The Realm: immersive entropy

Inspired by the coordinated motion of animal groups, ‘The Realm’ combines visual art and computational design with behavioural science to create aesthetic and immersive collective encounters. Through VR and generative technologies, participants interact with imaginary biological creatures, whose individual and collective actions are driven by rules drawn from real life data (such as shoaling fish and flocking birds). Computational models and player interactions interconnect to create a dynamic co-evolving system, affected by bodily gestures, sounds and social signals.

Through computational design, immersive soundscape, and physical computing the project pushes the boundaries for behavioural and aesthetic properties of virtual reality. We combine biological and mathematical modelling with expertise in virtual technologies, visual art, sound composition, collective behaviour and neuroscience to create highly immersive biodigital encounters.


Initiated and led by artist Heather Barnett (University of the Arts London), The Realm team comprises of technology company Tengio, artists Andy Lomas and Heloise Tunstall-Behrens, and arebyte gallery, with scientific input from the SHOAL group (Swansea University) and the Kampff Lab (University College London).

The project brings together a unique combination of technologists, artists, scientists and designers each bringing specific expertise, experience and resource: in virtual reality and generative art programming, sound and performance design, creating and curating immersive experiences with a human-centred design approach, and in neuroscientific and collective behaviour science.


The Realm aims to challenge the current limits of VR experiences by creating an immersive installation which is not only accessible to multiple users simultaneously, but that is also fundamentally affected, generated and evolved by users.

Taking a behavioural and user-centred approach to VR experience design, we aim to explore social interaction between ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ agents in an imaginary world – one which goes far beyond mere observation, representation or simulation. Moreover, we aim to understand how users intuit behaviours and social cues and how these feed back into the system.

Harnessing the immersive power of VR, combined with programming languages drawn from collective behaviour, neuroscience, sound design and generative art, we place the user at the heart of a dynamic system, interacting with it through embodied and social experience.

Further into the future, we aim to extend the immersive experience into the physical world, through integration of a semi-immersive gallery installation, connecting those inside VR with those outside.

As a voyage of discovery and user co-creation, the installation emerges through a process of trial and error. The design process follows an iterative process of user testing and development to create human-centric experiences which convincingly merge natural and artificial life forms.


The Realm is an imaginative immersive experience inspired by the aesthetics of collective natural phenomena.

Co-created by users, The Realm engages audiences through generative art and immersive technologies. Each ‘visitor’ observes, interacts and affects collective motion from within a dynamic virtual environment, where shape-shifting Artificial Biological Entities (ABEs) reside. Players feel their way intuitively, gradually evolving a language of social interaction through experimentation in gesture, sound and social cues. Individual interactions affect collective actions, enabling the player to orchestrate a swarm, drive a herd or attract a colony. Starting from the same base models and algorithms, behavioural patterns emerge uniquely through a feedback loop of complex interactions between agents and players, generated in real time.


The Realm R&D is funded by an Innovate UK grant for Audiences of the Future, October 2018 – March 2019.

Prototype A: A single-user virtual reality experience exploring collective behaviour phenomena. A prototype has been developed through a process of iterative design and user testing, inviting the visitor to navigate a co-evolving immersive experience through intuitive interaction with bio-digital agents. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the development so far…

The Realm team participated in the 4th Collaborative Workshop on Modeling Collective Behaviour in June 2019 in New York, organised by Jason Graham (Scranton University), James Curley (UT Austin) & Simon Garnier (NJIT). Over three days a team of collective behaviour experts hacked the behavioural biological models and enhance spontaneous coordination.

>>>>> Further stages of development are planned to further evolve the project to a full-scale multi-user installation (funding dependent).

Prototype B: Harnessing the power of the collective: The Realm will develop novel interdisciplinary technological tools for behavioural interaction to create meaningful interconnections between multiple human and virtual agents, redefining the possibilities for sensory and affective immersive experiences. The experience will introduce aspects of social behaviour through opportunities for competition and/or cooperation between users.

Prototype C: Exploring the interplay between physical and virtual realms of existence: extending the immersive qualities into the physical realm through a spectrum of ingredients – two way sound, movement, eye gaze, object manipulation – we will push the technical and creative possibilities for a behavioural language in immersive interactive experience design.