#1127: “Darkening:” A Spatial Memoir on Depression with Voice Interactions & Social Dynamics

Darkening is a personal memoir experience by Ondřej Moravec, who takes the viewer on an interactive journey through a variety of spatial metaphors of his experience of depression. There are a number of interactive opportunities to use your voice to release tension as Moravec walks you through his embodied experiences in similar moments of catharsis, which allows you to connect the embodied practices that have allowed him to find solace through his depression. You see this experience in a group of up to 3 other people, which creates a disassociated sort of social dynamics as you can overhear other people as they go through moments of catharsis in the experience. At the end of the screening at Venice Immersive, Moravec was on hand to lead the four audience members through a debriefing group conversation allowing them to reflect upon and share any similar experiences of mental health. I had a chance to sit down with Moravec to talk about his process of creating this piece, how curating other immersive events helped to hone his own sense of experiential design, and how he hopes to help cut through mental health taboos with this experience as he continues to tour around and directly engage with audience members to help unpack the experience.

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Music: Fatality

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. It's a podcast that's looking at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. You can support me on Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So in today's episode, I have Andrej Morovec, who had a piece called Darkening, which was a bit of a spatial memoir that was exploring themes of depression. So you go into different experiences that he has with depression as you go into these different buildings, and it helps to take you to different places in a virtual context that is elaborating on his own personal journey with depression. and you use your voice quite a bit within this experience and there's also the dynamic of walking into a installation with four total different slots. You're watching this with up to three other different people and because you're using your voice and there's this distributed social dimension that is happening within the context of this piece where you're kind of aware of other people as they're also watching this piece because they're watching it at the same time as you and Yeah, and there's also a whole off-boarding of this piece where Andre, who was a director, is coming out and facilitating this whole off-boarding process that is facilitating a bit of a group discussion with the people who just had seen this piece. And so, I think that was another big part of my experience of darkening as well. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Wastes of VR podcast. So, this interview with Andre happened on Friday, September 2nd, 2022 at the Venice Immersive in Venice, Italy. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:47.886] Ondrej Moravec: So my name is Ondrej and I'm here with my project Darkening which is my first VR project but I'm on the field already for a few years because I'm working as the VR curator or programmer for several festivals in Czech Republic but I decided that I also want to step into the food of the filmmaking because I studied filmmaking, I studied screenwriting so I decided that VR is the closest medium so far for me so I decided to go on this way.

[00:02:17.761] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.

[00:02:24.568] Ondrej Moravec: like the question you mean why I decided to go for VR is because I Actually, it started when I was working for one world festival. That's the festival in Prague It's the biggest human rights film festival in the world. It says and we started in 2015 or 16 with VR section there it was the time when it was like the first boom of VR and I kind of was moved to do it by our boss by that time. And I was like, OK, why not? So that was the actual beginning why I became interested in VR. And then I discovered all the possibilities which you can do how to tell the story in VR. And I was amazed by that, like, immediately. So yeah, so that was the beginning.

[00:03:12.235] Kent Bye: And what's your background? Are you coming from, like, trained as a filmmaker? Or what other things are you kind of bringing into the practice of making film?

[00:03:19.855] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, before, as I said, I am a screenwriter, so I was mostly attached to the pen and paper, but stepping on the road as a director was a bit new for me. But in VR, you have a lot of collaborators and it's very teamwork, so I felt quite good. I can't imagine much like, for example, directing live action. It would be, for me, quite difficult, I think, so far, maybe in the future, who knows. But here I felt quite well because I knew a lot about the medium and so on.

[00:03:55.020] Kent Bye: And so, yeah, talk a bit about the process of becoming a curator to watch a lot of content and then decide what's going to be featured. And so there's a an opportunity for you to immerse yourself into lots of different projects that aren't even fully distributed yet, but you still have access to see what's happening. So I'd love to hear how that came about for you.

