James Orlando is a master builder of virtual reality universes. We talked to him about his residency at New Inc and his latest project “Hyper.Zone” – a multi-level interactive experience where you can view art, purchase luxury items, and navigate 3-D immersive environments. We curated his work at our recent group show “No Vacancy” at Squat gallery. He will also be in our installation at Satellite Fair in Miami Dec 1-4th.

How did you get into VR and game design? Does your photography background play into that?

I played games when I was younger, but a photoshoot in 2012 inspired by pop avatar Hatsune Miku changed many ways I create images that I am still developing today. I started collaborating and building 3-D sets as a way to save money from using real materials. My brother dabbled in Unreal Engine and suggested that I learn it. Once I started building worlds and importing architecture with live rendering, I was hooked. When those worlds become virtually experiential, I wanted to be as close to it as possible, which made VR an easy next step for me. 

What have you been working on at your New Inc residency?

There have been a few collaborative projects and art shows with other members. My main goal there is to build and design a digital experience called "HYPER.ZONE" - a shoppable content experience. I got to demo a preview of the game at different stages with feedback, once in January and once in July with many excited players. 

Can you tell us about the game you are working on now? How many levels are there and what are they? What makes you a VIP? What artists are you collaborating with for it visually and music-wise?

"Hyper.Zone" is constantly growing and evolving as more collaborators contribute to the world. There's really no limit to the amount of levels and possibilities as an open world. Currently I have five levels with about 25 different artists including Pinar & Viola, Jeanette Hayes, Maxime Guyon, Sigrid Lauren, Brendan Smith, Brady Gunnell, Timo Seber, Brooke Wise and many more.

VIP members will receive USB keys access to the levels as they are released to play at home. They will also have exclusive access to secret areas of the game and can influence the revolving curated playlist.

What fashion labels are you working with?

Currently I'm doing a fun project for OkGrl with Nicopanda with select virtual versions of the FW16 collection and building a virtual showroom with photos I shot as internal ads.  

I'm focusing on mostly art in the world for now, but will expand more with SS17 as "Hyper.Zone" is much more about a SS color palate. 


What are the background sets based off?

I've been collecting images for a few years, and finally had a moment where I realized they should be levels in a game that I wanted to make. There's many reference images from places like Tomorrowland, architect Vincent Callebaut, Contemporary Artist, Myst and many unknown sources. I made a book-sized mood board for the general world, but also wanted it to be reflective of the art and be a place to honor it.

Do you have to study architecture in order to build virtual worlds?

By no means am I a trained architect, but about two years ago I stopped obsessing over photography and became much more interested with architectural renderings. I became really interested in smart cities of the future and the potential they have to be self-sustaining colonies. There’s a term, magical futurism that really expresses the style of architecture I’m looking for. 


You body scanned Sigrid Lauren, how does that work, will everyone be privy to this option?

I would love to body scan all my friends! Sigrid was a special collaborator for me and it was both of our first times using a motion capture suit, which was so much fun! I've only scanned a few people who are all upcoming game characters. I use a photography technique called photogrammetry where I photograph the subject then use a program to stitch the photos together and later clean up the 3-D model. 

What's your ultimate goal for this project?

I want to create a positive, cultural experience for virtual reality and gaming. I wanted to create a different experience and alternate way to experience content than on a flat screen or page. When I was younger, I was obsessed with games like “Myst,” “Zelda,” and “Sims” and they are definitely huge influences. I also want to bring gamified experiences to a different audience and to open up a market equally targeted towards women. I hope to instill some positive world change in today’s youth with the clean energy and community initiatives of the game using sustenance for game currency. 


Do you think it will change how people process and consume information? How will it affect the art market, or the value of artwork if it can exist in multiple spaces?

We consume so much information so fast, I want people to slow down the endless scrolling and just have time for an experience. I hope to influence or change the way people want to experience information. I’m very interested in the currency and value of virtual objects. We will have to wait and see how consumers and art buyers react.


Do you think galleries will eventually move to the virtual space completely?

No, I think it will always be important to see art in person. There are some things that you need to touch and see with your own eyes. I think this will help bring more art to the masses, or for people who can't physically be there, like hospital patients or astronauts on the international space station. 


In fact, what do you think the future holds?

With today’s freelancer economy, people are traveling more often away from each other. It will soon be possible to chill with your friends in VR and check out a recreation of show you wanted to see in Berlin as an alternative way of catching up over Skype. Social VR is a very exciting space for me. Some AI scares me... but good scared.