#1151: Shooting an Immersive Doc the War on Ukraine’s Culture with NowHere Media

You Destroy. We Create: The War on Ukraine’s Culture is a 360-video documentary by NowHere Media & Meta’s VR for Good that was released on Meta Quest TV on November 30th. Shot over the course of 2 weeks and a distance of 4000 kilometers by co-directors Gayatri Parameswaran and Felix Gaedtke (producers of Home After War and Kusunda), this piece documents the story of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegally targeting cultural heritage sites and shows how artists and museums are reacting to the war and continuing to create cultural artifacts.

This piece mixes a number of modalities from 360-video, 180-video, animation, and stereo drone shots and ties everything together with spatialized sound and at times emotionally-moving or driving sound track. I had a chance to talk with Parameswaran and Gaedtke about the challenges of shooting an immersive documentary within a war zone, and the various tradeoffs for how and when they’d use a particular technology to tell this story. We were also joined by VR for Good executive producer Amy Seidenwurm who gave some additional context on this project.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

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. So in today's episode, we're going to be talking about a 360 video documentary that just got released yesterday, November 30th, on Meta's platform on their TV application, Spy the VR for Good Team, and now here in media. It's called You Destroy, We Create, The War on Ukraine's Culture. It uses everything from 360 video to stereoscopic 180. It's also got some drone shots that uses a special technique to get a stereographic effect. And just mixing all the different modalities to be able to go into a war zone and tell the story of how Russia's invasion of Ukraine is actually a war on its culture, how they're illegally targeting a lot of these cultural heritage sites, they're looting the different museums, they're bombing these different sites. It talks to a number of different artists from Ukraine who are responding to this by continuing to create culture and figure out how to take these cultural artifacts and protect them as well. It's a very timely piece and also very ambitious in the sense that it was shot in the course of four months and a pretty quick turnaround. They went there in August and now it just came out at the end of November. And so, yeah, it's a moving piece that takes you into seeing the effects of war. And I find myself really moved by a number of different moments in the piece. And yeah, it's just really well produced and shows, I think, the power of immersive documentary and combining all these different techniques to be able to tell the story. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Gayatri, Felix, and Amy happened on Tuesday, November 30th, 2022. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:50.471] Gayatri Parameswaran: Hi, my name is Gayatri Parameswaran. I am co-founder of Nowhere Media and director and producer of You Destroy, We Create, The War on Ukraine's Culture.

[00:02:01.866] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, and hi, my name is Felix Goetke. I'm the other co-founder now here and the other director producer of You Destroy, We Create. And excited to speak to you today. I'm Amy Seidmorm. I'm the executive producer of Meta's VR for Good initiative and excited to get this project out in the world.

[00:02:22.739] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I know that I've spoken to both Felix and Gayatri a couple of times of previous projects that you've been working on. And so maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into creating VR pieces.

[00:02:35.270] Gayatri Parameswaran: Yeah, sure. So both Felix and I come from a background in journalism and we actually specialized in war and conflict reporting. We went to university together and that's where we met. And right after that, we started kind of working as freelance journalists and covering conflict in different parts of the world. We started in South Asia, in Burma first, and then went on to the Middle East to spend a few years in the Middle East, and then spent a little bit of time in Central and North America. And then somewhere along the line, we discovered or stumbled upon virtual reality. And that was kind of this aha moment where we thought, ah, what if we did the work we do as journalists telling these stories that we think are important and that the world needs to pay attention to? What if we could harness the power of virtual reality to actually tell those stories? And I mean, quite honestly, there has been no looking back. This happened the first time I wore a VR headset was like 2014, 2015. And then ever since we've been running experiments, trying to also use VR and now also AR and other extended reality formats to do the work that we do.

[00:03:55.042] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, I think we have always been interested in experimenting with different formats and immersive techniques are really, really tempting. It allows proximity that is difficult otherwise to convey. And yeah, especially for these places that are so difficult to access for many people. So we are excited to be able to do that this way.

[00:04:18.967] Kent Bye: Maybe you can give a bit more context as to how this project came about, about the Ukraine and the We Create, You Destroy documentary about the war in Ukraine from the perspective of the creators and the artists and what's happening with the cultural institutions there.

[00:04:33.695] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah. So actually just today I got some images sent from a museum in Kherson that has been quickly looted where all the artifacts have been taken. I don't remember the exact number, but like thousands of artifacts have been taken and destroyed. that makes it kind of a special day to also release this project. And I think since the recent invasion started, we wanted to do something in Ukraine. We have friends and colleagues there. We have been there before. And we wanted to do something that was very clear right in the beginning, because we felt like we have been doing these kind of stories in many different other places and now being based in Berlin, this feeling very close to home. So we were eager to do something. And initially, we considered doing a 6DoF experience. But then it became clear very quickly that the whole situation is changing so rapidly and we needed something that's a shorter turnaround time. So we needed some time more quickly and like working in the cultural space ourselves, also as documentary makers and journalists, obviously, it felt really close to home to also look at other artists and creators and how they have been affected and how Ukrainian culture has been targeted. And Well, it turns out that this is also very much at the heart of the conflict, because the conflict is so much about identity. And culture is such an important part in this struggle for identity that felt like the right approach and the right story.

