Kate Parsons has shared the production process behind The Glitch Mob's "How Do I Get to Invincible" music video and spoke about the FLOAT LAND studio's VR projects and workflows.
I’m Kate Parsons, and I studied undergrad at Montana State University, and then got my Master of Arts in Digital Art and Video from CSU-Northridge and my MFA from UCLA’s Media Arts program. Ben Vance, my partner at FLOAT (and also my husband) studied Art and Computer Science at Iowa State University, earning a BFA and BS, respectively. FLOAT has worked on projects and received project support from folks like Amazon Studios, Google, Git Hub, Wevr, Within, and Tony Hawk. We’ve worked with artists such as Ian Cheng, Petra Cortright, and Marisa Olson, and were part of Marina Abramović, Jeff Koons, and Olafur Eliasson’s VR art gallery, Acute Art. We’ve created a futuristic AR experience for a high-end mall here in LA for United Nude, “the leader in architectural footwear” and developed the concept of “digital set dressing” for real spaces. We’ve also shown our work at a charity event, we were very happy to chat with Ron Howard who had nice things to say about our interactive VR art!
We also created a VR experience for Tony Hawk, which involved doing photogrammetry of his entire house and integrating holographic videos of his family… and putting it all in space. It was quite surreal! This was a surprise gift for his wife’s birthday.
I started out working in advertising, as I had a graphic design degree to put to good use. My first job was as an illustrator for Outside Bozeman, and after school, I worked as a designer at Banik Communications up in Montana. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to freelance, working on video and design for clients like filmmaker Mark Pellington’s Aston Martin campaign.
Ben worked for many years at EA on projects like Medal of Honor and an unreleased Steven Speilberg project. He’s been in the Indie Game space for about 12 years, working on arcade strategy game Skulls of the Shogun, exploring VR with Irrational Exuberance, and co-founding LA’s Glitch City indie collective. He also contributed literal magic and spell casting to the Harry Potter VR experiences at the Harry Potter store in New York City.
We started FLOAT in 2015, very early in that wave of VR. Ben had been working in the field for a while, and I was just out of graduate school. We decided to collaborate on a VR project for a gallery, and our first project, Liminal Realities, brought people to tears. It was then we realized we should formalize our collaboration and see where it would lead.
With the support of Kaleidoscope VR, we attended the Oculus Dev Lab and went on to create a project called FLOAT Museum, a collaborative project to reimagine art and interactivity. The pilot debuted at SFMOMA, and it was last seen in Vulcan’s Holodome, bringing interactivity to their projection-mapped dome. We worked with WeVR and Vulcan to bring work by some of our favorite artists into VR such as Casey Reas and Jennifer Steinkamp.
Both of us came of age during the early internet years, so I think we’ve always been drawn to interactivity and digital tools and exploring what can be done with them. The possibilities are unlimited but many conventions emerge in games and media which end up turning some people off. We hope to broaden the expressive range and bring more people into the medium and change the way we relate to technology.
"How Do I Get to Invincible" Music Video
The entire album by The Glitch Mob has an otherworldly concept and our music track was especially slow, deliberate, and moody. We accentuated this with a heavily atmospheric look which gives unexpected moments within glimpses of the landscape. Dark landscapes obscured by fog contain hidden beauty. The camera moves slowly over mountains and bubbling, lava-like seas that mimic the undulating music.
Our friends at Strangeloop Studios have been doing visuals for The Glitch Mob for a while, and started work on an ambitious visual album for See Without Eyes, with much of it built in Unity. We shared mood boards and they gave us some pre-vis block-out assets for the How Do I Get to Invincible track. We brought this into Unity and were able to iterate rapidly to find a unique look and share work-in-progress very quickly. Their team is so great to work with – they are some of the nicest people in the biz.
The Production Process
We started by researching techniques in real-time FX, knowing we needed to work in Unity. This was mostly custom shaders, getting inspired by shadertoy.com, and exploring different looks. We built test terrains using C4D and Unity. In Unity, we explored post-effects like tilt-shift, ambient occlusion, and chromatic aberration. We used the Unity plugin Fog Volume 3 to create rich dynamic clouds– it has a huge number of options and can express wildly different atmospheres (some of which will bring your computer to its knees!).
Unity was central to our production process, and we iterated both in the editor and in real-time to get the look we wanted. Some of the effects really pushed the limits of our GPUs. It wouldn’t have been possible to work in real-time without GPU acceleration – we would have had to render out clips, which takes anywhere from 10 to thousands of times longer! The project also had the potential to become a VR experience, which happened not long after! So all of the Unity and GPU-native groundwork we laid was leveraged and expanded by the Wave for the VR experience to work.
Right now, FLOAT is working on a transmedia project called Screensavers VR, part of which is available on Steam at this very moment. We are working with artists and animators like Tyler Hurd and Pendleton Ward as well as artists like Marisa Olson and Casey Kauffmann. The project is also becoming a book, with contributions by Wiley Wiggins, Joanne McNeil, Mark Amerika, and many other incredible folks. Look for that to come out next year–turns out books are a slow process!
We had two VR pieces in a beautiful gallery show that opened in March of 2020, on the evening that LA went into lockdown…which meant that not many people saw it. The show, called To Bough and To Bend, is tree and eco-themed and will be reopening at the Weisman Museum in Malibu on September 10th. This week we’ve been busy installing Irrational Exuberance, a VR experience set in deep space, and Dark Spring, a meditation on love and loss. We hope people in the LA area will come out and see both pieces, as well as the other incredible work in the show!
We are also creating a residency in rural Montana near my family ranch, and we’re really excited about making a space and retreat for creatives. Filmmakers, artists, designers, writers…we hope we can support anyone who needs a little respite in the wilderness.
For aspiring artists, I would recommend not to get overwhelmed. There are a lot of ways to make VR and a lot of different ways to learn. As an educator, if I have students who have never done 3D before, I have them start in After Effects using 3D layers and getting used to the idea of Z-space. Then we move into Cinema 4D Lite and they can get the feel of modeling and animation in a 3D program. This usually helps translate other programs like Blender or VR tools like Blocks or Oculus Medium and makes them easier to navigate.