Jungle Imperator is an immersive environment that launched in 2009 in the Ars Electronica Centre in Austria. We were invited to create an interactive experience to take advantage of their brand new “VR Theatre”, an auditorium that featured 16m x 9m Ultra-HD resolution imagery on the wall and floor, incredible quality surround audio, and active stereo 3D.
Combining the music of renowned musicians Tosca (Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber) with rich surrealist imagery inspired by Max Ernst, Jungle Imperator is an interactive visual and musical experience in which players control a cast of animated musical characters.
The experience is at heart a rhythm-action videogame (a distant cousin of Guitar Hero or Rock Band) in which up to 6 players play wireless percussion pads in rhythm together. We collaborated with the wonderfully talented Rupert Huber from Tosca to create the evolving surround audio environment.
The players and spectators begin in completely darkness. Glimpses of a waxy old tree begin to appear out of the darkness, along with surreal animated musical characters who live in its tangled branches. Each player has their own musical creature they can control using a wireless percussion pad, and bubbles of light float into the scene to indicate the increasingly sophisticated rhythms. As players play their pads in time, the screen begins to clear to awaken further creatures hidden in the scene. The work gradually evolves from initial isolation in the darkness into a collaborative piece of music.
The visual style was inspired primarily by the surrealist imagery of Max Ernst:
We initially wanted the audience to use “real” percussion woodblocks, to give them a very natural feel, but this just limited our potential gameplay too much – both in the variety of sounds they could play, and because it would break the musical ambience. We replaced the woodblocks with rubber pads and drum sticks – but found that the players found it easier to focus on the towering immersive screens and surround by tapping the pads with their hands in a clapping motion.
As well as Max Ernst, we took inspiration from a wide variety of unusual forest, puzzle & landscape imagery:
Early environment sketches:
We also looked a wide variety of creatures for our inspiration in the design of the musical inhabitants of our environment:
Early character tests:
We were based at the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz, Austria for most of the development & installation:
The Sancho Plan
Director & Audio
Adam Hoyle/ Do Tank Studios
Tosca (Richard Dorfmeister & Rupert Huber)
Rupert Huber & Ed Cookson
A co-production with Ars Electronica Futurelab:
Michael Heiml (Lead)