#573: Capturing Holocaust Testimony in VR: A Behind the Scenes Look at ‘The Last Goodbye’

gabo-aroraOne of the most emotionally-moving VR experiences that I’ve had in VR was bearing witness to Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter share his experiences at Majdanek Concentration Camp in The Last Goodbye. Gutter not provides a guided tour, but he is able to achieve a level emotional catharsis through the process of sharing his story that his virtual presence within the experience amplified my own sense of emotional and social presence, which is what helped to make it such a profoundly moving VR experience. The Last Goodbye uses a unique blend of photogrammetry and billboarded stereo video that helped to transport me into a room-scale experience of multiple key locations at the Majdanek Camp as Gutter shared his memories of being there as an 11-year old child.

The Last Goodbye premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and it was an epic collaboration catalyzed by co-creators Gabo Arora and Ari Palitz and included HERE BE DRAGONS, MPC VR, and OTOY on the technical production side as well as the USC Shoah Foundation to oversee the process of capturing testimony about the Holocaust. Arora is the founder and creative director of LightShed, and is now an advisor and former founder of the UN’s VR initiatives where was able to gain access to the Syrian refugees featured in his famous empathy piece Clouds Over Sidra. In this interview, Arora shares his collaborative process, pushing the boundaries of volumetric storytelling by blending photogrammetry-based, room-scale VR with live-action, empathy-based storytelling, as well as how he had to guide Gutter to achieve the depth of emotional presence that makes the piece so powerful.


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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So at the Trabica Film Festival, there's an experience by Gaba Aurora called The Last Goodbye, and it featured a survivor of the Holocaust who was giving a very emotional accounting of his experiences within this specific concentration camp. And it was a bit of a harrowing experience just to listen to the stories and to be taken through this location by the survivor. And it really is a testament to the power of virtual reality to not only take you to that place, but to make you feel like really emotionally present with somebody who is really just bearing their soul in terms of accounting of their direct experience of going through this horrible event. And I've done an interview with Gabo Aurora before talking about empathy within virtual reality, specifically like his experiences like Clouds Over Sidra, which I think is probably one of the more famous empathy and VR pieces. And previously, Gabo really emphasized the importance of the storytelling of these empathy pieces, that there's an art and a craft to it. And Gabo is somebody who is a visionary in the sense that he's got a very clear vision for what kind of experience that he wants to create. And in this interview, he talks through his process of coming up with all the different technical pieces that were providing inspiration, everything from the photogrammetry to these different billboarding techniques to be able to film it, to ensure that he had believable lighting as well as eye contact and all these other things that he was trying to do technically. And the grammar of virtual reality is still evolving and growing. And so he's really wanting to push a limit as to what's possible with using all these latest techniques and blending them together in a new way. And I think The Last Goodbye is a great example of what's possible if you take photogrammetry mixed with live action and a little bit of 360 video at the beginning and end, to really weave together this story and narrative. But not only that, there's a lot of what is happening by the telling of the story that has to be crafted and guided and directed as well. So we get a chance to go behind the scenes and really peek into the mind of one of the leading auteurs of virtual reality filmmaking in today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. And so this interview with Gabo happened at the Tribeca Film Festival that was happening in New York City from April 18th to 29th, 2017. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:48.733] Gabo Arora: My name is Gabo Arora. I'm an advisor now to the UN on virtual reality, formerly founder of UNVR and also a creative director. I'm also founder and creative director now of LightShed, which is a social impact startup that I started working in VR and immersive tech in general. The Last Goodbye really, I think, I've done a lot of 360 work and I think a lot of it has been very well received, so I always knew when I discovered The Vibe and Room Scale that I needed to move in that direction if I wanted to explore how people are relating with these same stories. The stories meaning stories related to politically charged issues or things related with social good, because that's kind of my passion. And so I didn't really know what to do. I really had my first vibe experience maybe two years ago, and it just was fascinating. But it was all computer-generated stuff. It all felt like animation. It felt like a video game. And I never really thought anything that I could do would translate because I was so into eye contact, live action, it being real. Over and over with Clouds Over Sidra and all the other films, people are like, oh those are like real people and like those are real places and they're real stories. So I had seen Nani's work and I really liked Nani's approach, but because she was like an early-day pioneer, I just thought the aesthetics aren't there, the tech isn't there, or it'd be too expensive. So I kind of had given up on it, but still with this hunger, you know? It was a really adrenaline-filled feeling with Clouds Over Sidra that kind of like changed something and created a new grammar or pushed VR forward. You feel proud as an individual, but I felt proud because it was about the Syrian refugee crisis and this young girl's story. So to me, that kind of very thing, that something that is social good, that we usually associate with CSR and just something that's going to be a philanthropic hobby, But seeing that actually focusing on those issues, actually is R&Ding VR, is allowing VR to learn from that. And an investment in that, in some ways, moves everybody forward for whatever they want to tell their story in. It's very exciting because it kind of repositions the paradigm and the hierarchy and the power dynamics of what that sector can mean to entrepreneurship and to our future and tech. So to me, I really just take it as a deeper responsibility because if we don't innovate and we don't push it forward, people like see these stories and things as like, Oh, yeah, like VR for good, you know, or whatever it is like here's 10 million dollars and like let's continue to make shoot-em-up games Let's do our real things, which is like with Fox Studios. Let's do it. You know, that's cool that enrages me, you know and has always been something personally like that I always counter to prove wrong with every little ounce of my work like I want us to be the cool kids on the block and And we deserve to be. So with this story, I didn't know. So I really thought, OK, I can't do anything because of that. But then I met this company and I started playing around with the vibe, with realities.io. And I did this thing with being in a cathedral and being outside. And I just was like, wait a minute. This is live action-y. Live action? What is this? And they said, yeah, you just take these photos and you put them together. And I said, this is great. I have my base. I didn't know this. This is great. I can basically now at least give people a tour of the spaces. And maybe with voiceover and spaces, that's something.