[00:04:13.163] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, that's a big advantage I think of every potential maker. Like when you're starting as a curator, so you see a lot of things and you know what other people are using and you're inspired by that or like not inspired by that at all. So that was very nice and that was also one of the best backgrounds for me to create Darkening because I already knew a lot about what is functioning in VR, what not that much. But what was specifically interesting that in the time when we were starting to develop Darkening, there were only a few projects who were at once like as the first dealing with the topic of the mental health now in 2022 we have a lot of these projects but like three years back there were only really few of them and the second thing was that like there were not that many projects which would be voice controlled So I was like, okay, a lot of people are still like feeling that they don't want to dive much into VR because they don't want to use all these controllers, things like these. So I had this idea, okay, but like we can use the voice as the interactive tool there. And then the puzzle started to be putting together that what could be the topic, how to make it, and so on and so on.

[00:05:31.223] Kent Bye: So yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context for how the specific topic, how you decided on Tamani, the darkening, and you know, just a little bit more of a background of this project.

[00:05:43.364] Ondrej Moravec: I decided that I want to create a project which is quite close to me. So there were a few topics which I had in mind but what I knew from my previous experience as a curator was that what works the best in VR are some kinds of simulations. embodiments in some way. And so I had an idea, okay, it would be interesting to show the people what is it like to have a depression because a lot of people were asking me what is it like, you know, what you feel, how we cope with it. So I said okay it would be a nice topic for making the VR and I know a lot about that. At the beginning I was more focused on other people's stories or searching for some protagonists but then I found out that it would be very difficult for me to like dig into the other's heads and create the story about their depression so then I focused on myself and that I will be the protagonist. And it was nicely connected with voice control thinking about the interactivity. Because by the time when we started to develop Darkening, I was already using my voice as a therapeutic tool. So it all started to make sense and I was putting it slowly together.

[00:06:59.753] Kent Bye: So as a screenwriter, how did you approach constructing this piece? Because there are some interactive components, there's a story component, but then you have to actually build out the environments. And so talk about the iterative process of creating this piece, and where did you begin? Yes.

[00:07:14.875] Ondrej Moravec: It was interesting because I decided that even though that I'm a screenwriter that I don't want to work on the script alone because as it's my own story so I needed to have like a second eyes who will tell me what makes sense, what is interesting from the story and how to shape it. So I asked my good friend Alica who was my schoolmate at screenwriting school. So we started to write it together. The process was like at the beginning I wrote something like short novel which has like seven pages, not very long, and Alicja was about to create some first idea which parts from the novel could be used and transform it into some chapters in VR. She did it and then like we had like a first version and then we started to work on it together to shape it, to you know cut it, what to include, what not. We were starting to think more about the interactivity as well which became part of the script as well. So, which took us a few months, let's say, and that at the end we had like a pretty solid script with all the also description of the interactions. Then we came to make some storyboards and then talking with our 3D artists and so it started like that.

[00:08:31.816] Kent Bye: Was this a tilt brush or what was the art program that you used to make the art of the piece?

[00:08:36.065] Ondrej Moravec: Actually, the 3D models are made in Blender. We decided to use the regular textures, not to use Tilt Brush or Quill, because I think that the idea of Quill and Tilt Brush is really nice and I like some of the pieces, but what's a bit problematic from my side is that a lot of the projects look very, very similar. And also to animate some things in Quill or Tilt Brush is quite complicated. So our 3D designers decided that it would be better to work in Blender and then to work with the classical textures, which reminds the Tilt Brush aesthetics in some way.

[00:09:15.693] Kent Bye: And what was the back and forth process for building these different spaces and then what was written in the script? Because I would imagine that you want to actually be immersed into the world and maybe write. And so did you build some of the worlds and then write and just talk about that back and forth?

