The Choice - a VR documentary about women's right to choose
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UPDATE VIDEO 2: Creative & Technical Producer Tom C. Hall talks about the technology that we are using to capture these powerful interviews and create a unique and groundbreaking VR experience.
UPDATE VIDEO: You've asked us to tell more about the story, the virtual paintings, and who and how will be able to use The Choice in their work. Please, hear Joanne-Aśka answering those questions:
The Choice is a virtual reality documentary experience inviting you to enter the digital consciousness of a virtual woman dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
You “wake up” to realize that you are in someone else’s body - a female’s body. You hear a voice inside your head: “how could this happen? What should I do?”. These words float through the air around you, making you feel as though the thoughts are yours, that this panic is yours.
As your mind searches for answers, real women appear in this space with you. They speak to you about what shaped their decision to terminate their pregnancy and the emotions they experienced. Each woman’s story is different, diverse and unique.
They respond to questions that call out through the virtual subconsciousness; How did they feel when they found out they were pregnant? How did their friends, family and the people in their lives react? Did they get support, or were they alone? Were they afraid? Scared of what could happen? Did they have doubts? Or felt shame? Was it a relief? As each woman shares her experience, she paints a story from a moment in her life with all the emotions accompanying it. The focus of their stories is their choice and how unique was it to their own lives.
You can lean forward or to the side while these women stay in the virtual space like a living person is standing in front of you. As they speak, the virtual mind begins to draw vast immersive illustrations that surround you as it imagines their stories. You are immersed in their worlds through their words and memories, making you feel as if you are living through their experience.
You are a crucial part of the story.
We want to make you feel that this is your life, your problem, your dilemma. Virtual Reality has an amazing ability to make you feel that you are in different place. We want this place to be the difficult moment of your life - the moment when you have to consider your choice and to decide what to do with your unexpected pregnancy.
We want our audience to feel like the main subject of the story.
You wake up in VR. You become this fictional woman, and then your own voice leads you through the entire documentary as you learn from these real women about their experiences with abortion.
To us, the most captivating Virtual Reality narratives are those where the subject’s voice is guiding the story. The experience becomes tangible when a character talks to you and only you, like there is no one else in the world but the two of you.
Virtual Reality is amazing in its’ ability to create empathy by putting the viewer into another person’s shoes, as shown by research done at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. By utilizing VR the viewer can and will believe that they were truly there - taking in the desolate destruction of Syria; flying through the stars in a spaceship; meeting President Barack Obama in the White House.
VR gives us opportunity to put viewers into situations they could not experience in real life. We do not know how we would behave in these places - we do not have a social script - most of us can never know how it feels to be a refugee, a blind person or a prisoner. Similarly many of us will never know how it feels to be faced with the choice to undergo an abortion. In creating these experiences, we can give viewers a better understanding and help them experience real empathy by putting them into the minds of others.
When you put on a Virtual Reality headset, you are entering a uniquely private space. There are no glances across the room from strangers, hushed inaudible whispers or nearby friends reading your face. Whatever you may feel about the topic of abortion, when you immerse yourself in The Choice you are free to share as much or as little about the impact it leaves on you.
We want to create sincere compassion.
Abortion rights in the United States are under attack from the current Trump administration. Similarly, in Poland, the current right-wing government is actively seeking to further restrict women’s access to abortion - access that is already incredibly limited. Even in Canada, abortion remains a complicated and controversial subject. It still carries enough stigma that women aren’t comfortable with sharing the fact that they’ve made that choice.
Compassion is necessary, especially in light of the fact that half of the society cannot personally imagine how it is to make this choice. Men do not ever expect to become pregnant. We want them to be equal and supportive partners in this debate and so we need them to understand even just a fraction of how it would feel to be in this situation. We want The Choice to be the tool that gives them the opportunity to gain this perspective so they can understand why women make this decision.
Most people associate Virtual Reality with video games or immersive video entertainment. Many people think that you have to either have a very expensive gaming PC or a specific brand of high-end smartphone to get into this new platform. .
This last fall Oculus announced the new Oculus GO - a standalone VR headset that does not require a high-end smartphone or computer, for less than $200. We are excited as it means even more people will be getting into this emerging platform. There are several other VR headsets that are coming to the market this year, and as factories ramp up these devices are becoming more affordable and better all the time.