[00:06:58.126] Kent Bye: That could be cool. Yeah, and this is with the photogrammetry specifically. Yeah the technique.

[00:07:02.232] Gabo Arora: Yeah, and I said I said now we're in business because I'm I can do I know how to do voiceover and I know how to I've done this refugee camp thing a lot of them are tours anyway and So I went on that, I contacted realities, I tried to understand how expensive or whatever it would be. Again, because it's work on social good and people want to make the world a better place, they're like, whatever you want to do, don't worry about the money, we'll figure it out. And I said, whoa, okay, I'll keep that in mind. I'll keep that in mind for what we want to do. And then I kind of put that in the back burner, and I thought, OK, that's cool. Let me just think how I can merge maybe a human being into this space. And I went to LA because I was there for a trip, and I went to different companies that do volumetric capture. I don't want to name them because I don't think that's fair. But I do think they're all doing very impressive work. It's very difficult. And I went there to a very prominent one. And very impressive. Very impressive to what they're doing. And I saw how it was captured. But I really felt I was having a problem with the eye contact. I felt like they were looking past me. Or this uncanny valley sort of feeling. Part of me was like, okay, let me see how much this costs and work I went to them and I said what if I wanted to do something and how they're like Whatever you want. Just tell us We'll do it for free. Don't tell anybody that because people care man in this sector and I think something happened with clouds of procedure and everything else where we were like we would love to be a part of something like that we would love to be and you know stakes are a little high every time I do that now And I said, OK, now I got the bass, and maybe I have these figures I can put in. And I just wasn't still feeling it. Then I was like, should I just do it? Because it's free. And should I just check that box off? Maybe it won't be great. And everyone's like, dude, you can't do stuff that's not great. Because come on, just wait. And Chris Milk is a friend of mine, and he was like, I don't think the tech is there. I think it might be hard. You might need to build something. you know, think about it. Then I was like, maybe I should do augmented reality. And that was even worse, I thought. You know, I just, like, think that's just really not there. So then I just said, OK, why don't I just bookend with 360 films, get the spaces, and get the VO over the spaces, so you can connect on a 360 environment, and then go into the sort of, like, room environment. So that was, like, kind of the original plan. I thought it would still be monumental and interesting. Then, as one does in L.A., demo stuff like you do, which is why I really like your podcast, because I learn an unbelievable amount from that. I have a friend called Greg Ip, who was creative director. You know, creative directors just hang out with each other. We have our own little secret club. Greg is an awesome dude and he has a company called No Gods No Masters and it was just starting out and he was like, hey, I'm doing this thing with this director called Peter Flaherty and he has this experience called The Surrogate. You should just check it out. And they were using kind of like, I guess, how with Hair Be Dragons within Clouds Over Soudra was one of their early demos that they would show like investors and people. like their interest to work with Peter with what he had done and we're using that to showcase what their company can achieve. So that was fascinating. I met Peter and I saw this experience and it's very, very interesting experience because I was in a room space and I could, with a controller, I could walk around it and then it was a hallway, but it was like computer generated, but then there were windows in the hallway. And when you stuck your head in the window, there was some of these degrees of freedom, and there was a 360 stereoscopic VR video coming in. So you could almost feel like you could see into these worlds. And he was merging stereo VR with this room scale thing that was happening. And I just said, that's amazing. That's amazing. And at some point I said, okay, now let me put this together. I can get volumetric people into a space. I can use photogrammetry. Maybe I can use these windows that can give me like maybe a character could look into the window. Then I just said, what if I mirrored that window to feel like it's in the same part of the house? You know, like photogrammetry and the other, you know, like I couldn't, like all these, like it's crazy. My brain was exploding of what it could be. And at some point, that's fine. Now, what do I want to tell? What story do I want to tell, you know, and how we do it? I thought about all of our different work that we've done on Gaza, on Ebola, on... you know, like, whatever you name it, what's happening now. But then, you know, really with kind of what was happening with the refugee crisis, I would see that every time it would always be the greatest number of refugees since World War II. And at the UN, I started seeing how we were talking about these issues. What haunts us is always that that's going to happen again. The whole purpose of the UN and it coming into existence is to prevent the catastrophe that happened in World War II. Not just with refugees, but with the Holocaust, with war, with violence. It really is that seminal touchstone event that we don't want to happen again. I thought to myself, I don't know, crazy idea. What if we just did a tour of a concentration camp? Maybe we would do it with a survivor with the VO. Maybe we would do it with a survivor in that window. So they look into what they went through, but maybe they're looking in from a safer place. Maybe each portal in that room is a different memory of a different part of their life. You know, there's something, maybe that's the base, that I can be in that shower room, or I can be in the barracks, but maybe I can explore and interact and get different. I mean, there's many ways you could do these things. And I thought that was a strong idea. I thought it would be very interesting. And at some point, I put that on my radar and then I just started figuring out how I can find a Holocaust survivor. Yelena, who works at Oculus, had associate produced a film on Holocaust survivors and laughter and comedy. And there was a Holocaust survivor that I saw, Renee Firestone, who I was like, that's cool and she's like yeah I know Renee and maybe you can talk to her and me and Yelena hung out at Cannes