(Above) George RR Martin explores virtual reality at Meow Wolf’s headquarters in Santa Fe, NM.
Meow Wolf, the New Mexico-based collective that’s making waves in the art and themed entertainment, has begun research and development for its forthcoming virtual and augmented reality implementation on a massive scale.
[Video 3:20] Meow Wolf Introduces Virtual Reality
Meow Wolf made headlines over the past year for its first permanent installation, The House of Eternal Return, which opened in March of 2016 with the help of Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin. The House of Eternal Return is an immersive, interactive, physical installation that allows visitors to explore passages to other dimensions through otherwise ordinary passageways in a Victorian house set in Mendocino, California. The group hopes forthcoming explorations in virtual and augmented reality will facilitate and enhance their ability to convey similar surreal and science-fiction narratives in the future.
“We’re going to become a major player in the virtual arts,” claims Brian Solomon, one of the founders of Meow Wolf’s nascent virtual reality team. “We’d like to diverge from the conventional paradigm of first-person shooters, and present an alternative premise to the virtual reality ecosystem.”
The team is currently exploring PC-based high quality virtual reality within environments that make extensive use of haptic feedback, custom RGBd Augmented Reality devices.
“One of the things that is unique about Meow Wolf, in terms of its art experience, is its tactile nature,” said Meow Wolf member Oliver Polzin. “We want to bring that same tactile function into virtual reality.”
They have plans to expand this platform to mobile-based implementation. Seamless integration of these systems in the physical spaces they’ve already built — like The House of Eternal Return — could produce one of the first true hyper-medium storytelling exhibitions.
“People have described our installations as ‘movies that you can walk around in.’ That’s what people love about what we do — it’s a true first-person experience,” said co-founder of Meow Wolf’s virtual reality team Leo Brown. “Insofar as there are so many different kinds of people in the world, there should be as many different kinds of virtual reality experiences too, because not ever type of gaming experience that you may be conventionally used to is what everyone desires.”
Meow Wolf comes into the virtual world backwards from current industry leaders in that it’s spent years honing in on its physical installation based craft, harnessing the power of a diverse collective of unique and unbound artists. The voices of the collective span across numerous mediums — sculptors, projection mapping artists, laser artists, welding teams, digital fabricators, electrical engineers, programmers, light artists, film makers, painters, textile artists, and sound designers all work as one. With virtual reality, Meow Wolf intends to bring all of their skills into what Meow Wolf founder Benji Geary recently dubbed “2.0 world”.
The team is focusing on production methods that make virtual reality approachable for it’s non-digital artists by utilizing 3D scanning, and animating techniques that allow physical sculptors to create and pilot their own objects and characters motion capture suits. The virtual reality team will import handmade objects into virtual space and surface match them to produce virtual environments and artwork that visitors can touch and interact with. In combination with 4D elements like wind generation, bass transducers, and smell, Meow Wolf is developing experiences that can drop users through rifts in time and space or that let visitors take alien forms that can roam future exhibitions.
This is an expansive time of Meow Wolf. The commercial success of The House of Eternal Return, has proven that their model of artistic experience works, and has paved the way for the company to open in major markets around the country. With 400,000 visitors to its Santa Fe prototype location in less than 9 months since opening, visitorship projections in major markets show Meow Wolf has major potential as a point of entry for public exposure to virtual and augmented reality.
Thanks to social media and the name recognition of some heavy hitting investors like game of thrones creator George RR Martin, the brand has reached over 160,000,000 people online. Exposing visitors to a particular brand of creative weirdness unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.
Keeping with their existing model of populist access to art, Meow Wolf seeks to lower the price of entry for people to engage and explore virtual reality as an emerging technology. Their goal is for virtual reality to be something anyone can experience, even those unable to afford cutting edge equipment. The model has been proven successful, and recently the company was awarded top honors by TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) in a new category called “Connected Immersion”.
Meow Wolf is presently exploring possible partnerships with hardware and software firms in the field, and has opened its VR/AR developer search nationwide.
“One of Meow Wolf’s main objectives is collaboration,” explained co-founder of Meow Wolf’s virtual reality team Maggie Thornton. “So, we’d like for our virtual reality, and our mode of implementing it to be as inclusive as possible.”
Applicants can submit portfolio work directly via email.