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Socio-ecological artist designs new coral reefs using virtual reality

Published 5:43 AM ET, Thu August 27, 2020
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Colleen Flanigan is a socio-ecological artist based in California, whose work captures both the beauty of the ocean and the urgent need to protect it. CNN
To engage with the art community about marine protection and to provide a functioning underwater habitat for endangered biodiversity, Flanigan has turned to virtual reality to help design her sculptures. The first step is to build her reefs out of metal on dry land. Colleen Flanigan
From there, the design is uploaded to the Google Tilt Brush app, which allows the artist to paint in 3D, expanding her design with new reef-scapes. Colleen Flanigan
Flanigan collaborates with James Tunick at The IMC Lab on her virtual reality designs, before they become the real thing on the ocean floor. Colleen Flanigan and James Tunick
Using Tilt Brush, Flanigan can populate the virtual reefs with imaginary lifeforms, adding fish and coral to her design. Colleen Flanigan and James Tunick
Before she started using the tech, Flanigan "felt that a lot of my colorful and fanciful ideas would be trapped forever in my head because I wouldn't know how to get them out." Colleen Flanigan and James Tunick
Her designs take on a colorful, whimsical appearance. "Art is a catalyst for change," she says. "It can help speak to people who aren't thinking about the ocean ... so everyone can start to say, 'now I see how I'll get involved in this next phase of rebuilding a sustainable future for our planet.'" Colleen Flanigan