The objects we own are extensions of ourselves. When we buy them, we were drawn by certain aesthetics and appeals. When we take them home, our bonds grow even deeper over time. We are inspired by Disney Pixar’s animated lamp Luxo Jr., IKEA's iconic commercial Lamp, and the singing furniture of The Beauty and the Beast. We we're driven to create an interactive, animated, and lively VR experience that matches an individual’s own experiences with their furniture and familiar belongings because they can hold such sentimental value. Through experimentation and play in our new space, we built on principles of interactive theater and game design to encourage space exploration in novel ways and tell non linear, spatial, collaborative, and interactive stories. It is as much an experience for an audience as it is an experiment for the actors.

What it does

In this immersive VR demo, the audience can explore a curated living room, and elicit reactions from furniture pieces around them. Through interactions with the items, the audience learns their individual personalities. There is a bashful desk lamp, an energetic floor lamp, a grumpy lounge chair, and a boisterous couch. The audience develops deeper bonds with furniture pieces that are inanimate objects in real life and explores the space in an atypical manner, searching for the stories behind the objects. We also included an exploration of sound in the space, having a fallen chair and a rose echo the sounds of an argument between two individuals, drawing users to physically lean in to listen closely to the story these objects represent.

How we built it

We are a group of software engineers, digital artists, and business visionaries who wanted to create a personalized interactive environment to further audience experience. The experience's backend was developed in C# using Unity3D and the SteamVR SDK. 3D furniture assets were pulled from the Wayfair API and animated using Maya and Unity. The experience is brought to life through an HTC Vive headset. We spent considerable time iterating on the interactions in the experience, developing the project's artistic concepts and goals, and ideating different applications. Playtesting with users revealed new ways to enhance the experience, such as through sounds and actor participation, which eventually became a key part of the experience.

Challenges I ran into

We ran into some learning obstacles in order to import Maya animations to our Unity project. Working with and animating the Wayfair models was a bit difficult because of their complex geometry, which was not optimized for deformation animation. In order to overcome these hurdles, we came up with creative ways to bring the Wayfair objects to life and incorporated some other objects to bring our experience to life and present ways Wayfair might enhance their audience experience in the future.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

We’re proud that we were able to build a working demo of our idea! This required a lot of work from a diverse, very interdisciplinary team. Each of us learned many new skills. We’re also proud of how much our idea evolved over the course of the hackathon. At first, we were simply exploring how inanimate objects could be imbued with personality. Now, we have a lot of ideas for how this could be expanded into a truly immersive, interactive art experience.

What I learned

Several of us had little to no experience with Unity and Maya and got to get our hands dirty with these cool tools. Those of us who were more comfortable with Unity and Maya learned how to bridge the two. We all learned how to set up VR, more about how VR works, and how to make it more fun, exciting, and immersive. We also learned from several of the panels and speakers throughout the festival. From the Interactive Art and the Modern Day World panel, we learned about the trade-offs and difficulties associated with guiding an audience through an interactive art experience, versus allowing them to go “off-script” and explore alternate paths. Perhaps most importantly, we learned a lot about each other!

What's next for Luxo Jr.

Thinking towards the future, Luxo Jr. has a lot of potential for growth, and further personalization. We have only just begun to explore how multiple people can interact with Luxo Jr. at the same time (with non-VR users playing the roles of different items, creating a “mixed” reality where the VR user can feel what they see), allowing for a fully interactive and social art experience. This addresses a common complaint when it comes to VR - that virtual experiences can feel socially isolating as headset-wearers are separated from non-headset-wearers. Further, Luxo could be applied effectively in a commercial setting by technology-focused retailers like Wayfair. Virtual showrooms that employ this technology would transcend simple feelings of aesthetic appreciation by engendering powerful emotional attachments between shoppers and furniture.

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