Last week The Lost Botanist, co-directed by the Kokstad-raised sister and brother team of Ree and Rick Treweek, became the first virtual reality (VR) experience from Africa to screen in competition at Annecy, the world's most prestigious animation festival.
The Lost Botanist was one of just nine VR experiences competing at VR@Annecy, from 90 submissions from nearly 30 countries.
Ree and Rick were up against big name projects like Gymnasia, from the Emmy-winning Felix & Paul Studios; Doctor Who: The Runaway, voiced by Jodi Whittaker; Wolves In The Wall, Chapter 2, It's All Over, based on the Neil Gaiman book; and Gloomy Eyes, narrated by Colin Farrell, which took home the Cristal.
Ree was one of two female directors in the VR category at Annecy. The Lost Botanist marked her second film in competition at Annecy, 12 years after The Blackheart Gang's The Tale Of How kick-started her career by winning a Special Distinction Cristal in 2007.
A five-minute interactive adventure for immersive devices, The Lost Botanist is a collaboration between Rick's Johannesburg-based emerging technology research and development house, Eden Labs, and Ree's Cape Town-based creative studio, Tulips & Chimneys.
You are The Lost Botanist, misplaced in a world that's forgotten all about nature. While researching the lost marvels of the natural world, you open a grimoire that transports you to The Under-Garden, the dream-like home of the spirits of all forgotten things. In each of the wondrous places you'll visit, you must find a mythical creature to guide you further into the unknown, from The Nethermere to The Amber Vale to The Nevermist...
"I've always wanted to create a world that people could step into, a visual world people could be immersed in and lost in, so for me The Lost Botanist is an absolute dream come true," says Ree, who is Africa's most awarded animation director, having been recognised everywhere from the Clios to Clermont-Ferrand, D&AD to Mobius, The London International Awards to New York Festival, and The Loeries to The South African Film and Television Awards, among others. She's also one of Africa's most watched animation directors: Amumu: The Curse of the Sad Mummy, her League of Legends short film for Riot Games, has over 18m YouTube views.
Technically, Rick says The Lost Botanist stands out from most other VR experiences for three main reasons: its counterintuitive use of 2D animation in a 360 environment; its use of a 3D printed Oculus Go case shaped like an owl, that feels like an artwork in itself; and its development focus on the standalone VR headset Oculus Go, a comparatively light and low-spec platform.
Rick and Ree plan to extend The Lost Botanist with additional levels in the immersive experience; a spinoff film; an augmented reality game and a merchandise range that includes toys, adult colouring books, and puzzles. "This is just a prologue for a much bigger experience," says Rick, who has worked with artists like William Kentridge and Mary Sibande at Eden Labs.
He believes The Lost Botanist's timing couldn't be better. "There's a pure lack of VR content, so if we can get The Lost Botanist on the stores now, it will get eyeballs," says Rick, whose first company, Breakdesign, generated over 16 million mobile game downloads. "It feels a lot like mobile games in 2007, like everything is coming full circle for me..."
Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Market ran from 10-15 June 2019 in Annecy, France. Check out the full VR line-up at https://www.annecy.org/programme:en:vr/.
The Lost Botanistcontinues its festival run at New Images Festival from 19-23 June 2019 in Paris, France, where it was selected from 109 applications from 21 countries. Follow https://www.instagram.com/the_lost_botanist/ for updates.