Around the World June 13, 2020

‘Run for Nature’ on World Environment Day.

On June 5th - World Environment Day - MeshMinds is releasing a game on Instagram and Facebook to celebrate our beautiful planet, and raise awareness of the environmental challenges facing its inhabitants. We spoke with MeshMinds about their collaboration with the UN Environment Program, the thoughts behind the theme, and the artistic process that goes into creating an Augmented Reality game.

Can you tell us more about this initiative? Run For Nature is an augmented reality (AR) game for Instagram and Facebook created in partnership with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) for World Environment Day 2020. Players are invited to raise their voices and pledge to build back better for people and the planet.

First, players choose to be the orangutan, sea turtle or polar bear. Using the ‘endless runner game’ format in combination with the front-facing camera on their smartphone, players tilt their heads to dodge obstacles which harm the habitats of those endangered species, while saving as many of their fellow endangered species as possible. Obstacles such as bulldozers, traps, ghost nets, marine litter and melting icebergs have been included to educate players on some of the key challenges to the featured endangered species. The game speeds up over time, stressing the urgent need for action in the real world.

Players are invited to challenge their friends to play and pledge #ForNature by sharing personalised photos and videos of their high scores to their Stories. The Run For Nature AR game is a tool players can use to personalise their pledge #ForNature before sharing it with the world.

Working in partnership with UNEP, we created original artwork showcasing twenty-five endangered species, and used Spark AR from Facebook to program the Run For Nature AR game. It is the first of its kind to use the native UI picker within Instagram and Facebook to let players switch easily between the hero animals by tapping icons on the screen.

Players demonstrate Run for Nature

You've collaborated with the UN Environment Programme before. How did that begin, and what drew you to the collaboration? In 2018 we held our first showcase of art and technology for good at ArtScience Museum, with over 20 artists focused on the sustainable development of people and our planet. Our founder, Kay Vasey, had the chance to share those groundbreaking works with UNEP. A strategic partnership agreement was put in place that would mobilise creative technology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

In March 2019 we collaborated with UNEP for the first time on a new showcase which attracted more than 10,000 visitors over ten days. The exhibition featured the latest AR and VR technology powered by iMac Pro, iPad Pro, MacBook Pro, Facebook’s Spark AR, Oculus, and Unity.

What other iterations have you done for World Environment Day in the past? Following the showcase in 2019, UNEP were ready to employ AR technology for the first time to boost the #BeatAirPollution campaign on World Environment Day, complementing the global mask challenge with face filters for Instagram and Facebook. André Wee, one of Singapore’s leading illustrators, used Procreate to design and develop the artwork for a set of three face filters we used to help people understand the individual actions they can take to secure clean air for future generations. Over 100,000 people from 137 countries shared photos and videos on the topic of #BeatAirPollution.

What factors lay behind the choice to focus on air pollution and the face-mask theme? The theme set by UNEP for World Environment Day 2019 was #BeatAirPollution. We partnered with the UN Environment Programme to reimagine their 'World Environment Day Mask Challenge'. The idea was to create an actual face mask and take a picture of it for social media to emphasise on the air pollution problem. Of course, masks serve a different purpose now! But back then, we interpreted this challenge using the power of AR. Together with UNEP we commissioned André Wee, whose artwork for the three face filters helped educate people on the top three actions they could take to #BeatAirPollution: riding a bike or taking public transport, commit to eating less meat and dairy, and planting trees.

Our creative technology team then conceptualised a series of interactive actions that would communicate the message to our audience in a direct and intuitive way. For example, blowing at the smartphone screen would clear the hazy air and cause the bicycle wheels to whizz round.

The outcomes of the AR Mask Challenge were presented by our Chief Inspiration Officer, Olivier Bos, at the UN headquarters in Bangkok during the Awareness Forum for Prevention of Air Pollution in Asia Pacific in 2019.

