Beautifully Grotesque Creatures Emerge From Volvox Lab's "Lucid Dream"

Volvox Labs create a parallel universe full of impossible, surreal organisms.

There is something both enthralling and unnerving about fantasy realms. When Alice fell through the rabbit hole, what she met on the other side was both menacing and oddly comforting—a hyper-surreal realization of reality’s shortcomings. Inspired by this dialogue between reality and fantasy, Brooklyn-based VFX and projection studio VolvoxLabs created Lucid Dream, a multi-media, interactive visual projection displayed at Toronto’s annual Digital Dreams Music Festival this past June. 

Lucid Dream projects the evolution of a trio of chromatic, otherworldly hybridized creatures, acting as a digitized encyclopedia of an imaginary world. High powered projectors on two adjacent exterior walls immerse attendees in a 3,900 square ft digital dream world where these alien oddities morph from gelatinous embryos in primordial ooze to phantasmagorical organisms. 

To draw festival goers into the installation, a large scale poster depicting the creatures in various stages of development was placed in a central location in the festival. An HD camera affixed on top of the poster was used to capture reactions to the lifelike oddities. The footage was then fed in real time to the giant wall within the surreal, digital realm. Suddenly, attendees became oddities within themselves, which nicely befits the music festival culture. For visitors, VolvoxLabs said, “seeing themselves on the huge wall was a surprise and also encouraged others to discover this world. It was fantastic to see their realization [that they were] part of the environment we created.” 

The world that they created looks as if Hieronymus Bosch, Jim Henson, and Luigi Serafini teamed up to direct a warped version of the Planet Earth documentary. It's both otherwordly seeming and rooted in natural organisms. In fact, the project is based on Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus, the surrealist tome published in the early 1980s. Working alongside concept artist Alicia Martin and technical director Josh Planz, the team developed the characters to be both peculiar and organic. Drawing viewers in not only with preternatural mystique, but further heightening this element of the odd with an unintelligible scripted language, yet another nod to Codex.  

"[Codex Seraphinius] is an imaginary world with its own imaginary language," explain Kamil and Pa, the duo behind VolvoxLabs. "Every page was full of incredible and impossible options of creatures both converging and evolving. It's exactly what we love—connecting and evolving. Of course, it was an immediate inspiration and we wanted to animate a very much similar world in 3D."

Part of what they hope to achieve with their work at Volvox is to create an experience that allows viewers to perceive the world around them differently. By creating an alternate universe that is simultaneously familiar and alien, feels real but is just slightly off as to warrant a double take, they encourage viewers to look deeper and consider connections that may exist between these two worlds.