Terre des Hommes, the international human rights charity behind the multi award-winning “Sweetie” campaign against web cam child sex tourism, employs ground-breaking stereoscopic 3-D in a powerful new live action virtual reality experience to immerse the audience in the grim life of a Kenyan child slave.
Experienced at an exhibit to tour Europe this summer with an Oculus Rift and pair of headphones–or, from Tuesday June 2, using a downloadable app and Google Cardboard–the four minute film, “Amani,” unfolds through a 3-D experience in a 360-degree environment in which the user takes a passive role at the heart of the action.
Conceived by Terre Des Hommes and production company Revolver Amsterdam in close collaboration with The Ambassadors, “Amani” is a stark story of child labor, physical violence and sexual abuse which also pushes the boundaries of storytelling, filmmaking and VR, its makers claim.
“Terre des Hommes wanted a new and innovative way to reach out to their audience post-‘Sweetie,’ and they were very interested in the potential of VR,” explains Revolver executive producer Raymond van der Kaaij. “For us, using VR to tell a story through 360-degree storytelling was exciting because it is completely new.”
The aim was to tell the story of a child enslaved by a middle-class family in a way that would enable the audience to share the child’s point of view. But with filming in 360 degrees meaning no cuts and no edits, this required a completely different approach to shooting.
“In the 3-D 360-degree world we wanted to create, the audience not the director would decide where to look,” van der Kaaij continues. “So we developed a script around a series of moments that we wanted to show. And use of sound and movement on screen became critical to how we would steer an audience’s attention to focus on the most important things we wanted to show.”
From the outset, Revolver collaborated with technologists at The Ambassadors who developed a very different way of shooting.
“In effect, we had to redefine the cinematic toolset we are used to,” explains The Ambassador LAB founder Diederik Veelo. “As the storyline evolved, we collaborated on what you can and can’t do in VR then we researched how best to shoot in 360 degrees stereoscopic while preserving the 3-D.”
The end result was a tailor-made 3-D camera rig using 14 GoPro cameras with every element, from camera rig to software, either prototyped an or tailored from scratch. “In order to record sound in 3-D as well, we fitted the camera with five additional microphones. The sound was then mixed in surround sound to immerse the viewer into an even richer environment,” Veelo adds.
Crew and actors faced other challenges with no beginning or end to a scene or take, and not being able to walk out of frame until they left the set.
“All involved in the shoot had to understand this was a very different set–not really a set at all, anymore,” van der Kaaij explains. “Because with 14 cameras shooting in all directions, no lights or director could be visible as everything they saw around them was in the film.”
Then there was the edit, says Veelo: “With 14 shots of the same moment for every that happened, a further challenge was combining everything into one single 360-degree film reality and we had to try many different software packages before we found a way to make it work.”
The end result is emotionally intense and deeply moving, leaving the audience with the sense of having been side by side with a tragedy they are powerless to stop. Which is why van der Kaaij believes there is considerable scope to further use this kind of filmmaking–for the right kind of stories.
“360 degree VR is an extremely powerful tool for filmmakers because of the potential to make the audience feel there are part of the story–creating a strong emotional layer a regular film might struggle to trigger, he says.
“We have seen VR narrative experiences before, but they’ve still been iterative steps forward. With the Oculus Rift and other VR head sets we finally have brand new tools to provide an immersive and emotional experience for the viewer, something that is able to be both familiar and totally new.”
“Amani,” launched at a Dutch Liberation Day Festival in The Hague in May, will be available for people to view on their mobile devices and online in both 2-D and 3-D from June 2.
Watch a making-of video below.