[00:09:28.627] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, the iteration process was interesting. I think that most of the things which were in the script also appeared in the actual final version of the film. There was just one thing which was one of the most complicated ones, that the overall story should have ended, that the dog will lick you goodbye and which was like a nice idea but then we found out that it's doable but it would be super tricky because you need to track exactly the dog in front of you you need to program the tongue that he's somehow really licking you and it always looked bad because the dog was crushing into you and it looked embarrassing so that's what I needed to change so at the end the dog is standing at the fountain and he's just pushing away the red scarf which covers your eyes at the end, which was like more easy to do it. So that was like a bigger change in the script. But otherwise, other things were already created before. For example, the horse racing chapter is very interesting because I was kind of afraid of, okay, how should we create it? Because I was all the time stuck with the fact that it really needs to look like the actual horse racing track. But then Bara, the art director, came and she said, oh, let's do some bigger stylization. So we will be in the middle of the hippodrome, and the horse will be coming from the back in front of you to the finish. And I was like, wow, that sounds quite interesting. I'm not sure how it will work in VR. But then we made it, and it was actually one of the easiest chapters to make, even though I had the most doubts about it.

[00:11:05.284] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so this is a story that's telling your own personal story of depression for many years, and what I found interesting as a VR piece was that it feels like I'm able, through this immersive experience, walk into a symbolic representation of what is happening inside of your body and inside of your mind as you go through these, you know, battling your demons or these different metaphors, and so Yeah, I'd be curious to hear your artistic process of trying to create external, spatialized, symbolic representation of your inner psyche that then you're sharing to the rest of the world in the context that you're having people watch and then being able to have a conversation with them afterwards.

[00:11:50.006] Ondrej Moravec: Yes, that was a debate which we had with our psychologist and the team around us, because there was the idea at the beginning, okay, it's my personal story, I want to share something, something I don't want to share that much, but in general there was a question, is it universal in some way, can people relate to that? And there was no problem with it at all. So our experts told us that the story is very universal, that it describes depression as it is very often in many, many cases. Of course, everybody is individual, so the symptoms can be slightly different, but in general it worked. And of course, there were some parts which are, for example, not part of the final experience. For example, some people are asking me about medication regarding depression because I don't mention anything about medication in the piece and it doesn't mean that I somehow want to stigmatize it. I think that taking antidepressants is sometimes very, very important. and it's the good way how you can fix your mind for sometimes. I just believe that this is not the only way how to do it. You need to also have some milder techniques which will help you to go through your world. So in general we tried to create something what's universal but we didn't need to make any bigger changes so it's still very authentic.

[00:13:16.957] Kent Bye: You had mentioned that you were doing voice as either a therapy or a personal practice and so maybe you could talk a bit about how you came to the process of using your voice as a way of either giving some temporary relief or to be able to shift your mood or as a healing practice for yourself.

[00:13:34.705] Ondrej Moravec: I remember one day when I was feeling very bad. And it was quite late. It was when I was around 30 years old. 30, 29 or something. Now I'm 34. And in that moment I decided that I really need to scream out loudly. I don't know why. And I felt that after that I was feeling so relieved and that the tension went away. And I started to think about it, like, oh wow, what happened in that moment? And that was the starting point where I started to think about using voice as my, somehow, naturally, and to have some system in using voice as a therapeutic tool. and then I was remembering what I was doing in the past and I came to the fact that I was going to horse racing and that I was yelling there and cheering for the horses and that of course I love the sport and everything but I also liked it because I was able to scream here without any feelings of embarrassment you know so I was like okay so that's probably one of my ways what I should do and shortly after I started to develop darkening And I started to dig more into that. I also found, from the very early when we started with Darkening, one therapeutic group which is using voice as a therapeutic tool. It's actually not that many experts, at least in Czech Republic, who are specializing on that, so it was not easy. But now I'm going to visit the group for more than three years. and it's super great. So now, still today, it's my most powerful tool. We are having a break during summer with the group, so I'm looking forward for September when we will start again.

