What is Fireflies?

Fireflies is a virtual reality music video experience in which participants can explore and interact with a mystical, idyllic, and pastoral digital dusk-time environment. As you frolic through the landscape taking in the world’s natural beauty, you might brush your hands through the tall grass. When you do, abstracted fireflies in the form of glowing particles emerge from the grass and the world comes alive.

The Inspiration

From it’s original conception, Fireflies was very much intended to be an emotion-driven piece. Personally, I felt that most of my work up until this point has more or less disregarded the viewer’s emotions because I was more concerned with what I wanted to convey.

Because of the immersive nature of VR, I felt that two of my favorite emotions wonder and awe could be experienced powerfully. Exploration in the real world is inspiring, but imagine exploring a world that you can control and interact with in a way that you never could in the real world.

At the time of the project, I was really interested in Sigur Rós. The ethereal nature of the music along with their sometimes nonsensical lyrics already transported me to a fake world filled with awe and wonder, so I figured that using Glósóli as the base for the experience would make my job of evoking this emotional response from viewers even more effective.

Out of all the Sigur Rós tracks, I felt that Glósóli was a perfect compliment to the vision behind the VR experience. “Glósóli” can be translated as a childish way of saying “let the sun glow” in Icelandic.[1] To me this title cleanly encapsulated the pastoral feeling of the experience that I want to capture. The song itself is an ode to childish awe, wonder, and exploration, which we see clearly articulated in the amazing music video. One of the central themes of the music video is a blurry line between fantasy and reality, which is another main idea that I wanted to explore in VR.

The Goal

This project was my first foray into virtual reality, so it was kind of a playground for ideas that I had around VR but hadn’t really tested yet. My working hypotheses were that virtual reality

  1. should include some fictional or fantasy-like elements
  2. should include meaningful/compelling interactions
  3. doesn’t need to follow a linear plotline
  4. can evoke as much or more of an emotional response as traditional media through the feeling of immersion

The Process

Everything was created in Unity. I used VRTK for teleportation, and I used a procedural world plugin to generate the grass, trees, and plants. Perhaps the most interesting part of the process was stamping the landscape from a real one found on google maps. That’s right, the landscape that participants walk on is from a real place in the world. Specifically, somewhere near the famed Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland.


Overall, I do feel like this experience was great for VR. In fact, I still—even after several times trying it—do feel very moved while wandering throughout the landscape. It’s just such an idyllic peaceful space.

I showed the project to around 10 friends and random people and they stayed inside the headset longer than I was expecting. Many seemed entranced by the simple mechanic of being engulfed in glowing particles.

Lacking hands in VR is a significant barrier to feeling immersed, especially since my original idea imagined running your hands through the tall grass. Additionally, grass that would actually respond to your touch would make the experience a lot more compelling. I’ve recently worked on Creator, a VR project with the leap motion, which might help me improve this mechanic.

Let me know what you think of this project in the comments and find other projects here!

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