Museum of Symmetry
| 20 min
Selections and Awards
“There are no rules here. Just enjoy!”
Part invitation, part dare, an impish game mistress welcomes you into a delightfully disorienting pleasure dome inspired by geometry and nature—and wired with infectious dance beats.
What happens next feels like swimming through poetic rainbow juice.
An absurdist mind-and-body romp through the highest clouds to the ocean deep, Museum of Symmetry is the explosive feel-good alter-universe of cartoonist and animator Paloma Dawkins—a room-scale VR experience with 2D animation in a 3D playground as never been seen before.
An “other-dimension” VR adventure game that takes you on an absurdist mind-and-body romp through the highest clouds to the ocean deep.
An absurdist mind-and-body romp through the highest clouds to the ocean deep, Museum of Symmetry is the explosive feel-good alter-universe of cartoonist and animator Paloma Dawkins—a room-scale VR experience with 2D animation in a 3D playground.
“There are no rules here. Just enjoy!”
Part invitation, part dare, an impish game mistress welcomes you into a delightfully disorienting pleasure dome inspired by geometry and nature—and wired with infectious dance beats. What happens next feels like swimming through poetic rainbow juice.
An absurdist mind-and-body romp through the highest clouds to the ocean deep, Museum of Symmetry is the explosive feel-good alter-universe of cartoonist and animator Paloma Dawkins, produced by the National Film Board of Canada and brought to life by pioneer VR studio Casa Rara. A room-scale VR metaphor for life, it takes the player through landscapes of earth, fire, wind and water, where vivacious 2D characters live in a 3D playground. Museum of Symmetry disrupts conventional game storytelling to create an unexpected pleasure-positive trip in VR as never experienced before.
Grab your Vive headset and take a trip on a kaleidoscopic interactive joyride!
The game begins in a virtual museum. As you explore your surroundings, a gentle “psst” grabs your attention. You look around to see a pair of wild but friendly eyes peering out of the dark. You’re invited to follow and leave your fear behind…
A refreshing and uplifting burst of artistic expression that takes the player through earth, fire, wind and water, Museum of Symmetry disrupts conventional game storytelling to create an unexpected pleasure-positive trip through nature and self.
There are no time limits or dead ends, only possibilities and room for reflection. You can explore at your own pace—with some gentle nudging along the way.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is not what happens during the gameplay itself, but how you feel once you return to the real world.
About the Technology
Museum of Symmetry is the NFB Animation Studio’s first foray into interactive VR. It sets out to test assumptions about “reality” versus “believability” in this powerful new medium. The goal was to offer the player a fantastical journey that is both emotional and physical, and to test the possibilities for suspending disbelief in VR. The decision to use hand-drawn 2D animation, which had never been seen previously in VR, was a conscious extension of this goal—to embrace a stylized reality from the imagination and pen of a talented artist. Here’s a brief look at the key technology that brought this magic to life.
The project was first developed as a 2D desktop game, using hand-drawn animation to take the player on a playful journey inspired by patterns and symmetry in nature. As the environments and characters took shape, it became increasingly apparent that, to have a cathartic experience, the player must embody the simulated environments. The NFB teamed up with then-budding VR upstart Casa Rara, a studio with expertise in AAA and empathic games and a desire to branch out into more unusual immersive experiences. The core concept was adapted for HTC Vive, which allowed the player to walk, hold and explore at their own pace. Immediately, Paloma’s intuitive artistic language clicked with the form. Unnecessary game mechanics were trashed and the story was unburdened from typical narrative tropes.
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to make VR convincing with flat 2D animation. This had never been done before and posed fundamental hurdles, creatively and technologically. To respect Dawkins’ unconventional stylistic choice, Casa Rara turned to the Unity game engine, widely used in creating 2D and 3D games. The team used the engine’s VR Toolkit plugin; its quasi plug-and-play pre-built VR tools eliminated a sizeable chunk of the coding needed in order to incorporate specific elements into the gameplay.
Next was finding a way to bring depth to Dawkins’ 2D cartoons, created with TVPaint animation software. This was largely done inside the Unity engine with script that turned the 2D sprite images into camera-facing billboards. This meant that no matter how the player moves around a 2D object in the 3D space, the object always faces the player. This creates the impression of being immersed in 2D decor without ever seeing objects from the side, which would break the illusion, like looking at the edge of a piece of paper. Casa Rara also experimented heavily with Shaders to adapt how 2D material would be rendered in the 3D environment. The result is a surprisingly seamless and beautiful design.
Museum of Symmetry runs on the HTC Vive VR headset and was launched in April 2018 at the A MAZE. 7th International Games and Playful Media Festival in Berlin.
Co-writer, Director, Animator
Montreal-based Paloma Dawkins is a cartoonist and self-taught animator turned virtual-reality and video-game artist. Known for her fantastical landscapes inhabited by strange and lovable characters, Paloma strives to create games that are surreal and beautiful. Her past work includes the technicolour rainbow graphic novel Summerland, the minimalist and meditative rhythm game ALEA, and the psychedelic explorer game Gardenarium. She first came to work with the National Film Board of Canada through its Hothouse animation-mentorship program, which resulted in Scientifiq Piqniq, an animated adventure through the cosmic unveiling of the beautiful and strange macro/micro structures that unite us with the Universe.