[00:06:08.172] Gayatri Parameswaran: Yeah. And when we started, just to add to that, actually, when we started speaking with Amy from We Are For Good, I think it became also really clear that there is a lot of value to get this piece out there as soon as possible. So the turnaround times for a six-off piece would have been, you know, way too long. And that's when we all agreed on having a shorter or quicker turnaround, about three months or four months, which is, you know, an incredible pace for something of the sort. to stick to 360, 180 and the drone footage that we ended up capturing. And I don't know, Felix, I think something you've spoken about this to me earlier, but the war in Europe is also really close to you personally, right?

[00:06:53.462] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, sure. I mean, I guess being European, it's not an unusual thing that your family history is intertwined with the various wars that have been fought on this continent. And my father's side of the family is from Eastern Prussia, which is now partly in Russia and partly in Poland. My dad was a child when he was fleeing from the Soviet army at the time, and I could see that also with my parents and all the relatives that this conflict opened a lot of these old wounds again, and the way how they look at that, and that made it even more urgent in a way to do something in this conflict, and we felt compelled to do something there.

[00:07:35.035] Kent Bye: And I actually wanted to ask Amy a quick question, because I'd love to hear just a bit more context as the VR for good. And at what point did Meta get involved with this project?

[00:07:45.104] Felix Gaedtke: It was what, probably over the summer, July, that these guys brought it to me. And clearly we've worked together before. It's a great team and a amazing project. We thought it was really important, as Gayatri said, to be depicting what's going on on the ground in Ukraine. as accurately and as immediately as possible. So that was really why we pivoted to 360, as they mentioned. And I think the other thing was just being able to, I think, create something that's like a new bar for journalistic VR. I don't think anybody has turned anything around this quickly that looks this good. Also, I'm proud that we were able to, I say we, but I didn't do any of the work, if I'm being really honest. that they were able to not only like go into a war zone and make the stuff happen, but do it in a way that is a really beautiful video as well.

[00:08:42.973] Kent Bye: Yeah, I really appreciated being able to be transported and to see, you know, being able to see footage in 2D is one thing, but actually to be immersed and to see a little bit more of the fuller context of some of these different scenes and situations, I think, as a viewer, definitely had a deeper emotional impact as I was watching it. So yeah, three month turnaround from, you know, you went to Ukraine and it sounds like around August and then now it's coming out in November. So three to four months to go there and to use these technologies where you have a variety of different techniques from 180 to 360 to photogrammetry and drone footage, and even some animated aspects as well. But maybe you could just talk about as you're using all these different techniques and you're going in, like, how do you start to. With that limited time in this quick turnaround, what's your strategy for finding the story and where do you go and what you're shooting? So maybe talk about that process for going there and how that all came about for finding the people and what to focus on.

[00:09:41.291] Gayatri Parameswaran: Yeah, sure. I can start and Felix, you can jump on whenever you feel that's right. Yeah, first, I think it's also, I guess, important to mention how the theme came about as we were talking, we were working on another project with an NGO called Aleph, you know, the nonprofit itself works on protecting cultural heritage. in areas of conflict. And as we were having these discussions and we were creating an augmented reality application for Aleph, and as we got discussing what's happening in Ukraine, we thought it would be really topical and timely to create a 360 piece focusing on the risk and the threat to cultural heritage and art in Ukraine. And as our research began, we started tapping into our network of researchers and into a network of researchers and journalists and filmmakers in Ukraine and started having conversations. And, you know, the research dossier that we put together had like incredibly long list of cultural artifacts that had been either damaged or looted by Russian troops. And it was also becoming very clear that people who are engaged in the cultural sphere had to completely change either as artists or in other ways had to completely change the way they were doing things. So a lot of people, obviously, after the full-scale invasion started, fled the country. And it became very difficult for cultural institutions to even continue to run. So an opera would have one third of its participants or more in Poland or in other parts of Europe or in North America. And as we started digging deeper into this, it became very clear that these cultural activities are majorly a threat. And at the same time, there were people who were staying back and who found it very, very important to continue doing what they were doing. And they said, you know, when we met with an opera singer in Odessa, who she said, you know, she said to us that if we don't continue making the music that we are making and we don't continue to create culture, then what are the soldiers fighting for? You know, and if we can't live the life we live and we can't add value to society in the way that we can, why do we even bother to fight? And they feel united in protecting this cultural identity and the culture and the art is a great way to express that, express this cultural Ukrainian cultural identity. And so in the research part of the project, our Ukrainian producer Irina Sayevich, she did a great job in finding the right people to speak to, doing the pre-interviews, doing work that was really, really valuable that added to the piece. And as we put together what formats are we going to use, we were really excited to use... This has been something that's kind of a signature of a lot of our work is to mix the different media formats. So if we look at Home After War, which was one of our initial projects, or one of the first six DOF projects we created from Iraq, It mixes stereo billboarding, photogrammetry, and 360 videos. Kosunda is something that mixes photogrammetry, volumetric video, and animations, and as well as flat videos. So it's something that's really exciting for us to mix these different formats to bring a story alive. And yeah, I think I will hand it to Felix who can speak also about the different formats.

