Luke Stephens modeled the springtail body in the 3D software Blender.
The virtual skeleton that activates the movements of the avatar is placed inside the springtail model. The Humanoid Controller for VR had to be adjusted to fit into the springtail body, but the extra set of legs really caused the whole body to malfunction. So Luke had to redesign the character. The new character also has hands, which is not realistic to springtail insects, but since it is a part of the Humanoid Controller they were included.
Though compromises had to be made to get the avatar to work in VR, this is expected. The very idea that humans can understand what it is like to operate the body of another is fraught with challenges. There are always approximations and best guesses.
We want to be able to experience an approximation of what it is like to be a springtail, so we are experimenting with ways to use VR to become one. In virtual reality, avatars are designed to operate human shaped bodies, so we are working to “mis-use” the tools or extend it so it can get us beyond the human.
human rig inside springtail model
Luke Stephens is developing a springtail body with a human “skeleton” (animation rig). Then JT Thrash and Shadrick Addy are mapping this rig to the Humanoid Controller SDK (Software Development Kit) in Unity.
Springtail avatar modeled in Blender
The challenges we are encountering are many, including the need to adjust to the differences between the springtail body and the human body. For instance, we lack the antennae, a jumping apparatus (furcula), and extra legs. How do we control all of those extra appendages? Also, should we humans crawl on our hands and feet to conform to the springtail stance? We decided to have the springtail avatar take a human stance, but still include the antennae, furcula, and extra arms/legs.
Shadrick preparing to test the springtail body in VR
We will experiment with ways to control these appendages with our body gestures. There was one appendage we did not include on the body, the collophore; a two-part tube that inflates from their abdomen for cleaning and for sticking to surfaces when landing. It looks very challenging to operate a springtail body. Watch the collophore in action in the video below, from the fabulous show Life in the Undergrowth, a BBC series with David Attenborough.
Our team created a video to describe our Belonging to Soil project in process. We discuss our inspirations, the story, the tools, environment, characters, and interaction design.
We created it as part of Shadrick Addy’s larger presentation on his work and history, presented at a Hopkins Hybrid Arts Lab event in the Department of Design. It is very inspiring, check it out: Making Lemonade: My Design Life.