#878 VR for Good: ‘Home After War’ Explores the Civilian Impact of IEDs in Iraq

Home After War is an Oculus VR for Good piece that focuses on the civilian causalities of mines and improvised explosive devices. It uses photogrammetry to recreate an Iraqi home, and features haptics and immerskve sound design to provide an embodied storytelling experience of these IEDs on Fallujah, Iraq.

I had a chance to break down the experiential design with VR creators Gayatri Parameswaran and Felix Gaedtke as well as with Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining’s head of digital media Sandra Bialystok.

They have screened Home After War at Venice 2018, SXSW 2019, and at the United Nations and other NGOs for the past couple of years.


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

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So continuing on in my series of looking at the VR for Good movement, today's episode is with the experience called Home After War. So Home After War, it actually debuted at the Venice Film Festival 2018. It also showed at the South by Southwest 2019. I actually saw it in between that time after its debut at the VR dev lab from Kaleidoscope. I got to see an experience. And then I ended up in Berlin at the VR Now conference, where I actually conducted this interview with the creators Gayatri and Felix. And Sandra Bialystok was also there. She's actually with this humanitarian group. It's called the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining. So this was a part of the Oculus for Good program where they try to match up these different non-governmental organizations, these nonprofits, with VR creators to be able to tell the deeper story of the work that they're doing. So Gayatri and Felix both had experience with doing different documentaries and journalism, and then they actually went to Iraq to create this whole photogrammetry experience. And so you're walking around this home, this photogrammetry home in Iraq, And then near the end of the experience, there's actually this explosion. There's different minds that are being put into these different areas of conflict. People are fleeing their home. And as they come home, sometimes their home has minds within them. And so this is a story of a man who actually had one of his children killed by one of the minds within his own home. And so You're in the home going around to the different areas and then as he's telling the story Then there's this explosion that then you you it really drives home for you That this is a real issue of having a home where you're not really all that safe And so by having it photogrammetry you're able to walk around a little bit and they use a different like a haptic floor and different smells so quite an immersive embodied experience and I They ended up taking this to different places around in Geneva, to the United Nations, and trying to change the policy around mines. This is, again, a VR for Good experience that's really targeted for trying to change the larger political policies and to be able to have people not use mines in these armed conflicts. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Oasis of VR podcast. So this interview with Gayatri, Felix, and Sandra happened on Wednesday, November 14th, 2018 at the VR Now conference in Potsdam, Germany. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:34.605] Gayatri Parameswaran: My name is Gayatri Parameswaran. I am an XR creator and co-founder at Nowhere Media, and we are an immersive storytelling studio that's based in Berlin.

[00:02:44.836] Felix Gaedtke: Well, I'm Felix Goetke. I'm the other co-founder at Nowhere Media, background in journalism, documentaries, and yeah, and now an XR creator.

[00:02:54.622] Sandra Bialystok: I'm Sandra Bialystock. I work in digital media for the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, GICHD. It's a humanitarian organization that works to help clear land of landmines and help it develop.

[00:03:10.533] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could tell us a bit about, like, how did this project come about?

[00:03:16.295] Sandra Bialystok: So back in 2017, at GISHD, we were looking to do a VR project. And I saw that Oculus VR for Good was happening. So I just applied. I threw our application into the pile. And we were selected to be part of that program.

[00:03:36.809] Kent Bye: And so maybe you could pick up on your side of the story of being one of the creators on the Oculus VR for Good program, and then your journey into actually working on this project.

[00:03:45.865] Gayatri Parameswaran: So, to be honest, when I applied for the VR for Good program, I had no idea about this pairing system of how Oculus brings together filmmakers and non-profits on each of the sites. And I just applied thinking, oh, they're going to make my idea come true. But only later did I realize that, oh, actually this is about pairing filmmakers and non-profits together. And to be honest, we were very, very cautious stepping into this setup because, you know, what if we get the wrong, you know, get the wrong deal or get the raw deal? So we were wary of stepping into this equation. But I'm so happy about how it's all turned out. So I would say we stepped in with a lot of excitement about the possibilities and yet being cautious about what it would bring.

