For many, being able to experience Carnival, whether in TT, other Caribbean territories, Canada, or England is a long-desired, seldom-attained goal. For others, it is a dream that never materialises for many reasons. Toronto-based Caribbean couple Candice and Dwayne Dixon of SugaCayne Designs have found a way to bring this experience to a wider audience, through the development of a virtual reality (VR) experience which allows users to experience the sights and sounds of Toronto Carnival.
The project is a documentary of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival experience, which incorporates the feel of being on the road, Carnival history and background on SugaCayne’s groundbreaking design work in Carnival costumes. The couple debuted a snippet of the project at Carifesta XIV in 2019, where it received rave reviews.
Candice said she knew they had big shoes to fill when they brought the project to TT, as she views TT as the motherland of Carnival.
“It was at that moment we felt as one – connecting the diaspora through our Canadian contingent with its Caribbean roots. We invited patrons into our world, they saw the designs and heard the concepts behind them. When they put the headset on with the VR experience, we felt full respect was given from those who experienced it. You could see the surprise and the pride that Carnival has found its way off the shores of TT, to be presented in such a unique way. They loved that the designs were different and thought-provoking. The young people were intrigued most by the VR, the elders were intrigued by the work, and they all expressed that the work we are doing is essential, both in Trinidad and beyond! Many of the people we met in Trinidad were intrigued to come to Toronto and experience a Canadian carnival.”
Dwayne said it was an honour to participate in Carifesta, both personally and professionally.
“We have a thriving community of Caribbean artists in Canada, and we were very proud to be one of the groups representing them! To be showcased, accepted, and approved by our brothers and sisters from across the Caribbean meant the world to us. It solidified the importance of the diasporic work that we are committed to.”
The VR goggles are reminiscent of the View-Master toys which debuted in the 1940s, and slip on as easily as swim goggles. Once they are put on, the viewers are immersed in the Carnival experience and can see in all directions. They are treated to a close up of a King costume, being part of a Carnival band moving on the road, and being a spectator watching a band go past.
Since debuting the project in TT, the couple has hosted several screenings to continue gathering feedback prior for their official band launch on May 17, 2020. They were featured at the grand opening of Ryerson University’s Creative Innovation Studio, on a segment of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) evening news and at Ryerson University’s Blue and Gold Society event in December 2019. They will also be showcasing the experience at several Toronto and area events over the carnival season. Candice said the response by viewers both in TT and Canada has been inspiring and useful.
“People love the fact that it feels like they are actually a part of the surroundings, especially as many of them are experiencing carnival for the first time through our virtual lens! We’ve received amazing responses and we are pleased that we have a few partnerships in the works as well. Carifesta provided us with the perfect litmus test for our VR experience. What is great about this technology is that we can track analytics. We can track how many people have viewed (almost 4,000 views at Carifesta alone), how long they viewed, and what images caught their eyes. The data retrieved was nothing short of remarkable and gives us great insight as we continue to develop the experience.”
The VR experience was a natural progression to the work which SugaCayne Designs does. The company manufactures carnival costumes and designs using modern technology such as 3D-printers and laser cutting, as well as the traditional wire-bending, feathering and beading. Candice came up with the idea of incorporating the modern aspects while receiving mentorship in TT from designer Douglas John in 2016. The couple partnered with the Design Fabrication Zone Ryerson University in Canada to create three carnival bands, Chrysalis in 2017, Inkwell in 2018, and Liquid Courage in 2019. Candice said she is also exploring the creation of an exchange programme between Ryerson University and one of the major tertiary institutions in TT so that technology and knowledge could be exchanged.