Experiencing Odyssey in the Somerset House, London

Photo credit Optimist Design / Courtesy of Optimist Design

Article by Roxana Florina Popa

An intense red light is filling up the room at the Somerset House, replacing the vast and empty white of the walls in neoclassical style. Now, total darkness is coming over top down, slowly and surely, provoking inside me questions about what is going to happen. I am sunk in the perfect dark. The journey has started. I am coming out in the open through the ceiling of the room which has opened like two halves of a white sphere. It seems I am coming out of a real astronomic observer. Higher and higher, I am already above sharp snown peaks. I am higher than the mountains and so, I become aware that the space has not reached yet its maximum at the mountains’ height. Suddenly, I am in the cosmos. Thousands of stars are glowing around me. A kind of floating force is pulling me inside the universe and driving me away from Terra. I am charmed by the stars and I feel sent away towards a completely new experience from which there is no return. The experience among the stars stops here and I immediately come back to the Earth. I wish so much I knew what would have happened farther. I have just been so enchanted that a new life will begin up in the space that I think of the great wonder that might have followed and I even forget how I returned. The entire Odyssey happened in just 90 seconds.


Odyssey Hero Dark

Photo credit Optimist Design / Courtesy of Optimist Design


Landscape still

Photo credit Optimist Design / Courtesy of Optimist Design

This film aims to question our current definition of space and time. It seeks to make us aware of what is really important in life and how a shift in perspective can change our perception and with it, the definition of our world.

I get off the turbine and I go meeting the designer of this installation.

Tino - 'Ride em Cowboy'

Tino Schaedler, Founder of Optimist Design

Photo credit Optimist Design / Courtesy of Optimist Design

Tino Schaedler makes design for retail, interiors and events. He worked for Calvin Klein, Nike, Porsche and BMW, Red Bull, Sony and Warner Brothers in order to create interactive environments that are important to experience the universe of brands. His approach is intuitive, interactive and immersive. To his opinion, the virtual reality is the next frontier to conquer in order to offer clients brand phenomenal layered experiences thanks to special, time-based and choreographed designs and cinematic sensitivity.

He realised the digital sets for the films “Harry Potter” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory“, as well as the magical 3D in the music videos for Daft Punk. Tino Schaedler founded the LA-based design studio, Optimist Design, working at the intersection between art, new technologies and architecture with the purpose of creating complex sensorial experiences.

The design installation presented at the London Design Festival was realised in collaboration with Nabil. Together, they created the company United Realities to experiment the new digital environment and the virtual technology next to that analogue in order to give new dimensions to brand story-telling. The installation is endowed with cutting edge technology, cinematic audio system realised by Nordmeister from Los Angeles, while the headsets for the virtual reality represent HTC technology to be soon launched on the market, setting new standards for the industry.

Roxana Florina Popa:    What is the idea behind this installation?

Tino Schaedler:                We want to create an experience that generates an emotion inside of you. When you come out of it, people can see it as great or not, but, definitely, everyone would have felt something. Emotions are the part where a piece gets really interesting. Emotions make you remember things. For example, I used to play soccer. Every summer in Germany, they would mow the lawn and the smell of the grass immediately takes me back to that amazing experience when summer started anew. In terms of creating experiences, it has to be really impactful.

RFP:       Do you have a special recipe for creating strong emotions?

TS:          First of all, I try to use various sensorial triggers. We added tactile sense and the vibrations in the turbine. The audio part is special, not just stereo. In the room, you feel there is a special dimension to the sound. It changes when you rotate. Smell would also be great to integrate at some point. What is also important is the development of an experience that enhances each of these senses. When all gets black, you start understanding that something is happening. The lights of the turbine are on and then the turbine takes off, the ceiling opens, you go further and everything gets accelerated and you are suddenly in space. You reach the climax and you come back. It is like building an arch by means of a good movie of only 90 seconds.

We combined also the physical and the virtual realities since just putting the person on a chair with the headset on for a flight over the Grand Canyon would lack the connection and transition between where she is right now and where I am taking her. The idea here was to build a specifically designed interface which is the turbine. The turbine is relevant for the experience, you engage with it and the experience starts already from the moment you come into the room, see it and get on it.

We also wanted to work with the space here at the Somerset House. When you put the headset on, you see the re-creation of the room and you transcend from here. This is conceptually interesting because I think what VR will do in a few years, once it is more dematerialised, there will be more gigantic goggles and we create senses that we experience in the real world, it will completely change our definition of reality. If that reality is as good as the physical reality, it will definitely create a new perspective.

