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Virtual Reality

Digital Whisky Tasting VR

This Virtual Reality (VR) project for my final thesis at the University of Edinburgh was developed to create a new way to taste whisky, enhancing the nosing and tasting ability for participants without suggesting direct nosing or tasting notes.

To enable this free and uninfluenced approach to whisky the experience used abstract shapes, colours and animations based on current academic research. The designed nosing and tasting shapes where developed based on the Glenfiddich Project XX whisky.

Further there was a small experiment conducted with experienced and inexperienced participants to test the effect of the VR experience in combination with whisky drinking. 

 

 

The VR experience differentiated  between nosing and tasting identifying different motions using a HTC tracker with an attached conical glass filled with whisky.

Each of the shown VR nosing and tasting notes were based on a deconstruction whisky tasting conducted with the assistance of the Glenfiddich brand ambassador Mark Thomson which enabled me to create the following design interpretation: 

 

Nosing

Nosing 1 – Ethanol

  • Description: tiny needles, slight burning.
  • Design: burning steel wool, glowing brighter before burning off, red glowing colour black background.
  • Sound-Suggestion: scratch, glitch, static sound changing volume irregularly.
  • Final Interpretation: The desired burning effect of burning steel wool could best be implemented with the use of Particle effects in Unity. To create a sharp animation I used Unity’s default material ParticleAfterburn in combination with a trail material ParticleSmokeBlack, stretched them and created with colour over lifetime adjustment from orange to red the effect of burning streams rising up to the sky in fast movement

Nosing 2 – Honeycomb, Vanilla

  • Description: soft, flowing, no edges, round, creamy coat
  • Design: round sphere topped with melting texture, pink with pinkish gold colours toned in pastel
  • Sound: ringing bells in c, floating sound
  • Final Interpretation: A representation of the taste of honey with a gooey drop animation. The relation to honey was based on previous research, a pink material using a yellow pastel material with soft pastel pink emission.

Nosing 3 – Spicy Sherry, Leather, Nubuk

  • Description: rough texture, dark and warm red, oval, round, but interrupted.
  • Design: oval shapes floating around tasting area in spiral upwards movement. Sound
  • Sound-Suggestion: circular stroking on velvet.
  • Final Interpretation: The representation was highly influenced by the available timespan for each nosing animation until the player would repeat the action. Therefore, the final implementation was designed with particles holding a red, flowing graphic droplet illustrating the smooth leather taste but showing the furry roughness with interruptions inspired but y cat tongue. 

Nosing 4 – Woody

  • Description: rough texture, overlaid / plated over another, bitter beginning, but smooth long ending,
  • Design: alligator barrel char pattern, overlaid plates of longish squares, dark edge and ochre colour
  • Sound-Suggestion: deep sound of cracking door (sometimes used in horror movies)
  • Final Interpretation: For the final visualisation I created one of this scales using as a plate, added a texture with a dark border and wooden texture. The plates where circularly overlaid over each other climbing up in a jerking animation to represent the roughness of this nosing note.

Nosing 5 – Strawberry

  • Description: soft, wave, floating but ending with one little pinch at the end
  • Design: round ball with popping blobs. Texture ping with red circular floating lines.
  • Sound-Suggestion: floating deeper sound with a high pitched pop at the end.
  • Final Interpretation: Inspired by ‘Remy’s visualisation for Strawberry from Taste Visualisation for Pixar’s Ratatouille‘. A glowing stream in pink with ending in a greenish colour was represented the nose for strawberry which is rising in a circular motion around the player. The colour choices are based on research and my perception of the taste of a strawberry stated in the earlier specified design guidelines.

 

Tasting

Tasting 1 – Ethanol

  • Description: needles, contraction, very rough, burning
  • Design: Rough metallic pointy plates in rhombus shape, fast movement upwards, pointy, glitching in black.
  • Sound-Suggestion: glitch, wrong tune.
  • Final Interpretation: This tasting note was implemented with a dissolving cask which was inspired by a pattern I captured on the wall created by a dirty window and street lights. The goal was to mimic the feeling on ones tongue when drinking alcohol. 

Tasting 2 – Liquorice root, sweet

  • Description: floating, no edges, deep
  • Design: carpet of floating pink and warm coloured strings, floating like an oil carpet.
  • Sound: deep sound, surrounding (running on the rim of a glass), slight bell noises.
  • Final Interpretation: The final representation illustrated the taste of sweetness based on academic research. Round shapes and soft pink colours where visualised with floating pink spheres. 

Tasting 3 – Brazil nut, wood

  • Description: dense wool, green hint, scratchy
  • Design: plates of pointy irregular shapes, overlaid regularly in circular pattern around tasting area, moving in a tense way as if someone steps on it and it is cushioning the steps in a tense way (wings of a swarm of bees when they communicate with each other – only very slow in comparison).
  • Sound-Suggestion: scratch deep sound going in a wavy pattern (light to dense).
  • Final Interpretation: To create a mix of soft, but dense feeling of sheep wool I animated the brazil nut plates to rotate in a soft swinging motion while circularly aligned around the player while the shape and colour of the plates was my personal interpretation of a green but nutty taste. 

Tasting 4 – Sherry, leather

  • Description: rough, but floating, jerky floating, cat tongue
  • Design: Dark red warm dots as texture on a wavy formed stripes, licking the tasting area.
  • Sound-Suggestion: deep harmonic sound with chopped ending (soft)
  • Final Interpretation: The shape was inspired by the previously conducted deconstruction tasting while adding nobs for a hinting the rough texture of a cat-tongue. While the initial animation was a dropping animation the final animation circulates around the player while gradually increasing speed inspired by liquid flowing through the opening of a bottle.

Tasting 5 – Salt

  • Description: scratchy but also very round and smooth
  • Design: carpet of hexagons floating in a together in a wavy rhythm but each hexagon has a jerky robotic and clinking movement.
  • Sound-Suggestion: higher tone, increasing clinking of tiny objects while tone goes from single higher to multiplied deeper and ending higher again.
  • Final Interpretation: Light blue hexagons placed circularly around the player with a wave-like motion moving up and down represented the sharpish but also soft taste of salt.

 

Conclusion

Overall the feedback and results from the conducted testing of the experience showcased that the abstract development of a Digital Whisky Tasting in VR made the first contact to whisky more approachable for participants and allowed them more independent approach to the perception of taste and smell. Experienced whisky drinker also provided positive feedback valuing the abstract implementation which allowed a new approach to whisky tasting.

More information can be found on the website Digital Whisky Tasting