Mawson's Huts VR
Work-in-Progress by Peter Morse. A prototype high-fidelity VR simulation of the Mawson's Huts Historic Site at Cape Denison, Antarctica. Suitable for high-end PC and VR systems: these are unadjusted screenshots from beta v0.61-0.7.
Mawson's Huts VR Simulation is a companion piece to my forthcoming 4k Fulldome feature film 'East of Antarctica', exploring the legacy of the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
Like much of my work, this piece reflects upon the aesthetics of the romantic landscape and the romantic sublime - sublimated, of course, within the context of computer simulation. It plays with concepts of gamification, ergodic narrative and the tropes of documentary cinema - an interfusion of genres that asks the player to arrive at their own aesthetic moment in the forbidding landscapes of an imaginary Antarctic, confluent with memory and history.
In counterpoise, the Cape Denison landscape is based on observational science: an accurate digital elevation model (~5m) derived from satellite data, Australian Antarctic Division GIS resources and photogrammetric reconstructions from extensive aerial photography undertaken during various helicopter flights around the Cape that I made 2007-8 and 2009-10, during two conservation expeditions with the Mawson's Huts Foundation. Next steps - get the geology, meteorology and cryology right - within unclearly defined artistic constraints.
Mawson’s Huts and other heritage structures appear via faithful photogrammetric 3D reconstructions.
This work draws on extensive historical resources from Heroic-era literature and photography, including early stereoscopic glass-plate views taken by the expedition photographer, Frank Hurley (courtesy of the Mawson Collection, SA Museum). I have worked extensively on restoration of these images, which come to life in immersive VR, calibrated alongside more recent stereoscopic high-definition footage and stereoscopic 10k panoramic photography.
Adelie Penguin colonies will operate as AI/AL agents with flocking behaviours, resource-gathering goals, life-death cycles etc, operating via state machines, behaviour trees and, as I progress, AI/CNN/GANs that learn from their environment and in comparison to real-world behaviours. This simulation will be interesting to compare to the behaviours of real-life colonies and individuals - currently standard game AI processes lead to all sorts of amusing and semi-realistic encounters - but penguins are much more complex, violent and aggressive than you might imagine. Certainly, they are not remotely like anthropomorphic fantasies such as ‘Happy Feet’. It’s much darker - but who knows what will happen with a sparsely trained GAN? They might all start doing Busby Berkeley musicals after a few aeons of game-time: it's an experiment.
Programming and design in the Unity3D game engine, using the excellent Procedural-Worlds assets (Gaia, GeNa, CTS etc.) and GX extensions. GIS and photogrammetric assets via custom workflows/Python. AI systems currently use TensorFlow (Keras) for machine learning.
The simulation is intended for both home-use (via PC/VR set-ups) as well as specialist immersive environments such as EPICylinder (UNSW) and DomeLab systems (UNSW/EPFL). If all goes well, I'll release it on Steam late 2019/20.
Created and Produced by Peter Morse
Mawson's Huts VR is produced in association with the Mawson's Huts Foundation.
Special thanks to:
Mawsons Huts Foundation
Australian Antarctic Division
Crew of L'Astrolabe