[00:15:23.637] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's something about being able to go into a symbolic representation of what's happening with you and to see it and then to be instructed to use my voice and then for you to describe what you're experiencing and then for me to compare what you're describing to what I was personally experiencing. I felt like that was a way to watch this experience where there wasn't a lot of other embodied interactions with my body because I'm more of a ghost as I'm watching this as a piece but I felt like it actually helped ground me into my body in a way so that you're able to use the voice as a way of grounding but also increase my sense of embodied presence as you're relating in it but also to have a certain amount of empathy for the types of ways that you were getting relief from that and then be able to identify that relief within my own body. So I felt like you're able to use that interaction in a way that actually created a little bit of agency but also embodiment that connected it deeper to the emotional content of your story.

[00:16:18.817] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, definitely. That was one of the intentions and I'm glad that you took it from it.

[00:16:24.421] Kent Bye: And I think one of the other really striking aspects of your piece is what happens after the piece, which is that you go in and you facilitate an entire conversation and a little bit of a debriefing of what just happened. And so maybe talk about your process of designing this as an off-boarding process of what you were aiming to do after you have these strangers watching stuff that's very intimate and vulnerable about your life and then you're holding space for them to allow them to be vulnerable or to share stuff about their own experiences, to connect their own experiences to what you are providing in your experience.

[00:16:58.824] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, the idea was there from the beginning that if I'm able to be as many places as possible where darkening is being shown, so that I want to have these off-boarding sessions and to talk with people about the topic. I think that it is one of the biggest challenges so far, because of course as a filmmaker you're attending several Q&As, you know, you are answering the questions, but here I decided that I will do it a bit differently, that of course I I'm open for the audience so they can ask me several questions and I'm prepared for even intimate questions which some of them I will be lucky to answer some of them I want to keep for myself which is by the way also like a good thing like making Darkening created this barrier for me of what I want to share and what I don't want to share I think that it's important for everybody You know, it's good to share some things, but it's also good to know the limits. So I know that there are topics which I don't want to speak about and that's it. But I decided that also it's nice to ask the others how they feel after the experience and how they went through this. And when I'm asking them the questions, so some of them are telling me, for example, when I'm asking them like how would their personal demon would look like, so they say that They don't know, they haven't thought about it. Somebody's telling me super great things, like one lady told me that her personal demon looks like an old, white, big man who is very grumpy. Somebody says that it looks like nothing. You know, it's inspiring to see how people are thinking about the same topics as I was thinking. And how was I creating this off-boarding session was that I want to have some helping tools. So we have four cards here, which represent some of the characters in our story, and these characters can lead us to the questions. And this is some kind of a little, not game, but yeah, there is some slightly gaming element in it. And so far I have a really good impression from it that people are very open. So far, even though that I'm telling to everybody if you don't want to share anything, you don't have to. But all the people are so far very open, which I'm quite surprised.

[00:19:21.814] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's quite an effective offboarding, I thought, because there was things that come up in a conversation that happens right after watching an experience like this that, for me personally, just kind of tied it even deeper into the topic of the story. Because you have it set up so that there's four people that are watching it at the same time. and as they're coming out there's four cards with four characters and that it seemed like that you had a symbolic representation for what that character meant and then that would lead to a question that then you would pose to the group and then you have a group discussion. So I was in a session that got cut off because the boat was about to leave and so we had to stop and so I didn't get a chance to hear each of the different four characters but I'm just curious if you could briefly run through those four characters and those four cards and what the questions that you're posing to people as they go through this off-boarding process.

[00:20:07.940] Ondrej Moravec: Yes, so the four cards are the first one is the demon and the question connected with him is how would your personal demon look like? And what is he doing to you? So there is a space for anybody who would like to more open up and to share some of their troubles so we can share it together. Then the next character is the dog which represents some hope in our story and the question connected with him is what are you doing to feel better in your life when the demon is hunting you? Do you have any particular technique which you are using? Then there is a horse which is connected with the voice activity in our story. So I'm asking them how they liked the voice control in our experience and what it was doing with their body, with their mind. And the last picture is the silhouette of a boy who represents me in the story. And that's kind of, I say, joker card, which gives the audience the opportunity to ask me some questions which they want to know. And that's how we wrap up the session.

