Ragnarok VR: Unrealised concepts | Art direction of characters and environments for VR horror game
October 4, 2015
Case: Combating VR Sickness in Immersive Installation for Public Spaces, pt. 1/2
November 21, 2017

Amaryllis VR : Ocean

Pioneering design and development of room-scale virtual reality art installation for public spaces.


Designed & developed by Mariam Zakarian.
Theoretical basis, R&D for installation is formulated in an 88 page master thesis for Zakarian's degree in Media Technology.
First public demo at CopenX VR/AR Conference, 2016.
Exhibited in galleries, museums, art fairs, conferences in Europe, East Asia and USA.


Amaryllis VR : Ocean became one of the first original VR artworks in the world by a solo artist utilizing the room-scale system of the HTC Vive. Unlike in seated or standing VR experiences where the user remains stationary, room-scale allows for real-time 360˚ positional tracking of user movement and gestures for interacting with the virtual environment. This can in turn greatly amplify the illusion of VR.
Amaryllis VR : Ocean is a virtual reality (VR) art installation specifically designed for public exhibitions.
It is unique to VR that one can be transported to worlds which can never exist in real life. The surreal world of Ocean envelops the user in sound and visuals, and allows the physical body to move in the virtual world.
Ocean offers a novel artistic experience by enveloping the user completely in the artwork. Unlike in other art media, it is possible to physically visit the world of the artwork. Impossible acts in the real world, such as looking inside physical objects and breathing underwater, become possible in the virtual realm as the user is invited to a surreal, but lifelike world. The design of Ocean deliberately plays with the sense of space and size in relation to the body. Giant, red ocean waves literally submerge the user in the virtual artwork. The anticipation of the waves and seeing them on all sides triggers a sense of physicality by harnessing the user’s memories and knowledge of how water behaves in the real world. As a result, the illusion is sometimes so effective that some users report holding their breath while "underwater".
In Ocean, users can walk physically while in VR in a predefined space of 3x3m, approach objects to look inside them and move their head and body while interacting with the virtual environment. The abstract step of imagining what is seen on a 2D screen is removed. The head-tracking and stereoscopic view create the illusion of seeing the VR environment as one normally sees the real world, and the relationship between the body and the digital world becomes physical. The user's perspective on objects changes as it would in the real world, the parallax becomes noticeable and looking at objects above requires physically tilting their head back instead of clicking on buttons on a controller.
There are already many genres of VR art, the most popular of these being pieces created in VR-painting and -sculpting applications (Tilt Brush, Quill etc.). For Amaryllis VR : Ocean the ambition was to create a completely original artwork making full use of the room-scale system, as well as including interactive, animated elements and sound besides static pieces. For this reason, VR artmaking apps were avoided. The risk of imprecise controller tracking in the artmaking process, and the limited tools available in these apps often create a very specific look for the artwork, beyond the artist’s control. Every piece of visual and audio material in Ocean is designed, crafted and implemented by the artist, using a variety of techniques: 3D sculptures, texture layers, animations, lighting, recording and processing sound and music, as well as software optimization and user testing.
Amaryllis VR : Ocean was made specifically for public art exhibitions. Prioritizing practical considerations in the design process was essential: ease of setup and use, affordability, accessibility, flexibility, mobility, robustness and to reduce staff costs during exhibitions.
Public spaces with a constant flow of people can result in queue formation. To create natural break points for users, preventing excessive use of the VR device, Ocean contains 5 minutes of content, which can either be set to turn off automatically or to loop infinitely, depending on the requirements of the exhibition. The artwork exists only in one copy and is exhibited in one place in the world at a time. It is not available via online digital services.
SOUND is one of the most important elements of Amaryllis VR : Ocean, enhancing the atmosphere and emotion of the visuals, as well as anchoring the aesthetic expression. The audio for the installation consists of nature sounds, acoustic instruments, synthesizers and vocal harmonies composed and recorded by the artist. To offer concentration and an optimal experience for users, closed headphones or earphones are highly recommended.
The installation was born out of the desire

to examine the powers of contemporary VR technology

in offering an artistic experience

which would be impossible to achieve in any other medium.

