Projects / Wild Empathy  /  Immersive Art About Westcoast Ancient Trees and Forests 

British Columbia (BC) is known for its wilderness and lush green forests. Old-growth trees play a crucial role in the province’s natural ecologies, and they contribute to the health of the planet. 

Old growth trees take in vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere because of their growth rate that accelerates with age. They provide rich habitats of biodiversity, and they function as crucial hubs in the below ground networked mycorrhizal activities of the forest. Extensive logging, human development and climate change have reduced these wild spaces, threatening the future of intact forests and old-growth trees, and the habitat they provide for a variety of life.  

Co-led ed by Julie Andreyev and Maria Lantin in collaboration with Tom Cummins of Science World, the Wild Empathy project addressed this environmental concern by creating immersive multimedia experiences for urban audiences, raising awareness about the unique features of local old growth forests, and leading to a sense of wonder + care for their protection. The project involved a team including scientists and artists Dave Baar, Damien Gillis, Deirdre Brink, Simon Overstall as well as a group of research assistants.  

Supported by the BGML since 2018, Wild Empathy generated rich media techniques and methods — VR, 360 photography, 360 immersive video, animation, immersive sound — to create experiences in which viewers/listeners can better understand the liveliness of old trees and appreciate their significance. 

Research and New Media Experimentation / Merging biological + digital realities 

“Trees are beautiful. Many of us have relationships with individual trees. As well, old trees have deep wisdom about their forest habitats and cultures. Local Indigenous nations have great knowledge about trees and forests. Immersive art and storytelling can be effective ways to engage people and raise awareness about old trees and forests, and the gifts they provide, leading to greater care.” – Wild Empathy Team 

Employing multispecies methods, and noninvasive approaches to recording video/sound materials, Wild Empathy is a multidisciplinary and complex research project that created a series of original artworks.  

Some of the research experiments involved the use of specialized microphones for field recording, sound improvisation with trees, 360 video recording of an old growth forest, experimental animation, and MIDI Biodata Sonification. 

The resulting Wild Empathy art projects were distributed through public venues including Science World BC, New Adventures in Sound Art, Sunshine Coast Arts Council Gallery, Gender Equity in Media Festival.  

These art projects include immersive media installation they speak in whispers; the VR experience Tree Earth Sky; generative sound installation Sound of Tree Rings; 360 photography series Tiny Planets; and Tree Spots, videos about charasmatic local trees. 

To know more about Wild Empathy, visit the project’s official website

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Meet The Team 

Dr Julie Andreyev, co-investigator, Emily Carr University 

Dr Maria Lantin, co-investigator, director of the Basically Good Media Lab, ECU 

Tom Cummins, Director of Exhibits, Telus World of Science 

Simon Overstall, sound production, composer and computational aesthetics 

Damien Gillis, independent documentary filmmaker 

Dr David Baar, independent computer scientist 

Dr Deirdre Brink, independent biologist 

Lorenz Jimenez, independent photographer and videographer 

Sean Arden, research technician in the Mixed Reality Lab, ECU 

Olivier Leroux, VR cinematographer, Impact VR 

Alonso Benavente Fortes, project staff, ECU 

Alex Hass, research associate, Basically Good Media Lab, ECU 

ECU Research Assistants 

Mana Hairichian Saei 

Cara Jacobsen 

Sam Street 

Keira Madsen 

Leanne Plisic 

Gina Mae Schubert 

Edward Madojemu 

Emma Baldwin 

Kyla Gilbert-Heaney 

Michael Fowler 

Vanessa Wong 

Chloe Brumwell 

Arian Jacobs 

Jess Spaude (BCIT) 

Supported by 

Connection Grant, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, 2019 

SSHRC Institutional Exchange Grant, ECU, 2019 

Gillespie Design Research Grant, ECU, 2018 and 2019 

Basically Good Media Lab, and the Mixed Reality Lab, ECU 

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Follow BGML’s Instagram account (@ecugoodmedia) to stay updated with future events and learning opportunities. 

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Image 1 – Tiny Planets – Images by Leanne Plisic, Sam Street and Cara Jacobsen.

Image 2 – Wild Empathy production team – Damien Gillis with Olivier Leroux preparing to shoot canopy footage for they speak in whispers.

Image 3 – Wild Empathy production team – Julie Andreyev and research assistant Sam Street setting up recording equipment at the 1308 Trees site near Lost Creek, Burnaby.

Image 4 – Wild Empathy production team – The video projection within the hollow tree, with Simon Lysander Overstall for scale.

Image 5 – Virtual Reality headset experience from Tree Earth Sky.