With the news remaining pretty bleak right now, a bit of escapism can go a long way. Inspired by the fictional lands found in works by Carl Jung, J.R.R. Tolkien and Joseph Campbell, Mappe Of’s latest album The Isle of Ailynn takes listeners to faraway places that feel particularly enticing amid the current circumstances.
“This record has always been about leaving our world to visit a fantastical one, full of amplified versions of questions we’ve asked ourselves for a long time. However, for the first time, it feels somehow justified in its escapism,” said Mappe Of, real name Tom Meikle. “Given the new reality we find ourselves in, with fewer options to go outside and be together, it would seem the gates to fantasy realms have opened wide in welcome.”
The album came out last year, and is now joined by a VR video, which leads viewers through captivating visual worlds. The landscapes in the video were created by artist Kristyn Watterworth using Google Tilt, while the video was filmed in VR by Edward Platero and created with help from EXAR Studios. On April 8, there will be an online viewing party along with a live Q&A with both Watterworth and Platero about the making of the video.
Although the video feels especially soothing at the moment, it was created before the global Covid-19 pandemic took over, reflecting Watterworth’s belief in the value in “imagining different worlds” anyway. “We are all in need of an escape from whatever our situation may be. I think it’s healthy to dream of another place and Tom Meikle did an amazing job imagining this place, creating the lore, history and place. It was a pleasure to bring some of his dreams into a virtual reality,” she tells CR.
The world Watterworth created is filled with luminous rivers coursing through the land, underwater paradises, mountainous vistas and all kinds of enchanted flora, fauna and wildlife – all waiting to be discovered through the gentle pace of the drone-like footage. The visual style is perfectly imperfect, with the kind of curious charm seen in classic Zelda.
“Prior to beginning the project, I hadn’t had much exposure to the fantasy world. So, it was pretty incredible to peek into so many fascinating worlds. Going through Tom’s encyclopaedia of The Isle of Ailynn lore and listening to his descriptions was definitely the most important. I love listening to how another artist creates, and gets inspired, and Tom was exceptional at defining his creative outlook,” she says.
“From his influences, looking at the work of Carl Jung, I think, inspired me the most. To try and fuse the new medium with the artwork referenced was a bit problematic. There was a bit of a disconnect to bringing in the high detailed and intricate images of the fantasy greats,” Watterworth recalls.
“While Tilt Brush is amazing at giving you the three-dimensional look, it takes a lot to render actual texture and give things a sense of being aged and grown over. So at first things weren’t exactly lining up, but thousands and thousands of strokes later and a tonne of fog thrown in, I finally started to touch on that dreamy, natural feeling,” she explains. “It was really through listening to the Isle of Ailynn album 200 times that gave me the real inspiration and fuel to make these sketches.
“Time was a strange experience while working in Tilt Brush,” she adds – something many of us can empathise with these days. “When things were flowing smoothly, hours would disappear, but when there were technical difficulties, I would lose afternoons that felts like entire days, frustrated with my equipment. Sometimes I would have to put my Oculus Quest in the freezer. All told I spent about 250-300 hours in Tilt Brush working on the sketches.”
Making the video became an exercise in learning VR. “Since it’s such an immersive experience, I would continue with the work in my head throughout my nights and days while not using it. It took the entire five months to really figure it out. There was a learning curve to figuring out how to accomplish the idea, and that took a bit of time,” Watterworth says. “Knowing what I know now I’m sure I could cut the time in half or even more. I haven’t utilised VR too much since; having the Mappe Of project meant I had something to focus on. I need goals to coincide with my creativity, and I haven’t had big VR ideas since moving on. Currently in self isolation, though, I am messing around with some new ideas.”