[00:04:37.283] Felix Gaedtke: It has been great, this process of working with GSEHD especially, since we got really creative freedom to work on the piece like Gayatri and me envisioned it, but really also get the knowledge and input from GSEHD and of course the funding from Oculus, which is what also made this possible.

[00:04:57.727] Kent Bye: Yeah, so maybe you could set the context a little bit, because in the actual piece, there's a family that's been impacted by landmines. And so maybe you could set the context as to what was happening in Iraq with this issue and why it was important for you to be able to use the medium of virtual reality to be able to tell the story.

[00:05:16.443] Sandra Bialystok: So, in current conflicts, the issue of improvised explosive devices, IEDs, are becoming quite prevalent and quite a challenge for many countries, not just in Iraq, but in other parts of the world as well. And when we were working with Gayatri and Felix, we were thinking about different parts of the world, what was the most urgent story that we wanted to tell, what did we want to be able to shed light on, what would work in a VR environment, and we kept on coming back to this question that's happening in Iraq, as well as other parts of the Middle East as well, or even in other parts of the world, which is houses that are being booby-trapped, essentially, improvised explosive devices as booby traps, so that when people, civilians, return to their homes, they don't know what to expect. And there are stories that were coming out of Mosul but also other parts of Iraq, anecdotal stories of people coming home and opening an oven and an explosion going off or opening a fridge or walking over the threshold of their front door and being attacked by their home. They were literally being attacked by their home and these are just people who want to return home and rebuild their lives. So we thought That was the story that we thought was urgent. We thought it was the story that we could tell convincingly in a VR environment. And as the GICHD, it's something, the challenges that IEDs are bringing to our work. are important to highlight to the international community, to our sector, to the humanitarian sector, that these are not devices like we knew them before. They're different. And so in order to help talk about these issues at the international level for us and to get people engaged on this issue was really important. So we felt that this could be a really great new way of telling the story.

[00:07:18.565] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I'm wondering if you could expand on the technical choices of how you decided to tell this story, because you could have done a 360 video, but you chose to go down the route of photogrammetry with like a 2D billboarded version of the man who was impacted, narrating and giving context throughout the story. And so maybe you could talk a bit about that design choice and how you thought that was going to best tell the story.

[00:07:43.536] Gayatri Parameswaran: So I think, as Sandra mentioned, the home was going to be the place where the story was going to take place. And for a lot of us, home is a place that is safe and secure. Whereas for hundreds of thousands of civilians who are returning back home in Iraq, that's not the case. So we wanted to really focus on this idea of what if your home becomes the place you fear, and it's no longer a home. And we knew that in order to create this sense of presence, we wanted to put audiences, put our users in a real home in Iraq. And photogrammetry is just amazing in the fidelity that it offers, or in its visual impact, the visual clarity, that you are really immersed in the space. And if you can move in the space that makes it, even more real and that's why we didn't want to stick to only 360 videos because that would take away from the immersive aspect of it and because we had this idea early on we started speaking with our photogrammetry partners realities.io very early on and they've been working since 2014 or even before we are with photogrammetry and they know what they're doing and they trained us in in how to do the photogrammetry scans because they couldn't travel with us to Iraq. We wanted to make it very sure that only crew would travel which had hostile environment trainings. It would be very irresponsible to take a crew member who didn't have that. So it meant that the responsibility of scanning the places was with us. and we went through many sessions of training before we went into Iraq and many lessons of physics as well in terms of how photogrammetry works and made a lot of mistakes and then we learned that this is how it works. And with the stereo capture, I think one of the biggest reasons for that was that we had experimented with Depthkit and Kinect, but we didn't like the look of a person's figure disintegrating, at least to tell the story, because we felt that that could be in this context quite almost disrespectful because it didn't go with the look and the realness of the story. So that's why I think we picked stereo billboarding despite all the massive challenges that it brought up later. We had, you know, challenges with placing a 2D object in a 3D space. And that's something that, of course, as creators, you always notice. I'm sure not a lot of other people notice. So that's basically being able to move in the space and being able to see a person's figure clearly and crisply in that resolution is what made us choose photogrammetry and stereo capture.

