Donna Summer’s Sunrise Party

Project: The Donna Summer Sunrise Party

Donna Summer’s Sunrise Party

A hallowed tradition among the Burning Man community is the inevitable “Sunrise Party” generally on the Sunday morning following burn night as everyone comes floating back down to earth. For the second year of BRCvr I decided to focus on creating more of an “experience” so I designed a little digital psychedelic edible!

First a little backstory. A few months before BRCvr 2021 was set to kick off, a friend and fellow team member Andrew Barrett came to me with a very random and bizarre idea. “We’re throwing a party this Friday and the DJ is going to play a remix of Donna Summer’s version of the old Richard Harris song ‘MacArthur Park’ and I thought it would be hilarious if you could create a rainstorm and melting cake that we can suddenly drop into the world during that song.” This was not out of left field as I do have a reputation for making bizarre and hilarious interactive VR experiences and I did like the idea so I got to work on a very basic gag that never fully made it to fruition. I had made a big cake melting in the rain but due to some technical difficulties with the platform at the time we were unable to make it happen for the party. But Andrew had another brilliant idea… “Maybe we can use it BRCvr?”

That got me thinking about what I was going to do for the festival. I’d been so busy with client world building that I had not built any originals that thought would be up to the impossible standards I set for myself. I also wasn’t sure how I could really top the Burning Saucer as far as making a new camp. So instead of building yet another “hangout spot” I opted to focus on the experience itself to create an immersive show for my attendees. This is an area I’ve always wanted to explore with VR and AR tech anyway so this project would provide some wonderful practice. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve had quite a few psychotropic adventures myself so I knew just how weird it needed to get.

The Plan

I began with the original cover of “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer. It’s a Disco flavored tune that starts out like rather solemn and dramatic ballad then kicks into high gear out of nowhere and continues to ramp up and up and up until the song eventually ends in a punctuated silence. Sounds like an edibles experience to me! Now I had to think of what was going to happen throughout. I definitely wanted it to start slower and have more and more craziness begin to happen as the song progressed symbolizing the deeper immersion into your trip.

The Disco sound absolutely drove me in the visuals department. I knew there had to be a disco ball, solid gold sparkly dancers, and I wanted some kind of disco dance floor effect but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to include it. The song’s lyrics also helped direct the effects. I knew I wanted a really great rainstorm but that it would eventually have to subside as the song’s mood picks up. That led me to the idea of theming it as a sunrise party, which the thought alone already had a few burner friends abuzz. “That’s definitely what was missing last year” I was told. Well it was always better next year anyway wasn’t it?

One of the most prominent lyrics in the song refers to a cake being left out in the rain with its sweet, green icing melting down so right there I knew what the “edible” was going to be. As a BRCvr admin with access to many of the worlds and hubs I ended up leaving little roped off glowing green cakes all over the place with absolutely no sign or reference of what is going on. Breech the ropes to touch the cake, and you are instantly teleported to my world, where the experience begins without warning just like a real trip!

The real kicker here would be that world-based animation is synced locally per user based on when they enter a world. This means no one ever sees the show at the same timing as their friends coming in before or after them. Everyone has their own unique experience and once the experience is over you are essentially left standing in the middle of a quiet and soothing dusty breeze where you may chat with friends and stick around to hilariously watch others come in and start hallucinating in the desert themselves. It’s essentially a double sided hallucinatory experience!

The Assembly

OK! The idea was solid, the foundation was set, from here it was simply a matter of creating my desired visuals. Turns out that modeling special effects is a lot of fun, especially creating the rainstorm subsiding to a sunrise effect. I wanted to be careful to keep everything subtle and not get too over the top with it, settling on a nice little plateau just before the uncanny valley. The dancers were also a lot of fun to make and were made to move the way they did using Adobe Mixamo.

Once I had my effects created all that was left was to time the animations to the song… which I did not realize would be the MOST TEDIOUS TASK IN THE UNIVERSE. Seriously Unity was not made for this, for every tiny little change I had to play the entire song from the beginning to have it sync with the animation so I can see what needed to be adjusted. It got extra tedious the further into the song my animations went. Between creating, testing, and the eventual reveal I probably listened to that damn song over 5000 times and I still actually like it, which is a serious testament to Donna Summer’s staying power!

The Reveal

The time finally came and the week of BRCvr 2021 had arrived.

If you are reading this I apologize but I have not finished writing this story and darn if I’m not just now getting to the good part… I’m really busy and will finish it soon I promise! You’re just on our site too early is all! Yeah…

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