Our world has been in a longstanding battle with climate change, and more recently fighting a novel disease. With these two afflictions simultaneously existing, our team has taken notice of the impact that they have caused to cherry blossom trees and how we may now enjoy them.
Increasingly warm weather occurring late winter and early spring each year has rushed cherry blossoms to an early bloom. This causes us to think about the future and existence of these beautiful trees. Additionally, due to the coronavirus outbreak, local officials urge visitors to social distance and avoid coming to view these trees. Close to home, the cherry blossoms at the University of Washington campus will be scarce in the number of attendees.
Our team has been focused on paying homage to these admirable cherry blossom trees by creating a light-hearted experience that showcases a seemingly eternal bloom. We wanted to provide users with a new and alternative way to interact and de-stress with these trees. We understand that our environment has been overwhelming, but that everyone needs a breather.
For many Washingtonians, our first experience with cherry blossoms has taken place at the Liberal Arts Quadrangle at UW Seattle. Thousands of visitors would come view these trees each year and typically use the opportunity to take photographs.
In Japanese culture, sakura carries the symbolic meaning of the ephemeral beauty of life reflecting their brief cycle of bloom. As artists and designers we questioned what the extension of this bloom period would look like and how could we control time?
Sticky Note Exercise
At the birth of its creation, our team had a collective discussion on what inspired us, and what was going on in our environment. Our developer Juhyun had then reminded us about the cherry blossoms that were set to bloom again this spring, and that they were blooming earlier each year due to climate change according to annual patterns. This prompted us to talk about our own experiences with cherry blossoms and how we interacted with them which then sparked a vision of alternate ways to encounter the trees. We then captured each idea and structured them with sticky notes to better understand the possibilities.
From this initial step we were able to create soft and concrete deadlines to ensure we were completing what was needed. However, due to the outbreak we had to adjust our plan and installation experience that we hoped would be used in a physical space.
What Others Are Doing
To understand the various ways people are interacting with cherry blossoms, we took a look at how other artists, technologists, and organizations were providing an alternate experience.
There were a variety of ways that others recreated the experience of cherry blossoms from interactive installations, live streams of the cherry blossoms trees, to gamification.
One of our favorites was Animal Crossings, as players are able to experience the cherry blossoms in the game, which are available for two weeks in the beginning of April. Players are able to collect falling petals during this time to create decor and other items.
Right now many of us are unable to enjoy hanami, the Japanese word for “flower viewing”. However, we have strived to provide an alternative space where users are able to encounter these trees digitally wherever they are.
Users will be able to experience the cherry blossoms for longer than what the physical trees are able to bloom for. We want to create an everlasting experience that people could step into at any given time.
With the help of Blender and Unity 3D, our team has created an interactive, whimsical world inside of a portal. Originally, our portal
was going to be in augmented reality, allowing users to be fully immersed in glowing petals and our stunning tree as part of a physical art exhibition.
As our project pivoted to be part of a virtual capstone, we decided on building a WebGL version to allow users to interact with our 3D models, while still being able to enter a portal to a whimsical world, even though our physical art exhibit would be cancelled.
Our team plans on implementing all of the same features we planned to be available to users in our physical exhibition, which include: walking into a portal, moving around the infinate space centered by a glowing cherry blossom tree, the ability to touch and freeze petals,
and lastly slow down or speed up the falling petals.
During this serious period of time, we as artists found a desire to bring a carefree experience where users can take a moment to destress; to bring a new way to interact with these trees rather than to just see them, but to also manipulate the falling petals by touching and freezing them.
Overall Look + Feel
On May 22nd, 2020 our team was able to push out our first demo into the hands of users. In our first demo, we
were able to implement all of our art assets into a scene, filled with glowing petals and whimsical sounds.
When user's were asked to describe how our experience made them feel, users responded with calm, soothed, and "like they were floating".
It was important for our team to give users a unique experience, allowing them to interact with art, nature, time, and space in new ways. We recived feedback from Demo 1 that our visuals felt "out of this world", "magical", and were "very pretty".
WebGL Game Mechanics
From the first iteration to our final demo, our developers worked hard to create a user-friendly experience. Through troubleshooting and user testing, they were able to improve performance on the game controls and framerate per second.