[00:13:16.150] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, so first to how we came about with the stories and the characters, I think it's important to mention that many of the projects we have worked on, this was one of the ones where we felt that we had the most support from everyone involved. Like any Ukrainian we spoke to for the research of this, wanted to support this project, wanted to help us, were reaching out, were thinking about this. So in that sense, it was very easy, I mean, to come up with a gigantic list of possible protagonists that we wanted to work with, because really a lot of people speaking with them, saying, oh, this might be interesting, that might be interesting, and so on. And then we had to also be flexible because of the situation. So we had one potential character that then was actually a ballet dancer that was also fighting. But then she lost her husband, and then it was clear that she didn't want to participate in the project at that moment. Or we had someone else who then was drafted and was far at the front line in Donetsk fighting. So it was clear that we had a very flexible... That was actually while we were in Ukraine. So it wasn't that we had a clear set of We knew the theme and with the theme we had a whole range of different possibilities and characters and we had to see what we could do. So, for example, we also really wanted to film in the bunkers where the Ukrainian museums and so on keep their stuff protected. But even after we got the chance to speak to the culture minister, it was very clear that we would not get a permit to go to these places. So we kind of had to be flexible throughout. And just to make the connection to the technology, what actually was helpful when it comes to this flexibility was, which we did first time, was shooting 180 with this double fisheye lens, like on a normal, relatively normal sized DSLR body because it allowed us to be very flexible which was crucial and have a light footstep and in the moments when we had the chance to like build up something bigger and maybe also saw like the real potential for a 360 image we were then able to use the Insta Titan which was really nice and similar with the drone footage it had to be a little bit more planned just because in Ukraine at the moment you always need someone from the army present when you're flying a drone. So that was something that had to be a little bit more planned and some things we couldn't film that we wanted to film. But well, I guess that's just the kind of compromises you have to make working in these kinds of environments.

[00:15:56.033] Gayatri Parameswaran: Yeah. And just to add to that, we were just incredibly happy and lucky with everything that we were able to do in the two weeks that we were traveling. We covered like 4,000 kilometers. We had a GPS tracker with us for security reasons so that our team and in Berlin could always track where we are and where we are moving. And we had some security protocols connected to that. But we traveled like 4,000 kilometers in two weeks, had like 15 terabytes of data, which is a lot of, lot of material that we gathered. And we were just basically, our cinematographer, Philip Wenning, he was just basically filming whenever possible, just taking everything that's really possible to take. And this kind of running and shooting was only possible because of the Canon setup, the 180 setup that Felix just referred to, because he was going a lot handheld or on a gimbal. Because the 360 camera that we were using is the Insta Titan, which anyone who's worked with the Insta Titan knows that it's a beast. It takes a lot of time to set up. It takes a lot of time to kind of get started. And it's great for moments that can be controlled, but a lot of moments where we were not really controllable. And so we could switch back to this option and still not miss out on action. And I just want to say that actually the hyperstereo drone material that we gathered. It's inspired by our friend who works at realities.io, Azad Balabanian. We saw some prototypes that he had done. He's just amazing with the drone. And he had been flying these drones and creating this. So basically overlaying one layer of footage with another layer of footage. And as long as it's basically having a parallel flight, the stereo effect works. And it works incredibly if you have one left eye and one right eye. So the drone rig itself is not stereo. It's just a normal DJI Cine Mavic. And we just manipulated the footage in a way that it could be left eye and right eye. And the first time he demoed it to us, and this is what he does in his free time. He's just an incredible genius. And we said, hey, we really need to do something with this. And he said, yes, I can tell you how to do it. Just use it for storytelling. You have to use it for storytelling. And then one year later, we kind of found the perfect use case for this in the Ukraine in New Destroy with Create.

[00:18:27.833] Felix Gaedtke: Just to add to this, there's one thing that you can't have moving objects in there. It has to be static. The moment something moves in there, it looks weird.