[00:10:38.307] Kent Bye: Yeah, so maybe you could talk a bit about, from your perspective, the process of even just getting trained in a hostile war environment, but to go in there and what you thought maybe were some of the technical challenges that you had to overcome in order to even produce this. Yeah, I think there were

[00:10:53.997] Felix Gaedtke: several. There were many technical challenges. It was a constant add-on of challenges. So I just wanted to add in terms of the photogrammetry, I think it was also really this feeling of coming home for them is very ambivalent. So it's, of course, they're happy to come home and no longer be in a refugee camp, but if you don't know if it's safe or not, this is a quite ambivalent feeling. So the space is really, really crucial in that. And I think So we also have 360 videos in the piece, but they play a very different role. They are not about the agency of exploring a home, but more to give some larger context of what's happening around. In terms of the technical challenges, I think it started way before we even got there in terms of permits. It took us a long time to get the right paperwork, get the right visas and so on. We were very lucky to have tap into our network, so Guy Dreamy both worked as journalists. I have a background in journalism and documentary filmmaking and we have worked in Syria as well as Iraq before, so we have a quite good network. And so we tapped in our network and got an amazing local producer, Suadad, who helped us a lot in terms of this paperwork and getting us access to these places. Since we were working in Fallujah, which was the place where ISIS started, so this is basically an Anbar province, so it's a province so you need a lot of special permits to get there but it doesn't end with the permit it goes well beyond that also in terms of the equipment to bring this kind of equipment to iraq so we were staying in baghdad but we're commuting every day to fallujah maybe if there would be no checkpoints it would be maybe maybe a two hour ride or one and a half hour right but like this is more for all right because you spend a lot of time in checkpoints trying to explain Iraqi soldiers what a 360 camera is, how a stereo camera rig looks like, and that was very, very challenging. And eventually, I think we really couldn't have done it without our local Iraqi team who were very patient with us in all these checkpoints. And even beyond that, with the family, we realized how difficult it is to convey what we were actually doing to them, especially in terms of the photogrammetry, because I always felt very, very grateful that they gave us this access, since it is a big ask to come to someone's house and say, like, hey, I need to be in your living room alone for 45 minutes and take photos. And they were really open to give us this access despite the fact that we actually only had a Gear VR with us. We couldn't really show them what we were doing. We could only show them 360 videos. So that communication aspect was definitely challenging. But more than this, and I think that's, well, that's not something specific to VR, but working in these environments, it's very difficult to deal with the expectations people put in you if you're the first people who come there to hear their stories. And they often expect that their direct situation will change as a result of speaking to us, which I personally feel like is a big burden. It's a big way to get that put on our shoulders. where I do hope that the situation improves and I do hope that our work plays a part in this, but I also am aware that it's most of the time not as direct. So it's not something that necessarily will be so concrete. So that is something that was difficult also in finding the partner. We spent time with many different families before we narrowed down on our main protagonist.

[00:14:31.910] Gayatri Parameswaran: In terms of also knowing, I think we spent the first half of our stay in Iraq researching. So meeting a lot of families and meeting a lot of people who were affected either directly or their loved ones who were affected by IEDs and the impact of IEDs. And this was one, this was really, really hard for us to hear the stories of loss, but it was harder to know when is the time to stay and when is the time to leave, because we had to have a lot of our emotional antennas up. Sometimes accidents had occurred two weeks before we got there. And of course, we could see that there's just too much grief that we can't really ask for. You know, this was not the time to do our research, but just to pay our condolences and leave. So we learned a lot in that sense as storytellers, like really knowing our spot, our place in this whole equation. And in Ahmaid, we found the family who participated in the project, I think in him we really found a great partner, A, because he was very stable in communicating, secondly because he wanted to participate, he wanted to tell his story and that for him was the biggest motivation for him was that no other family should have to go through this. And that was enough motivation for him to really understand what we were trying to do and how his story could match with that. And thirdly, he's just the most poetic person who has, you know, great reflected, like he's reflected a lot on what happened and he can speak these words in a very beautiful way.

