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Venus Presenting Helen to Paris VR

Created with Yinka Shonibare for the Royal Academy 

Using AI to craft an artistic VR experience for the Royal Academy

Objective: Collaborate with renowned artist Yinka Shonibare MBE to produce an immersive VR experience for the Royal Academy’s From Life exhibition.

Background: Yinka’s recent influences had led him to craft The Townley Venus, a vibrantly-patterned sculpture based on a Classical piece of the same name. The original statue was excavated by Neoclassical artist Gavin Hamilton, who sold it to collector Charles Townley. This idea of taking what’s not yours is integral to Yinka’s work, echoing themes of colonialism in his other pieces – so we decided to use Hamilton’s famous painting ‘Venus Presenting Helen to Paris’ (1785) as the main basis for our collaboration in an ironic nod to Yinka’s creative inspiration.

Happy Finish were excellent to work with. I liked their attention to detail, and they were able to interpret my vision in an imaginative way” Yinka Shonibare, MBE


Venus Presenting Helen to Paris’ – Gavin Hamilton (1785)

Our approach: We wanted to allow the viewer to jump inside the painting whilst demonstrating how technology can be used as a new medium for artists. So we created an experience where the viewer is transported into the physical space of Hamilton’s painting with the freedom to walk up and inspect the characters, before moving to the courtyard to discover Yinka’s stunning Townley Venus in a fusion of old and new art.

We sculpted the environment and six highly detailed volumetric characters to create a 3D version of the painting, then set out the lighting to replicate the look and feel. To really bring the scene to life, we positioned atmospheric audio and used cross-fade camera techniques to allow the viewer to move through the experience without feeling dizzy.

The overall aesthetic needed to stay true to the original artwork to be believable for the viewer. So we applied pioneering ‘Style Transfer’ techniques based on Deep Learning Neural Networks to replicate Hamilton’s painting style and complete the unknown textures of the backs of the characters and elements of the environment.

Check out a walkthrough of the experience below!

Results: A fantastically detailed and authentic VR experience, allowing viewers to discover Yinka’s new artwork and explore a historic painting from a whole new angle. The experience fuses Yinka’s own work with his influences to create an entirely new art piece, demonstrating that technology is constantly offering artists new platforms to express themselves.

The experience was open to the public at the RA From Life exhibition from 11th December 2017 to 11th March 2018.

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Client: Royal Academy

Artist: Yinka Shonibare MBE

Account Manager: Richard Tisdall

Executive Producer: Daniel Cheetham

Producer: Amy Tinker

Technical Lead: Marco Marchesi

Technical Artist: Alesandra Miro-Quesada

Developer: Sebastian Kedra

VFX Supervisor: Davide Preite

Matte Painting & Retouch: Christopher Peabody

Happy Finish.