Project Description: Illusory Immersion - Bringing to Life the Op-Art Works of Bridget Riley
Completed on 28 November 2016, Posted on 5 August 2018 by Flafla2
This project was originally created for the class 62-150 Intro to Media
Synthesis and Analysis at Carnegie Mellon University in the Fall of 2016.
It was orignally posted here. The demo is currently not available
for download, however I intend on releasing it when I have access to a VR
The essential idea of this project is to translate the Op-Art works of painter
Bridget Riley into an interactive digital museum. The museum is experienced in
VR, using the HTC Vive. I believe VR is a perfect platform for this kind of
project, as VR itself is an illusory medium. Some interesting fourth-wall-breaking
connections can be made between the headset itself and Op-Art. VR further adds
to the experience by contributing a sense of scale - large virtual objects actually
appear large, which may not be immediately apparent on a computer screen. This
is especially important when interpreting the works of Riley, who is known for
the depth and scale she brings to her works. Additionally in a digital museum
I can make objects behave in ways that are impossible in real life; this gives
me a lot of freedom when curating the museum.
The final product is an interactive VR museum containing digital recreations of
the works of Bridget Riley. The experience has been developed for the SteamVR
Platform, and optimized for the HTC Vive headset and controllers. Users have the
ability to walk around the virtual space in room scale. Additionally they may
teleport around the museum using a simple pointer mechanism; this allows the
museum to be larger than the real-life play area. I have also included a
digital “pamphlet” that provides some information / context about the work that
the user is currently looking at. Below is a demonstration of these concepts:
Teleporting and Viewing the work
Above an abyss
My intent in making this project was to explore VR as an artistic medium. What,
exactly, does VR offer as opposed to traditional (2D) media? The way I see it,
VR has three major advantages over traditional games/digital media. Firstly, VR
is of course more immersive and makes the user feel like they are inside the
virtual space. Secondly, the stereoscopic 3D that VR headsets offer adds a
sense of scale and depth that is impossible on a 2D display. Lastly, in VR I
can add virtual spaces that move in a way that is impossible in reality. The
works of Bridget Riley are very compatible with these traits: in her paintings,
Riley implies depth and movement through striking geometric forms. It should
come as no surprise, then, that VR is an essential part of the experience.
Without it, the pieces are significantly less striking.
List of Pieces
Below I list each of the works, along with a corresponding blurb from the pamphlet.
The word ‘paradox’ has always had a kind of magic for me, and I think my
pictures have a paradoxical quality, a paradox of chaos and order in one.
– Bridget Riley
Blaze is unique in that it simultaneously captures Riley’s ability to render
depth and movement. My rendering of Blaze attempts to echo both of these
elements in a way that is striking and, in some ways, unsettling.
Are you looking at a tunnel? Perhaps it is a flame, as the title suggests? O
r are you staring down the barrel of a gun?
Movement in Squares
For me nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces, an event
rather than an appearance.
– Bridget Riley
Movement in Squares is one of Riley’s definitive pieces, and demonstrates her
ability to encapsulate depth in its rawest form. I made the work so huge to
capture this feeling. The user can teleport directly over the work as well to
experience this sense of scale more directly.
I used to build up to sensation, accumulating tension until it released
a perceptual experience
– Bridget Riley
Fall hurts to look at; that, to me, is what makes it so interesting. In Fall,
Riley implies a waterfall-like flowing motion while also creating optical
resonances that are downright painful at times. Fall was the first work that I
studied by Riley and introduced me to the basic idea of this project.
Untitled [Fragment 6/9]
In general, my paintings are multifocal. You can’t call it unfocused space,
but not being fixed to a single focus is very much of our time.
– Bridget Riley
Untitled [Fragment 6/9] has a strange sort of unexplainable tension. Upon closer
inspection, the various dots strewn across the canvas are quite random, but from
a distance they are gridlike. The planetoids themselves, reminiscent of Kandinsky,
similarly imply depth through their size.
Untitled [Fragment 3/11]
The eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves
over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and
ruptures, glide and drift. One moment, there will be nothing to look at and
the next second the canvas seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.
