Co-founder and Technical Director John Dewar enjoyed creating the beautiful cliff-side oasis for Guided Relaxation, a VR experience Studio Transcendent created in partnership with AppliedVR.  He recently spoke about the technical aspects of this project:

The biggest challenge that the Studio Transcendent team experienced with Guided Relaxation is that it needed to work on the mobile-phone based Samsung Gear VR --- which is a more resource-limited platform than the Rift on Desktop PCs, which is where we have done our previous projects.  We approached that by doing a lot of pre-rendering.  For example, we have a beautiful sky day/night cycle that’s pre-rendered with clouds and millions of particles controlled by fractals, crepuscular rays, and realistic lighting models that you could never do on a mobile platform.

We also used Houdini to create a realistic fire with fluid dynamics, which makes the fire much more realistic, and it gives you the ability to look into the fire and see patterns in it like you would in a real fire.  A more typical game engine would use just animated particles which are purely random but don’t follow any laws of fluid dynamics.

It’s the fluid dynamics that gives you interesting behavior in the fire, something to actually concentrate on, which is quite valuable in a meditative experience.  This is something you don’t usually see in real-time applications.  

Dewar notes that “we are taking advantage of the fact that our user is in a fixed location.  We know what he will be able to see, and we can render around that.”  However, there are still challenges in shaping an experience that would work with the specific physical constraints of the users:

We found that we couldn’t just pre-render the entire environment.  This could create problems.  A lot of the users may not be able to sit straight up.  A stereo 360 panorama at this point in time requires that your eyes are level on the horizontal plane to work, otherwise, the stereo effect is lost.  We also found that you couldn’t just pre-render a 360 degree stereographic video due to various comfort issues.  For example, your head doesn’t really rotate around your eyes, so there is a certain amount of distortion that happens when you are looking side to side.  We wanted to avoid this.  Also, many users would not be able to look with their head perfectly horizontal.  They may be leaning over to the side a bit.  They might be lying on their side or back.  

In order to give them a nice, immersive stereo environment, we rendered the foreground in real time with the Gear VR hardware.  That provides a much more comfortable stereo environment that doesn’t break if you aren’t in exactly the right position.

Dewar’s favorite part was when the team finished the day/night cycle.  They were able to watch the sun set and the stars come out.  “The earth went to sleep, and it almost felt as though the temperature in the room was lowering as the sun went down.  I almost felt that physical sensation.  I thought that was a very cool transition.  It’s still my favorite part of the experience.  It shows the power of an immersive environment  that you can have a physical reaction to it.”

 

Note:  Guided Relaxation was originally named Anxiety Reliever.