last year and my ideas were really coming to the fore at Cannes talking with people making sure it feels like a strong viable idea and the community is so strong that way that we don't bullshit each other you know a lot of this comes from my like friendships with Sashka and like Chris and like we're all like very connected to what we're trying to think and do because the space is so in such a unique beautiful moment you know like I watched Dear Angelica I definitely know that Sashka is trying to like do things with the empathy thing in a little way that like it's very interesting how I could see him borrowing from some of the things that like we've experienced together I've done and I'm constantly borrowed from him and with Chris and with Felix and Paul and all these people so I basically had that in mind and also at the same time I wanted to get in touch with the Sherrill Foundation because I knew that they actually, this could be of interest to them because it could be the first VR testimony that they could archive and there's certain rules around that you know because of just the strict sort of ways they work so I just thought for impact that would be great too because I'm always thinking what the life of the campaign is so I just thought those guys are already going to town and making people aware of not just the Holocaust, but everything. And then I thought maybe if I make it a series on what's impressive about the Shoah Foundation, it's not just about the Holocaust, it's about Rwanda and Guatemala and their actual work on just genocide survivors in general were great. And so I thought maybe a series on this would be great when we start out with it. I got in touch with them, people are very busy, but it turned out I was going to the Sheffield DocFest, and Stephen Smith, who's the executive director of the Shoah Foundation, was going to be there with another amazing project called New Dimensions and Testimony. And New Dimensions and Testimony is an AI project that basically you talk to a hologram of a Holocaust survivor, and he answers back to you, and it's very convincing. And it was at the Future of Storytelling, it was at IDFA, It's really one of those projects that you just can't even believe is possible. And it actually works really well. And it was being presented there, and Pincus was there himself. And I was watching the project, and somebody asked a question, and Pincus started talking about his twin sister that he lost in Maidan at concentration camp. and how he can't remember her face. And he goes back to Majdanek to try to, maybe that's the time that something will trigger, you know, something will happen. And she was 11 when he was 11 and he survived and she didn't. And neither did his mother and neither did his father. And it's a very, very emotional story and I wasn't sure how to go about even telling it or if I would get permission or if it could work. I mean, I don't have a direct connect to the Holocaust in the sense that it didn't affect my family directly. But I always felt really connected to what happened in World War II. as a child when I would hear about it because imagine you're just a child and you're growing up and you're like I can't understand why somebody would be so evil and how that works and when I was at NYU I studied philosophy and film and a lot of my philosophy work was on ethics and moral ethics and actually trying to examine what happened in World War II. A lot of Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag. I mean, I did a deep dive trying to always figure that out. And it's always been something that I have grappled with. And I've always felt like it's been our unresolved human global trauma. that in some ways is the origin thread to explaining our world now. And like unresolved traumas, you repeat them, you go through them again. It's like if you don't actually go through that and come to terms with it in a way that makes sense, It's not just about remembering, I think. I think remembrance is one thing. It's about actually allowing yourself to go through the pain of it, you know, and realizing that you can get to the other side and then break that cycle, as people do with abuse, as people do with other forms of trauma. And so to me, what I saw happening with the Syrian refugee crisis and what's happening with Islamophobia, I would talk to Holocaust survivors or other people and they would say it feels very similar like we never thought this could happen again, but I don't know, you know, and I found that to be alarming. Absolutely alarming. But I found it to be something that if most people really understood coming from a survivor and kind of doing this I was also setting the bar very high because I'm a huge, huge, huge admirer of Claude Lanzmann. This is also his autobiography, The Patagonian Hare, who did Shoah. It's like a 10-minute documentary. Huge, huge, huge admirer of Maus, which is a graphic novel also on the Holocaust. Both have informed this work very, very deeply. And I basically then decided that that's what we would do. And I have my longtime collaborator, Ari Pollitz. Ari's been a producer on all of my work since Clouds Over Sidra. And we were here at Tribeca last year with My Mother's Wang, which was our first sort of like working closer together. and then I talked to him about this and he was really excited and He says well, let's talk like within here be dragons and let's talk about how we would maybe do this and Talk to Chris and everyone and then we really thought that I just kept saying well we could have the window and at some point Chris was like Well, you know, there's this bounding box, and maybe there's a way to play with that. If the bounding box is the walls, then in some ways, maybe there's a way that it can not have the parallax happen. Maybe that's where we can just merge. You won't get full volumetric, but it might not matter, because people won't think to question that. he's not full body metric because there's a wall around him or there's like you wouldn't walk that way and like working with that illusion. I thought that was really brilliant and really interesting thing and we did some proof of concept stuff and we worked with Kate Works Botcher. She's our DP and she does like head of camera dragons and just like lenses and things and tests and The thing that we really understood that would be really important, and I think is the real clincher for this piece, is that we decided to do the green screen with Pincus in the locations themselves. Now we had to do that for the Shoah Foundation regulations because we have to be authentic and true to it, that he had to be there with us. They were very uncomfortable if we green