It seems that after after decades of uncertainty Virtual Reality gets real as a storytelling platform. The enormous sense of presence provided by VR headsets such as Oculus Rift or Samsung’s Gear VR, allows artists to place users inside films, making them explore and witness first-hand real-world events. The potential VR has to stir emotions and create more visceral reactions makes many believe in its power to revolutionize journalism and filmmaking. However, how close is VR from reaching mass-market adoption? Can we think that anytime soon we will be accessing our news through mounted-headsets? While these questions find answers, we brought you a collection of the best VR non-fiction storytelling experiences that have been touring festivals and museums recently. If one of them arrives to your city run, the queue is going to be long!
1. Project Syria
With Project Syria, Nonny de la Peña, the godmother of immersive journalism, place users in Aleppo during a rocket blast and in the middle of a refugee camp in Syria. To evoke the feeling of “been there” the VR documentary makes use of real audio and highly detailed 3D images, which were drawn from actual video and photographs taken on scene. The experience was displayed at the World Economic Forum in Davos to open the discussion about the trauma Syrian civil citizens are caught in.
2. The Machine to be Another
A man in the body of a women or a young in the body of an old; to enter the body and mind of another person is now possible with the Machine to be another. Be Another lab – an international artists collective – created the experience with the idea of challenging one’s own perception of identity after having the experience to see the world through another person’s perspective. The project is an interactive installation which contains two Oculus VR head-mounted displays, a wireless earphone, a webcam and a computer.
3. Strangers with Patrick Watson
This project is considered one of the finest examples of immersive media to date. The experience brings users inside the studio of Canadian musician Patrick Watson giving them the opportunity to have a familiar moment with the artist and a full view of the surroundings. The project was developed for Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift. It was directed by celebrated Montreal-based team Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaë.
In Assent, the autobiographical immersive documentary of multimedia artist Oscar Raby, the user takes the role of his father, a witness of a mass execution during Chile’s military dictatorship in 1973. A narration guides the experience, and movement across the 3D space is possible by maintaining eye contact with objects and locations. “Assent puts the user in my father’s boots as we walk to the place where that happened” says Raby. The piece was developed in the Unity engine for the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset.
5. 1979 Revolution
“Games based on real events, why not?”, says Game designer Navid Khonsari (Grand Theft Auto), who together with Vassiliki Khonsari created the interactive historical documentary 1979 Revolution. The half documentary-half game places the player inside the moments of the Iranian Revolution. The narrative is combined with game play to create a hybrid experience between fiction and non-fiction storytelling.
6. Zero Point
This 360-degree documentary sets to investigate the future of virtual reality. The documentary features expert interviews, such as Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey, and 360° video clips with different virtual reality techniques. The use of directional audio offers a compelling sense of presence. The project was created by the visual technology startup Condition One.
7. VICE News VR: Millions March
Not watching the news, but actually making you walk into it is the goal of VICE News Digital artist Chris Milk and creative director Spike Jonze. Millions March is the first of their VR News projects, which brings users to New York in the middle of December 13 rally against police killings. The experiment can be accessed through the IOS and Android VRSE app, which will allow audiences to download VR stories in 360-degree virtual space.
8. The Enemy
The award-winning photojournalist Karim Ben Khelifa takes users in an exploration of what motivates human beings to engage in violence. In the crossroad of science, technology and journalism, the experience make users get face to face with two combatants from opposing sides: an Israeli, and a Palestinian soldier.
Projects like the mentioned above are the first experiments unlocking the potential of VR storytelling, we are excited to see the born of this new genre for journalism and filmmaking.