Intro

Critter Sauga is an Augmented Reality (AR) interactive installation featuring life-sized, abstract sculptures of wild animals in Mississauga, constructed out of waste and recyclables. It empowers the player to be a hero that protects local animals. Jubilee Garden is transformed into a spectacle of magic and fairy tale-like storytelling, inspiring a greater appreciation of nature while promoting conservation efforts.

Concept

What is a Sauga? It’s a story of heroic achievement.

Using a mobile application, users are invited to take part in a story narrated by the mascot, Opossum. By drawing a symbolic shield to protect the trash-covered animals, the user reveals a scene that transforms the present into the future – a future free of litter – to show them that they are empowered to make a change in their community.

Critter Sauga was designed to educate children and the general public on the importance of wildlife conservation, and encourage them to be mindful of reusing and reducing waste.

My Roles

Concept & Narrative Design

Together as a team, we came up with the idea of a sustainability-based AR project featuring local wild life. I was responsible for further developing the concept; coming up with the pun “Critter Sauga,” and linking it back to a heroic journey through the use of symbolic shield-shaped sigil AR markers.

Fun fact – the pun was inspired by the installation’s location, Mississauga, and the definition of a “Saga” – meaning “a long story of heroic achievement”!

I also wrote and implemented the script for the narrative of the story, and planned out how the story would be told, focusing heavily on making the player the symbolic hero and defender of local animals. Due to the targeted youth audience, the story was narrated by the Critter Sauga’s mascot – Opossum – a local animal that actually likes litter, telling the player, “I may like garbage, but my friends don’t!”

Interaction Design

The hero is asked to help Opossum save her friends by scanning each animal’s physical shield symbol using their mobile device, drawing a shield shape in augmented reality, and revealing a cleaner and safer future for her friends on screen. In Critter Sauga, the shield is a key symbol for the hero’s journey in defending the animals from harm. After successfully activating the AR shield, an animated 3D model of the scanned animal shows up on screen with nature instead of litter surrounding it.

Development

In Summary: Worked with Unity, Vuforia, AR, low-poly 3D modeled assets, image markers, vertex colours, animations, animation controllers, RPG dialog system, Text Mesh Pro, Unity UI Canvas

The project was created using Unity and Vuforia. I led the augmented reality and android app development. Overall, it was a challenging process, but we’ve developed our game development skills in Unity and Vuforia substantially through facing each challenge head-on.

For specifics, I debugged several parts of the project, and edited the default script for Vuforia’s EventTrackingHandler code to customize it for our use. I was also responsible for making the interaction of specific AR visuals appearing and disappearing happen only after something was drawn on screen, with the use of the SetActive() function, tags, lots of pseudocode, and some logic. In addition, I set up the RPG dialog interaction to make the narration possible.

I wrote custom code to ensure all AR animal scenes show up only after the user takes specific actions based on this example:

  1. Player scans sigil
  2. Dialog → Opossum: Fox needs your help! Draw a shield!
  3. Player draws shield
  4. Trigger AR fox + scenery + music + animations to appear
  5. Continue Dialogue → Opossum: Yay! You helped him!
 
We had to develop a custom counter system script so that the app would know when to display what, and work around ensuring that AR drawing functionality was only available when the dialog was finished (only when user is asked to draw a shield) and when the AR marker is found.
 

Project Management & Leadership

As project manager, I reinforced the use of Trello and the Agile methodology. I followed up with everyone to ensure we were on track. To prevent having an unhappy team, I based the project on everyone’s interests and values. As team leader, I understood that if everyone cared about the project, it would show in the work.

My teammates were responsible for creating all of the life-sized physical models, digital illustrations, digital 3D models, animations, shield-inspired image markers, and bringing the artistic style to life.

See their incredible work below!

Nan's red fox...
and skunk!
Tania's blue heron!
Augmented reality in action with Mika's animated heron.
Natalie's 3D modelling work and artistic direction.
Natalie's 3D modelled turtle up close.
Critter Sauga Skunk Sigil

Anran’s illustrated AR markers! I directed them to be designed as shield-shaped sigils to tie it back to a hero’s quest in defending the animals.

Presented at the Playces installation in Mississauga's Town Centre.

Outcome

On the day of the exhibition, those who arrived at Jubilee Garden were in awe.

Everyone there was extremely engaged with the installation. When they weren’t fascinated with the physical models themselves, their attention was on experiencing the interactions we designed in augmented reality. Due to the installation being held outside, the lighting didn’t allow for the most stable AR to display on screen. Really good lighting is necessary for stable augmented reality to show up – lesson learned!

We hit our target goals: to create an installation that focused on sustainability, had a meaningful, real-world impact, and was interactive, engaging, and fun! The project successfully engaged the community and fostered the conversation of creating a greener future through combining art, technology, and sustainability.

Developed proudly with:

Mika Hirata, Natalie Le Huenen, Tania Samokhvalova, Vivian Wong, Nan Yao, Anran Zhou

for the Playces installation in Mississauga in April 2019

The team behind Critter Sauga!