I interviewed Origen director Emilia Sánchez Chiquetti at Venice Immersive 2023. See more context in the rough transcript below.
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[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 about immersive storytelling, experiential design, and the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing my series of looking at different experiences from Venice Immersive 2023, this is episode number 21 of 35 and the first of 10 of looking at the context of ideas and adventure. So this piece is called Oregen. It's by Emilia Sanchez Cicchetti and it's a piece that uses a lot of really innovative redirected walka techniques to really maximize the use of the space as you are put into this Amazon forest and you're walking around and you're discovering these Tabletop scenes that then as you touch these different aspects as you're kind of wandering through the forest from each of these different checkpoints Then you get a little bit of a transmission of indigenous knowledge from the ship people people so it's in the primary context of the ideas and indigenous philosophy and also very much connected to the earth as well and And it's got the center gravity of presence of embodied and environmental presence. Like I said, there's this kind of walking through through this redirected walking. So you're very much using your body to transverse through the space. And it really feels like you're kind of wandering in the forest in this deep sense of embodied presence from that. And then the secondary presence of looking at a lot of the mental presence, so a lot of the ideas that are being transmitted. It's very pedagogical in that sense, where you're learning a lot about the indigenous culture through these different oral transmissions. There's a lot of interactivity as you're able to kind of engage and use your body to kind of trigger these different moments and have to locomote through space in order to progress through the story. And then overall, also a very strong aspect of emotional presence of just tying it all together with this narrative to give you this whole experience. This was one of my favorite experiences. I did a whole list of like my top 17 experiences of my first impressions and I think in the context of the College Bean Alley pieces this is my favorite of those for sure but also I think overall one of my favorite experiences that I had at Venice Immersive 2023. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Amelia happened on Friday, September 1st, 2023 at Venice Immersive in Venice, Italy. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:26.850] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Hello, everybody. Thank you for having me here again and happy birthday. I'm Emilia Sanchez-Chiquetti. I'm Argentinian-Brazilian director of Origen. Origen is a narrative and poetic journey through the Amazon rainforest, where meaningful interactions merge with stories to connect with nature. This first chapter has been co-created with Mokan Rono and presents the stories of Sankunkabwe. and myself as an artist I started studying theatre at the National University of Arts in Argentina and then migrated to immersive theatre and through that process of understanding how to tell stories in space and in the relationship with the spectators or users then I started to be curious about 360 video and migrated to VR. So I created a studio in 2015. We premiered the first theater play in the Dome of Bogota's Planetarium and after that a series of pieces in theater and XR.
[00:03:34.962] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your training and what got you into the immersive space.
[00:03:44.167] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: So I studied drama at the National University of Arts in Buenos Aires and I was always interested in how the space can become narrative and how the spectators or the users can interact with stories. So the first thing I explored was actually an immersive play in a dome. but after that I emigrated to create a theatrical play in the streets of Bogota that ended up in an apartment and the people like go through different spaces and interact with the actors. So after that I wrote a script that for me was so theatrical to be shooting in cinema and so cinematic to be theater with that script on my hand and I was like okay I cannot understand how I'm going to do this. I went to the Bafisi Cinema Festival in Buenos Aires and they were giving a speech about 360 video and I immediately understood that I needed to do that story in that format. So after that it was one thing after another and when I got to know VR I was super interested in investigating that and developing content in that format.
[00:04:59.967] Kent Bye: So you're here at the Venice Immersive 2023 showing your piece called Origin that was a part of the Biennale college cinema program. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear how this project that you're showing here, how that came about.
[00:05:15.030] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: So yeah, this project started five years ago and it's an XRP that combines 360 video with VR and AR pieces. It creates a narrative universe with these interconnected pieces. So when I began the college for creating the VR piece, I had done before a 360 documentary so with the willing of understand better how to create a VR piece we submitted to the college and it was an amazing experience because when we were selected and had the opportunity to share the project with different mentors for so many days the project actually got shape and Also in the college I met Fabito and Amir that they created Labyrinth and I was really curious about how to create an experience where you actually walk in the environment or you can actually move without controlling commands and to better explore the relationship with the body and the territory which is a narrative territory. So I remember one day after listening to Fabito's and Admir's project, I said, OK, is that possible to create a non-euclidean world in an organic environment? And they say, yeah, maybe. And that maybe for me was enough. Like, OK, let's take this challenge and try to create that in a journey through the forest. So it was a really, really valuable experience to be part of the college. And the project wouldn't be as it is now without that.
[00:06:49.470] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was going to ask about that because The Labyrinth with a VR in the middle was a piece that they created a real vast world that when you walk through these impossible spaces, you're moving your body through space, but you're able to take a much vaster spatial journey. So had you had a chance to actually experience their project and then decide to apply that same technique to what you were doing? Or was it just them talking about the idea and then you did it on your own?
