In the last few years, you’ve probably heard people talk about the “metaverse”: an online world where people can meet virtually through virtual reality headsets, like in the movie Ready Player One. But you may not have realized that this is no longer just a sci-fi dream. The company Meta, formerly known as Facebook, is actually building it right now.
Buy an Oculus Quest headset and you can enter the metaverse through Horizon Workrooms, which puts you in a virtual meeting room, or Horizon Worlds, an ever-expanding virtual universe where you can attend events, play games, watch bands, meet up and. new people, hang out with friends and more.
Meta is keen to involve creators to build new, exciting locations within Horizon Worlds. They work hard to ensure that the evolving meta-universe is diverse, multicultural and inclusive. In February, they launched the Metaverse Culture Series (MCS) with the Black Future series.
This was followed by a discovery called Women Beyond on International Women’s Day. Together with Muslim Creators around the world, they produced a documentary called #MonthofGood for Ramadan. Then came the Pride Unbound experience, exploring identity, the chosen family, safety and culture in the future metaverse. Today Meta launches Tercera Cultura (Third Culture), the fifth installment of the Metaverse Culture Series that explores Latinx culture, identity and equality.
As part of this, they partnered with multimedia artist COVL to create Nuevo Norte (‘New North’ in Spanish), the first of its kind mixed reality installation that can be experienced in virtual reality at Meta Horizon Worlds. This will be accompanied ‘in real life’ by a 2D mural and AR extension at the international art fair Art Basel in Miami (December 1-3).
Whether it’s for big brands like Nike, Red Bull and Google, TV shows like Never Have I Ever, or a one-off, we’re big fans of COVL, which is bold, super colorful and energizing artwork. Projects like Instagram’s first Coachella home. That’s why we’re so happy we got the chance to catch up with him in the metaverse, chat about Nuevo Norte, stay connected to your culture and history, and work as an artist in VR. Read our interview with COVL below or watch the full video at the top of the page.
First, a little background. Nuevo Norte is named after the street where COVL’s family lived in Puerto Rico before immigrating to the United States. And for him, it’s a reimagining of home in a new, immersive, metaverse world while playing with his organic, psychedelic artistic style. In Nuevo Norte, you’ll find vibrant colors, soft edges, lush tropical greens and a fun, cinematic scaling.
The VR experience immerses you in a tech-colored tunnel; Then you enter a vibrant, expansive world filled with surreal greenery and ethereal animals. In the distance, you can see four floating islands that you can pass through magical gates.
The first is La Islá, which pays homage to the way COVL was raised in Puerto Rico and Miami. Then there is Cafecito, an opportunity for COVL to revisit memories of the time spent with his grandparents by smelling freshly brewed coffee and butter at local cafes.
There is also a Conversation Area (Cuéntamelo) and the Discoteca, a multi-level dance floor filled with neon lights and sea bears floating in the sky. The inspiration here clearly comes from Miami; here, COVL would fall asleep to the lively salsa sounds from local musicians as pink and orange lights filtered through the shutters.
Read on to find out how COVL approached the project, and the challenges and learnings along the way.
How did you get involved in VR as an illustrator and improve the world in practice?
Actually, this is my first time working in this field. The Meta team initially contacted me to see if this was something I was interested in.
Horizon Worlds gives you the ability to create any world you imagine. It was a little daunting at first. But as with any skill set I’ve learned, it was really easy to lay the groundwork. I can take skill sets from things I use in digital work and apply them to Horizon Worlds. The meta team showed me the software and taught me more about the metaverse. This allowed me to open up to the world we are discussing today.
How similar or different was the creative process here compared to, say, creating a mural or illustration?
Fortunately, I was able to implement the same kind of process. We’re back from sketching and creating mood boards. And from there, I can work closely with the team to start creating everything I have on my mood boards and sketches. Luckily, yes, I was able to apply my same kind of workflow to this area.
Did anything surprise you about creating in virtual reality?
To be honest, I thought it would be very difficult. As artists, we have conditioned ourselves to be within our tool or skill sets. That’s why I was working in 2D space for the longest time and I was afraid of being in the virtual space because I thought it would be a very difficult and boring process.
But the moment I hit the ground in Horizon Worlds, it was really easy to adapt. For example, being able to use your hands and build things was much easier than I thought. I got to the point where I said, ‘Okay, this is definitely something I can implement in future projects.
How did you find the Neuvo Norte concept?
Indeed, this world already existed in my mind, as in my subconscious. So creating Nuevo Norte was second nature to me. It’s been cooking in my brain for years, and I’ve finally managed to make it what it is today.
Your work is all about color. Was it easy or difficult to implement in VR?
It was a bit difficult in the beginning because in all my other work it is very 2 dimensional. So I’m going to apply things like highlights and shadows to really bring out my work. In Horizon Worlds, I realized that with the different features and divisions that Horizon Worlds have, I can now physically use that light and shadow. So it was a little difficult to understand at first. But the moment the team showed me how to take advantage of the lights and vitality in that world, it clicked into my voice.
At Tercera Cultura, you represent a culture in which millions share. How much pressure was there to get it right?
I felt a bit of pressure because this is something you want to be inclusive of. You want to ensure that everyone who enters this world feels like a part of the narrative and story. There was a moment where I struggled with this because there is so much you can do to make everyone feel seen.
But with Neuvo Norte, to reiterate, it was about my experience as a Puerto Rican, and what did it look like? This has made it easier for me to define myself around the world and apply what I think will tell my story as a Puerto Rican, as well as the nuances of being Latino, Latino or Latino. And hopefully, people can resonate with that. It may not look or sound the same, but the experience at hand is the same.
You also create other jobs that fit into this VR creation. How did you get all of these to work together harmoniously?
We will act in three ways at Art Basel. We’re going to have an eight-by-20-foot mural where I replicate what Nuevo Norte looks like. Then, when participants see the mural, they can pick up their phone and open Instagram, which comes to life in AR (augmented reality). And then the third component, the root of it all, is the metadata store. Thus, participants will be able to experience it in VR, AR and physical space.
I feel like you enjoyed this experience, so would you encourage other artists to get involved with virtual reality?
Definitely. I think this field opened my eyes and my mind to the possibilities of what art could be in the future. And having equity in the future art you create and what it looks like.
As artists and creators, it is part of our ethos to constantly evolve and learn. We are trying to see how we can adapt our work and craft to different directions and environments. Therefore, I would definitely recommend artists from all mediums to try the VR space, the metaverse. I encourage you to be curious and ask questions about how you can be a part of it. And even, you know, reaching out to someone on Meta and chatting with them to see how they can be a part of the experience.
Learn more about the Metaverse Culture Series here.