Spotlight: Michelle Brown on Creating Music Videos and Installations in VR
Michelle Brown is a Brisbane based multidisciplinary artist interested in interactive immersive installations. Michelle has created virtual reality (VR) music videos and visuals for a variety of artists and organisations as well as exhibiting her work around the world. In this interview, Michelle talks about her workflow and what it’s like to create and showcase a VR installation,
My cat is my main hobby outside of work, when I have any spare time I just want to hang out with her. She’s 20 so every moment I have left with her I’m thankful.
When I left my former role as manager at a local radio station they put up a commemorative plaque in the bathroom for me, mainly because I helped renovate the bathroom but also because I’d put in many years and dedication to the place haha.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background?
I’m a multidisciplinary artist and producer based in Brisbane, Australia. I’ve been a graphic artist for about 20 years, I first studied fashion and illustration but then started working in the music industry, I did a lot of design work for venues and bands like album covers, posters etc. In the early 2000s I did a degree in Multimedia and this is where I became pretty fascinated by computer technology and arts practice. We covered a bit of everything, from 2D Flash animation, 3D design and gaming to traditional film and audio design.
I ended up a bit sidetracked in the music world for a while, working as an editor for music press and then taking a job managing my local community radio station for 8 years, I was also playing in bands and organizing shows, so I didn’t have much time but I was able to remain actively designing album art, creating videos and the occasional exhibition piece.
In 2016 I made the decision to quit my full time job to focus on my own creative projects, I had started to play around with augmented reality, using my illustration and animation work, and around this time I was following what was going on with VR. By 2017 I had saved enough to get a Vive headset and PC to run it, it’s definitely a privileged space to be in, as the expense is limiting for a lot of people.
Right now I independently produce music visuals and videos for a few different outlets and on request basis, similarly with my VR installation work which is usually commission based, and I work at my state library in the makerspace, which is a great place to experiment with new technology and fabrication techniques.
How did you get into creating art in VR? At what point did it seem like a viable medium for you to work in?
Seeing what the VR art programs could do was definitely the most inspiring part of what enticed me into the space, and the small community of artists starting to build a bit of a movement, early on Cesar’s (3Donimus) resources were really amazing to help learn more about different software. I mainly started working with Tilt Brush, it felt so natural and all the flashy bells and whistles (I’m talking about the brushes hah) were perfect for some of the music visuals work I was doing.
I’ve been lucky to have been approached to do work for music artists and immersive installations early on into my VR path, so it’s been great to be able to concentrate on this area of my arts practice and get paid for it.
Tilt Brush seems to be your primary VR art tool. What drew you to it?
One thing I liked about Tilt Brush early on was the sketchbook section and discovering other artist’s work, some of it was super inspiring. There were 2 pieces that come to mind that helped me to see how I could translate my more traditional 2d design work into VR. First one is Liz Edwards’ Spaceship piece and the other is Valerian VR from Steve Teeple. These are both sci-fi pieces and that’s a subject I focus a lot on so I was drawn to these and it kinda clicked into place for me how I could approach some of my own work in a virtual environment.
I also just love experimenting in VR, trying different techniques and styles, mainly using Tilt Brush as it’s the app I’ve spent the most time in so the controls all feel the most natural. I have a Vive, and a Quest now, but I’m considering a Rift S too as I’m really keen to experiment more with Quill and a few other platform specific apps. TB is great but I want to do more with animation and storytelling in the future.
I’ve tried most of the VR art software, I facilitate workshops in using VR and AR in arts practice so I like to be up to date on what’s available, even if I haven’t had time to master it, which is the case lately for a lot of things I want to work on, too many ideas and not enough time.
Could you walk us through your creative process? For instance, you recently worked on the music video for leaving richmond’s ‘The Curvature of the Earth’. How did you approach that in VR?
That was such a great project to be involved in, Jordan (leaving richmond) reached out online to ask me about doing a clip for a track from his album, he was super great and gave me a few tracks to choose from and Curvature of the Earth musically really connected with an idea I had just started working on.