[00:18:37.160] Kent Bye: Yeah, I noticed those shots, they look amazing. And I was wondering if you did stereo shots and I saw Azad's name as a VR drone supervisor, but yeah, they look amazing. And it's like a little portal that gives you this real sense of depth. So it's really cool that you're able to use some cutting edge photogrammetry techniques. It makes sense that that would work, that if you're moving in a straight line, from a singular direction that you'd be able to take time-lapsed footage and create a stereographic effect. So as I was watching it, especially as you're showing the damage that's done and, you know, I guess as a viewer, I'll just speak to how usually when I'm watching a piece, I flip into one of another mode of like, okay, I'm watching a 360 video, be sure to look everywhere. And now I'm watching a 180, which as a viewer, you can just sit back and relax and watch in one direction. And so this was a piece where, because it was context switching, you know, you do have ways in which that when it flips over to 180, you're directing the attention with arrows to kind of look in a certain direction. But as people are watching a piece like this for the first time, that's one of the things of like knowing whether or not you can look around or not. And it's totally understandable that there'd be these trade-offs between which one you're going to use based upon the context and what makes sense from a production point of view. But I'd love to hear, like, this is a new lens that's from Canon to be able to put on a DSLR camera. It's a fisheye lens that you were saying how it's enabled you to have some handheld shots and to be a little bit more flexible and to be more agile when it comes to shooting. But I also noticed that you were shooting a lot of the interviews with this. And so I'd love to hear a little bit more about this new lens that has come out within the last year or so and what that has meant for productions like this.

[00:20:17.511] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, this lens is pretty amazing. As you said, it's a double fisheye lens. So you can shoot 180 footage with basically this is I think it's the smallest cinema line body from Canon. So it's actually a cinema line camera that we have been using, which obviously allows them a lot when it comes to grading and colors and resolution. For the interviews, we found it also really nice because it produces a good image and allowed us to easily hide and direct the attention to the person we were interviewing. So we didn't feel the need in all of these shots to have them in 360. And that allowed us to guide the view a bit more and then to also work with slides that are a little bit more hidden in a traditional interview lighting setup kind of situation. And obviously shooting with it, having the ability to really have it rigged up in a small bag with us all the time. So we traveled by car, but we also traveled by train in Ukraine, for example. And you have air raids all the time. So there were so many moments where it was handy to have a camera that we could shoot with and also take down and leave the situation immediately without having to either leave the camera there or quickly carry a big camera on a tripod somewhere down some basement stairs was really, really nice.

[00:21:39.173] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that. I don't know if it was you or other people who have traveled to war zones with 360 cameras. It's sort of like a device that is unorthodox enough to attract unwanted attention. So imagine that having just a normal looking camera is beneficial in that context as well.

[00:21:55.732] Felix Gaedtke: Yes, yes, that's true. But we still had a lot of attention. But compared to our situation in Iraq, it was much easier, just checkpoints and so on, because it's not a civil war. So you have the feeling that everyone is kind of on one side, and they get that you're not Russian, but that you're documenting what's going on there. It was much easier, even with all the equipment, checkpoints, and get permits to shoot. So we were actually also quite surprised how much we could shoot, also with the drone. centers. I mean, we shot in Kharkiv before the most recent offensives with the drone in the city center, and we had some military guy with us. And there were some things that we were prohibited from filming, but mainly it was pretty, pretty open what we could do and what we could film and where we could

[00:22:46.150] Kent Bye: There's also some moments when you start to use like spatialized sound, especially when you have like the air raid sounds that you're kind of immersed within a scene and then you have the overlaying of that sound on top of that. So maybe talk a bit about how you're able to specifically use the sound in this piece to tell the story.

[00:23:04.840] Gayatri Parameswaran: Yeah. Yeah. Kudos to our sound designer, Billy, who was really great at putting together a soundscape. Actually talking about the soundscape, one of the main kind of guiding threads through the piece is music. Like there's quite a lot of driving music in the piece. And there's one track from one of the artists whom we feature, Tucha, that kind of, you know, is something that you hear throughout. And Tucha, or Maria Tuchka, she is a DJ and a musician. And like every other artist, as soon as the full-scale invasion began, she kind of transformed her music as a tool to raise awareness of what's happening. And one of the tracks that she released recently is titled Russia is a Terrorist State, which has been quite popular in Ukraine, but as well as in a lot of international arenas. And one thing she says is that when people are partying and when people are out there and dancing, I want them to know what's happening in Ukraine. And we felt that's such a clever way and such a motivator, like it's so inspiring to see artists using their art to do more than creating art, you know, towards a political means. So her music is also creating a lot of the backbone in the piece and guiding users until we reveal what it is and who's creating this music. And then Billie created and composed a lot of tracks as well, which were kind of opposing, let's say. Like Tucha's track is really hard and harsh and quite strong. And then Billy complemented it with music that is a little bit more, let's call it softer and allows you to stay in this space that you're invited to and that you're asked to look at and to witness. We were recording ambisonic sound on the ground as well. So with like a regular Zoom ambisonic recorder, H3, and then we had lavalier mics on our protagonists and storytellers who that was kind of running all the time as we were spending time with them. Like, you know, actually the spatial sound becomes even more important when there are these mixed media formats. So moving from 360 to 180 and then the drone footage, you know, it directs people's attention and it guides people to look in a certain direction. And I think that's where also kind of Billy did a great job at placing them in the right places and kind of guiding users to look in a certain way towards a certain thing.

