Ten years ago, Australian artist Stuart Campbell imagined a cyberpunk world where young graffiti artists were constantly altering their surroundings with augmented reality. Today, he is bringing some of that vision into the real world by creating cutting edge art that combines AR and VR techniques.
An earlier project dubbed Nawlz, was an interactive multi-series web comic where characters have chips implanted in their brains, allowing them to create artistic AR realities everywhere they go in their futuristic city.
“As our protagonist gets kind of more immersed in that setting, his perception of reality is blurred and he has loads of trippy experiences,” Campbell, who also goes by Sutu, said.
The story itself is “like if you were to mix something like Clerks and Blade Runner,” he said. Sutu used Flash, letting you trigger hotspots to progress the story forward and interact with elements on the page to see the artistic AR overlay that the characters experience.
The web comic is still live today.
Now, Sutu creates projects and experiences in a similar manner to his old characters using Google Tilt Brush. In fact, his otherworldly artwork created in Tilt Brush caught the eye of the tech giant and has since been commissioned by both Google and Disney to create 3D artwork in VR.
“I still remember learning it a year and a half ago,” he said, recalling “that moment that you start painting in VR and then you realize you can walk around your painting and then your brain just explodes.”
The first experience with Tilt Brush came from an opportunity to be the Art Director of an Australian Aboriginal VR story called “Thalu- Dream Time is Now.” During his residency for the project in Perth, Sutu had the opportunity to stay in a flat equipped with a VR Tilt Brush set up for two weeks.
He took full advantage of the experience, sometimes playing around all night learning how to harness this new power.
“That was such a big epiphany at the time. It began with that first stroke,” he said. “You can start to build out an entire world from that stroke.”
Sutu appreciates his new freedom that comes with using VR painting techniques. Established 3D art programs of the past with drop down menus and scrolling options never appealed to him, but the process of using your body as a tool to navigate around the art feels organic to Sutu.
“There’s a function in all of these programs now where you can just grab your artwork and you can scale it up really big just by opening your arms up wide like you’re having a big yawn,” he said.
“It could be the size of the empire state building or something and just that makes me feel like God.”
Once, he was commissioned to paint a sailing ship in a storm, something outside his usual artistic comfort zone. Taking on the challenge, he was able to look at the ship from within the wave, and that perspective gave him insight into how lightning should angle down from the sky. Then, he “teleported” himself up to the top of the lightning to see it from another point of view instantly.
Sutu said the alien worlds that he designs are often inspired by his passion for extreme and contrasting landscapes here on earth. His home in the small town of Roebourne, Australia looks out into what he calls “the abyss” of expansive desert.
By contrast, he was heavily inspired by his time during a Greenland residency in a 100-year-old art museum, watching five-story-high icebergs float by the window. He also spent five hours on a snow mobile to arrive at a Russian mining operation that was “just like walking into a David Lynch film.”
“It’s like visiting another planet altogether,” he said. “And that just set me off on a bender which lasted years just imagining these completely different landscapes.”
Sutu compares his new artistic playground to his friends who create macro-scale graffiti art using the city as their canvas. “But my graffiti is just floating in front of me and I can grab hold of it and manipulate it,” he said.
The next phase in Sutu’s art development is using VR tools to feed into augmented reality experiences and vice versa. Using the tools simultaneously is “not very far into the future,” he said.