Creating digital nature

The Making Of

Experience the prototype now

Type of nature (wild/tended) by Tree density (high density)

4K Wild nature – high density test (ultra wide for wall projection)

4K Tended nature – high density test (ultra wide for wall projection)

Type of nature (wild nature) by Tree density (low density) & Lighting Tests​

4K Wild nature – low density test (Variation 1)

4K Wild nature – low density test (Variation 2)

Type of nature (tended nature) by Tree density (low density) & Lighting Tests

4K Tended nature – Low density test (Variation 1)

4K Tended nature – Low density test (Variation 2)

Creating custom environments with the Unity game engine

To create the best custom environment for research, we made the choice to create nature digitally. This way, we ensure that content can be easily adapted after production in a time and cost-efficient manner

The key iterations throughout the project

These are the key iterations where renders were made for the target audience to experience. Within the versions there where other, smaller iterations, but these additions did not require separate renders.

Production of the first environment was based on results from the first research round. The terrain was built with help from photos that were pretested for their appeal to the target audience


To arrive at the different conditions needed for the research, several environments were created. We made a distinction between wild and tended nature to investigate whether social affordances within an environment (objects associated with social interaction such as a bench and lighting to enhance visibility and safety) would enhance social aspirations and related experiences.


Spaciousness is a key variable in our project and relates to tree density: low tree density creates the impression of a spacious environment, whereas high tree density rather creates the impression of a non-spacious environment. Once, we had the high density environment, we took away a lot of trees and details to arrive at a low density environment (after which we made new videos of both types of environments).


For a more realistic experience, we decided to add SoundFX to the environments. The soundFX files that were tested and implemented were realistic sounds from nature (including bird sounds). Later on in the project, additional sounds were added like gravel footsteps and wind.


Because of the high trees, there were a lot of dark shades visible. We scaled down the shades by placing the trees more strategically into the fields and away from the walking routes.

Also in this iteration, a lot of work was involved to get the lighting right. We played with saturation and clarity to arrive at the most realistic animation. (also considering the goal to run not only on extreme PC configurations)


For one of the studies, we wanted to project the nature scenes on a huge screen within an open area (such as an open lab setting or the hallway of a care center). We produced a wide-angle animation (32:9; 4K resolution). These animations were tested within the BMSLab at the University of Twente.


Online connectivity between people tuning in from different locations requires a multiplayer game mechanic. Multiple multiplayer options were explored within this project.

Finally, the multiplayer option was left out because of associated difficulties with camera control. The target audience had a hard time with this “gamified” way of moving within the interactive animation.

When we decided to leave out the multiplayer variations in this project, we needed another way to incorporate more than just one (standing) point of view.

We created a route in the environment that feels like a self-selected walking route where one can just sit down and enjoy the view.

Additional work on the routes within the environment (including rendering options) took place at this stage.

To play online was a wish that we all had during the COVID-19 pandemic. For high performance game play, hardware requirements are many. Next to the high performance issue, a WebGL build needs a stable and an ultra high speed internet connection that isn’t easily available for the target audience.

Also, we had serious issues to get the enhanced lighting right in the WebGL version. The hardware needed was in place to produce, but the target audience needs a high-end system also, which is often not in place.

In the end, our digital nature environment should run as a stand alone app, or within an app (e.g., available in the app-store) and airplayed through other protocols (streaming)

We enclosed the final product in .exe format. Unity offers the possibility to export for all sorts of platforms. Within this project we opted for a PC build because we had that hardware available. We tested for export to Apple and webGL as well.

For future developments, a stand alone could be used or an external service like shadow (

Building a website for the project that also functions as a demonstrator and a communication channel for our project was important. To this end, we made a selection of the environments, the different iterations and various renders, and included them here.


Final concept; Experience it yourself by installing the desktop app

The digital nature experience that was made within the game engine Unity was exported as a desktop pc build (.exe).

This application can be installed on a Windows 10 desktop computer or laptop. To run this application smoothly, please find below the minimal hardware requirements


Minimum system requirements

  • CPU: Intel Core i5 3470 @ 3.2GHz (4 CPUs) /
    AMD X8 FX-8350 @ 4GHz (8 CPUs)
  • CPU SPEED: Info
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • OS: Windows 10 64 Bit, Windows 8.1 64 Bit, Windows 8 64 Bit
  • SOUND CARD: 100% DirectX 10 compatible

Download the application via the button below, after downloading the .rar file you can unpack the compressed rar file on your computer. After unpacking the files, execute the app (Growing Roots (Default).exe) by double clicking. After a few moments (this depends on the performance of your computer), a panel will pop up that allows you to select the resolution that fits your screen. Next, click OK.

Now the application will be started. The image below shows the main menu that you will see after starting the application.

Most recent study

'Digital nature should never be a replacement for real life nature, but it could act as a complementary strategy for those who are not able to go outside themselves.'
Josca van Houwelingen-Snippe
PhD candidate

The future for Growing Roots