A Look at the Making of a Hybrid Living Wall

VT Pro Design blends living plants and technology to make a cascading sculpture that moves with your body.

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28 April 2016, 1:50pm

Image courtesy Rollin Leonard

Image courtesy Rollin Leonard

VT Pro Design is an LA-based creative, design, and production studio with a focus on the latest technology and techniques. For FUTURE FORWARD, The Creators Project partnership with the all-new Prius, we commissioned VT Pro to create an original work inspired by the 2016 Prius’s eco-heritage. The team is concepting a “Responsive Living Wall,” an organic living sculpture that moves with you. The wall tessellation is most representative of a “hybrid” nature, driven by technology and integrated with organic materials.

Using colorful light displays and custom programming, VT Pro Design builds out entire worlds for audiences to explore. From intricate set designs to projection-mapped spectaculars, the Los Angeles-based creative design studio likes it when people play with what they make. 

“Everything we do is about how people interact with stuff,” says Michael Fullman, creative director for VT Pro Design. That has included transporting San Diego Comic-Con International attendees to the streets of a Tokyo under attack by Godzilla or allowing visitors to the 2012 Super Bowl to immerse themselves inside a dome controlled by an Xbox Kinect.

This interactivity of audience and object will take on an even greater significance in the form of a “Responsive Living Wall” that will track the motions of visitors and respond to their movements and touch. Or, as Fullman puts it, “the interaction will become a piece in itself.”

Image courtesy Rollin Leonard.

The wall is made green with plant life and is controlled by two planes of infrared laser scanners that read and respond to people as they approach it. The first vertical plane covers the front face of the wall and reads gesture control, interacting with users as they reach out or pull away. The second plane, which extends out on the floor in front of the user, reads the proximity of the user to the wall. The installation uses customised in-house control software that allows them to turn any flat surface into a multi-touch display.

“We want to give [the wall] lifelike qualities in its interaction so being able to understand people approaching the wall is important creatively,” says Fullman. “At first it can react in a way that it reaches out closer to the user as someone gets closer to it. Or we can invert the motion and let it recoil as someone approaches quickly, then begin to reach back out.”

A computer rendering of the living wall concept still in process. Image courtesy VT Pro Design

He says, “With this one we really wanted to see the entire piece come to life physically.” The concept piece aims to explore how an organic being, such as a sea anemone, might initially react to a human defensively, then more calmly as it becomes comfortable with the new presence.

But while Fullman gives the example of the sea anemone, he explains they did not use a specific model on which to base the project, but instead “just played with ideas that we were interested in, drawing on some of the design concepts that were put in front of us and elaborating on them.”

With 18 full-time employees, VT Pro Design has grown to a sizable studio, one that handles both creative and production design sides. That means not only coming up with the concepts, but managing much of the actual execution, technical design, custom programing, and coding. Currently, the VT Pro team is in the midst of building a custom motor for the “Living Wall.”

Image courtesy Rollin Leonard.

“It’s important for us to build these ourselves because of the specific design goal and capabilities we want them to have,” says Fullman. “Since it is such a specific range of motion we felt it would be best for us to just build them so we got the exact output that we have in mind.”

Fullman describes kinetic motion as “something we’ve always been drawn to,” he points to a giant LED sculpture they collaborated with the artist GMUNK for last year. It was installed on the Santa Monica Pier, with different tracking elements in it, utilising some of the same features that can be seen in the “Living Wall." Says Fullman, “All the motions are intended to be fluid and organic. We want the wall to have a life of its own as it responds to [human] interaction.”

Click here to learn more about VT Pro Design.