The odyssey of a Pink Dress in pixels
A shaggy-dog story of a virtual art collaboration in the Metaverse.
Some folks are feeling too isolated during lockdown. I’m not feeling isolated enough. I typically work from home in blissful solitude in a forgotten Norfolk town. When COVID-19 hit, all my friends rushed online at once — on the one hand delightful, but on the other, overwhelming for an introvert who counts on 12 hours of alone time a day. So I took shelter from the storm in VR, making myself immersive worlds in Google’s 3D painting app Tilt Brush, using an Oculus Quest headset.
The pieces I created were all about comfort. I made an underwater rock garden with a purple axolotl for company. I made a campfire in a forest. I made a meditation grotto from giant mushrooms and painted my own light body. I’d enlarge these spaces so that I could sit within them, basking in my own creations of glowing light.
Tilt Brush comes preloaded with “environments” in which to paint. My favorite of these: space. I wanted to be as far from Earth as possible, for as long as possible. I wanted to be immersed somewhere not only with no walls, but with no beginning and no end. I began creating crystalline objects filled with a variety of forms that I imagined as intergalactic seeds hurtling towards pristine planets. This began a series of works in progress called Seeds of Space, soon to be exhibited as part of More Than Glass — a cryptoart project in response to isolation during the Covid pandemic, with UK-based 105collective.
Meanwhile, my friend Lenara Verle, who lives in Berlin—and who on the first day of 2020 initiated me into the mysteries of cryptoart (another story for another time)—had been building her own galleries and objects in Cryptovoxels — a Minecraft-like virtual world that sits on the Ethereum blockchain, primarily dedicated to showcasing art and associated events. It also allows you to dress your own avatars in voxel wearables that you can make and buy/sell. In Cryptovoxels (where she’s Y0b) as in real life, Lenara is quite the fashionista: she has a real sense for accessorizing. I think you’ll agree:
So when I made my first dress in Tilt Brush, I thought of Lenara. I’d pictured it as a Bjork-worthy number with hot pink petals and feathers, shot through with electricity and with a matching fascinator. I wondered if I could export the design as a Cryptovoxels wearable for her avatar. She liked the idea, and asked me for a file.
This set off a Rube Goldberg-esque epic chain reaction of collaboration taking us through six digital art apps/platforms and at least seven iterations (so far) —surprising even us.
If you’re new to the rapidly developing art-making and economy that’s going on in the VR/XR/cryptoart space, this will offer a glimpse of what it’s like to crash through a few of the tools being used and the kinds of interactions going on between artists. If you’re already there, you’ll appreciate the incredibly rapid-fire “just because we can” ethos distinctive to a lot of cryptoart collaborations. If you’d like to participate, the dress could come full circle and culminate — or continue to evolve — with you. Read on.
Here’s what we did:
1I created a dress in Tilt Brush. (See the image at the top of this article.) Using the preloaded mannequin environment, I sculpted a dress of hot pink petals and animated light. (Later, I transposed this into Seeds of Space, where the dress costumes the moon and is embedded in a crystalline structure.)
2At Lenara’s request, I exported the file from within Tilt Brush to Sketchfab, 3D model publishing platform that allows creators and consumers to explore, buy, and sell 3D content.
3 Lenara picked up the Sketchfab file and brought it into open source 3D creation suite Blender. From there she used a third-party plugin to export it as a voxel model. “Voxels are 3D pixels. A pixelated image is a low-resolution image, and voxelizing means losing lots of detail,” says Lenara. “I had to simplify the file, and break it into parts I could assemble later. The original colors and textures were lost, but I re-added some from Karen’s original Tilt Brush painting.”
The goal was to reduce the dress somehow to only 32x32x32 voxels, which is the standard size for Cryptovoxels wearables. Working with such a low resolution and managing to create something recognizable is very hard. So as a first step, Lenara created two 126x126x126 models, which are allowed into Cryptovoxels as “megavoxel” features. Up to five of these can be placed on a plot as a way to assemble more complex sculptures.
4Lenara installed the final voxel sculpture into her parcel on Cryptovoxels. Here’s what it looked like.
5 Then she Womped (the term for Cryptovoxel’s screenshot-and-geolocation function) the sculpture from inside it.
6Lenara tokenized the Womped image on Rarible – a minting platform on the Ethereum blockchain that allows artists to create a unique signature for their digital asset. (Here’s how Lenara explained cryptoart to her mother-in-law.)
What makes Rarible unique among minting platforms is its Unlockable feature, which lets you type in extra information as metadata that can be accessed when purchased. For this Unlockable, Lenara added a URL to bits and pieces from our process, including the 3D models and screenshots we’d shared. In the description attached to the token, she wrote a narrative of our process.
7A cryptoartist and collector named BrookHawk (who lives in Brooklyn, NY) purchased Inside the Dress I See the Sky and installed it in his own Cryptovoxels gallery. He enjoyed the description so much that he made a museum label to display it, next to the piece itself. Then he Tweeted it.
8Meanwhile, Lenara tokenized a second artwork based on her original Womp. In the Unlockable, she included extra secret surprise goodies: an extended sneak peek and also a very special experiment — whoever buys this piece will unlock a claim code to receive a second, surprise NFT artwork. (Note: This has not yet been sold/unlocked, so we won’t share an image of the second artwork here. On the other hand, you can buy and own this historical easter egg art. Two for the price of one!)
9 Lenara again Womped the sculpture from the outside. This Womp got picked up by the Wompbot — a new bot that automatically tweets Cryptovoxels’ Womp feed. It tagged me, and so came to my attention.
10Amused, I sent Lenara’s Womp to my cousin Victoria in Paris, and tried to explain the story of the dress and its evolution — to her utter confusion. I have now tokenized a screenshot of this conversation on Rarible. Because why not? Because we want to bring things full circle. (Keep reading.)
11So here’s where you come in. (Pay close attention—we’re offering lots of NFTs below!)
If you buy the token of the minted conversation (I’ve tokenized it on Rarible in an edition of three), you’ll be able to access a very special Unlockable: a link to the original Pink Dress Poly file AND the Sketchfab file for the original dress.
From any browser, you can interact with the dress by zooming in and out and circling around it. If you have a VR headset with Tilt Brush, you can load the Poly file, grab the dress and actually try it on yourself—and/or remix it in Tilt Brush. Meanwhile, you can use the Sketchfab file to remix it with whatever 3D app you normally use. How long can we keep this project going?
Are we there yet?
You may have noticed by now that our original intention — to make a wearable dress for Lenara in Cryptovoxels — somehow receded out of sight as we fell down the rabbit hole. Did we give up? Heck no. As I wrote this, Lenara kept working on the wearable dress using voxel editor MagicaVoxel, which she has now minted. It’s available as a three-part outfit, each an edition of 20. Some parts come in several color options, making six wearables in total. So if you have an avatar in Cryptovoxels, you may now add the Dress to your wardrobe.
BONUS: Finally, as a reward for making it to the end of this article, send us your name and ETH address. We’ll send the first 10 responders an NFT of a brand new dress design (hint: it’s purple, with glowing snakes and spikes), with an Unlockable link to its Poly and Sketchfab files to remix. In return, we ask that you send us your remix files and document the process so that we can keep track of the project. We’ll also include the voxel file of Lenara’s original sculpture to install in your Cryptovoxels parcel. Let’s start another chain reaction!
Karen Frances Eng is a writer and artist currently investigating the creative possibilities of various digital artmaking tools and cryptoart. Lenara Verle researches art and alternative currencies and is the Yoda of initiating artists to crypto platforms. Find us at @oculardelusion and @lenara on Twitter.