The Choice is being developed both for the Oculus Rift and the Oculus GO, with planned support for Samsung GearVR (S7 and later). While the Oculus GO isn’t as fully featured as 6 degrees of freedom headsets like the Oculus Rift, it still can provide incredible immersive experiences that do not require you to clear out an open area “playspace” at your house. We plan to support other headsets and platforms later in development. We are also planning “pre-rendering” a version of the experience into a 3D-360 video, this way even people with ultra low cost VR viewers like Google cardboard can still watch a non-interactive version of the documentary.
With all these different ways to experience The Choice with your own devices, we also want to exhibit the project at large events, rallies, conferences and anywhere else where the public is involved with the abortion debate. Often the personal human aspect of the topic is overwhelmed by statistics and rhetoric. We also want to provide the documentary as an educational tool and help different organizations to set up their own headsets to share this message and show the experience to the communities they service - to start the discussion and show a different perspective.
The Choice is built inside a 3D game engine, combining video recordings with live 3D rendered graphics. We are using this platform so that when you enter into the virtual world, you feel presence in it. Unlike a traditional video, your natural movements are reflected in how your eyes and ears perceive the virtual world, allowing you to feel totally immersed in our fictional woman’s subconsciousness. Your mind feels as though the objects and people that appear before you are real, and the women you meet are also present with you in this virtual space.
We don’t want our interview subjects to come across as flat video images or as uncanny CGI recreations. We have developed a technique of combining stereoscopic 3D cameras with a “depth” camera that records the distance of each pixel. This creates “volumetric video” which contains not just color, but also depth and shape, allowing you to observe the moving images from angles beyond the original camera lens. What’s important is that our capture system is small enough to allow us to travel light, and even record interviews inside of our subjects homes, where they can feel comfortable and safe.
We record the interviews for The Choice with a pair of matched cameras that capture a left and right eye image just like your eyes do. The horizontal “parallax” (separation) of these two images is what creates a stereoscopic perception of depth. These two images also contain disparity, like the reflections of light in eyes or the dimples on the surface of an orange. These things don’t have an exact match in the other eye, but we humans have evolved to recognize it. This is how we can quickly see the difference between wet and dry rocks or a pair of human eyes on the verge of tears.
The stereoscopy illusion can be incredible, but anyone who's ever watched a 3D movie in the cinema knows the moment you tilt your head to the side the 3D image strains your eyes. This is because your own eyes are now out of position with the original two camera lenses. The more parallax, the more painful this artifact is. Even though virtual reality allows you to move your head naturally in a real-time game engine, the original camera positions of a stereoscopic 3D image are fixed.
Our solution is to reproject the left and right images back onto the physical shape of the subject. The depth camera, in our prototype a standard Xbox One Kinect, records a cloud of points that we can combine into a sequence of meshes. This provides a sort of moving “screen surface” that we can then project images onto.
Now the left and right images on the surface of the mesh have very little parallax, as the details in stereoscopic depth converge back together, but the disparity between the left and right images remain. This keeps the subtle emotions and details of the human face, and makes our volumetric video images appear to have much more life than other projects that have used a similar technique.
With The Choice being structured around a fictional mind hearing these women tell their stories, we want to help you mentally visualize as you listen. We’re approaching this with the idea that the virtual mind has its own “imagination” that creates visual illustrations of the stories that ebb and flow around the both of you. Each set of these illustrations has a unique art style that reflects each woman’s personality. Using 3D painting tools like Oculus Quill, these drawings will be designed not to overwhelm or draw focus, but to help you, the audience, along as you visualize the stories in your own mind. We believe that by motivating your imagination, these women’s experiences will make a deeper and lasting emotional impact.
Joanne-Aśka Popińska - Director
A PhD student at the Polish National Film School, Joanne-Aśka Popińska immigrated to Canada to pursue filmmaking and activism. With a Master’s Degree in Sociology, Joanne-Aśka dedicates her creative vision to exploring the similarities between us homo sapiens all other life we share this planet with, and that ‘rights’ don’t just end at human rights. She is the former Artistic Director of the 3D IMAGE Film Festival in Łódź, Poland and is at the forefront of the bleeding edge of cinema and technology. She is a recipient of Toronto Arts Foundation “The RBC Arts Access Fund Awards” for the newcomer artists.
