You wake up in a dark, empty room.
There is nothing in the room, but a red balloon floating in the air.
You touch it. And you fall into the first dream.
“Empty Dreams” is a VR experience exploring the subtle symbols of subconsciousness that construct our dreams. I was inspired by the idea of emptiness in Buddhism, which states that everything is essentially transient, unreliable, and empty. It relates to our sensual perceptions and experiences of the reality we live in, but I want to explore it in the dreams. On the surface, dreams are these fantastical, illogical, pleasant or terrifying experiences, filled with people we know, places we’ve been to, flashbacks, anticipations, fears and imaginations all mixed together. The first level of dreams in this VR experience is about this kind of sensually extravagant dreams. It contains many symbols of my cultural background, influences from movies or books I like, flashbacks to past memories and experiences, and imagination pieced them all together.
When you touch the red balloon, which is a recurring symbol throughout all the dreams (like the artifact in Inception used to remind people whether it is a dream or not), you enter a level of dream deeper down consciousness.
The second level is about the “self”. Three pieces of mirrors force you to confront yourself in this dream, without all the distractions from symbols in the previous level. Without all the cultural influences, conditioning, memories and experiences, who am I? Is there an essence to my existence or “soul”?
In the third and final level of dreams, I want to explore the emptiness of space and time by creating an paradoxical, timeless space. I love Escher’s paintings of paradoxical spaces and endless stairs, so I tried to recreate an endless staircase in which we can never climb to the top. To reach the end of the dream, you have to touch the red balloon on the top of the staircase, but in an attempt to reach the top you realize that you are stuck in the middle of the staircase forever. (The player in the physical world will walk in circles, along the edges of the play area. )
This level explores the emptiness of space and time. Emptiness is not the elimination of everything, but rather being trapped in a timeless, endless action, alone, in a boundless yet confined space. When our actions can no longer make interactions with space and time, what does existence mean against our solitude? -> To feel and define existence when we are not making any tangible interactions with people, objects, space or time.
Models are made and animated in Maya and Cinema 4D, and then exported to Unity for VR construction. The biggest difficulty in this project was to create the endless staircase in code and also guide players to walkthrough it properly. It is hard to prevent players from walking off the stairs and into water, since they won’t actually fall into water, so I made the stairs very steep to create a visual impact that will guide players to keep walking on the stairs.