SA sibling’s world-class VR experience at festival

Ree and Rick Trewick, with their custom-designed VR headsets
Ree and Rick Trewick, with their custom-designed VR headsets
Image: Supplied

South Africans will get their first chance to experience The Lost Botanist at the National Arts Festival, just weeks after the five-minute interactive adventure for immersive devices became the first virtual reality (VR) experience from Africa to screen in competition at Annecy, the world’s most prestigious animation festival.

Co-directed by Kokstad-raised sister and brother Ree and Rick Treweek, The Lost Botanist was one of just nine VR experiences selected for VR@Annecy from 90 submissions from nearly 30 countries.

A collaboration between Rick’s Johannesburg-based emerging technology research and development house, Eden Labs, and Ree’s Cape Town-based creative studio, Tulips & Chimneys, The Lost Botanist was up against big name projects like Gymnasia, from the Emmy-winning Felix & Paul Studios; Doctor Who: The Runaway, voiced by Jodi Whittaker; Wolves In The Wall, Chapter 2, It’s All Over, based on the Neil Gaiman book; and Gloomy Eyes, narrated by Colin Farrell, which took home the Cristal.

In June, The Lost Botanist also screened at New Images Festival in Paris, where it was selected from 109 applications from 21 countries.

In the experience, you are “the lost botanist”, misplaced in a world that’s forgotten all about nature.

While researching the lost marvels of the natural world, you open a grimoire that transports you to the dream-like home of the spirits of all forgotten things.

“I’ve always wanted to create a visual world people could be immersed in and lost in, so for me The Lost Botanist is an absolute dream come true,” Ree says.

Technically, Rick says The Lost Botanist stands out for its counterintuitive use of 2D animation in a 360 environment; its use of a 3D printed Oculus Go case shaped like an owl, that feels like an artwork in itself; and its development focus on the standalone VR headset Oculus Go, a comparatively light and low-spec platform.

● At the festival, Eden Labs’ art director Gareth Steele is speaking at The Ntsikana Gallery on Wednesday July 3 at 2.30pm and on Saturday, July 6 at 4pm, while Ree is speaking at The Thomas Pringle Hall on Saturday, July 6 at 1pm.