Paloma’s most recent NFB project, Museum of Symmetry, is an “other-dimension” VR adventure game that disrupts conventional game storytelling to take players on an absurdist romp through the highest clouds and to the ocean deep.
Photo : Tess Roby
Ashley Obscura is a Montreal-based Canadian-Mexican poet, editor and publisher whose work spans the spectrum from cosmic tweets and visually stimulating poetry to ambient sound art featuring her entrancing spoken word. She is the author of two poetry collections, I Am Here and the upcoming Ambient Technology, and the founder and managing editor of Metatron Press. Her poetry has been anthologized in Canada and the U.S. and translated and published in Spanish and Romanian. She has also has written four e-novellas: How to Be a Rainbow, LIGHGHT, Aura Halo and Oh, Inverted Universe (in collaboration with John Rogers). Her work values positivity and celebration, with a slight bent toward sexy metaphysics and pop mysticism.
Ashley co-wrote Museum of Symmetry with Paloma Dawkins.
Casa Rara Studio
Casa Rara Studio
Montreal-based Casa Rara studio creates meaningful VR experiences that attract wide audiences and make a positive impact. Its veteran team also lends its expertise to other creators working on their own VR projects. Over the years, the studio has worked on educational projects, interactive storytelling and VR game development, including the upcoming social simulation game Earth 2.
Led by co-founders Ruben Farrus and Tali Goldstein, the Casa Rara team believes that the VR medium will change the world and the way society perceives videogames. Their games allow players to explore the complex aspects of the human experience from an inviting and fun perspective.
For Museum of Symmetry, the Casa Rara team drew from its collective VR know-how to achieve the complex task of bringing depth and realism to a 2D animated universe in a highly physical and immersive 3D environment.
Caila Thompson-Hannant, a.k.a. Mozart’s Sister, is a Montreal-based composer, musician and recording artist who largely credits her musical beginnings to being introduced to electropop by her uncle. After playing in offbeat art-rock bands like Shapes & Sizes, Miracle Fortress and Think About Life, Caila went solo as Mozart’s Sister, an alt-pop project with aggressively bubbly synth-pop and unhinged vocals. She has performed at various festivals over the years, including SXSW and Pop Montreal.
Caila composed and performed the seductively hypnotic music in Museum of Symmetry.
Maral Mohammadian is a producer at the NFB’s Animation Studio in Montreal, where she has made a number of awarding-winning shorts, including I Am Here, directed by internet sensation Eoin Duffy, and the innovative mixed-media film The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer, directed by Randall Okita. Through the NFB’s internationally recognized Hothouse apprenticeship program, Maral has helped to develop some of Canada’s top rising talents. In addition to animated films, she produces multimedia and interactive projects with a distinct artistic edge.
For Museum of Symmetry, Maral joined forces with artist Paloma Dawkins to capture the artist’s wildly intuitive and visually stunning style in a fun and fully immersive VR experience.
Executive Producer (NFB)
Michael Fukushima has been making films since 1984. He joined the NFB in 1990 to direct the animated documentary Minoru: Memory of Exile (1992), winner of the Hot Docs Best Short Documentary award. Michael became an NFB animation producer in 1997, co-founding the NFB’s flagship emerging filmmaker program, Hothouse, in 2002 and was appointed executive producer of the NFB’s fabled Animation Studio in 2013.
Some notable films in his filmography include Genie Award winner cNote (2004), by Chris Hinton; Shira Avni’s animated documentary Tying Your Own Shoes (2009), which won the Golden Dove at DOK Leipzig and the prestigious NHK Japan Prize; Muybridge’s Strings (2011), by Oscar-nominated Japanese filmmaker Koji Yamamura; Oscar-nominated films Dimanche (2011), by Patrick Doyon, and Me and My Moulton (2014), by Torill Kove; and, most recently, Cordell Barker’s If I Was God… and Ann Marie Fleming’s Window Horses. Michael now mostly produces the producers and offers up sagacity, but he continues to keep his hand in—this year, on the first short film in two decades by Oscar winners Alison Snowden and David Fine, and on Oscar winner Torill Kove’s new film, Threads.
Directed and Animated by
Ashley Obscura & Paloma Dawkins
CASA RARA STUDIO
Lead Game Designer
Lead 3D Artist
Eliott le Calvé
3D Artist Intern
Sound Effects Editor
Desert of Dark
Sienna Mazzone as Peak
Alyson Leah as Dawn
Nicole Jones as Octa
Kaoru Matsui as Gaia
Adam Capriolo as Torus
Valerie Mervis as Rococo
Adam Capriolo as Sappho
Rosalina Di Sario
Technoculture, Art and Games Research Centre (TAG)
Avalon Duhaime Pyott
Thanks to our playtesters
Francis Sheridan Paré
Avalon Duhaime Pyott
Tanya A. Short
And a special thanks to all friends and family that helped along the way. Couldn’t have done it without you.
PRODUCED BY THE NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA © 2018
About the NFB
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is one of the world’s leading digital content hubs, creating groundbreaking interactive documentaries and animation, mobile content, installations and participatory experiences. NFB interactive productions and digital platforms have won over 100 awards, including 21 Webbys. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.