[00:16:15.629] Kent Bye: Well, I'm wondering if you could speak a bit about the IEDs in terms of the impact on the civilians, because it seems like when you're in war, there's a bit of almost anything goes, but yet there's also humanitarian law that is trying to set up at least some boundaries of the ethics around whether or not you're targeting the civilian population or using techniques that are having an adverse impact on the civilians versus trying to attack the organized armies. And so there's a bit of rules of war in some ways. What is the situation with IEDs and how they fit into the larger international legal landscape?

[00:16:52.961] Sandra Bialystok: Yeah, that's exactly right. International humanitarian law, IHL, specifically prohibits civilians as a target. And unfortunately, what's happening in current conflicts is that civilians are becoming a target. And there are very large movements from Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, the International Red Cross, the ICRC, and other advocacy groups to bring attention to this humanitarian crisis that's happening and how the rules of war are changing. The GICHD, we take a neutral approach, we're not campaigners and we don't work on an advocacy level. So for us, it's important to let people know about what IEDs are doing, to conduct research on how to, best practices on how to approach IEDs. how to help countries like Iraq, and we work with Iraqi authorities. We have a long-standing relationship with Iraqi authorities on giving them the knowledge that we have, the research that we're developing, and we're currently conducting several projects in Iraq to sort of figure out how to deal with IEDs safely, efficiently, and in as quick a time frame as possible, but it's really very complicated because in a lot of these places, like in Fallujah, there are explosives under huge amounts of rubble, for instance. So how do you start to clear all of the rules and procedures that we knew on how to clear traditional landmines that were laid in these kinds of conflicts that you were talking about before, like the Second World War, the First World War. Those had a completely different function, and civilians were not a target, and there were different ways of clearing, detecting and clearing that kind of contamination. And now things have changed dramatically. So the first thing that a lot of the nations that are dealing with improvised explosives are doing, or once there's relative stability, then you go in and you start to deal with the infrastructure first. You clear roads, you clear passages to water access, to electricity, and it's that stabilization phase. And in Iraq, for instance, we're still in that stabilization phase. And we're starting to think about how to clear homes. And sometimes it's done, unfortunately, in a very kind of impromptu way. And people are risking their own lives by just going into homes and doing what they can. And those are not practices that we condone, but it's understandable why people feel compelled to do that. There's a lot of work ahead of us. Unfortunately, we're slowly getting to the point where legacy mines, these mines and cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war, we're, you know, some countries were starting to declare completion, which means that they cleared all known landmines and other explosive remnants of war from their land. And this new conflict is bringing new challenges. And the mine action community, our sector is having to adapt very quickly to this new kind of conflict.

[00:20:06.837] Felix Gaedtke: Maybe to add on this in terms of Fallujah, just to give a concrete example. So we moved a lot in areas that were heavily mined. So we were moving often with an army convoy. And sometimes when we got out of the vehicles, they asked us to only walk on the tracks of the vehicles and not one meter next to it, because they were not sure if it's safe. And often we actually saw that the wind blew away the sand from trigger plates, which are used to trigger bigger bombs. you could see the trigger plates laying on the side of the road and there would be kids playing football maybe 50 meters away. So it's really in a lot of these areas, often like the people who lived in these areas came to us and said don't go there, don't go here, but of course it's very difficult to know where they are, but it's really within the communities, it's really within the city and the neighborhoods there.

