Inspired by atmospheric landscape painting from JW Turner to Peter Doig and the computational lifeforms of Carl Sims, Radiohead – Polyfauna is a collaboration between Radiohead, Nigel Godrich, Stanley Donwood and Universal Everything. Described as “a living, breathing, growing touchscreen environment, born from abstraction of the studio sessions from King of Limbs and the organic drawings of Stanley Donwood” by Matt Pyke, Universal Everything have created an immersive, expansive world of primitive life, weather, sunsets, mountains and forests. Every participant takes a unique journey through landscapes and sound. New scenes, sounds and creatures can be discovered on every visit.
The project began when Radiohead approached Universal Everything about creating an audio-visual collaboration. In a similar vein to the TKOLRMX series, Radiohead wanted to explore variations of the track “Bloom” from their King of Limbs album. Working with long-time producer Nigel Godrich, the band passed around various audio stems, remixing each other. The result were dozens of audio stems that, when combined, took the track in very different directions.
Deeper interaction with the environment happens through touch. You bring life to the world – drawing a stroke creates the initial backbone of a creature, springing to life and drifting off into the wild. — Matt Pyke
Working with Stanley Donwood, Radiohead’s visual collaborator, the team wanted to create an ambient, explorational, environment populated with various creatures to discover. Visually it could be likened to PS1-era, glitchy polygonal video game graphics, complete with dithering shaders. The device is mapped in space using the internal gyroscope, enabling the screen to become a virtual window into the environment. To keep the controls simple to use, the camera is constantly moving forward, and can be turned by physically turning your body. Creatures are spawned by drawing simple strokes across the screen. Larger creatures pursue the smaller ones through the landscape.
A roving red dot is to be followed like Medusa. If focussed upon for too long it obliterates your surroundings, creating the conditions for a new life to begin. In exploring the world around you and following the red dot, the tablet interaction is intentionally physical, a full gyroscopic 360º experience. — Matt Pyke
Each day of the month users are presented with a unique experience. Among the changing elements are a music mix, environment, weather, colour palette, moon phase, and creature species. In total there are 31 mixes to discover. Each music mix consists of 4 unique stems positioned in 3d space around the viewer, making the experience much more engaging with headphones.
The game was built using the Unity engine, and programmed in C#. FMOD, a powerful 3D audio engine, enabled team to quickly implement complex features. Low and high-pass filters, spacial positioning, even doppler effects were not a problem to add. Shaders were coded in OpenGL ES2.0 for compatibility with mobile platforms. Thanks to Unity, it was relatively simple to deploy on Android and iOS.
Music: Radiohead and Nigel Godrich
Direction: Stanley Donwood and Matt Pyke
Development: Mike Tucker