[00:21:18.312] Kent Bye: So yeah, you've been really dedicated to being there and present for the last 15 minutes of this for each of the sessions and so it's a unique opportunity in some ways for you to sit down with all the other visitors of Venice Immersive and other creators and people from the industry and so I'm just curious what that experience has been like for you to come here to Venice and from the outside it looks like you have an opportunity to connect really deeply after you share about yourself. People know who you are and you've created this space for them, for you to get to know a little bit about the people. But yeah, I'm just curious what it's been like for you to come here and then have those conversations like that after creating a piece like this.

[00:21:55.140] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, it's so far very nice. I was afraid of that, you know, because it's very It is very personal. It is very intimate. A lot of people are asking me also like the question. Is this really your story? I'm like, yes, it is my story. So they don't want to believe it much somehow and Yeah, so so far it's Nice. Of course, it's like the festival is quite long, so we are now still quite at the beginning. So I'm wondering how on the September 10th I will look like after all these sessions. But I really said to myself that I want to be at really most of them. And for me it's important because the story is not only for me like to create a film, to have some artistic expression, of course it's also part of it. But as I say it's my coming out in this and I believe to do this coming out properly I need to talk with people about it. So it has the good effect. So my wish with this is that the next time when I will be talking with somebody about the mental health issues, I will not feel this nervosity, which I was feeling by that now and that some shield will be created or maybe not shield, maybe that it will just open something in me that I will not be afraid of it to share it. So that was why I decided to do it.

[00:23:16.923] Kent Bye: By coming out, do you mean in terms of the mental health taboos around talking about your own mental health issues?

[00:23:22.527] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, actually, it's my second coming out, as I said, because the first one was regarding the sexual orientation, and now it's regarding with the mental health issues. So, yeah.

[00:23:32.733] Kent Bye: So you've been through this before?

[00:23:34.415] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah I was. First coming out was harder probably because I was younger. I was around 17 years old and it was difficult. Now I'm already older but I already like came out with it that I'm having depression quite like few years back for my close friends and even in work I shared it with my colleagues. So it's not like that now I'm doing the the coming out from the scratch, but I'm sharing it with people who I don't know at all. So that's the next level.

[00:24:09.060] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that there has been a lot of different taboos around talking about mental health and I'm curious to hear any insights of what's it been like to create a space or context for people to maybe share stuff that they normally wouldn't be able to feel comfortable sharing because it's people watching an immersive experience about what your experiences have been and I feel like that helps set a context or maybe open some doors to have some conversations that would be a little bit harder to have otherwise. So I feel like there's something about giving people an immersive experience and then following on to have a conversation like that, to take it to a deeper level or to go against a mental health taboo that may be there, that might be opening up some doors and spaces to do that. So, yeah, just any reflections on that?

[00:24:51.941] Ondrej Moravec: I think that's an important part of it, because as you say, the taboo is there still, even though that there was a lot of progress, I think, during the pandemic time, because a lot of people who did not suffer from any mental health issues unfortunately failed it during COVID. So I believe that XR is an interesting new tool how to communicate these topics. That it's not only about funny, crazy, nice games, which are also great, but also that you can communicate this. For the future we would like to use darkening or maybe some other version of it also for some real therapeutic work let's say. We were in touch with some psychologists who would be interested in it to have for example the helmet in their office and when they are starting with a new person who is going through the therapy so that they could show him the story and that could be like a starting point about speaking about the mental health problems, as I'm doing actually now here with the regular audience who are not like the patients, let's say, or people who are having any troubles. So I think that there are other possibilities how to work with this content.