[00:25:41.235] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, just to add to the soundscape, I think it's also really important in the understanding of the situation there, because it binds so much emotionally how one feels there. So once one is closer to the front line, you basically almost constantly hear this grumbling of artillery in the distance. So that is something that kind of is this underlying level of stress that you have, because it's good it's far away most of the time. But if you have also heard it closer by, then you know how scary it gets the closer you hear this. So I think that's one thing that has a lot to do with sound, even if you don't see anything. If you just hear this and you understand that this is not like a distant thunderstorm that is somewhere, but it's actually a shelling happening somewhere. So that's one thing. And in a similar way, these air alarms that we have in the opera, in the scene in the opera where you see a rehearsal in the opera and then the singing gets overlaid with the air alarms. That's how it happens. These things always come out of nowhere. They always surprise you and they always come at a moment where you're like, what is this? It doesn't match because you are in another environment, you're in another context. And then suddenly you are again back into this situation that you don't have agency over, but just to go down to the shelter if you can. And these airlines you hear a lot because you have them on speakers in the cities, but also almost everyone has these apps on their phone where you have that as well for different regions. So even if you might sit in a restaurant and then everyone's phone start making that sound or somewhere else or in a train where, and it's even weirder because you can't even do anything about it, you're in the train. Yeah, so these sounds, they really get to you when you're there. And that's something I think we remembered a lot from there were these sounds.

[00:27:33.467] Gayatri Parameswaran: Yeah. And actually the Ukrainians we were screening the piece for during already the test screenings, you know, they all said that, oh my God, the air alarm is such a trigger, you know, it immediately puts them in this situation, puts them back in a place where, you know, something that they've experienced that is kind of traumatic and instills fear and interrupts life. And also, Yeah, but Felix mentioned this kind of rumbling of the artillery. A few days, you know, in returning from Ukraine, there was some thunder in Berlin, like just some thunderstorms. And I, for one second, I thought, oh, fuck, is this artillery? So the sounds really do, when you don't see the danger, you try to hear and to listen out for the danger. And that does really play a big role in your experience, in people's experience being in Ukraine and living there.

[00:28:26.961] Kent Bye: Yeah, I thought it was a really powerful scene just because you are immersed into this other context of what's happening with this rehearsal. And then the sound design in that moment was particularly striking to be able to layer in this other context, even when you're visually in this theatrical entertainment practice context. And then you switch into going into the bunker where people are waiting for the air raid siren to stop. And you kind of switch into more of a spatial sixth off animation that you have like will kind of highlights. And so it reminded me of Kasunda in the sense that you were originally planning to do a completely photogrammetry piece, but then had to adopt all these other animation styles and modalities. And I felt like there was a call back there to kind of bring in that specific aesthetic for that moment. And I was just curious What was behind that decision? If it was more of a logistical thing where you couldn't set up a camera and that, or if you felt like stylistically it would able to convey the feeling of the vibe of that scene better in an animation still life than if it was actually a photorealistic 360 photo.

[00:29:40.028] Felix Gaedtke: I think even before that, like the moment when you go down to the bunker, that's actually phone footage. And it's actual phone footage from a moment when we actually were going to a bunker. So that was important for us. Because in that, you have a very limited time frame, normally, from the alarm to when you should be in the bunker. Because we have been, unfortunately, also, at times, not in time in the bunker. I mean, in time in the sense that it was like they were shelling close by enough to really feel it and know that you should really be in the bunker at this moment. or in the basement. I mean, most of these are just basements. They're not even like bunkers or like any basement you can go to. And we thought like phone footage is real and it also makes it real. It's like this is like a shaky phone camera. I think most of us can relate to in a situation like this more than if we would have tried to I mean, there was already enough movement in the 180 shot to stitch them in stereo. I think if we would have done that running down to the bunker, our post-production team would have not appreciated that very much. So yeah, I think that's for this scene. And then actually, Being down there we never managed to film like when we were there inside because it was always like too much to take all the suitcases down and set it up there so we knew that it would be in some form anyway staged and that's why we wanted to work with this animation there and give at least a feeling for how it is there and It's also a very reduced environment of what you see. That's how it is. Normally, it's dark anywhere. Often, it's at night. People come there half asleep and groggy. It's not normally a very lively atmosphere. You're just there. A lot of people are on their phones because you have these telegram groups where you normally get like the first rumors confirmed at that point is like which neighbors have been hit, what's going on, where you are, and so on. So that's the situation. And we wanted to kind of allow an audience to understand how you're then in that space and you hang out there until you get that release sound or whatever from the alarm that allows you then to go up again.

