Escher the Ride (2005)

Escher VR 2005

In 1998 I made a VR motion ride for the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, about the works of M.C. Escher. The ride was a huge success, and toured the world, including China and Japan. In 2005, “Escher Revisited in VR Valley” was still the same as seven years before. The magic, inspired by Eschers works, the same beautiful music by Quality Quartet (now QQ Audio). Together they shaped the international success of the ride.The visuals though, which were state of the art at the time, were hopelessly outdated. The magic had an old wrapper now. And because the wrapper is our business, we were very happy with the opportunity that Wennekes Multimedia (now Office for Imagination) gave us. We have been working together for years now, and they gave us the chance to drag the visuals, kicking and screaming, into the present again.
The concept and script stayed the same, the looks have been thoroughly remade. The renewed version of the ride was shown in a theatre in the theme park Minimundus, near the Bodensee in Germany. Since this theatre featured a wonderful stereoscopic projection facility, this new ride had to become a true stereoscopic 3D ride. One where everything shoots out of the screen, and pokes you in the eye. Providing you use the right glasses of course. The ride was also shown in Brazil in 2013, with several thousand visitors a day.
Just like the old version, the new ride consists of three main parts, with an intro and an ending. The same music was used, although Quality Quartet was allowed to do new sound design and a new mix.
The agreement for the new design was simple: keep the exact timing, remake everything that happened in the first version. Within these bounds we got carte blanche.
The most striking difference between the two versions, is the quality of the landscapes. By 1998, making virtual landscapes was technically in its infancy. A lot had changed since then.
Today it is much less difficult to generate and render the enormous amount of data needed for plants and rocks, although developments are still going very fast. This time, Vue 4 Professional was chosen to produce the landscapes, in which the buildings were composited.
The difference is in the details. More more subdivided landscapes, and real trees and plants. The old version used a smart visual trick: flat images, like pieces of decor on a stage, were placed in the landscape, and turned so that you never saw they were flat. Now there are three dimensional plants and trees, that do not look the same from every side. And even better: where in the old version every species of plant consisted of exact copies, now all the plants are unique!
The buildings kept the same basic design, although they were rebuilt at a much higher quality. This was needed for the higher resolution, and because radiosity lighting was used. Eschers drawings have a very distinct feel about them, and the softer lighting is much more similar. The intro, the tunnel with “Metamorphose” on its walls, was also completely redone. And the ending too, a trip through space with a school of Eschers fish.
The most spectacular aspect about the new ride is stereoscopy. This gives the ride real depth, in stead of being a flat image. By making a slightly different animation for each eye, and by making sure that both eyes get to see the right image, the audience experiences a three dimensional world.
To the left, two images, one for each eye, are alternated. This very simple animation already conveys a sense of depth.
In Minimundus the high resolution images share the same projection screen. By using polarised light, the double image can be filtered separately to the eyes. The right and left eye see different images on the same screen.
This image is a so-called “anaglyph” of the same point in the tunnel. The two images for both eyes have been put on top of each other, in red and cyan. The 3D effect can be seen with 3D glasses with a red and a cyan lens. These glasses are usually made of cardboard, with plastic lenses, and are very cheap. (Dutch only) shows you how to make your own, and has links to shops. One of them is American Paper Optics. These glasses are also often included with DVD’s of 3D movies. For instance Shrek 2 and Spy Kids 3D.
For this image you need a very common type, with a red lens on the left and a cyan lens on the right.
The disadvantage of a red/blue anaglyph is the loss of colour. When using polarised projection, all the color is retained. But this technique requires two projectors and a special silver screen.
The much bigger resolution of the new version also improves a lot over the old one. Normal PAL video resolution of 720×576 pixels was used in 1998, blown up to 5 meters wide. Back then that was pretty good, but by 2005, we could do better. HD is much sharper, so it can be blown up to a bigger size without becoming fuzzy. Disadvantages are the 4.5 times longer rendering, and the enormous amount of data of all the images of the animation. But the image quality more than makes up for these annoyances.
We also worked for Escher in the Palace, the Escher museum in The Hague.

All M.C. Escher works © Cordon Art, Baarn, the Netherlands