screened him in Toronto and put him somewhere here because of Holocaust denial and just a lot of integrity on that. You have to be super, super, super careful. Already the comments on the Wired article are just ridiculous, but I was expecting it. People coming out and saying horrible things when you do anything around the Holocaust. You would be surprised, but we still live in that kind of world. So we had to be careful and doing that gave us like a lot of like natural shadows and light that actually make his integration into the space later a lot easier. And we did that and I think then we kind of had a language of what we were doing and that we would have the 360 but then we were going to try to integrate Pincus into the space talking to camera on these issues. And if it didn't work out, it would be his VO. So we were giving ourselves some bare minimum of success. And then I met Pincus at Sheffield and I met him again when we went to the camp in July 2016. And we went there and I had to see how he tells his story because he was actually taking a group along. And I said to myself, I did the tour without anyone, because most of the time they're not survivors there. I did the tour with Pincus, because that's this rare, amazing opportunity. And then I said, what would I do that would be even better than that? Because it's got to be better. It just has to be. Because that's what I really felt with Clouds Over Sidra. You can go there, have that experience, but I actually think the film gives you, like, a greater access, a greater feeling, you know? And I saw him speak. I think the spaces, it's one of the most well-preserved concentration camps in the world. And I really felt spaces, just being in those spaces, is just an unbelievable feeling. because your mind makes those connections on its own. And I really wanted that to happen, that you were able to have some sort of contemplative time in there where you were able to make that kind of connection. So I didn't want to be too on the nose. And Pincus's sort of way of doing it was like a schoolteacher. And he had gone through it so many times, his story. And it felt very detached. And it felt like it wasn't going to work. And I almost was like, I don't think this is going to work. And I pulled aside the show of Foundation and I said, I know Holocaust survivors are like, you're very gentle with them because of what they've gone through. And of course, there's the deference and the respect, but we're actually making a movie or an experience. So I can't just be that delicate with him. Because if he gives me his story the way he's giving me, it's not going to resonate. Because in VR, there's just no bullshit. It's the most authentic medium there is. And I think if you're just detached in telling it, it just becomes even more difficult in VR. And I tried to explain that to them, you know, that we needed to really do something that would be direct to camera, that would be like unlike anything Pincus has ever done in his life. And Pincus was, they kind of explained it to him. And we started and told the story. I said, Pincus, that was great. Thank you for sharing that. Can we try that again? And he's like, I just told it to you. I said, I know, but we have to do this a lot. And I really maybe need you to imagine that you're 11 years old again and we're here, you know, and I just need you to. We need to think about it in a different way and very difficult, you know, very, very difficult, where he said, OK, I'll try, because I believe in what you're doing. And he's like, OK, let's do it. Did it again. Sometimes there's tears. The crew is in tears. I had to keep my composure, of course. you know, difficult moments. And there were many, many questions. Nature of evil. Are you sure you don't remember your sister? What was the last moment before you saw, you know, like, these are like really harrowing, difficult things that I don't think anyone should have to go through. And then to have a camera on you and have lines and this thing, you know, like it's really hard, you know, really hard. Yet he was like really a believer. He almost looked at me in a way where he was like, I'll do it because I know. And he came and he saw it here two days ago and he says, you got the result. You got the result because when you watch the experience, You feel like he's doing it for you, he's going somewhere deeper with what's happening and I think it's what gives this, not just because it's in VR, not just because it's innovating hopefully the grammar of VR, not just because I feel like I consider it kind of the first hopefully live-action VR. I'm alluding to what the holy grail of like Lightfield and everything is, that you can walk around live-action spaces. But it's also because of the way that testimony is done because I know that it's gonna be scrutinized very very very tightly on how I innovate on that genre that I think Claude Lanzmann did and he would do that, you know, he would push things and That's what I think comes across and I think people don't know that because they just, all my work is like that though. I mean with De Conti, Loma Sama, these are people who have gone through horrible hell and I'm kind of like pushing them with questions. And that's why the interviews and the words are so good is because we just, It's not just what just happened, just like finding that idiosyncrasy, finding that little detail that's unique to their issue. And the golden braid was a really important one for, that's where the posters of Sabina's back and the golden braid and I just think there's just something there that can carry the thread of the story, you know. So that's how it all came together and, you know, did it with a great team with Ari and Stephen Smith, who's the executive director of the Shoah Foundation. And, of course, the photogrammetry elements were done by Otoy, which provided, you know, they're an amazing company and provided like incredible technical support. The real standout, of course, is MPC with Tim Dillon, who basically worked very hard to make the spaces and the integration doable because it's very difficult. It's new. We've hacked things, you know, eye contact, movement, you know, all these things are like new things that we've had to build that I think hopefully are imperceptible to people, but hopefully people who know VR understand the technological advance, the story advance, the everything, so that people can feel excited about telling stories in this medium. I hope people now look at this and go, I'd love to tell a story like that in this sort of grammar. the way they did with Clouds of Residue. I mean, that's what I was trying to do. I'm very, you know, low ambition.