Exhibitions are expected to have a constant flow of visitors of varying ages, abilities and backgrounds. Casual use is to be expected, as users have limited time and attention.
The installation therefore does not require previous experience with VR technology or using one's body in a particular way, besides being able to view stereoscopic imagery and hearing sound in stereo. Having to learn to use hand-held controllers and gadgets in order to interact with a VR artwork can be too difficult, impractical and uninviting in a public setting, and these are deliberately excluded from the art piece.
The room-scale system does not have to be utilized, and it is possible to experience the piece from a comfortable, seated position as well.
The HTC Vive is commercially available and comes with customer support for easy installation and maintenance by museum staff members. In case of breakage or mishandling of the VR equipment due to repeated or incorrect use, it is relatively affordable to replace, compared to the VR technology of a decade ago.
Amaryllis VR : Ocean is lightweight and only requires being turned on and off daily. It is not strictly necessary to employ staff to show the piece. The installation is practical to set up and operate, as well as being mobile and adaptable to a large variety of spaces.
To create Amaryllis VR : Ocean
it was necessary to first design a novel way
to experience multisensory art.

This theoretical basis, technical research & development
was formulated in an 88 page master thesis by the artist.

Qualitative and quantitative user tests were performend on several iterations of the Amaryllis VR project in order to achieve an optimal balance between user comfort and application robustness. The installation is built and optimized for busy, public events with a high volume of attendees and no room for technical issues or logistical inefficiencies arising from the installation or display of the VR experience. As of Autumn 2019, over 500 unique users from a large variety of backgrounds, ages 8-70 and with varying knowledge of VR have participated in quantitative tests of Amaryllis VR : Ocean.
One of the most essential aspects of creating a VR experience is preventing unwanted symptoms related to prolonged use of VR technology. The term VR Sickness refers to a negative reaction to a virtual environment, often occuring when the user’s eyes register that their body is moving in the VR environment, while the vestibular system in the inner ear perceives that the body remains static. Much like motion sickness, VR Sickness includes symptoms such as general discomfort, headache, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, disorientation, drowsiness, pallor, sweating, postural instability etc.
Ocean was specifically designed with this in mind, supported by thorough academic research and testing. Only 0,9% of the over 500 people who have tested Amaryllis VR : Ocean have presented signs of VR sickness.
Despite its popularity in recent years, VR is still not a standard medium shown at museums. One possible reason is that for new users it can be an intimidating experience to try new technology, or having to wear head-mounted devices in a public setting. The design of Ocean is specifically mindful of making the meeting with VR for first-time users a gentle experience without being technically overwhelming, physically challenging or visually hyperactive. As a result, the movements of the users are often calm and slow, and characterized by sensing and exploring. Particularly in noisy, crowded spaces full of distractions, the quiet, calm and slow atmosphere of Ocean can offer a pause for taking a breath. The philosophy behind Ocean is to encourage an introspective experience open to interpretation and to be taken at the user's own pace. During the writing of the master thesis, Zakarian developed the term Slow VR to describe this particular category of VR works.
Selected Exhibitions 2016-19
Danube Dialogues: Perceptions of Contemporaneity - The Universal Sea (Central exhibition),
MSUV: Museum of Contemporary Art Vojvodina, September, 2019, Novi Sad, RS
Creative Coast Festival, May 2019, Karlshamn, SE
Universe Science Park, May 2018, Nordborg, DK
Internet Week Denmark:The Danish VR Scene, May 2018, Aarhus, DK
A MAZE Festival, April 2018, Berlin, DE
Art Basel (Private VIP event in collaboration with MOR and HTC), March 2018, Hong Kong, CHN
Game Developers Conference (in collaboration with MOR and Valve), March 2018, San Francisco, USA
"Virtually Ourselves" at the University of Copenhagen, January 2018, Copenhagen, DK
Galleri Oxholm, August 2017, Copenhagen, DK
Culture Night at the Ministry of Science Innovation and Higher Education, October 2016, Copenhagen, DK
CopenX, September 2016, Copenhagen, DK