[00:26:06.949] Kent Bye: Are there any particular ethical issues to be considering in terms of boundaries or confidentiality? Because, you know, this is a public performance in a public space, and then, yeah, just curious to hear about, like, how you navigate any potential downfalls for holding a space like this in a way that could have some opportunities to have boundaries crossed in a context or like it could be information shared that then also shared in a broader context. Yeah, it just feels like there's, it's a great opportunity for people to open up but also some risks ethically. So I'm just curious what the discussions were around what to look out for and how to prevent transgressions.

[00:26:41.560] Ondrej Moravec: That was a big issue at the beginning when I asked myself, OK, you're going to open something, maybe you will open the Pandora box for somebody, or something terrible will happen during the Q&As. Of course, I'm having, or I was having these ideas, but you say it's about risk. Of course, it's about risk. But I believe even going into this project was for me risk. I was, OK, what will it make with me? Will it crash my mind that I will share it, that I will recreate it into VR? To me, it was also a big risk. With the other people, of course, so far, what I experienced for, I don't know, 40 Q&A sessions so far, it was very, very good. And I believe, it's maybe about belief, that the people when they open up somehow their empathy level rises up very rapidly that it's something like natural that when you open up so then you don't create any big tension to the others like so so far nothing happened anything big big trouble and i hope it will not happen and I think it's because that when you open up that the people will accept it. And of course like having the feeling that it's risky. Yeah. Life is risky.

[00:28:08.314] Kent Bye: I don't know what the statistics are for the amount of people that on average experience depression, but I imagine that if someone who goes through this experience doesn't personally experience depression, that they're in all likelihood connected to someone who does have issues with depression. in a way that it's able to empathize with your experience, it's also potentially an experience that some people can watch and maybe get a little bit more empathy for people that they're also more directly connected to. And so I'm curious to hear if that's a theme that's come up in conversations.

[00:28:39.165] Ondrej Moravec: Yeah, definitely. Because even for my parents it was difficult to understand what I'm living through for my friends. So I believe that this experience is mainly for people who don't have some severe depressive problems. And it's more like, you know, giving them the insight and information about that. For people who are in some big mental health problems, I think that our piece is not the right fit. And that's what we also write at the beginning when you run the experience. There's a disclaimer that if you don't feel well, you should probably not watch Darkening at that very moment, maybe later. I have several friends and people who are having depression as well and they saw Darkening. but they were not in the depressive episode by the time and it was for them very powerful because they felt that they are not alone in this so that's also next aspect of it like that's why in general group therapies are working because you see that somebody else is having the same issues as you're having and even art is in some way not the group therapy but it's like a tandem therapy where you communicate with the film and it gives you the feeling that you are not alone in it.

[00:29:59.908] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as a screenwriter, you've been familiar with being able to write for film and the process of using film as a medium to communicate, but I'm wondering what it's been like for you to use VR as a medium to be able to communicate these experiences that you've had, and that process of being able to have an experience but be able to communicate that experience without having to use words explicitly. Obviously, you're narrating this piece, so you are using your words, but you're also creating a whole spatial context and experience for people to go through that I think takes your own personal experience and able to allow you to share it with other people in a way that goes beyond what you could share just with even words or even what the film medium could do.

[00:30:38.960] Ondrej Moravec: I think that the biggest difference was to realize that you are not writing the film and the particular scenes like the screens which you can see in front of you but that you are creating situations so that's like I think that writing a script for VR is more close to write for example theater play because it's also consisted from like that you have a scene you have some area where it's happening and you need to think about what the visitor is seeing on the stage and the stage is 360 space around you. And that was quite nice, you know, it was different than writing the classical film, but also quite liberating in some way, because sometimes you are still in writing the classical film, you are, let's say, you are editor in your head. There is this scene, then after this scene, you will probably have this. You are composing it in your head. And in VR, you are also composing, but in a really different scale. And that's sometimes, at least for me, much easier. So that's why I believe that it was quite nice for me.