[00:07:15.244] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: When they were talking about the idea before they created it, I already understood that it was an amazing way of creating a space just to move without controlling commands and just have the feeling of an actual journey. And then when I got to experience it, it was like one of my favorite experiences ever. So, yeah, it was both. I absolutely fell in love with their idea and then I thought it would be a really nice way to applying it to Origen.
[00:07:45.470] Kent Bye: So maybe you could give a bit more context as to the indigenous people that you're featuring in this project. Maybe give a bit more backstory for what you're actually featuring in this project of origin.
[00:07:58.157] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Yes, so Origen is a three-chapter journey to the Amazon, Andes and Puna, which addresses the stories, the memories of Origen of these territories. And these different chapters are co-created with the storytellers for the different regions and knowledge keepers. This first chapter is the journey to the Amazon rainforest, has been co-created with wielder Antonio Muñoz, he is Mocan Rono, his Shipibo name, and addresses the stories of San K'un K'awe. And in this first chapter you follow a mythological character that awakes different stories in the territory and by meaningful interactions you get to listen to them and to connect with nature in a different way.
[00:08:47.867] Kent Bye: I thought it was a really powerful use of that redirected walking or impossible spaces technique where when you turn around then you have the change blindness you're able to change something behind you and then when you are able to turn around it gave me the feeling of being lost in nature whereas in the labyrinth it was much more of like these human made structures and walls that felt like I was moving through architecture. But this piece felt like I was just kind of lost in nature in a way that it was like I just kept walking and moving around and you were able to change the space like I was going on a whole vast journey. So I thought that you were able to make that translation of being lost in the jungle really quite well. So yeah, I'd love to hear any reflections on that.
[00:09:27.983] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Yeah, we really wanted to transmit that feeling of being in the jungle and even if we poetically decide like to create a stylized jungle to give the person some of the feeling of when you walk in the jungle is a lot of information, no? And we wanted the bodies predisposed to just open to that territory and the feeling of being lost and feeling to look forward for finding the path and finding in the middle these tales and the plans where you connect. So as we play also with the space and we try to make the space narrative itself, it was important for us to create this path in which is not perfectly clear as when you are walking in the jungle. So then you have these transitions that first you are guided by a boat, then you arrive in the jungle, you need to find your path and then just the scale of the space change in a poetic way to address the tales. So that's something we really try to explore in this project.
[00:10:36.732] Kent Bye: And you have a little snake or a boa that you also are following throughout the course's piece. And you have these little moments that you're being guided and directed and walking in a very specific way. And I felt like if I would stop at a certain point and I didn't trigger it, I needed to wait for the second round. So there's like a bit of a looping. So there's these guiding tools that help people direct. And we're here at Venice Immersive, and you have a very thick space, and I feel like you used every last inch of that space to be able to use that, because I felt like I was sometimes having to just double check, because I don't want to move too quickly to run into a wall. But at a certain point, I trusted that I wasn't bringing up the Guardian, so I was able to really explore in a space that I haven't experienced something like that in a long, long time.
[00:11:23.124] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: What is amazing is sometimes a challenge for XR creation to find the balance where you can give that freedom and create this type of feeling of being lost but also you need to guide in the proper way. So we try to be subtle with these guiding elements. And we are seeing what happens now when people get to experience and listen to feedback. Actually, when you're creating this, you're always thinking, will this work? Will people be absolutely lost or not? But fortunately, I think we are in the right balance.
[00:12:04.414] Kent Bye: I noticed at the very beginning there was some language options that you could watch it in English, you could watch it in Spanish, and also like Shipibo indigenous language as well. Maybe you could talk about recording it in the native indigenous language and providing that as an option.
[00:12:18.530] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: It was an amazing experience to be able to record it, free-lingual, and it was very important for us to do that. When we were recording this, first all the myths would be recorded in the native language, and then they were translated to Spanish. So the original voices are from the GPU and Spanish, and in English we did it in Actors. It was really nice to have the experience of listening to the same story in the native language and then in Spanish. I recommend people to do it in the native language. After doing it in the language they can understand because it's truly beautiful to listen to the musicality when somebody is talking in their native language.
[00:13:04.965] Kent Bye: Yeah, I felt like after I'd seen it in English that I'd want to go back and listen to the Shipibo indigenous language just because it does have another layer of the soundtrack that's also in there that you have the music and so maybe you could talk about the soundscape that you're able to create in this experience because that felt like a whole other world that you were taking me into.
