Art Meets Virtual Reality In ‘Long Distance Caller’

Long Distance Caller is an ongoing virtual reality collaboration between Cape Town based artist Olivié Keck and game studio Free Lives. In this imagined world art and tech interact quite comfortably to create what Olivié describes as a “juicy dreamscape”. If it’s the first time you’re engaging with VR, you’ll be surprised at how believable digital trickery has become. Long Distance Caller heightens our usual ways of seeing and experiencing, so you don’t need to understand art or game theory to know when your primal senses are being stimulated.

Olivié shares with us a peek into this world:

What It Is:

Long Distance Caller is both an immersive and an interactive environment. When a player/viewer wears the HTC Vive headset and audio headphones they are able to interact and experience the projected world as if it were reality. The user experiences colour, shape, sound and movement as if they were walking around in a three dimensional landscape. The player has free agency to interact and react to the surrounds, whilst the corresponding audio soundtrack brings the visuals to life. If you don’t feel at ease with art or games you can still enjoy this experience. The stylistic aesthetic and the physicality of these landscapes have got a totally unique quality that isn’t hinged on a prior understanding of the history of either subculture.

"We wanted to take on something different in a new medium; for eachother and for all eyes everywhere. Initially, we didn’t know what a combination of our skills in virtual reality would achieve, but thus far we haven’t seen anything like it, so that motivated us to keep building and expanding our expectations for the project." - Olivié Keck

The Nitty-Gritty:

The process behind a project like Long Distance Caller involves various stages, similar to the making of a film. The concept art happens first, each object being articulated as a drawing first. Then there are a number of technical challenges, which is where the collaborative skills of various members of the Free Lives team come into play. Physically building the landscape of the world on a platform from scratch, digitally sculpting and texturing objects, giving bones to objects so they can move, a whole bunch of coding, making sounds for all the objects, integrating sounds into the environment, a whole bunch more coding, and eventually these combined components start to take shape as a virtual landscape.


The Purpose Behind The Project:

“We want the things we make to transport, to entertain and to fascinate people. The sensation that one has as a child, of suspended disbelief, is a feeling we’d like to inspire in people. It’s a feeling of wonderment that’s challenging to give people these days, because our eyes have seen so much and most things just don’t have the juice anymore. I guess we’re chasing that dream.” – Olivié Keck


The Future Of Art:

“Globally, I think for art to stay alive on the trajectory we are headed it needs to be braver and go to more exciting places. As visual practitioners and entertainers, VR is a truly magical new toy to collaborate on. Locally, I think artists have great ideas and a drive for exploration. I think South African artists are ambitious adaptors and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be leading new pathways of artistic expression along with the rest of the world.” – Olivié Keck

"If Michelangelo were alive today he’d probably be making the Sistine Chapel Ceiling in VR." - Olivié Keck

A Few Fun Facts:

Long Distance Caller doesn’t seem to have an age restrictions when it comes to enjoyment, which is fascinating for any creator to observe. Different age groups will obviously experience it differently, but everyone seems to be drawn in like moths to a flame. Children seem to be fixated by the details of the world, (rocks, flowers, plants), whilst adults go straight for the moving objects, deconstruction and bright lights. The response has been truly overwhelming. When we launched the demo at A MAZE Johannesburg 2016 there were people of all ages queuing up for half an hour for a second chance to experience the project.

A leading publisher of independent video games offered to publish this game based on a single gif of one of the scenes from the video. A contract scribbled in black and white in the Facebook comments box, a very legitimate offer for sure, haha.



Olivié Keck | Artist  | Follow her on Instagram

Evan Greenwood | Indie Game Developer and Director at Free Lives

Filip Orekhov | Digital Artist at Free Lives

Jason Sutherland | Sound Engineer and Composer at Free Lives

Free Lives are a team of teenage anthropomorphic turtles, led by their anthropomorphic beard wielding rat sensei in honing and perfecting their art of game jam jitsu to battle bills, pants, petty criminals, evil overlords and alien invaders. They met in the storm sewers of Cape Town, where they bonded over a love for dank accommodations, consuming copious amounts of pizza and remaining isolated from society-at-large. 

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