Kevin Mack is a digital fine artist and prolific visual effects designer known for his work across films such as Fight Club (1999), A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Fifth Element (1997), and What Dreams May Come (1998) for which he won an Oscar. Outside of supervising VFX for big budget Hollywood films, Mack creates abstract surrealist art, realizing them as 3D printed sculptures, 2D renderings, and now through his newly founded VR production house Shape Space VR, immersive virtual reality experiences that let you explore his strange and beautiful globular creations up close and personal. Enter Blortasia.
Blortasia is his second public VR art piece, arriving a few months after the pre-rendered 3D 360 video Zen Parade for Gear VR. Created for HTC Vive and Oculus Touch, Blortasia is a real-time VR experience that lets you fly in and around the abstract sculpture using either system’s hand controllers, and letting you freely explore the universe’s undulating, cavernous structure in the sky. According to Mack, Blortasia is an exploration of virtual reality as an aesthetic medium, one that is necessarily unconstrained by the limits of ordinary reality.
Accompanied by a calming soundtrack, I can’t help but feel a deep relaxation as my brain goes on autopilot while I watch the living, breathing lava lamp before me. Like watching clouds, I see faces, hands, objects—a neurological illusion thanks to a phenomenon called Pareidolia. I exit Blortasia a little more refreshed than I went in, a little more aware of my physical world outside virtual reality.
To learn more about the nuts and bolts of the experience, I spoke with Kevin Mack about how it was made.
Mack tells me that among custom-made animated shaders for Unity and other techniques created by himself, Blortasia was built using tools and rule-based procedural systems in Houdini, a procedural content creation software from SideFX.
The results, Mack says, are a type of “directed randomness that are hybridized and seeded with manually created elements.” So while Blortasia’s textures aren’t entirely random, but are rather derived from images painted by Mack in Photoshop, Blortasia obeys what he calls “a natural system where the rules of nature are aesthetically defined.”
This means that the starting structure of Blortasia is fundamentally always the same, but it undulates over time and is painted with different colors that are recalculated when you start the experience, something that makes the sky-bound creation appear different each time you visit.
But what about the name, Blortasia?
Mack told me it was named after the self-coined word ‘Blort’, an acronym deriving from the process that he used to create the otherworldly sculpture. Blort stands for “blobs that have been rotated, translated, and scaled.” Whether the neologism catches on or not, one thing is for sure: Blortasia is exactly what virtual reality was intended for—bringing to life something vibrant and alive that would otherwise be impossible in our daily physical reality.