I love seventies sci-fi art and had been wanting to create a piece inspired by the Stanford Torus, a proposed NASA design for a space habitat that was painted by several artists in 1975. The song suited what I wanted to create and Jordan was in to the idea. The concept of the clip was to feel like you are moving through a tunnel in space to arrive at a new colony, I wanted to keep the idea of continuous motion by using the camera to travel through the VR painted environments.
Depending on what kind of project I’m working on, I have a few different ways that I approach things, for example with music videos I’ll usually do a storyboard and make sure the artist is cool with the direction I’m wanting to take and then it’s just getting stuck in to creating. With installation work I do a lot more pre-planning and brainstorming.
You exhibited Looking Glass at The Other Art Fair in Melbourne this year. What was the experience of showcasing an ‘immersive’ installation like?
This was the second VR room scale installation I’d exhibited, the first one I did in LA in 2018 I learned a lot from, mainly around how hands on it kind of needs to be, as in it’s best to have someone there to help fit the headset and make sure people feel ok as they walk around a 20ft space, we had a lot of new to VR people come through and you want to make sure they have a great experience. I’d created this neon maze, people loved it but they also all wanted to finish the maze and we didn’t count on the installation being so popular so there were long waiting lines.
For the Melbourne installation Looking Glass, I wanted it to take less time but still be a somewhat interactive experience through utilizing the 20ft space I had available again. I also wanted this piece to focus more on a diorama style approach, accented by the space itself, every wall individually designed and presented in a doorway style with hallways. I was inspired by those bright coloured retro bathing houses, my local pool still has that style, and also people’s perception of boundaries and how I could influence their decisions through virtual structures. .
You’re a member of quite a few XR communities. What motivated you to get involved?
I’ve worked a lot in non profit, community driven organisations, so I know how important building a community of support can be. It’s nice to share knowledge and ask questions with people working in similar ways with VR and AR art, I think the more we encourage others to be part of this new thing then the more people are picking up VR headsets not only as creators but also consumers, which in turn leads to more opportunities for creativity and experimentation.
There’s so many great online groups currently in the XR space, I’ve made some great virtual and real life friends through connecting over different programs and new techniques. XR Artists Collective is great, as is We Make Reality.
Where do you see VR heading in the future?
I think that immersive and interactive exhibitions will continue to be popular, and XR can contribute to these in super creative ways. I also think more curated experiences like the MOR will start to pop up to showcase VR art as more people get headsets and start viewing and creating.
As a tool for creation it’s a really exciting area right now, some of the work being made in VR with programs like Quill and Tvori is amazing. Those and apps like Unity, which you can utilise not only for making games, but also to build VR and AR experiences.
But I think one of the main challenges will be the slower adoption rates, without more engaging content there won’t be a substantial increase in new VR users so things will just plod along incrementally. I don’t mind the gaming side of VR but I believe that as a community we need to focus further afield, as a consumer I want more creative content, but there still needs to be more investment and funding for artists available in this space to diversify the voices and the content.
Are you currently working on projects or pieces you’d like to share?
I’m currently working on a gallery installation piece that will feature VR, interactive projection mapping and audio accompaniment. I was lucky enough to receive funding through a Creative Sparks grant from Brisbane City Council, and I really want to push myself as well as create something immersive and interactive. I’ve got a few months to work on this so looking forward to getting stuck into it.
Installations and music videos have been my main focus in the VR space, but I’ve also been trying to get time to work on a VR animated film, so hopefully that will be on the cards soon.
Do you have any tips or advice for people looking to get into creating VR art?
I think just trying a few of the VR art programs and seeing what suits your style is a good way to start out. Connect with other artists so you have a support and inspiration network.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
You can follow me on most of the social platforms as @thebadlament and also on my website I’ve started a blog page that follows my Adventures in XR - https://www.thebadlament.com/
This interview is part of the MOR Artist Spotlight series, which features creators using VR as an artistic tool or medium of expression. Some of the artists’ work can be viewed and experienced in the Museum of Other Realities.