Moss-Covered Mythological Creatures Awaken in an Interactive Installation

For 'Forest Folk,' Nexus Interactive Arts covered actors in flowers, moss, and berries to create live action trolls.
23 February 2016, 5:10pm

Nikolai Astrup is a 20th century Norwegian landscape painter, famous in Norway though his work isn't as well-known outside his native country. He grew up and lived in Jølster painting the lush and mountainous countryside that surrounded him. A range of his captivating work is currently being exhibited in London's Dulwich Picture Gallery in an exhibition titled Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway.

As well as painting he was also famed for his printmaking, designing meticulous works which, rather than using the process to make multiple copies of the same work, result in each piece being a striking original. His early work is considered as traditional realism but his later style, including the printmaking, becomes more folkloric and graphic.

Nikolai Astrup, Foxgloves, 1925, Color woodcut on paper, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Photo © Dag A. Ivarsøy

Even when such mythological components as cherry trees becoming trolls, mountains becoming ice queens, and melting snow transforming into mighty horses aren't so explicit, Astrup would paint scenes where the mountains were ablaze with occult fire rituals or the abundant, rain-soaked greenery was bathed in supernatural light. Although the painted scenes are obviously still, the nature in them is vivid and alive—Astrup was seen as a master of the magical landscape. It's this component that's explored in a digital piece that accompanies the exhibition by Nexus Interactive Arts (NIA). Titled _Forest Folk _it's a screen-based interactive work featuring flora-covered troll figures who, using motions sensors, awaken as vistors approach.

Forest Folk. Image © Nexus Interactive Arts

"I found one of the key and most mesmerising elements of the paintings in the exhibition to be the many illusions of bodies and animals hidden within the various landscape elements." Matt Jakob, Forest Folk director and head of creative technologies at Nexus tells The Creators Project. "Across my research I became fascinated with the troll figure (a favorite theme in Astrup's works and general northern/Norwegian mythology), Giuseppe Arcimboldo's 'collage' portraits, and the Rorschach ink blots tests used in psychology in the early 20th century. With these things in mind the idea to create a mirrored (Rorschach) portrait of a troll came at once."

Shot in 4K and displayed on two parallel 75" screens, all the footage is live action. No CGI was used, resulting in intricately detailed and baroquely organic textures and forms. Jakob says he wanted to emphasize "nature and the hidden shapes and forces that surround and are part of us." For the shoot, they used 40kg of fresh moss, shrubs, flowers, berries, and leaves obtained from a flower market.

"Two teams of make up artists and makers worked around the clock to fit the moss and bark elements on the two actors as the base substrate while another team worked on creating 'accent' compositions with flowers and berries that I would use to characterise the various shoots," Jakob explains. "We shot every element separately against blue screen using an Alexa XT at 75fps and then we passed the footage on to our in house team of composers for rotoscoping, clean-up and grading."

Forest Folk. Image © Nexus Interactive Arts

Nexus have also created an experimental behind the scenes 360 VR video of the work, which we're premiering below, showing Forest Folk in situ along with showing it in the studio being composited and created which you can see by moving the camera around or looking behind you. "If I can experience the scale and beauty of the work in VR and then turn around to instantly admire the inner-workings of the project, it's probably as far as we can get (right now) to actually allow someone to experience it as it was intended and then allow them to pretty much effortlessly understand how it was made," notes Luke Ritchie, executive producer at NIA.

Forest Folk and Matt Jakob. Image © Nexus Interactive Arts

Forest Folk. Image © Nexus Interactive Arts

Forest Folk. Image © Nexus Interactive Arts

Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway is on now until 15 May 2016 at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Rd, London, SE21 7AD. Click here to learn more.


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