An Interview with VR Artist, Hsiao-Yue Tsao ("Blue Tears")
Hsiao-Yue, you are originally from Matsu- how old were you when you first witnessed the 'Blue Tears' (which is one of the world's wonders and can only be seen in one of the remote islands of Taiwan, Matzu), and what prompted you to capture this phenomenon in a VR experience?
Matzu is a small island near mainland China and remote from Taiwan's main island. It has managed to preserve its unique culture and environment. The planes going to Matzu are tiny, and the weather is usually foggy, so it's not an easy place to get to. Plus, the "blue tears" phenomenon is seasonal, so I thought I could use the latest VR technology to show the beauty of blue tears through an interactive and immersive experience to tourists and audiences around the world.
How did you start this project, and how did you ensure this experience feels authentic to this real-world wonder?
In collaboration with the Matsu National Scenic Area Administration, we created a Smart Tourist Application. The user can use the VR controller to interact with and paddle through the life-size Beihai Tunnel. We also use 4DViews, through which the characters, both male and female, are scanned from real life. The male actor worked extremely hard to “swim” on a bench, for example. Viewers can follow his perspective to dive into the sea, swim forward, paddle, and interact with the female character. What is most important for VR productions is audiovisual convergence. You may hear ambient sounds such as waves, a musical score depicting the drama of the shipwreck, along with the sound of it sinking.
Let's roll back to the very beginning of your career. What inspired you to become a VR artist, and what were some of your first steps in the immersive world of VR?
I hope to use technology to bridge cultural connections between my hometown Matsu and the metaverse communities. I think what first caught my interest was digital art effects. I really liked some of the visual effects. I decided to work on my first VR project in 2014. I have also been inspired along the way working alongside my husband Hsin-Chien Huang on his many VR projects.
You are a Professor at the National Taipei University of Technology as well as the host of the Interactive Art Lab at the National Taipei University of Science and Technology. How do you divide your time between these roles and work as a VR Artist?
Well, to be honest, my job at the university and the artwork I do occupy most of my time. Still, I am surrounded by VR projects and ideas in my daily life so I get so much inspiration. If I have a good idea or good collaboration opportunity, I just have to make the time whenever I can to see it through.
Can you talk about your work as the Vice-Chairman of The Metaverse Alliance and the Director of the metaverse XR R&D center at the National Taipei University of Technology’?
Sure, I am the Director of the metaverse XR R&D center at the National Taipei University of Technology. My department is Interactive Design, which focuses on the development of AR, VR, XR, and Metaverse applications. I launched the first Metaverse XR R&D Center in Taiwan to study Metaverse trends and cultivate young XR talent. The center brings together the government, industry, and universities.
The Metaverse Alliance is an organization that studies Metaverse trends and cultivates young XR talent. It brings together the government, industry, and universities. In August, with the help of the Taipei government, we released the first metaverse white paper in Taiwan. We want to share some of our experiences in Taiwan with the world.
Your work generates a lot of responses from the media and audiences, and you travel a lot between Taiwan, China, and the US. What are you most proud of?
I think I am proud of anything I do to help promote Taiwan or the Taiwanese people. I am also very proud of anything I do that can help build the XR industry here in any way. As for my personal work, I am most proud when I feature my hometown. I am also excited about the future as we plan to adopt a balanced approach to technological and social impact, which will contribute to the development of the metaverse for a global user base. We predict that in the not-too-distant future, 3D immersive and networked experiences will be the primary means of human connection.
How do you start a new project? Can you talk about the creative process?
It seems like it is a bit different every time. Sometimes there is some aspect of my own personal history or background that I would like to develop. Or maybe I have some idea that I can’t seem to stop thinking about. Sometimes, it may just be the result of great cooperation.
The glowing blue color featured in 'Blue Tears' is enchantingly beautiful. Can you talk about some of the creative considerations for telling this story, as well as the hero, the heroine and the love story?
There is a village called “Village of Madam” where literally only women live. It is traced back to the period of transition between the Ming and Qing dynasties when there were pirates in the northern part of the Taiwan Strait. They not only robbed people of their valuables but also kidnapped women living along the coastline. The women were then kept in the “Village of Madam” like an outpost for the pirates to access.
Tell us about your collaborators, producers Chun-Chien Lien and Sung Cheng Yang and Technical Supervisor, Hsin-Chien Huang. Is this the first time you worked together, and what was it like working with them?
They were wonderful. Both of them are leading VR and AR developers in the Metaverse Alliance and have been featured at our events and participated in accelerated programs.
What was your favorite part of the production process?
My favorite part is working out the details of the story.
What message were you hoping to convey to audiences about this natural wonder of Blue Tears?
Through the protagonist’s journey, I hope to communicate to the audience that an obsessive search for companionship and peace of mind can lead not only to family disruption but also to environmental degradation. The Blue Tears are the result of the changing environment disturbing Noctiluca scintillans, causing it to emit a blue glow either through the force of waves or human paddling.
In your experience, what are the important ingredients to create a profound and interactive VR work?
I think there are many factors that make for a profound and interactive VR work. First, you have to have all the factors that make a good story – characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. Then you have to have the elements of a good movie which are great visuals and sound as well as the interplay between the two. Finally, it must have a great interactive component that makes the viewer feel that they are actually in the story and experiencing it as the character. They need to be able to make decisions that affect their experience.
You are the recipient of many awards and commissions. Is having a unique artist voice as an asset towards securing funds or projects, or are additional factors at play?
I am not sure if my projects help secure funds, but it certainly lends credibility. I feel I can see a collaboration from different sides and that can help me find ways to make them work.
In your opinion, what roles does virtual reality plays in the future of experience-entertainment? What new shifts and trends do you foresee for this new medium?
I think for now the popularity of VR is still limited by its availability. They aren’t yet typical household items at this point. Therefore, we cooperate with venues like VR theaters and museums with ecological exhibitions. The other avenue moving forward is that through pre-existing IPs and their 3D modules, we can use projectors or other forms of image presentations to interact with different interfaces like tourism in the service industry. Other kinds of connection and interaction between image projection, VR, and cuisine could also be possible.
What advice would you give artists who want to pursue a career in VR? Is it an easy path to pursue?
I would say to go for it! It’s a great time as the medium grows in maturity every day. New voices and young people with vision are both needed and desired. My advice is to dive in and start creating as soon as possible and make sure that the story and the concept come first. Certainly, it isn’t easy but then all creative careers have great challenges as well as rewards.
What are you working on these days and what can you share with us about future projects?
For “Blue Tears Episode 2”, we are still ensuring that the ecological immersion and storytelling can be complete and make sense as two separate episodes from a technical standpoint and in terms of content. I hope this can be done step by step and that the local IP can be introduced to not only the local audience but also to the foreign audience.
What is your dream project?
That’s a difficult question. I usually feel that whatever project I am currently working on is the best one. I would love to do more imaginative artwork.
Is there anything you'd like to add or anyone you wish to thank?
Definitely, there are so many people that have helped me over the years. I would like to thank my family.
Where can our readers follow more of your work?