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Virtual reality brings dreaming to life

Posted October 7, 2021

When it comes to the stories and collaborations spiralling out of Lot Fourteen’s innovation precinct, it’s not always the creative yarns that push their way to the forefront.

In the aftermath of South Australia’s COVID lockdown, a shining gem of creativity burgeoning from the Illuminate Adelaide festival inspired us to chat to the creative team behind it.

Lot Fourteen tenant Jumpgate are the visual effects artists behind Square Circles, a stunning, immersive and 360° virtual reality experience, drawing on didgeridoo virtuoso William Barton’s Country, culture and dreaming. and was four years in its creation.

Square Circles, an Illuminate and Adelaide Film Festival co-production, was four years in the making. So, where does our story begin?

Interestingly, with two Australian musicians meeting on the shores of Gallipoli, in Turkey, honouring the Anzacs who had landed there ninety years prior, playing music with a definitively Australian flair to those who gathered on those fateful beaches.

William and Stephen became friends that day and stayed in contact, sharing their love of classical music, as the distinguished artists travelled and worked around the world.

William Barton is a proud Kalkadunga man, a distinguished artist, composer and multi-award winning musician and a virtuoso performer of the didgeridoo. He has performed at historic events at Westminster Abbey, the Sydney Opera House, Anzac Cove and at the Beijing Olympics.

Stephen King is a violist, who has played for the Australian String Quartet, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and has lived and performed in Washington D.C., Jerusalem, Hong Kong, Aspen, Tanglewood, La Jolla and Boston.

Stephen King, William Barton & Delmae Barton in front of the ‘Welcome to The Isa Birthplace of Champions’ Billboard June 2018

This talented pair created a score entitled, Square Circles Beneath the Red Desert Sand, performed and recorded by William and the Australian String Quartet at Ukaria Cultural Centre and featuring William’s singing and didgeridoo.

They then decided to explore ways of extending the piece beyond the concert hall, which is where Jumpgate founders, brothers Anton and Carlo Andreacchio, come in. They pulled together a team of fifteen professionals to help tell the story of this incredibly unique piece of music in a different way, including renowned producer Mark Patterson, who has 30 years’ film industry experience and credits including recently co-producing Netflix’s Cargo.

The team took a visual ‘script’, created by Barton and King, that charted the colour and intensity of the original piece of music, and, using computer generated (CG) graphics, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality, produced a completed original piece of 360° art to be viewed via VR headsets.

The ten-minute artistic piece is thought to be amongst the first of its kind in the world.

It uses emergent digital storytelling to create breath-taking visual landscapes. William says virtual reality and visual effects help to tell his story in a new way.

“I went back to the land, to the inspiration where the music came from,” said William.

“I visualised myself within the spectrum of colours of the earth… at one with the sunset and

sunrise (and) with nature, to feel the wind and hear the trees and their stories.”

Production started in earnest at the beginning of the year, with the team working day and night, with the help of a supercomputer, which they ended up nicknaming ‘The Beast’.

It took seven days for The Beast to render just one 30 second scene, for example. The computational power behind ensuring each surface of every computer generated crystal throughout the 360° subterranean cave reflected in an accurate way was not a job for the faint-hearted.

When talking to co-director, Stephen, to gain a greater understanding of the thinking behind the visuals he states that you really need to experience the totally immersive piece and that the art in itself should be ‘wordless’.

The beauty, in fact of VR, is that the viewer is at the centre of their own experience and they can choose to look in whichever direction they wish as they build their own understanding of the marriage between VR and music.

The story

The visualisation of the music takes us back to the beginning of time.

Inside the grain of sand.

The smallest place you can imagine.

Where, what looks like a sphere to the naked eye, is actually made up of angular crystalline structures.

Circles are made up of squares.

Square circles.

A still image from Square Circles

We imagine elements of the land, water, sun and natural phenomena.

It’s not just light, its energy.

Everything comes from the earth.

We move into space and see the earth disappear.

A still image from Square Circles

We view a starless universe and then come across a nebula as we travel deeper into the universe.

A still image from Square Circles

We come back to our Sun and see a storm raging on Earth at the beginning of its creation.

And then back into the Earth itself. Where we discover the power and the energy and the DNA that exists within the Earth.

A still image from Square Circles

Finding lightness in a dark place.

All the vision was driven by the music itself. Stephen says, “the very name ‘Square Circles Beneath the Red Desert Sand’ refers to the reflection and refraction of the minerals in the earth and the energy and shared life that comes from Mother Earth.

“This concept became a driver for the images and the journey that emerged.”

“The beautiful thing about music; it opens up a world of thought.”

And what’s next for Square Circles?

Square Circles is now being pitched to Sundance and other major film festivals, museums and galleries around Australia and the world, as well as looking at touring options. Find out more here.

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