[00:21:01.240] Kent Bye: I know that within the realm of virtual reality, there's a lot of empathy VR pieces that are trying to, in some ways, allow you to empathize with the human experience of something that someone has gone through. And I think it's ethically a very tricky thing to navigate because you're talking about somebody's life and you don't want to come in and almost do this empathy porn or do it in a way that feels exploitive. Like you said, you're talking to people who have just gone through this two weeks ago. You could have very well amped up with someone who's in this emotional state. And it's tricky because you want to have that emotional authenticity of the experience, but also have the people watching it feel empowered to do something about it, to take action. Before I did it at the dev lab that was happening in Los Angeles, you asked me if I had experienced any traumatizing or triggering aspects, because there was aspects of the piece that could trigger things. And so you took the approach of putting the viewer through an embodied experience of something in your piece to try to cultivate that empathy, not from what someone else experienced, but try to, in some ways, craft an experience that would allow you to get in touch with that experience of being there in that context and then actually going through an explosion. So I'm just curious to hear your process, both creatively and also just ethically as you're navigating that, and why you chose that particular route to be able to tell that part of the story.

[00:22:27.949] Gayatri Parameswaran: So firstly, I think we, as I mentioned, we thought Ahmed was a good person to speak to. He was very stable. And in the first three days that we spent with him, because we didn't do the interview right away, we were first trying to get to know him so that, you know, we can have enough time with him for him to be able to also trust us to say certain things and to keep away certain things if he didn't want to. At no point during that time did I ever think or any of us from the production team ever thought that he would actually break down during the interview. Because the interview process happened on the penultimate day that we were going to visit his place and visit him. And we did it at a three hour stretch. So we would take breaks, but we, you know, shot him non-rehearsed, just going for questions and answers sort of format. He's a proud Arab man. No one thought he's going to break down or he's going to cry as he does during the experience. But of course, losing your children and talking about it is not the easiest thing you can do. And when he did break down, everyone in the crew, including the sound person, our local producer, there was an army major, army captain who was in the space because he was part of the convoy. The two of us, Felix and I, the second camera person, all of us broke down. And I think that signifies that this I mean, for us, of course, it was just the human element in us. But for a lot of us, I was speaking to our local producers who are that later. And she said, you know, this is a story that is so familiar that everybody knows what it feels like to lose someone really close to you. And that's that's one of the reasons where we you know, when it came to this decision of like, Is it going to be empathy porn or is it going to be reflecting reality? I think to keep those scenes of him breaking down made a lot of sense because it just reflects the grief and the pain of people who have lived through war continuously for the last 30 years almost. And to leave that away would be injustice to his story and just incomplete in terms of what his story would be. And secondly, he narrates the story of two of his sons dying in one explosion. And we had a lot of ethical dilemmas when it came to how do we show this explosion. We wanted to be very respectful of what the family had gone through. So we knew right away that we were not going to do something visually graphic. So we played with just widescreen so that viewers can fill in. Your brains are very aware of how to do that. And the idea of the explosion, that's what you say, the embodied experience, is really like putting people in that house. So in the moment when the explosion happens, It's preceded by a few seconds of silence and the viewer or the user is normally exploring their home during this time. And then they are caught off guard when the explosion happens. And that's only to show the uncertainty of life in the region. It's not to show what an explosion can feel like or look like. And that's the reason why we left it in the way that it is. We played a lot with audio. In the version that we show with the physical installation, there's also some haptic elements. So the floor moves when the explosion happens, and there's the smell of explosives to kind of intensify that moment. But yeah, it's in no way to represent an explosion or an IED accident. It's only to symbolically represent what it might be to live in places such as Fallujah today.

[00:26:19.842] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, I think one thing that was also important for us in terms of the story is that it does end on a positive outlook. I think we're very aware of negative news bias and this idea of having a place only with negative connotations. And what really impressed us also was in the interview when It was towards the end of the interview when I asked him what does he wish for his future and I kind of expected to get an answer along the lines what he would want for his family, that he wants his kids to go to a good school or something like that. But he really went so broad and basically speaks about how he wants the whole world to live in peace and that people shouldn't suffer under bombs and so on. And for us, that was so strong, because if he is hopeful, who are we not to be hopeful? So this, I think, was very, very important in the story with him.

