Entering the Wild Mind of Salvador Dalí – virtually?

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When you first parachute into the virtual reality landscape of Dreams of Dalí , you find yourself in a vast desert, staring up at two impossibly tall statues—an amorphous man and woman, heads bowed in prayer. The two figures are…

Dali
Goodby Silverstein & Partners

When you first parachute into the virtual reality landscape of Dreams of Dalí, you find yourself in a vast desert, staring up at two impossibly tall statues—an amorphous man and woman, heads bowed in prayer. The two figures are the central subjects of Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus,” which Salvador Dalí began painting around 1933 and are based on Jean-François Millet’s French realist painting, The Angelus, from 1859.

Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the creative agency behind this virtual reality experience for an exhibit at The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, chose this painting carefully: In the foreground of Dali’s original painting is a tiny silhouette of a man and a child. The child is Dalí. The man is his father. In Dreams of Dalí,you become a viewer and a visitor, a third inhabitant of the surreal dreamscape.

“We want to be that ant, that’s staring at these towers,” says Sam Luchini, a creative director at GS&P. “The lonely feeling, of you being in the middle of the desert and finding those gigantic towers” is the sensation the creators wanted to summon with Dreams of Dalí, which works with Oculus Rift and is part of the Disney and Dalí: Architects of the Imagination exhibit through June 12.

It would be wrong to say Dreams of Dalí takes you inside a Dalí painting, even though the setting for the experience is an exquisitely rendered version of Archeological Reminiscence. Rather, the painting is a jumping off point, a metaphorical springboard into a digital walkabout that its creators hope feels like traipsing around Dalí’s imagination.

To produce this effect, Luchini’s team had to translate Dali’s painting into an immersive dreamscape. Lead developer Nathan Shipley used the same 3D modeling, lighting, and texturing tools game developers use, and built a gaze-based navigation system—similar to what you’d find in most VR experiences out there—that encourages users to wander freely. The creators had to take some artistic liberties with Archeological Reminiscence by imagining what the towering statues might look like from behind, and what might exist beyond them. In the original painting, the Angelus figures are envisioned as crumbling ruins. Castle-like structures stand around the figures’ feet, and a thin crescent moon hangs in the sky. In Dreams of Dalí, however, you can glide through the ruins. Behind them, you’ll find four gigantic elephants, elevated skyward on beanstalk legs. These are from Dalí’s The Elephants, and appear other paintings, as well. There’s a small girl skipping rope; she’s adapted from Landscape With a Girl Skipping Rope, Dalí’s painting from 1936.

A consistency of themes, settings, and subjects make Dalí’s oeuvre especially well-suited to a virtual reality treatment. Many of his paintings seem to be set in the same ominous, glowing desert. Characters vanish and reappear from painting to painting, hinting at the existence of an unobserved world and unseen activity; while their sinewy, impossible forms—Dalí’s trademark as a surrealist artist—seem to indicate their affiliation with one fictive species. Through his art, Dalí created imaginary worlds; through the power of VR, Goodby Silverstein & Parnters lets us experience that world like never before.


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