What we want to play with when you are in this room, when the ceiling opens and you are suddenly in a completely different landscape and the Somerset House is no longer there is the shift of life perspective from where you are now to space.

People on space machines looking back to Earth get a different perspective on the little daily problems because everything becomes so little on this gigantic Earth.


Earth VR Still

Photo credit Optimist Design / Courtesy of Optimist Design

RFP:       In the description of this event, you meant also to make people understand what is more important in life?

TS:          What I meant is that shift of perspective where you suddenly see the bigger picture. When I did the design and I went out there in space, I had a slightly spiritual feeling. We also put that quote from David Lynch: “the world is as you are“. It is about our subjective perception of life.

When I got on the turbine, I had already read the material and I tried to be aware of myself observing my feelings and I looked for understanding what it is really important in life. I was a bit confused because when I left the Planet, there was this unbelievable feeling that made me ask myself “am I really leaving the Earth now?” and “how do I feel about it?” It was not so clear whether I was happy or not, but at the end there was this curiosity that wants you experience more. I thought, “well, in the end, if you become curious about what comes further, you are no longer said for leaving the Planet”.

This is was actually the idea: touch people with this experiment in a way that people think about it and take something out of it. It comes down to this quote “the world is as you are” and we all have a subjective take on it. It is about how you shape the world. I once read a book about how we should train ourselves to smile at people when we go out in the street. After a while, it will become a regular routine and it will uplift your own mood.

RFP:       What is virtual reality and what is united reality?

TS:          It is about combining reality: the virtual reality and in a few years the 3D reality. We want to work at the crossing of different types of realities and link them. This is when experience becomes really strong. United Reality is the name of the company.

RFP:       What would be a particular functionality?                

TS:          For example, if you set on a chair and put the headset on and we took you to the Grand Canyon to different places, this would have no connection to you sitting here. So, the realities are completely disconnected. When you make the experience on the turbine, you are already engaged with what is happening. However, the experience and the story telling started before you put the headset on. This is why we call it united reality. Another reason relates to the fact that different people are involved and work for our company. It just made sense to name it “united reality” in terms of experience.


Visitor at the London Design Festival experiencing Odyssey

Photo credit Optimist Design / Courtesy of Optimist Design

RFP:       What would be the role of the physical reality in this experiment? Does it have anything to do with people wanting sometimes to escape reality?

TS:          With regard to how the experience is shaped, you start in this very room. At the end, the blinds open again and you are back in the room. This grounds you and brings you back home. It is a nice transition in the same way a song has an intro and then a climax. It is a smoother transition to the physical reality.

…so, maybe it is an expression of our life in the sense that we cannot escape this given reality…

…that, as well.

RFP:       What is an “event-based VR installation”?

TS:          It is an event that is really crafted to be here if you come and experience it here. It is opposed to downloading a music video that you can either watch it on your phone or at home on another device. It does not make sense to experience our event on YouTube, for example. You would not understand the connection with the room unless you are physically in this room.


The turbine ready for boarding

Photo credit Optimist Design / Courtesy of Optimist Design

RFP:       What is the application of this experiment for brands?

TS:          We are working on concepts for certain brands. It could be an in-store application for a car manufacturer in order to create an experience. This is why emotions are so important. People connect to brands’ products through emotions. We are able to create strong emotions through our applications which are very interesting for brands. A person who goes to buy a car can use this application to configure the car, change the colour, the leather. This makes it easier for people to imagine and understand how their car would look like in a specific configuration.

In a few years the whole Internet will be completely 3D and people would put 3D glasses on in order to surf the Internet. For example, Nike.com could be a more virtual space where people can go and meet various athletes there and have them explain you the sport shoes. This makes a whole new experience.

RFP:       Do you see this useful also for flagship stores of big luxury brands?

TS:          Yes. You can make the most amazing flagship stores in VR and you can create experiences that cannot be created in reality. You can talk to the designers about how they created. You can have such a different level of experience. It will be extremely interesting for brands to go into this direction.

RFP:       Are you already working with brands?

TS:          We are working with Nike, Google and Facebook. We present case studies to our clients. We create experiences for them.

RFP: …I am really looking for the website making available such experiences…

TS:   …It will come soon…

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This article has been selected into the book “Beauty Elegance Creativity – 12 Interviews on the Act of Creation” published by Roxana Florina Popa

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