[00:28:42.458] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that when you're talking about the process of making this, there's a long evolution, a lot of the parts that are coming together, and being on set with Pincus and directing him in a certain way, and him almost kind of from his rote memory, maybe his intellectualized story that he's telling, but really trying to find those moments of true authenticity and emotional presence to get him present into the emotional reality. I did an interview with Skip Rizzo talking about his process of having veterans who have gone through PTSD going through a VR experience and then a lot of it for him and his perspective is that it's the telling of that story, that testimony and giving that testimony and being emotionally present from it was also a key part of that. is that to really heal from that trauma, you have to be emotionally present to the story that you're telling. So it's not only just from a filmmaking perspective, but it's also from a healing perspective of this process of being really emotionally present to the trauma you've gone through in telling that story. And that for us, going through the experience, we get to bear witness to that. And we get to stand in that shower where we don't know if it's going to be gas or water and kind of hear about these last moments. And to me, that's the moment that just sticks with me from your piece of that last prayer that he gave to himself and just how real and visceral that was. And I don't know if that was a result of your direction of kind of building up to that point of Really finding those moments that he could really go back to and just remember, you know kind of on the brink that one.

[00:30:19.211] Gabo Arora: I mean He was doing that and I said I Said so what did you do? What happened? And he says well I did my prayer and I did this and I said I So what was the prayer? And he was like, well, it was this prayer. I said, do you know that prayer? And he's like, I actually have it in my pocket, you know, because he carried, you know, he was here back, you know, it's emotional. He's back and he's there to, like, pay respects to his family. And I said, OK, so you've also memorized it, right, because you memorized it when you were 11. He was like, yeah. I said, OK, let's do it. Let's do it. You're 11. And this is what you're doing. And I know it's hard. Maybe it's something that can, if you're comfortable with it, of course. And he was like, yeah. He was like, but. Can I put my yarmulke on? And I said, I was like, well, you didn't have your yarmulke when you were 11, but you should be respectful. Yeah, let's put your yarmulke on. So there's like, I think what's cool is that he does that, but then he takes out the yarmulke from his pocket and he puts it on before he does it, which still doesn't take you out of it, you know, which I think is really powerful. And yeah, no, it's really great. I mean, the other, the other thing, why is it the last goodbye? Why is it his last time? Because of working with us. I mean, he wasn't planning on that being his last time. But going through this experience with us, he says, what more can I? He really felt he finally was able to make peace with his sister and his family in some ways. And it's such an honor that we documented his last time he can do that. It's really powerful, very powerful stuff.