[00:27:18.516] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I've seen other short documentary pieces about this issue, but after having gone through a first-person embodied experience with the story, I feel like it's in my body in a different way. And I imagine, from your perspective, with VR as a new tool, what do you see as the potential for how you're going to use this as a tool for advocacy for this issue?

[00:27:40.328] Sandra Bialystok: So we're thinking about different channels, different ways that we can use this piece because it's such a powerful piece and the story speaks so strongly to all the people who have been testing it, all the people, all the different audiences who we've had in from film audiences to soldiers. So for us, in a couple of weeks, we're taking it to the meeting of states parties for one of the conventions that is really the founding convention for our organization, the Ottawa Treaty, which is the anti-personnel mine ban treaty. It's 20 years old and the meeting of states parties, so all of the signature, all the parties who are part of that convention are meeting in Geneva in a couple of weeks and we're bringing that piece to them. We're bringing the installation, we'll set it up at the United Nations in Geneva and we'll invite whoever wants to see it to come in and have the experience. One of the powerful parts of this experience is it reminds everybody why they do what they do. And I think at a fundamental level, that's what I hope people get out of it. You know, they walk out of the experience and 20 minutes later, they think as directors of mine action programs or as people who work on the disarmament desk for a donor country, yes, It's for people like him. This is why I get up in the morning. This is why I spend these long hours at these meetings behind a desk. Because all the work that we're doing is meaningful. And these are the people. These are the people that we're trying to help. So I think on a very fundamental human level, it's a great reminder of the point of this job. And then also on a political level, on a policy level, what if someone who's making policy about their country decide the national mine action strategy for their country? We want to get rid of the stuff in our ground, the stuff that's killing people. How do we go about doing it? And then you put on this headset and you see the experience and it puts you in an empathetic place to start making policy decisions from. I think that could be a really powerful way to start a conversation on a political level. and a donor level. I mean, it's an important part too. And, you know, what if we take this piece and we go to the countries that have already been very generous to our sector or countries that are on the, you know, hesitant and someone steps for 20 minutes and they go to Fallujah and they see this piece and they understand from this first person embodied perspective, that fear. I think that that could be a really compelling way to start a discussion with a potential donor as well. I think we're using it, we're thinking about it on lots of different levels, but this human element, the way that Ahmaed finishes his speech, as Gayatri and Felix were saying, is so relatable. And the piece really is so beautiful that I think that it opens up all kinds of discussions for us, and I hope for Gayatri and Felix too, in the work that they're doing.

[00:30:52.454] Kent Bye: Well, one of the things that I see with virtual reality as a new storytelling medium is that there's new patterns of story that I think people are still trying to figure out what those boundaries are. And one of the ways that I start to think about it is the young archetypal journey, which is the typical hero's journey with someone who is going out and making choices, taking action, and it's about an individuation of that person. And I feel like A counterpart that I feel like VR is really starting to lean into is this yin archetypal journey, which is more about ego disillusionment in the sense of you seeing how one small case is connected to the larger whole. And so you are going through one person's house as a metaphor for what's happening in a larger ecosystem of war, but also this specific experience that you're able to get this intimate relationship to, you know, exploring someone's home. I mean, that's a very intimate thing to do. And so you get this connection to the main person that's being featured in the experience. And it's also, you're focusing all of the energy in terms of the viewer, in terms of trying to cultivate this sense of embodied presence, of putting me as an audience member in that place, but also give me a whole emotional journey. by doing things like at the sub-symbolic level of having silence before there's an explosion is just one example, to kind of have this dissonance and consonant cycles to really tell a deeper story that people may not be able to put language to. And I think because of that, I think it's hard to identify and hard to see and hard to be able to know that that's what's happening. But I just wanted to call that out, that there's some things that you're doing in this piece that I think are really sophisticated in guiding us towards what this yin archetypal journey is shaping out to look like. So just curious to hear your own sort of insights on that as you're working on this piece and trying to find these new forms of storytelling.