– Bridget Riley
Untitled [Fragment 3/11] was definitely the most challenging work for me to
decompose digitally. A complex system of unintuitive curves and surfaces, this
(ultimately cylindrical) form is hard to understand even after staring at it for
I learned from Seurat this important thing about colour and light, that ‘a
light’ can be built from colour. I learned a great deal about interaction,
that ‘a blue’ in different parts will play all sorts of different roles.
– Bridget Riley
Although Riley is most known for her grayscale works (such as the others shown
here) she has also experimented heavily with color. Cataract 3 is similar in
form to Fall (directly behind you), but it also integrates color into the work.
Try stepping close to the piece to see how Riley constructed the colors in it.
Bridget Riley, Related Works
Bridget Riley, the focus of my digital museum, is a well known contributor to
the Op-Art (optical art) movement. Op-Art, an extension of abstract expressionism,
focused on the utilization of Optical Illusions to imply different visual effects.
Bridget Riley used these illusions in many cases to give her paintings a sense of
depth and space.
In other cases, she used Optical Illusions to imply movement and animation:
As the focus of the museum, Riley’s paintings are a clear focal point of my
research when developing the experience. It is particularly important to break
the works down into their atomic elements, and identify their implied movement or
spaciality. This will allow me to reconstruct them in 3 dimensions.
As mentioned, one of the central aims of the project is to realize the
two-dimensional implied depth of Riley’s paintings in a 3 dimensional medium
(VR). It turns out that MonzaMakers, an Italian 3D printing company, has
attempted to do something similar. Their goal was to transport the implied
depth and perspective of Caravaggio’s Flagellation of Christ into the real world
so that the visually impaired can feel the pieces and understand them. My goal
is quite similar, but in a freer digital medium.
One excellent implementation of the aesthetic elements of Op Art in VR is
Polytron’s game SUPERHYPERCUBE. Superhypercube is a simple game by itself,
but it’s style and feel make it truly shine. I found the game’s successful
utility of simple shapes and abstract geometry to create powerful and
interesting spaces to be particularly applicable to Bridget Riley’s similarly
abstract style. It has inspired me to experiment with similarly huge spaces in
VR, to push the boundaries of what is even possible in a real-life museum.
This is perhaps the most direct analogy I could find to my project. The VR
Museum of Fine Art allows players to explore famous works of art in 1:1 scale -
all curated in a digital museum. Perhaps the most useful aspect of this project
to my own creation is the aesthetic realization of a museum in VR. Additionally
I really liked the interactive elements of the museum - VR offers a unique
opportunity to add interactive descriptions, etc to the artworks.
The experience is powered by the Unity game engine, and all art assets
(including most of the pieces themselves as well as the environment art) were
made in Blender (a 3D modeling suite). Additionally, some of the pieces (Fall
and Cataract 3) are completely generated in code. I have outlined my specific
process in creating some of these pieces in my briefs for Fall, Remixed and Animating Paintings (two previous iterations of this project). Since the
previous version of the museum (Animating Paintings) I have added three pieces
to the museum. I also redesigned the general layout of the museum and added
VR support. I used the SteamVR API for HTC Vive integration. For locomotion
(including the teleportation mechanic) I used my own open source HTC Vive
Teleportation System for Unity that I developed last spring for another project.
Below are some pictures of some of the assets I created for this project.
Initial layout planning for the museum. Pieces (7), (8), and (5) were dropped late in development and replaced with Cataract 3. Also, The effect discussed for the bottom room was dropped due to time constraints.
The entire scene, open in blender.
Wireframe view of my interpretation of Blaze in blender, with photo reference behind.
I’m really happy with how this project turned out. I noticed that, when
presenting the final product, different people enjoyed drastically different
parts of the experience. Interestingly, one player told me that the more surreal
exhibits (Blaze and Movement in Squares) were out of place, whereas another
player told me to make them even more strange and detached from reality.
Similarly, some players never used the Pamphlet mechanic but others looked at
the pamphlets more than the actual exhibits! In general, every player was
interested in or impressed by some aspect of the experience, and I am very proud
of that. I think there is still a lot of potential in this project, and I plan
on expanding upon it further in the future. One way to do this is to simply add
more exhibits and improve the overall polish and aesthetics of the existing
environment. Another way is to add more interactivity - what if, for example,
you could touch the exhibits in VR to change their animation / behavior?