[00:13:23.608] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Yes, another layer of that narrative was really important to build that soundscape in a poetic way. So it was another level of co-creation with Wilder also, like, okay, we are addressing this story with this plant. how does it sound and he would recreate the sounds with the mouth and then we built a pre-Columbian instrument with clay and seeds and we recorded some also in the Amazon itself and then with Wilder and the sounds that he said that were displayed all the sounds that he said that he would listen his connection with the different plants we would recreate it with these instruments and the music is made by Pedro Canale, which is an Argentinian musician and producer. So we went, Mocan, Rono, Pedro and myself to the north and did a big immersion to create the sound of the whole experience.
[00:14:27.968] Kent Bye: And so as you're wandering through the forest after you take the boat ride, you have these little sparkling things that you're directed to reach out and touch. And then once you touch it, then you have this tabletop scale vignette of some indigenous knowledge. And so I'd love to hear a little bit about some of those stories that you're trying to tell and how you went about capturing those stories and then trying to figure out how to translate that into some sort of spatial recreation.
[00:14:53.930] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: So we started with Wilder creating the main journey and then he pointed at certain plants that needed to appear in the journey and then with the storyteller Saken Kawai we asked for stories for these specific plants and certain spaces or flowers so they are related, the stories that appear in these plants. So the illustrations have been made for an artist from the Amazon, the ones that appear in the plan. So we tried in a very artisanal way to take these stories also visually to play a little bit with the perspective and the attention between the massiveness of the forest and the focus of the little tales that are appearing. We try to create a dialogue between the vastness of the rainforest and the focus on listening to this knowledge and these tales.
[00:15:59.705] Kent Bye: And can you tell me a bit more about the person who is telling you about what plants to feature?
[00:16:03.946] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Yes, his name is Willer. His Shipibo name is Mokanrono. He lives in the Midukayali Amazon and he's five generations of shamans in his family and he inherited his knowledge with plants from his mother and his father. So it was for us like truly an amazing journey of learning and unlearning. to be able to listen to his stories. I think there is no other situation where you can learn so much as when we are trying to co-create something together. It requires a lot of understanding of where you need to make space for the new information to come. He was guiding us with a lot of patience and love. And we spent like hours and hours and nights just listening to different stories and trying to figure out how to build this journey.
[00:17:08.958] Kent Bye: You said you had to unlearn things as well. What do you mean by that? What did you have to unlearn?
[00:17:14.188] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Well, I think that a process of co-creation like this, it changed you, it transformed you in ways that you can not even imagine at the beginning of the journey. In this case, we started this project from a place of love, no? Okay, let's tell this story. And then, as you're walking the path, you realize how this story is intertwining with your life and making you see things differently. And in order to see things differently, you need to unlearn a lot of things and almost a process of dying to certain things. Also, this was a very long process, no? It was like five years and two years of only development, but three years of co-creation. Willer is also the protagonist of the 360 chapter of the Amazon, the documentary. So, in five years period, being intertwined with this story, it was like one of the most important spiritually and as a human being process.
[00:18:24.978] Kent Bye: So how did you come into relationship to the main protagonist that you're featuring here?
[00:18:31.143] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Well, he was my friend before. I know him from a long, long time ago. When I was in my twenties, I did a journey around Latin America and I lived a while in Peru, a while in Colombia. and we became friends at that time and I have been in contact with these stories that already in that time was like for me the most valuable experience of learning now so I feel that this project emerged for the need of sharing that experience of being able to see nature in a different way after listening to all this knowledge and all these stories that Unfortunately there are not the main stories that are told in our countries or schools.
[00:19:24.708] Kent Bye: And so did you say that after you got what plans to cover that you had to go to other people to elaborate on the stories or did you get all the stories from your main protagonist?
[00:19:36.387] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: So it was a process of creation of many people. With Wilder we create the main journey like the decision of the guiding character, the different plants that appear, the order of the scenes and what happened in every scene. And then to addressing these stories we went to interview, to work together with Sankun Kawe, which is a well-known storyteller and knowledge keeper of these stories from Cacheria Amazonas.
[00:20:09.848] Kent Bye: Okay, and does the story end with ayahuasca? Are there sort of psychedelic spots or did it end with ayahuasca vine or not?
[00:20:19.617] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: There are master plants in a scene that are like guiding plants that are pointed to us that need to appear. And the lights and the colors are a way of unveiling that spirituality of the plants in a visual way.
[00:20:37.664] Kent Bye: Right, right. Was there like a volumetric capture of a woman at some point that you sit down with?
[00:20:43.363] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: It's a CGI character fully, like it's a model in 3D we created, because we decided to create this stylized version of the jungle, so all the characters are created with the same technique. Even we scanned some trees in the jungle that we wanted to have the same shape, but we created the 3D models after them.