[00:32:05.819] Kent Bye: So I like to ask this question to people. I'm curious to hear, for you, what you want to experience in VR.

[00:32:13.988] Gabo Arora: What I want to experience in VR? Like, in general or in the festival?

[00:32:19.795] Kent Bye: No, just, yeah, like, I mean, it may be the things that you're creating, but I'm just trying to get a sense of the type of experiences that you want to have.

[00:32:27.342] Gabo Arora: I mean, I really, there's something about the room scale volumetric live action sort of thing that I would love to see more of. And that's why I did this where I don't, I feel like I'm in, I want to be really in a movie and maybe in an AI way, interact with someone and have it not be a choose your own adventure, but have something be very personalized, kind of like immersive theater, like with There She Fell, which I, you know, was in New York and Brooklyn that I've always loved. So I think, you know, more along those lines of, like, these sort of stories that feel personalized and yours only. You know, I think that's what's so powerful about VR is when you just think you're able to have your own experience that no one else can have given where you walk or given where you look or given how you do it. I think that is what's exciting. Yet you're still a part of this one thing together, which is probably how it is in our lives, right? are on Earth, and we'll probably have a finite amount of time, but we get a chance to explore and do it in a different way. And I think building more of that into VR would be really good in that way.

[00:33:36.071] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality, and what it might be able to enable?

[00:33:45.214] Gabo Arora: I mean, I think virtual reality It's that rare sort of moment and possibility with this technology that can further human liberation, I think, where there's something about it that in some ways can make our lives more enriching than they would be without technology. I think technology in general, if you're very honest, you can't just be a techno-optimist without realizing the negative parts of what technology has done with our lives. To be honest, I think that the default should be that it's probably done more bad in our lives, you know, in terms of, like, destruction and a lot of things. So, I just think there's something about VR that I think could be the first time the real promise of technology can be felt. I think that's what people react to with some of the great, you know, like Notes on Blindness or the other work. There's incredible work out there. It's not just like this entertainment thing. It just feels like we can become better people and I think that's like what really we've been trying to show and I want to continue to push on and continue to experiment with because I just don't see it happening with any other technology in the same way. And I think there's so much more to like examine and explore with it. So I just think that is, it sounds grandiose and it sounds really weird, but that's what motivates me to keep doing this.

[00:35:22.320] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:35:24.142] Gabo Arora: Thank you. Thank you.