[00:31:51.351] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the other surprising aspects of this piece was the social dimension of watching it with other people because you are using voice interactions and usually when I watch a VR piece, I go off into my own world and even if I watched it with a theater of other people, which I saw Lynette Walworth's piece that she had at Sundance, they showed it in Egyptian theater, I had already seen the VR piece and then I watched it in a theater with like a hundred people it felt like literally the same of like whether or not the people were there or not but in this piece i had a whole sense that there are other people that were present which is sometimes maybe a little bit self-conscious of like because you're asking people to scream at some point until like to what degree are you going to like go all out and scream or it could also create a context where if everybody's screaming then it could create for some people an opportunity where they feel even more comfortable screaming so i feel like it could actually work both ways of helping people be more present to sharing their voice or become more self-conscious like it feels like a go either way but the piece is also an interactive piece which means that you know as you start to try to have people start and watch the experience at the same time there's different trigger points that means that things kind of get out of sync and so people are saying different things at different moments at different times and so it feels like there's a nice aspect to the interactive component but there's the trade-off of creating a disjunction of the social experience of that because then people are interacting with this piece at different moments at different time which then feels like yeah, I wonder if there's a way to make it more synchronized or if you've thought about those trade-offs of maybe limiting the agency so that everybody's on the same synchronized experience versus having it more interactive and having more agency but having a little bit more disjunction in the social dimensions.

[00:33:32.943] Ondrej Moravec: A lot of questions, but yeah, that was for us a very crucial thing, how to think about this. But you know, there was the idea that it would be nice if people are sharing this experience together. In Venice, four people can experience it at once. And as you say, definitely there is a like technical problematic thing that the people are not 100% synchronized, even though that we are trying to synchronize them as much as possible. But somebody is a bit slower in the interaction, somebody is quicker, so it's not possible to really synchronize them. There could be some points that the people are like, let's say, waiting before each chapter to each other So technically it would be possible, but then it would be bad for the viewers on the other end that they would need to wait in some black screen or whatever, which is not nice. And we had quite bad feedback on it because we were trying with some longer gaps in between the chapters and so on. So yeah, so this is the like a not that good aspect, but this is the first place where we exhibit darkening. So maybe for the future we are also thinking about that we didn't want to use headphones for the users because then they would not hear not only the others, or probably they would, but like more intensively, but they would not hear themselves. And that's what very important for the experience that you need to hear your voice. So before we came to Venice during the post-production we were trying like several types of headphones which would be good so that they are really like they have a good sound but through them you can hear your voice. None of them were good so we tried I think like four types or something. So we decided, okay, let's use just the Oculus Speakers, because it's gonna be the best way. And of course, the people will be distracted slightly by the others, that they are not synchronized. But we believe that the power of the sharing will be stronger. And so far it seems that it works. But maybe for the next sessions we will give the option to people if they feel really distracted by the others to give them the headphones so then they feel better in some way. So maybe we will also play with it more for the next festivals.

[00:35:52.802] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had some biodynamic open-air headphones like this version that I'm wearing now but had an ability to hear outside that so I think there are headphones that may be higher-end that have open-air that get sound in but also hear the environment but yeah it's one of the surprising aspects of the experience because normally I'm not worried about what the other people are doing in the experience but in this experience it ends up being a bit of a social dynamics that are happening outside of it that I'm kind of hearing and aware of other people going through the experience as well, which I thought was an interesting dimension. So yeah, I guess what's next for this project as you move forward? Is it like a festival run? Are you going to start to have an impact campaign? Or what's your plans for what you do next with this project?

[00:36:34.686] Ondrej Moravec: So far we have a secured premiere in the Czech Republic which will be by the end of October on one of the festivals which we can't share for now but after that in November we will move to like a big gallery in Prague. And there are also like, let's say, bigger distribution starts. We will also start the school program there. So people will start to go to the gallery. It will be super interesting. And also I'm a bit scared from that because the model will be different than here in Venice because like 15 kids at once will see it and they will do the voices and everything. So it will be like a big big mess I guess but I still believe it will be good but we still need to test it so after we are back in Venice so we will have a few testing sessions with more people watching Darkening and we want to realize if it's a good way but probably we will do it like that. And so we are also in touch with National Institute of Mental Health and with O2 company and together we are running the social impact campaign and we also hope that we will move to other countries around Europe and we would love to also focus on US in some way because the debate about depression there and mental health issues is I believe on a bit different and higher level than in Europe at least like in between people not necessarily on the scientific level, but Yes, Jimmy.