[00:32:41.224] Gayatri Parameswaran: I think one of the... To relate to your point of the Yin archetypal journey is also that we let the user have their own pace of exploring the space. without nudging them too much into where to go. So you let your intuition guide you where you would like to go. Of course, there will be things popping up and there will be cues as to what you should, quote unquote, should be doing. But you can also challenge those cues and just do what you would like to do. And I think that's where this plays in that time is such an important aspect when it comes to listening to yourself and getting in touch with your emotions. And if you let your feeling guide you through a space, and a lot of people who move through the space have that, have said that, and they have this, you know, people find different aspects of this house interesting. Someone would say, oh, that stove is exactly like the stove my grandmother used to have. Or the sound of the clock reminds me of something. And I think These kind of small sort of elements that we've placed in the entire space is what would contribute to this Yin archetypal journey, where of course there is a larger narrative that's leading you somewhere, but you can also be in the moment and feel things that only you can find at that point in that space. So in that sense, everyone's journey is pretty unique through the experience.

[00:34:10.485] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, I agree with that. I think our goal is to some extent to get an understanding of a common reality by sharing other realities with people and to understand the reality people face in Fallujah. It's often these small details that make you really feel present there. It's not necessarily always a big storytelling, but really like something like I mentioned, like these small little things that make you feel like you are there, and this is actually someone's house you're exploring. I think that makes it very real.

[00:34:48.497] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality, and what am I able to enable?

[00:34:59.976] Sandra Bialystok: The question. So I'm thinking about the potential for virtual reality in the humanitarian world, which is only just beginning. And I think Right now, to get a VR piece done in itself is just kind of a feat. But I think ultimately, if we can start to create VR pieces that will encourage action, proper true action after, where we take the empathy and we turn it into something real, so a policy that's made, or maybe it's money that's given, or maybe it's something else that we're not sure of yet. I mean, right now, sort of the VR world is kind of where slacktivism was a while back. You know, you like something and then you go on and you feel like you've done your duty. What can VR do? How can VR really move us to act to change the way we live, to change the way we dress, to change the political choices that we might be facing? I think there's a huge potential in VR to help galvanize people toward action. And I hope that the action is for good.

[00:36:11.572] Felix Gaedtke: To me it's very similar to what I said earlier. It's really this idea of understanding our common reality by exchanging different realities with other people. That's for me, as someone who also has a documentary background, that's really what I really feel for and hope for.

[00:36:30.264] Gayatri Parameswaran: I've rehearsed for this question. In my dreams. No, no, no. No, I think, you know, for me it would be so beautiful if, forget this kind of like a really heavy, difficult experience that we are putting people through. And I acknowledge that it's a difficult experience to go through. What if you could just pick up your headset and, you know, meet someone like Amaeed and speak to him in real time or anyone else in any other part of the world? What needs to happen in order to motivate us to do that would be a good question to ask. But that is, for me, the ultimate potential of virtual reality is if we didn't have to have insane prejudices, insanely racist ideas towards people whom we haven't even met. I think virtual reality can really help address that.

[00:37:27.331] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[00:37:32.975] Gayatri Parameswaran: No, thank you so much for speaking to us. And yeah, I'm a great fan of your work and keep up the great work you're doing of bringing so many different voices from the community together. And I know about so many people because of your work and the amazing work that they do.

[00:37:51.766] Felix Gaedtke: Yeah, thank you.

[00:37:53.327] Sandra Bialystok: Yeah, thanks. I've learned so much about VR from your podcast. So it's true. I knew nothing a year ago. So this is amazing. Thanks.