[00:31:50.938] Gayatri Parameswaran: Yeah. And it's interesting, Kent, that you mentioned Kusunda, because the art director and animator who worked on Kusunda, Moritz Meierhofer, is the same person who worked on Yudhishthira, we create as well. And it's a unique style. And as Felix said, you know, and what has been mentioned already, we had a really fast turnaround. We couldn't like animate entire scenes, or we couldn't create things that had too much movement in them, because we're working also with like, 5.7K material, which is just a lot of pixels to render. So actually, the scene in the bunker is actually 60 frames that is repeated in loop. You know, we had to find all the hacks and Moritz did a great job at that. Like we had to find hacks to keep the animations kind of really lively and add something to the entire scenario. But at the same time, they couldn't take too much resources and too much time because just building it into the project and having everything, the workflow didn't have so much space for negotiation, for things to like, we didn't have enough R&D time even, you know. So it's just something that, you know, we knew from the beginning, like the frames for the portals kind of on the drone are also like 30 to 20 frames that get repeated because it has this kind of jittery effect. The stuff that comes behind you in the arrows behind you in the 180 footage are also loops. So we worked a lot with loops so that we didn't have to generate data that would take a lot of time and try to kind of save on computing power and resources in terms of time to render.

[00:33:33.654] Kent Bye: Yeah. I thought it was really effective in being able to communicate that vibe of that moment. And also at the end where you have some of that drone footage and looking at a destroyed building and then being able to use animation to not only show the damage that had been done, but also in this kind of platonic realm of ideal forms of this vibe of rebuilding in that moment, which I thought was a really effective way of showing the reality of what was happening in that moment, but also showing the potential of what could happen as we get to this point of the documentary, talking about both the destruction that's happened, but also the creation and saying that there is people that are still making and creating. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear any thoughts on that dialectic between the destruction and creation that you have between the destruction of these cultural artifacts and the implication of that, but also the impulse to continue to create in the midst of all of this.

[00:34:29.421] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, that was a big, big part when we got there that we realized like the Ukrainians are like burning to do something and they're so eager to do something. And it's also very much appreciated by the public. I think one thing that I've found Before that, I couldn't imagine that in a conflict, a street artist is important. But Gamlet is important for the city. He gets support from the army, from the police, from all the civilians that walk by while we spend a lot of time with him when he's painting and doing street art, because he reflects on what's going on in the city. They love him, and they love his work. And they really, really are stopping. They take selfies with him. They give him money. The public is really behind the artists and are really, really eager to support that. And one would maybe bet, I don't know, artists are not important in a moment like this. But it's quite the contrary. It really is. And people creating gives them a sense of identity. And yeah, by doing that, also, like taking a side in the conflict and making clear that Ukraine is there as long as they are artists creating and also rebuilding. So there was a lot of rebuilding efforts going on in places that were even still like the fighting was still very close by. They would still already rebuild and that spirit is something we needed to capture and was very clear that we needed that in. There was actually one, we had this drone shot of that big symmetry and we had that at a different place later in the piece in one edit where we were working with a Ukrainian here who then said like, but that's not it. It's not only people dying, it's also people building something and doing something. And it's so true. And we wanted to do justice to this and really show that the Ukrainian cultural scene is alive. And Gaytry was mentioning the opera singer before. She had a job to work at a Polish opera. She was in Poland, and she came back to do something, to be in the opera and to perform there, and during the day be by the beach and making sandbags. So for the cultural scene, it's very clear that on the one hand, they get involved in volunteering work, some of them fighting, but also them just doing volunteering work, helping people and others. in this dire situation, but also keeping culture going and making sure that heritage is protected, and also creating stuff that forms a new identity and defines what Ukraine is. I mean, I think Tucha is speaking about this, how the conflict also allows for a new definition of what it means to be Ukrainian, what Ukrainian culture means, and they really take that opportunity to do something with it. Like, for example, like, just to give an example, like a lot of the songs, the video used to be in Russian language, and now in Ukrainian, like a lot of actually, most of our protagonists that are in the film right now are Russian mother tongue speakers, and they were adamant on speaking Ukrainian in the interviews. Yeah.

[00:37:31.251] Kent Bye: Guy, I don't know if you had anything else that you wanted to add to that.

