Project Description

Floating Islands

Art Prints & VR Worlds  |   2019

I want to create 3 large art prints and virtually fly through them.

Roles Tools Client

All Blender3d Bellevue College


I was commissioned by Bellevue College to create 3 large art prints for their new XR Lab. This amounted to creating three images with a width of 14,000 pixels, with the added complexity of making them fully explorable in virtual reality. We settled on the idea of floating islands early on- easy to contain worlds with clear boundaries and parameters. They also represent imagination and creativity, which reflects the theme of the labs. They also had to each have a distinct color palette.

  1. Prototyping: I started a new Unity project and set it up with assets geared towards a low poly cartoon style. I quickly settled on an orthographic camera angle. This made everything look more like vector artwork, and meant that the transition from 2d to 3d would be more dramatic. From this point on, I pretty much always view the full view as I was working, to make sure the full image read well.
  2. Island One: I decided to make a typical fantasy castle island as my first piece. We before I started, I modeled myself a modular low poly castle set. Once I had my modular assets, I pieced together the overall island shape from smaller pieces. I used Vegetation Studio pro to populate it with grass, rocks, and trees. I built up my castle town and continued to add “sections” to the island. I added rivers, and followed a tutorial to build the waterfall particle FX.
  3. Islands Two & Three: With my pipeline mostly developed, the next two islands were more streamlined. The second one was inspired by Myanmar, and the third was inspired by my love of cities at night and nature. The third one in particular was a massive undertaking. I put a lot of thought into the layout, going as far as creating a realistic roadway flow and populating may elements of the city by hand.
  4. Finishing Touches + Photoshop: At some point, I got the idea to include foreground elements with characters to tie everything together. I edited and posed characters from assets to save time, and created platforms in the corner of each piece to give a sense of distance. I baked out the large images from Unity (which proved to be trickier than I imagined), and composited/color graded in Photoshop.
  5. VR Component: The first thing I did was to bring in basic controls, including the adaptation of a propeller locomotion system I found online. With this, I built up a hub area to link the three islands.
  6. Audioscape: One of my major goals with this project was to have a dynamic audio environment that evolved as the user flew through the space. I produced about 20 minutes of music for each island, and placed about 50 sound points in each, covering music, wind, ambiance, etc.

These three prints (4 x 2 feet each) hang in three lab rooms at the Bellevue College XR Lab. They were dibond printed on high quality acrylic sheets.

The biggest challenge with this project was the optimization issue. One of the issues I have with VR environments is that they are often small and contained for a number of reasons. Because this project was more experimental, I wanted to go all out and create massive worlds that would run on a 1070 card. I was working alone and had to cover a lot of ground, so I didn’t have a lot of time to set up intelligent LOD groups or set up smooth impostor geometry. This meant every model I created or brought in had to be efficient with polygons, and I had to design my spaces carefully.

This ended up being a passion project & a growth project. I threw myself into the challenge of creating three hyper-detailed worlds that worked as both 2d artwork and  fully explorable VR landscapes. It’s intimidating to even think back on the work involved, but it all flowed naturally and revealed itself as I went along. I spent unnecessary time on the details, but it didn’t feel like work once I was “inside” of the project. This project is the result of anxiety, excitement, inspiration, and joyful play. I hope that it continues to transmit those values (minus the anxiety) on the walls of Bellevue College.