensations of floating unrestricted in a sea of clouds. This is what I imagine to be endless calm. During the conception phase of this project, I found myself returning to the music of Pink Floyd. The weightlessness of their sound was what I was searching for. I could not exclude the reference from my project: “a distant ship smoke on the horizon” is a line from their song “Comfortably Numb” and the soundtrack is the beginning of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part l).”
The terrain features two parts: a smooth transparent semi-dome and underlying script-generated plane of waves. The skybox is a custom 360 video of cotton-like clouds and turbulence textures made in After Effects. Multiple particle systems enclose the space around the terrain to erase any sense of borders. They also serve to filter and reflect my lighting setup, creating a foggy luminance. Finally the thin disks, moving mechanically, yet freely, are controlled by a wandering AI script.