Wii Wii.

MAAD is a mixed reality installation that blends the physical and virtual environment through the use of material elements, lights, and puzzles. Following the classic Hero's Journey archetype, the experience focuses on an Alien named Adam to play the role as a guardian/guide. Through Adam's help the player, who takes the role of hero, solves various puzzles on a physical Rubik's cube to restore the Power of Transformation back to Earth.

Mixed Reality Installation • Hololens • Vuforia
Experience Designer  •  Environment Artist  •  Installation Artist
Ann Lee
Environment Artist:
Ana Carolina Estarita Guerrero
Lead Narrative Designer:
Ann Lee
Software Developer:
Maryyann Landlord
Character Animator:
Daniel Ma
Fred Qiao
Installation Artists:
Ana Carolina Estarita Guerrero
Experience Designers:
Maryyann Landlord
Ann Lee
Ana Carolina Estarita Guerrero
Daniel Ma

My primary role in MAAD was to develop the virtual and the physical environments in such a way that the technological aspects of the piece were integrated into the storytelling creating a seamless experience for the participants.

MAAD is a narrative open world experience. The challenge was to create an environment that felt free to roam around and that at the same time had enough cues for the participants to know where to go next.

After writing the linear narrative and the possible interactions with the team, I designed the physical play area. The space was a 10' x 10' x 10' blue cloth cube that allowed us to control the light in the environment.

Then, I designed a walking layout and mapped the possible locations of the participants through the experience. In collaboration with the rest of the team, we placed the audiovisual story cues that played in the Hololens headset.

To make sure the virtual environment that the participants were experiencing through the Hololens matched the physical one, I designed a 3D world with props and elements that overlapped the physical space and in close collaboration with the lead software developer scaled it, mapped it and matched it to the room.
Front View, Top View, render of the space and Sketch mapping possible paths in the interaction.

In addition to low polygon meshes and joint based animation, there were specific spatial requirements for Hololens to function properly, like a minimum amount of light to map the space at all times, and a static starting point for the experience.

The search for the sweet spot between the needs for the technology to work consistently and the designed elements needed to create a really immersive experience for the participants became a central challenge on the project.

The lighting
The lighting design had two components that needed to work in tandem: The physical world lighting fixtures and the virtual world environment design.To keep both I aligned I designed a set of coiled LED lighting fixtures that matched the coiled structures designs of the virtual world. Both structures aligned on top of each other, making the lights almost invisible to the participants inside the experience.

To support Hololens mapping of the space without risking the immersiveness of the play area, I created a set of fluorescent light fixtures that  were pointed towards the walls, creating only reflected light inside the space. These lights that in the virtual world were mapped as “rocks”, made the layout of the room more visible for Hololens without compromising the immersive aspect of the experience for the participants
No matter how hard she tries, she cannot see the lighting fixtures.
The static starting point
To work around the static starting point requirement of Hololens, we added a story element where the headset itself took an active role on the lore: the ancient civilization that our character belonged to left behind a series of helmets that gave the ability to see our “alien friends to those pure and brave of heart”.

What this change meant is that we needed to “Start” the experience before the participants encountered the headset. To account this extra layer of immersion, I added a walkway before the main space where participants could learn more about the lore behind the project and immerse themselves into the magical realm of the experience.

When the participants stepped into the main area they found the headset placed on a pedestal. This approach not only guaranteed that Hololens always had the right scale and position of the room in its memory and that the participants started from the same corner of the space when going through the experience.
The virtual environment

The world of MAAD was the one of a sophisticated, advanced form of life that had mastery over the elements of the world. To communicate this visually we:

  • Looked for inspiration in jewelry design, as a craft that transform raw elements into beautiful works of art.
  • Used Circular and modular patterns to refer to the advanced knowledge of math and technology of Adam’s civilization.
  • Added constant movement to some elements of the natural world, evoking the mastery of energy and the achievement of perpetual motion.

All the elements designed in 3D had a particular Low Poly requirement. In design terms it meant that I had to build assets in which I could use rhomboids instead of spheres and hexagonal tubes instead of circular tubes. Finally, all the animation had to be Joint based for them to translate to Hololens correctly.

MAAD concept development

One of our main objectives working on MAAD was to create an experience that wasn't just bells and whistles around the technology, but that engaged the user in the same way that traditional film-making does it.  I think that in task I had, the two main components that helped to achieve that objective were :

  • The entrance tunnel gave the participants a sense of entering a new world, giving them time to “suspend their disbelief”.
  • Including the Hololens Headset in the lore as an “Ancient device left by an alien civilization” made the first encounter with it way more smooth, specially for first time users.
  • MAAD's was developed with the support of the USC Mobile & Environmental Media and the Lab USC World Building Media Lab
  • Oculus NextGen Symposium | April 2018  | Facebook | Menlo Park, CA
  • USC Annenberg Graduate Fellowship Research and Creative Project Symposiumin | April 2018 | Radisson Midtown Hotel at USC | Los Angeles, CA
A day on the life of installing MAAD.