[00:38:09.227] Kent Bye: Do you mean that people talk about it more or this is a bigger issue? Oh

[00:38:13.060] Ondrej Moravec: I think they are talking more about it and not only like between themselves but also in media so that it's generally more topic which is discussed. So we are also waiting for the North American premiere which we hope that the next probably next year from the beginning of the next year we will find somewhere. So that will be for us important step for the next distribution.

[00:38:35.736] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:38:46.040] Ondrej Moravec: I'm a fan of virtual reality and telling the stories like this through the medium. A lot of people... That's also interesting that I also had one interview with one journalist in Czech Republic and I was, you know, expected for some, like, two intimate questions, so I was like, okay, okay. But he started asking me about the medium, if it has a potential and if it is like... a good medium and if it's not only like a bubble you know and things like this and i realized that it was even more like i was feeling really bad from it even then he would be asking me on some private questions you know so sometimes it's sometimes i feel stupid that i'm like in the industry for i don't know six years where i'm like around VR and I still need to explain to people that, okay, this is like a new thing, but I believe that it will stay here, that it is powerful. Look at Meta and how much they are investing, you know, into virtual reality and other companies as well. I don't believe that it's just bubble, but on the other hand, I think that like a classic cinema will stay for sure. It's like with TV and film. Film remained, TV remained, you know. We are just discovering new media and new potentials and that's great.

[00:40:02.068] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:40:10.633] Ondrej Moravec: I just hope specifically that for the Middle and Eastern Europe, because this is like the first time when the Czech project is shown on a class festival, so far the immersive work was not much supported by the state funds and so on in Czech Republic, but I believe that also in more parts of Eastern Europe. And I hope that, for example, also the fact that Darkening is here and so far is quite successful, as I can see, so that it will encourage other makers from this region to create VR.

[00:40:44.348] Kent Bye: And a quick follow-up on the name of the piece, it says Tmani Darkening, how do you pronounce the original name?

[00:40:50.652] Ondrej Moravec: The Czech title, it's Tmani, but for the international market we use only Darkening. So here in Venice they are showing both titles, but we are pretty fine with Darkening.

[00:41:05.535] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I really enjoy darkening and, like I said, the off-boarding process and, you know, being able to hold a space and unpack all the experience and that. It's a real intimate, vulnerable exploration and I think it takes a lot of courage to be able to do that, but also I think it really shows the power of the medium. You know, I felt like I walked out of that experience having a lot more information and knowledge about the core essence of some of your experiences that you have in your life. And I just appreciated you taking the time to create the experience and to share it here at the festival and to have a chance to talk about it here on the podcast. So thanks for taking the time. Thank you as well. So that was Andrej Moravec. He did the piece called Darkening, which was showing at Venice Immersive 2022. Because I'm going to be publishing these 20 different interviews today from Venice Immersive, I'm not going to be doing my full in-depth takeaways for each of these. I recommend going back into episode 1121 if you want more of a discussion of this piece and others in competition at Venice, as well as if you skip forward to 1144, that'll be a panel discussion that I had on the art of reviewing immersive art in an immersive entertainment. with other film critics and immersive critics discussing the challenges of talking about this type of immersive art, and I have my own unique take of being able to do these oral history interviews and unpacking with the creators and directors, but I recommend checking out both of those if you want a little bit more context from Venice Immersive and the total of 23 total hours of coverage that I'm doing here of Venice Immersive with this podcast series. So, that's all I have for today, and 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 of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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