How did the idea to do an Instagram game for this year's World Environment Day come about? Augmented reality (AR) offers new ways for youth and communities online to become part of the cause or campaign they stand behind. Blending creativity and technology to power storytelling focused on the importance of protecting our planet is a growing trend. People connect with and remember messages when they come with positive associations, so AR games and experiences are perfect not only for promoting a specific cause or campaign, but also for building long-lasting engagement with the UN Environment Programme as a whole.

Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Development Program, shared his first foray into AR amid the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Wunderkammer’ uses AR technology to bring extraterrestrial rocks and rare animals into people's homes. People are invited to "bring the outside in" as they add Eliasson’s objects, atmospheres and "imaginary friends" to their own personalised environment.

AR experiences are immersive and interactive, which means they help create a certain emotional connection with people. The technology uses the smartphone camera to superimpose 3D objects, such as game characters and environments, onto a person's real world surroundings. Unlike images or banners on a website, for example, AR games and experiences have the power to raise empathy through interaction, which makes them ideal for connecting with environmental issues like never before.

As this is only the second time that AR has been used to boost engagement with campaign messaging on World Environment Day, MeshMinds decided to build an interactive game that would serve as a fun and engaging way to share personalised Stories #ForNature with the world.

We're so honoured to hear that MeshMinds used Procreate for concept creation for World Environment Day. Can you tell us more about your workflow and the process that goes into creating something like this? As the team discussed the Time For Nature theme and brief, Tristan Lim, our key Creative Technologist on the project, began sketching out the visuals using Procreate on his iPad Pro with Apple Pencil. It was important that the team had the same vision for the game, and Tristan used Procreate to visualise the ideas as sketches in the most efficient way.

Run For Nature features three hero animals - the orangutan, sea turtle and polar bear - which players guide through the natural habitats. The game also features 22 other endangered species.

The goal was to make all the assets modular, so they could be used not only in the game, but also on promotional graphics. To facilitate that, Tristan sketched the background environments in the game first to visualise the look of the game. He then delved into the tinier details - for example, the specific flora and fauna in the orangutan’s habitat. Once the team settled on an aesthetic, Tristan began sketching the assets. The three hero animals need to be the most developed, as they are animated in the game. Procreate’s colour scheme function helped the team match the game with the UN’s guidelines for the campaign. Tristan created different colour swatches based on the campaign guidelines, testing and refining along the way.

The rough sketches of the animals were done first, so the team could identify the correct strokes they wanted to adapt for all the 25 assets, and simplify from there. Tristan started the process with the front-facing animals as a basis for the rest. He made the base shapes using the Monoline brush with high Streamline settings. The clean lines allowed him to fill in shapes with colour. He utilised the Symmetry drawing guide as well, meaning he only had to draw one side of a face to create the whole head. This made it visually easier to decide what details to add or subtract.

Some of the animals needed side angles. Tristan used the Warp Transform tool to intuitively shape the front-facing heads to the side. These were used as a reference when drawing the final angled faces.

For the three hero animals,Tristan made additional body shapes and movements by first studying images, then adapting these into drawings. Tristan played around with giving these animals different expressions. This helped in giving them individual personalities for the game. Finally, the artwork was organised into different layers and compiled into a document that was then developed into the game using Spark AR from Facebook.

Run for Nature's Turtle hero character

How can regular people get involved in WED? Run For Nature is for everyone, especially future change-makers. Anyone with a smartphone can play the game, challenge friends to beat their high score, and personalise their Story before sharing it with the world. WhatsApp stickers and GIFs starring the endangered species will further enhance the educational and entertainment aspects of the Time For Nature campaign.

On World Environment Day, we want humanity to pause for a moment and think about our planet's precious biodiversity. It is Time #ForNature. Spread the good word. Your voice can make a difference.

Run #ForNature can be found on Instagram and Facebook via the @unep pages or using the link l.ead.me/fornature from June 5th 2020. Share your Stories, photos and videos, and tag @meshminds, @unep, and agents of change to ask them to join in on the conversation.