In 2011, when the designer Zaniz Jakubowski decided to add a giant, interactive rainforest wall inside the 353-foot Brightness, his imagination was years ahead of available technology. “I wanted to use OLED panels, but no one had them at this scale,” she says. “I had also planned to use holograms, but at that time they were quite rudimentary. If the technology had existed, I could have improved the experience.
Jakubowski persevered, and eventually the multi-walled design – where sensors prompt butterflies to follow guests as they move along eerily realistic screens – came to life. It’s a technical marvel, at one point rising 60 feet to the ceiling, while elsewhere it stretches down both sides of the hallway, providing a 52-foot-long promenade through a rainforest. . “The owner wanted a sensational effect,” says Jakubowski. “My goal wasn’t to feel like you had a wall next to you. I wanted to make a 3D piece, so that you feel like you’re walking through a forest.
Over the past five years, digital art has evolved from 2D screens displaying movies to hyperrealistic 3D environments whose projections “blur the lines between the physical and virtual worlds,” says Jakubowski. The final form is interactive, where the space reacts to the viewer.
This rapidly evolving medium is now moving into the world of superyachts, but in much more personalized forms.
What we are trying to achieve is spatial storytelling
“We take people on a story arc that they follow on multiple levels across the yacht.”
The work can range from a meditation room where the ceiling changes gradually over an hour to soften the mood, to a mural that changes with the seasons or even with the current weather, in a slow, steady flow. “Evolving a yacht over weeks or months involves a high level of technical sophistication,” says John Munro, CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Immersive International, who has been in the business for 20 years. “It can be pleasing for the viewer to see the essential changes taking place. When they look at a work of our art, we hope it will take them out of themselves.
The immersive experience doesn’t have to be huge either. “There are plenty of opportunities to make charming little things and accessories that surprise customers,” says Kevin Andrews, founder of idea works in London. He envisions a “beautiful powder room” in a ship’s nightclub offering a new scenario every time someone enters. “Maybe you have people dancing around you, then fish swimming around, and next time it’s the night sky,” he says. “These surfaces are really a matter of imagination.” It might be a bit heavy for some sailors to process after one night’s libations, but it’s still impressive.
The “digital wallpaper”, as Andrews calls it, can also be multitasked. “Given the high costs in square meters of a dining room, for example, if it is reused for different events, it increases its usefulness.” Owners can also bring their NFTs on board and alternate them depending on the mood.
Of course, it is not a simple wallpaper, and the technical challenges remain daunting. “For the forest wall, we had engineers for heating and cooling; lighting, structural and vibration engineers; and materials scientists,” says Jakubowski. “We even built a mechanical system to repair each part in case of breakage. This requires a new toolkit that includes animation, algorithms, and math. It also required hands-on supervision: she opened a Italian workshop early in the build process so she could be closer to the Benetti shipyard in Livorno and ensure the installation was accurate.
Although still new, this work is becoming easier to integrate into yachts as servers become smaller and faster and lighter OLED displays offer more realistic colors. Jakubowski creates his own work, but Immersive International and idea works collaborate with dozens of artists.
No one thinks these emerging experiential installations will replace conventional works. “Fine art has provenance and history, while different creative forces are at play when art is interactive,” says Andrews. “When it’s done right, it really is art.”