Tom C. Hall - Creative & Technical Producer
Travelling all around the globe, Tom C. Hall is an award winning Stereographer, Cameraman and Virtual-Reality Filmmaker. Tom is constantly exploring how emerging technology can enable storytellers to better connect with their audiences and drive the art form of cinema forward. As a lead technological thinker he made possible the Canadian Screen Awards nominated Horizon: A 360 Journey, a large format 360° film experience to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada. A pioneer in virtual reality filmmaking, Tom is constantly pushing the envelope of what the future of narrative storytelling could be in the 21st century.
Sönke Kirchhof - Associate Producer
Sönke Kirchhof is CEO and executive producer of VR Full Service VR Studio INVR.SPACE GmbH. He studied political science in Hamburg and Film – and TV Production at Filmuniversität Babelsberg. He works in the fields of VR, stereoscopic filmmaking, VFX and CGI Post-production as well as Research and Development in arts and technology since more than 15 years. He is also founder of reallifefilm international GmbH, working as Producer and Stereographer in all kind of projects. At INVR.SPACE he is in charge of all business related operations as well as deciding on creative and technological approaches.
Janal Bechthold - Composer
Janal Bechthold is a composer for film, TV, games, and interactive media, having worked on numerous scores including horror noir feature Art of Obsession, documentary Gods In Shackles, videogame The Rival Books of Aster, and interactive graphic novels, Dystopia 2153 and 80 Degrees North. Her music for television has been broadcast on CBC/SRC-Radio Canada, CTV, TSN, Discovery, and TV5 international among others! In addition to being a participant in the Canadian Music Centre’s 2018 electronic music incubator EQ, she is the recipient of the 2016 Chris Dedrick Music Fund Award for Live Musicians in Media Soundtracks, the founder of Toronto Women Composers, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Screen Composers Guild of Canada.
Nana Kowalcze - Outreach Manager
Nana Kowalcze is a second year student of Journalism and Social Communication at SWPS University of Social Sciences & Humanities in Warsaw, Poland. As an Intern she helped run social media for fashion designers and was involved in the creation and leading of the facebook and instagram presence of LIBERTYN.eu. She is instrumental in leading the social media outreach of The Choice project.
We have been developing The Choice on our nights and weekends for the last year. It has gone through many iterations and experimentations; with different video capture techniques and story structures along the way. We put together a prototype with Joanne-Aśka pitching the project from within VR using our prototype capture rig, as seen throughout this page above. Currently we have started conducting our interview shoots, assembling the story structure and begun designing the volumetric artwork to accompany it.
From that experience we have determined the following next-steps necessary to take The Choice to the next level.
We are here on Kickstarter because we need your support. Virtual Reality production is more expensive than traditional documentary. To produce the whole experience, The Choice requires around $100,000, and we are looking at Kickstarter for the first $15,000. This jumpstart funds will allow us to build the pipeline and architecture that underpins The Choice as an application, to give a solid framework for the documentary to be built upon.
We need to design specific tools to integrate our volumetric video shaders, quill spline illustrations, spatial sound design, timeline sequencers, dynamic view based triggers, mobile rendering optimization and other low level, under the hood components that make the finished experience a seamless Virtual Reality narrative.
With your support and this framework we will put together a short demo version of The Choice that will feature newly shot interviews and animations. We will then publish it on the Oculus Store and other platforms. We will use this demo to help us fundraise from grant institutions and complete the full length experience.
Any additional pledges beyond our initial goal will go directly into the funding full production of the finished film.
We have great partners who help us bring this project to life.
If you would like to help us or have any questions, contact us at email@example.com
Risks and challenges
Preparing documentary content in Virtual Reality is a very new form of integrated storytelling, and like any new application of technology, it comes with challenges, both known and unknown.
While our team has been successful in preparing and integrating a number of technological mediums thus far, there always exists the possibility of unforeseen complications as we move forward. We will handle these challenges deftly and with the same dedication that we have utilized thus far, nevertheless, these complications may very well require more time than we anticipate for the completion of this project.
Further, and while not a major concern to date, there is the possibility of there being difficulty identifying and enlisting interview subjects for this project due to the personal and private nature of the subject matter. At this point, we do not foresee this to be a debilitating complication, however our team feels that we would be remiss not to mention it.
Finally, though our intent is to complete this project and distribute it for free, this hinges entirely on our ability to raise additional necessary funds to complete the project.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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