Within Touching Distance


Within Touching Distance is an experience of Virtual Reality synchronized with human touch, written and directed by Persis Jadé Maravala, and run by the performance team ZU-UK. This piece is very special and I find it incredibly hard to describe in words, but essentially you put on a VR headset in a physical bedroom set, and are gently put to bed by your amma in VR, with synchronized touch by an actress in real life. You then are immersed into an interactive dreamscape narrated by a child, and finally experience a palliative care setting, again synchronized with the touch of an actress.

The human touch immerses you deep into the virtual reality, and for me it had the ability to bring me back to the memories of my childhood, and also somehow push me into the unknown feeling of being elderly. You experience a lifetime in 35 minutes, all from the difference in the way the actor is touching you, and worlds created for you in the headset.

For this project, I was invited to come for a residency in London, to be the resident Unreal Engine Technical Director until the premier of Within Touching Distance at the Sheffield Docfest. Before arriving on site, Codercat worked remotely on creating a 3D representation of the physical bedroom set for the VR part of the experience. The idea was to have a surreal moment while in VR, as you look down at your feet and you are in the bed with same dinosaur sheets, holding the same teddy bear, wearing the same pajamas, but with the hands and feet of a little indian girl.

3D Replica of the physical set of Within Touching Distance, in Unreal Engine

You start from the first person perspective and lift up to see yourself from above.

3D Replica of the physical set of Within Touching Distance, in Unreal Engine

We played with some fun tech to create this asset, using a modified Metahuman for the girls body, cloth simulations in Houdini for the pajamas and fabric, and even tried using AI to generate some of the textures from low res images of the real life dinosaur sheets we managed to find on Ali Express (These were quickly turned down by myself, and I simply asked the team on site to take a high resolution photo of the bedsheets :)

Kif's (vetoed) attempt at making a tillable dinosaur bedsheets with AI

Keeping on the trend of cloth simulation and fabrics, Jadé asked me to make a coat rack full of children coats which could be lined along the primary school hallway. Instead of hand designing and simulating everything in Houdini, I found an awesome resource, the Marvelous Designer Asset Store. This store has tons of free patterns that you can load into Marvelous Designer! I found some simple coat patterns, and simulated / exported them straight from Marvelous. Of course there was some hackery that needed to happen to get them to simulate like they were on a coat rack:)

Coat Rack references and layout planning to implementation

After the weeks of working remotely, I was so excited and ready to visit the team in London. It was quite a surreal experience to step into a room with the 3D assets I had been working on remotely, now physically in front of me... to touch the dinosaur sheets and plaid pajamas in real life! We had one week in Bathway Theater rehearsing with the actors doing the synchronized touch before we were off to Sheffield, and making changes to the unreal engine gameplay as different technical and aesthetic issues came up.

It was quite an intense week of 10+ hour work days... this experience hits right to the core of our human natures, so most participants would come out of the headset in tears...which also had an effect on the actors and team.

The Set at Sheffield Doc Fest, Site Gallery
The Ammas to Nurses, imagine doing this 35 minute act for 8 hours, with crying participants
Sarah nursing a participant

But through the intensity there were so many beautiful moments...

{Dinner with Jadé & Jorge & Family}

{Watching the actors get into character and how they gracefully handled the emotions of participants}

{Catching a train with Ross & a care package of mixed drinks}

{Trying to fill up a glass vase with water in blindfolds}

{CHAOS ensuing the moment Ross (the technical director) left}

{Enjoying the set and energy we thoughtfully created at Sheffield (over the days people would start crying as they enter the room before they had even started the experience)}ƒ

{Crying inside the headset when I did the full experience myself}

{Hugs as we break down}

{Love in the intensity}


{Preparing a speech for the award with Alice a bit too early:)..}

And so much more...

Promotion Renders done while on Tech Support in Sheffield
What will you remember?

Still processing this whole experience, but I can't believe that this all started from an email to Jorge, we all followed the coincidences as a sign, and here we are! I've learned so much from this team, their attitudes towards art and creation and honesty. And now I will end on the note of kif's most beautiful work and star of Within Touching Distance, The Teddy Bear.

Kif's hard ass work on this teddy bear and it was the STAR


ZU UK - Production Company

Sheffield Docfest - Premier Venue