[00:35:25.083] Kent Bye: Thanks for having me. So that was Gaba Arora. He's the director of The Last Goodbye, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview. First of all, when I went through The Last Goodbye, I have to be honest in the sense that I didn't necessarily think about what it took to create it. I was just immersed within the experience of it all. And it was interesting listening to Gabo talk about his process. And there was a certain point when I was talking to him afterwards, and he's like, what, did you just think that just happened, these moments? And there's a lot of art and craft, and not only having the vision of what you're going for, but also I was really struck with Gabo's insistence that it had to be better than what you would experience in real life. And the way that he's able to make it better than in real life was to be able to do these takes over and over again and achieve a level of emotional presence with Pincus that I think he probably wasn't used to being pushed to go that far in any of the other previous tours that he may have given. And it goes back to this interview that I had just published with Skip Rizzo talking about how in PTSD, it's not just about recounting the facts and the data of what happened to you, but It's about weaving together the story, but also maintaining a sense of that emotional presence. And I think that was the thing that was probably the most striking with The Last Goodbye is that you really felt it in some of these scenes where Pincus just really went there. And I just got choked up just even remembering some of these scenes, just because it's such a harrowing moment, not knowing whether or not he's going to live or die as he's, you know, recounting the story of what happened to him. And he just reads this prayer and breaks down in tears. And it's just an absolute moving moment that really, I think, makes the experience. And so the thing that I think is so interesting about this is that you are bearing witness to this testimony and to really take it into your body. you know there's only so much that you can do within virtual reality to make it feel like you're actually taken to another place just because of the smells and the haptics and you know there's just something in your mind that isn't quite fooled whenever you're looking at any type of 360 video photogrammetry you know, the Alaska Bi does an amazing job, but I didn't actually feel like I had been to this concentration camp. But I would say that there's something about that level of social and emotional presence that I was able to get by being in this shared virtual space with Pincus that it made me feel like that I was being transported into there. And it is put into my body in a new way. And I think that's the thing that I find the most fascinating. And It reminds me of other experiences like testimony, where you're bearing witness to women tell their stories of being sexually assaulted. And I think there's something also there that is both a transmission of emotional presence and authenticity on their end, but to be able to hear it and bear witness to it also has a huge impact of being able to receive that and really achieve that state of empathy. And so, you know, the other thing is just that the Holocaust is a very sensitive topic. And there's a certain part of me that thinks, now, why would I want to go have a virtual experience of the Holocaust? And, you know, I think that the thing is, is that it happened. And if we turn our heads away from the past and the history, then we're just in some ways doomed to repeat it. And so, by bearing witness to these types of stories, then it makes us more hypervigilant to being aware of the conditions under which these types of genocidal holocausts could come about. And I think this experience also shows one of the huge strengths and power of virtual reality, which is this getting a guided tour of a place. You know, it sounds like Pincus, when he would go to this concentration camp, he would give tours to people and tell them his story. And this is a way for you to also build a relationship to a place that is on the earth through the lens of somebody's story of what happened there. And I think that this is something that virtual reality is very uniquely able to do, is to be able to transport you to another place and to allow you to be connected to people who are telling you these types of stories. And so I personally expect to see a lot more of these types of experiences where it's a historical account. And whenever you go to a museum, you may go on a guided tour from a docent who just helps weave the story together and to be able to tell a narrative of history that allows you a certain access. And I think this Last Goodbye is doing exactly that. It's just, you know, telling this story of a tragic event through the personal narrative of somebody who was there. And it's just also interesting to hear Gabo's process and all the things that he had to do in order to create this experience. You know, like I said, whenever you are watching these virtual reality experiences, it's very easy to lose sight of all the effort that had to go into innovating things that may have not existed before. And I think that There's a lot of things that were done here in terms of doing billboarded video that was far enough away such that you could get a sense of the stereoscopic effect with good eyeline and nice lighting because it was green screen within the same environment in which the photogrammetry was shot. And it had a feeling where the quality was a lot better than some of the digital artifacts that you may see as some of the other volumetric capture. And so they're able to find a workaround to some of the limitations and the fidelity that may break presence. And they were able to do a great job of finding a great technical fix of something that would have otherwise may have taken you out of the entire experience. So that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member to the Patreon. Just a few dollars a month makes a huge difference and allows me to continue to bring you this type of coverage. So you can become a member today and donate at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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