[00:21:10.452] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the thing I really take away from this experience was just to be able to be lost in the forest and have the whole embodied journey, but there was also this process of learning about each of these different plants and learning about the stories and the deeper mythological stories and the context it felt like I was on this journey of learning about the culture and this like documentary, but anthropology and in this immersive way that I was very embodied. And so I felt like it was a fusion of all these really interesting ways of really capturing this indigenous knowledge that you're able to put it through the immersive medium and how there's a lot of parallels between the indigenous knowledge of being in relationship to the world around you and how you're able to use the VR as a medium to elaborate on how we're in relationship to these plants and the nature, but also the deeper stories that are reinforcing that relationship. So yeah, I just thought it was a beautiful integration. But yeah, love to hear any thoughts on working with this type of indigenous knowledge and working with being in right relationship to the world around us.
[00:22:12.643] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Yeah, I think it's an absolute honor to have the opportunity to listen to these stories again because they teach us a lot. It's another way of understanding how we are as human beings in our relationship and to create a dialogue with nature. And also through these stories we can tell what happened in this territory through three generations of different attacks and violence. And they are territories that are really in danger of disappearing. And it's not only a territory itself that disappears, it's also memories, it's also stories, it's also knowledge. It was really important for all of us to be in contact with these stories, to learn another way of understanding our relationship with nature, to create a dialogue with nature, which I think is key. Understanding that we are part of nature, we are not separated. We need to reframe that as a collective humanity as soon as possible. So this knowledge that is strong, is alive, is there. needs to be listened. So it was really an honor to co-create this with Wilder and being able to share in this experience. Also in these stories you can acknowledge through three generations what happened in the territory. All the danger, all the things that they are going through day by day and their threats.
[00:23:48.077] Kent Bye: Have you had a chance to show the experience that you've created to the people that are featured in the piece? And I'm curious to hear their reaction to it.
[00:23:55.102] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Yes. Well, Wilder was part of all the process and he really liked it. He told me like, okay, they're similar to the visions he has and the relationship. And so it was really nice.
[00:24:11.862] Kent Bye: Nice, and you had mentioned that there's multiple chapters and so maybe you could describe what you're trying to cover in the first chapter and what you plan on covering in the next subsequent chapters of Orihen.
[00:24:22.020] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: So the second chapter is going to be a journey to the Andes and it will be co-created with Númito Hidalgo, he's a Paco Queiro from Queiro community and in the Andes we'll address the stories, the origin myths from that territory and also the understanding of them to create a dialogue with nature.
[00:24:45.641] Kent Bye: What's the third chapter then?
[00:24:47.098] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: The Puna is the third chapter. Puna is an Andes region too but we differentiate because it would be from the north of Argentina and the different stories and way of understanding nature from that region and creating a dialogue with the free territories in the complete piece.
[00:25:06.445] Kent Bye: And what's next for the next chapters? When do you hope to finish those and are you planning to release them all at once as a project or where do you go next with it all?
[00:25:14.923] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: We have just finished the first one. As I said, it was possible to make it thanks to a grant of Unity for Humanity that we received in 2021. And we are in the pre-production phase of the other ones.
[00:25:31.217] Kent Bye: OK, great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and what it might be able to enable?
[00:25:42.408] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: I think it's a medium that allows us as creators and as users to truly engage in stories in a way that is unlikely you can do it in other ways. I'm really curious to see how it goes in terms of meaningful interactions, spatial narrative, to understand how the different syntaxes of the different layers of meaning that a VR experience can have. So I'm also really interested in the creation of mixed reality pieces and how those can create new ways of telling stories.
[00:26:25.842] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, it's a really beautiful piece that I really had a whole embodied spatial journey, but also just really appreciated the ways that you're using all the technology to tell the deeper mythical stories of nature and cultivating this feeling of being lost in nature actually within a VR experience. And yeah, just really appreciated also all the soundscapes and the whole piece and congratulations on showing it here and thanks for taking the time to help break it all down. So thank you.
[00:26:49.640] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Thank you very much. It's really nice to meet you. Thank you for this space to share our work. It has been an amazing experience to showcase it here and to be able to experience all the pieces that are being shown here. a mind-blowing experience to see how artists are using this medium to tell stories in a more varied way. So, I invite you all to experience Origen, and if you want to know more about the project, you can go to origenxart.com.
[00:27:23.547] Kent Bye: Awesome, thank you so much.
[00:27:25.128] Emilia Sanchez Chiquetti: Thank you so much.
[00:27:26.933] Kent Bye: Thanks for listening to this interview from Fitness Immersive 2023. You can go check out the Critics Roundtable in episode 1305 to get more breakdown in each of these different experiences. And I hope to be posting more information on my Patreon at some point. There's a lot to digest here. I'm going to be giving some presentations here over the next couple of months and tune into my Patreon at patreon.com slash Voices of VR, since there's certainly a lot of digest about the structures and patterns of immersive storytelling, some of the different emerging grammar that we're starting to develop, as well as the underlying patterns of experiential design. So that's all I have for today, and thanks for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And again, if you enjoyed 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 this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.