[00:37:34.622] Gayatri Parameswaran: Maybe just that, you know, one of the people who is featured in the piece is Katerina, who is a curator or the director of the museum in Odessa, the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art. And when we talk about creating, what Katerina has done is she has created a safe space for her collection. She's brought all her collection into a bunker somewhere safe, because she says, you know, when the full-scale invasion started, they noticed that things were getting bombed everywhere. Cities were going down into rubble and buildings were being lost. they just went into overdrive somehow and said, OK, we need to save everything that we have. And that is something I think she has managed to do together with many other museums in Ukraine. But it's very, very, it's kind of bittersweet, you know, for Kateryna. She says, you know, yeah, of course, it's great that nothing has happened so far to the building and we've taken the collection to a safe space. But the museum itself is nothing without its visitors, you know, nothing when children are not running around, when couples are not walking around and, you know, having discussions about art and looking at it and arguing about it and fighting over something. It's, you know, that's what gives her meaning. in her life, you know, as a museum curator, and she talks about her journey of like going from showing art and showing culture to hiding it and hiding culture. So she has a different journey in some ways, but at the same time, even though her permanent collection is kind of stored away somewhere safe, she has created again a space for contemporary artists to show their work. in the basement of the museum. So again, everything, life in Ukraine right now is happening in the basement. A lot of things happen in the basement. So when we were there in Odessa, there was the opening of a new exhibition at the museum, a contemporary exhibition where they could welcome visitors. But Katarina is like direly waiting for the day when she can open the doors of the museum again to her visitors, and she's waiting for peace to kind of return.

[00:39:46.784] Kent Bye: Yeah, I thought that the way that the piece ends with the singing, I just found those different scenes really moving just to hear the spirit of the Ukrainian people. And it seemed like that this is something that happens fairly regularly of just as people gather, they're singing. And I'd love to hear any reflections on the way that you decided to end that piece in that way. And if that was just something that seemed to happen a lot with breaking out in song.

[00:40:12.403] Gayatri Parameswaran: Yeah, actually the song is the national anthem. of Ukraine. And for us, I think it was quite incredible to see how people were, you know, it doesn't happen often in, not at all, like where I live now, Germany, you don't sing the national anthem for other reasons, for historical reasons, and fair enough, you know. So as outsiders being there, and being witness to this kind of moment of coming together and moment of unity, and finding this common ground as being Ukrainian and the national hymn being a symbol for that was quite intriguing, let's say, but at the same time, like really, really emotional because the words of the national anthem are also such that they really refer to what's happening right now. It talks about, you know, getting the land back, like making ours what is ours. claiming the space. So it made a lot of sense. We didn't want to transcribe it or we didn't want to put subtitles because I think the moment itself is captured very well, the emotion comes through. But for the Ukrainians who know what it means and it's very, very emotional and feels like this kind of uniting force that brings people together. And that actually captures the sentiment of what we experienced in Ukraine, despite the differences, despite all the problems that exist internally in the country. Right now, people are united to fight this common enemy in some ways. You know, everyone whom we spoke to said, we will get rid of all the differences and we'll fight over them, but first we need to win this war and then we can get to sorting out our differences. actually kind of underlined our experience. That was kind of a thread that went through our journey through Ukraine. And yeah, I think that's something that we felt it was fitting. And to be honest, it's also important to say the editor, Piare or Pierre Fricke, he did the first rough cut, of course, and then it was really moving when we first saw the rough cut. together with him and we said, okay, yeah, that makes sense. It makes perfect sense to end it on this point of also being positive and showing this creation, the spirit of creation.

[00:42:27.713] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, I think we were really touched by this. Like, I mean, they say that war brings out the worst and best in people. And I think that's really something we saw there, like the solidarity between the people was incredible. Like, you're really in so many situations, you felt like people are standing together, and they stand in solidarity with each other. And yeah, I think that scene kind of captures that.

[00:42:50.146] Kent Bye: Great. Well, I guess as we start to wrap up, I'd love to hear any reflections that each of you have on what you see as the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and what it might be able to enable.

[00:43:03.429] Gayatri Parameswaran: I think I've answered this question like twice before, and I don't remember what I've said before, but In the context of this piece, I think, I mean, I would hope for the ultimate potential of virtual reality to be able to bring people together, you know, in the face of all this destruction, all the aggression and all the violence. Yeah, it's just, I don't know if you have the same feeling as I do, all of you. In the last years, it just feels like we're going down and it's not pleasant necessarily to even look at what's happening around you or all the bad news that you receive. So yeah, I think the ultimate potential is to use virtual reality as a cohesive tool, like something that brings people together.

[00:43:55.305] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, just to reflect on this, I think for me, the ultimate potential there is really this exchange in perspective that helps mutual understanding and understand the situation better than you could otherwise. And I hope that we gave people the opportunity with this piece to understand the situation of the cultural scene in Ukraine and how culture is being targeted and how people are reacting in Ukraine better and yeah maybe it doesn't feel so distant then and ultimately everyone can help to improve the situation. We're all aligned on the idea that this technology is amazing to connect people and really the In this instance, it sounds weird, but to provide access to people to places that they wouldn't normally get to see or experience, you know, you wouldn't want to experience a war zone or see all this yourself. But I think that idea scales to a lot of ways that this technology goes. I'm hoping that it creates a more unified world that people can see each other's worlds and experience them as they do.

