What were you trying to accomplish with Tree? How did the idea come about?

With Tree, we wanted to focus on climate change, and how humans treat the Earth. Our goal was to shift the perspective of this topic, while making it personal for people. We thought that VR would be the perfect medium to let the audience embody nature, and in this case, a tree. In order to really start to understand what happens in rainforests, we wanted people to live the entire life cycle of a tree, starting as a seed underground, growing and thriving in the forest until they are the tallest tree in the Amazon. The viewer is accompanied by the musical composition comprised of the sounds of nature around them, created by the wonderful composer Aleksandar Protic. After spending time exploring the beauty of the rainforest, we’re confronted by humans who come in and take all of this wonder away. Viewers can understand deforestation in a more personal way, and realize the reality of what is happening to rainforests all across the globe.

What’s most important when it comes to getting a VR project like Tree right?

There is a lot that goes into creating an experience with many moving pieces, so it was very important to find the perfect team of creators and experts to help us make Tree. We were incredibly lucky to work with companies like Rewind, KonVRge, and Milk VFX on the game development and visual effects, alongside our brilliant art director Jakob Kudsk Steensen.

In order to create a fully immersive and multi-sensory experience, we worked with a team of tactile technologists from MIT Media labs on incorporating haptics to really make the viewer feel they have become a tree. All of those pieces together, including the amazing final sound mix by Scott Gershin, created a full environment for telling the story. In order to make sure it was accurate interpretation of a rainforest, our partners at the Rainforest Alliance paired us with scientists and biologists while crafting the ecosystem. All of this, in addition to the huge support from Here be Dragons, Droga5, Fondazione Pianoterra Onlus, Chicken and Egg, the Fledgling Fund and H.W. Buffalo & Co helped us bring this message to life.

What’s the greatest challenge when creating “new realities” through VR?

We wanted to create a fully immersive experience in Tree, and the biggest challenge was figuring out how to make the space feel fully four-dimensional. We decided to carefully combine elements such as wind, vibrations, scent, spacial audio, and change of temperature to accompany the visuals of the piece and create a living, breathing world. Growing in the beginning of the piece feels visceral. There’s a lot of natural beauty and splendor in the interactions the viewer can have with the various plants and animals in the forest by smelling the dirt underground, hearing the jaguar on a branch, and feeling the wind.

Congratulations on being among the first Gold Telly Winners! What does this win mean for the team?

Thank you! We’re so humbled and honored to have received these awards. It gives us confirmation that the work we are doing is needed in our current culture. It is the inspiration to keep going and to continue exploring new territories of immersive storytelling.