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The Language of VR: Emerging Surrealism

My latest work considers surrealism and its counterintuitive ability to enhance the feeling of presence in VR and its power to elevate the experience of VR to transcend reality. Users may fly, shrink, visit imaginary landscapes, perceive invisible phenomena, adopt ‘x-ray vision,’ or see time stop, slow, advance, or rewind. These virtual environments can be highly informative and instructional, but violate many principles of physics.


Our virtual worlds will have us breaking time and space to find ourselves in consensual yet asymmetric worlds. We created a rough prototype to allow an avatar to be present to answer questions in a meeting, when the real person is doing something else - we can appear to be present in two places at once. This is the beginning of my investigation into what I call Asymmetric Presence.


We also investigated a user’s ability to keep track of the real world while being redirected in the virtual. Our result won an IEEE 3DUI Best Technote award, finding that users can only believe one reality – they lose track of the real world for the virtual. This disassociation is fundamental to my most recent thinking.


The Army is sponsoring my three-year effort to “explore new VR techniques to tell stories toward the emergence of language to describe virtual world creation in a manner similar to cinematic language and conventions.” I am working to discover and establish the rules of this new medium – to deconstruct all the techniques I have developed into a handful of foundational elements…a Rosetta Stone for VR. Toward this end, the tie between SCA and ICT is critical to enable me to discover ways to go beyond suspension of disbelief to acceptance of the virtual world as real.


This year’s SIGGRAPH will feature our first project coming out of this effort: a virtual experience that blends surreal stop-motion puppets with image-based rendering techniques to provide an experience in what I call “Near-Field VR” – the equivalent of a “close-up” in cinematic terms. This project is a prime example of interdisciplinary collaboration: the work was authored by staff, students, and professors at ICT, SCA Interactive, SCA Animation, and the Viterbi School of Engineering. 

Selected Publications

Asymmetric Presence

Letting Go of The Real: Effects of Redirection on Spatial Orientation

Discovering Near-Field VR

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