[00:45:02.252] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[00:45:07.915] Gayatri Parameswaran: No, it's amazing now to see the immersive community grow and grow consistently. And that's so fantastic. You know, I'm just so happy to meet more and more people every time I'm at an event or somewhere else. It's just really, really great to see this community grow and still stick together.

[00:45:25.367] Felix Gaedtke: And I do want to say that a lot of people were involved in this. I mean, Amy said she didn't do anything and only we did something. That's not true. I think there were a lot of people involved in this, be it at Meta or at Nowhere or beyond that made this come true. I think Gayatri and me are being interviewed today, but it's really, really teamwork, especially given this hard timeline we put everyone through and we really appreciate that. Well, if we're shouting out people, I just did want to mention Eric Chang and Brent Schnarr and Jonathan Gleit on our innovation media team who like really dug in on this project and made sure that this was the highest quality video it could be. They loaned the cameras to Guy, Trim, Felix and shipped them out there and gave a lot of notes to make sure that the quality was as fantastic as it could be. These are the guys who created soloist VR and didn't create it, but were behind making it such a really amazing piece of VR.

[00:46:28.230] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, this is a really amazing piece, really enjoyed it. And in terms of going into a war zone and capturing what's happening there and to be able to share with all these different modalities, I think it conveys a deeper message of what's happening there and also the resilience and spirit of these artists and creators and the need to preserve the culture and that recurrent theme throughout this piece. And yeah, I just thought it was really effective and powerful moving and Thanks so much for each of you for producing this and for joining me today here on the podcast.

[00:47:00.372] Gayatri Parameswaran: Thanks, Ken. Thank you, Ken. Yeah. Thank you.

[00:47:04.086] Kent Bye: So that was Gayatri Parameshvian, as well as Felix Gittke. They're both from Now Hear Media, and they produced the documentary called You Destroy, We Create, The War on Ukraine's Culture. And also an executive producer from the VR for Good team, Amy Sideworm. So I hope to dive more into the VR for Good program at META, because they've produced a number of really great immersive documentaries over the years, and I'd love to do a bit of a retrospective. But yeah, this piece, it's available if you go to the TV application. It should be right there, but I'll include a link in the description, as well, so you can go straight there. One of the things that I took away is that when you watch images on a 2D, it's a lot different than being taken to these different places to see the effects of the war, especially on these UNESCO-protected sites declared as things that are important to the cultural history. It's actually against the Hague Conventions to be specifically targeting these different cultural sites. It's not stopping Russia from doing it anyway. Just to see the actual impact of that, but also to talk to a number of these different artists, and just to see the resilient will and spirit of the people of Ukraine to continue to clean up after all these different sites have been destroyed, and also to see the cooperative and collaborative effort there, but also the artists who are continuing to create these different pieces of art in the midst of the war, and just to express what's happening. And yeah, the other thing is just the way that they're able to mix all the different modalities of the 360 video, when they were able to set up the shots and have lots of leisure, and then the more run-and-gun double fisheye lens from Canon to take shots that they didn't have time to be able to set up and take down, and then also mixing in 2D video where appropriate, and tied together with both the spatial sound design that they have throughout the entire piece, but also the music score that I think The second time that I was listening to it, I was really appreciating how the music is tying in and bringing up the emotions that they're trying to convey in the context of this piece. The drone footage looks amazing. I highly recommend checking out what they're able to do to create what looks like a framed 2D window into this stereoscopic effect. What they're doing is flying a drone in a straight line and then taking time delay of some of those images to create this stereographic effect that is actually really quite effective of being able to Create this sense of specialization and so I found those shots to be particularly powerful especially when they're showing some of the bombed-out civilian apartments and buildings They traveled like 4,000 kilometers all over Ukraine to be able to shoot this over the course of two weeks. It's just a pretty remarkable journey that they went on. To hear all the additional context of going into the different bunkers and deciding to convey some of these moments through this still-life animation that's a repeating loop of 60 frames or so. It's able to convey different aspects of what that moment is like, despite the fact that they were never able to take all their proper gear to be able to capture an actual moment of the bunker, but they're able to recreate the vibe in a way of what those moments were like. And it's also to overlay where the destruction had happened, to be able to show both what was lost, but also this aspirational vision to reconstruct and rebuild. Just to see these different three protagonists and to hear their stories and to end with the optimism and the singing of the national anthem, which Gayatri was expanding on, and how much that was about bringing together the community and reflecting what's happening right now. It's very contemporary. Just to see these different audiences singing that. I found it really moving and I highly recommend checking it out. Hopefully you were able to watch it before. Listening, but if even if not you can go check it out It's on meta's platform if you go to their TV application And it should be right there, or you can look down in the show notes, and I'll have a link to it so That's all I have for today And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the voice severe podcast and if you enjoyed the podcast and please do spread the word Tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the patreon this is a listen supporter podcast and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring this coverage and So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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