In 1964, Julie Andrews jumped into a chalk drawing. Inside, she discovered a whole new beautiful world. The film was, of course, Mary Poppins, and ever since having watched it as a child, I’ve had the desire to take a similar leap.
It’d be great to spring ourselves, both feet forward, into the soft hues of Monet’s violet and viridescent riverside forests, wouldn’t it? Screw this reality and replace it with permanent bucolic escape—yes, please. Granted, Ms. Poppins was able to use magic, but why hasn’t technology allowed this to happen yet? Well, maybe it has. Take a look at Places and you tell me: would you like to dive into one of those landscapes, take a look around in wonder, just be in there for a while?
If you answered “yes,” then you’re in luck, as you can do just that. Places is a three-part series of 3D paintings turned into virtual worlds you can walk around for as long as you wish. Essentially, it’s a more naturalistic Proteus; all the vacationing, none of the musical delight. In each place, you find yourself among only trees, shrubs, long grass, thistles, maybe the odd blossom. There is little else here. No creatures to find. No sunrise to wait for. No change in the rate of snowfall.
For me, it was wholly therapeutic to be within the parameters of these spaces. I was in a foul mood earlier but it was stifled by the calm and stillness of these gloomy scenes. Others found nostalgia. “I grew up in northern Alberta and basically lived out in the woods, so when I saw those pics, it instantly rekindled that feeling that I’ve missed for a very long time (and miss on a daily basis),” one person writes. “[T]his brings me right back to my experiences growing up in rural and suburban Ontario,” writes another.
But how does Places evoke these memories? It seems to be held within the fine line it walks between realism and imagination. If you look closely, you can see that the details in each place are impressionistic and not photorealistic. They’re hazy with the halcyon blur of memories, almost a visual reappropriation of how Boards of Canada evokes childhood days with pleasant, shimmering textures made of drawn-out electronic sounds. It’s all slightly out-of-focus and not of the sharp, textured 3D tree models presented in most other rural renditions in videogames. It leaves room for you to fill in the details.
This is all due to the painterly technique with which its creator has realized Places. Leaves are dabs of paint. Trunks and branches are brushstrokes. Long grass is skimmed whips of color. This is, as far as is possible to tell, a proper 3D painting mapped out into virtual space. You step right into it, just as I’ve always longed, it brought to life with the sounds of crunching snow or soggy grass underfoot. The wind joins into create a choir of natural sound, as does the patter of rain, and the fog whispering at the edges.
You can download Places as three individual files on its website. Also check out its Tumblr for more images.