[00:38:01.191] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much. Thank you. So that was Gayatri Parmishuin. She's an XR creator and co-founder of Nowhere Media, as well as Felix Gaedke. He's also a XR creator and co-founder of Nowhere Media. And then Sandra Bialystok. She's at Digital Media for the Geneva International Center for Communitarian Demining. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, in this experience, it's not a 360 video. It's a volumetric capture. So you're able to actually have this embodied experience of being able to walk around somebody's home. Very intimate type of experience. And throughout the entire experience, you see this billboarded video. It's a 2D video that's on this billboard. And it's far enough away so it doesn't necessarily see that it's not exactly stereoscopic, but it's kind of like rotating around as you walk around. And I think it's a good workaround for people who don't want to do a full volumetric capture, especially Gayatri was saying that, you know, they didn't want to do like a depth kit and do volumetric because then the lower fidelity within the high resolution of the photogrammetry was a little bit of a mismatch because they wanted to have that realism. And so they really wanted to show the full facial expressions and the full fidelity and. Just doing a normal 2D video and being able to project it onto a flat plane and a billboard within virtual reality was, I think, a good workaround for the experience. I think it worked really well. I think I might have first saw that way back in the Kite and Lightning's demo of the Senso Peso. And then afterwards, I've seen it at the Lascabai with photogrammetry mixing in there. I think it's a really good workaround. And I think the other thing about this experience is that as you go up onto the roof, that's where the explosion happens, and they're creating this contrast of having this sound design, and then they lower down and have these moments of silence, and then in the contrast for that, then they have this big explosion. And so just thinking about the polarity points between having like a big explosion, but not have it like a big, lots of physical destruction or anything, it kind of just turns to white, but you really, hear the explosion. So it's more in the sound design. But when I saw it originally at the VR dev lab, it wasn't any sort of haptic floor or anything. They didn't have the smells, but they had all that set up at South by Southwest to be able to have extra haptic input. Before I did the experience, Gayatri asked me if I had any experiences and traumatic war. So they're really sensitive to trying to see if people before they go into this experience of trying to screen people a little bit, because this can certainly be a trigger. So it's also interesting to hear from Sandra, who is a part of this NGO that's the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, and trying to find a way to use virtual reality to tell these stories and to be able to take it around to different places. Sounds like they were going to show it to different funders. They're going to take it to the United Nations and to have a lot of different delegates see this. And this is an issue where the people who are in charge of these wars have decisions to make as to whether or not they're going to use these mines as part of their war strategy. there's all sorts of like collateral damage that happens for doing that and so trying to bring awareness and to Come up with the best practices for being able to identify these minds and to be able to diffuse them And so yeah It's just I think it's interesting to see how people are using the medium of virtual realities to start to bring about change on these larger topics And I think the Oculus for Good program has been a great way to be able to match up these different types of nonprofits and non-government organizations with emerging VR creators. And I think it's actually a huge amount of helping to bootstrap this larger industry of being able to have the funding and the resources to be able to tell these different types of stories. I know that Gayatri was actually at the Impact Reality Summit. She actually made a pitch as part of the 12 different creators, and they actually won for their next project that they're looking specifically at language and the erosion of different languages, and they're going to be producing this film on one of the last native speakers of a language. And so it looks like a really great character that they found, and they've had different linguists that have learned the language, and what does it mean to have a loss of language? And so that's a project that they're going to be working on next. And so just to see how the Oculus for Good program has been able to bootstrap a lot of different immersive creators into this field and be able to continue to tell these different types of stories that we may not necessarily see otherwise. And I hope to be able to talk to more people from the Oculus Good program at some point to be able to kind of unpack their whole journey and some of their major highlights of the different projects that they've been funding over the last number of years. And I ended up seeing a lot of those different projects at film festivals. And yeah, just look forward to being able to chat with more folks there at Oculus to be able to talk about this program for Oculus for Good. Yeah, just the the last point is, you know, aside from the other technical aspects just the logistics of trying to produce a film like this you can imagine trying to go in and commute into Fallujah and to go through all these different checkpoints and to have these soldiers look at this virtual reality gear have no idea what it is They think it might be a bomb I've heard from other VR creators as well that they've run into this same issue, which is that working with the cutting edge of technology and that, you know, that's a little bit of a threat when you're in this war environment. So it's not exactly safe and, you know, just the logistics of them getting to the place, but then also to try to build up the different rapport and trust. And if it's a very fresh thing that just happened, then it may be too soon for people. They're not really ready to talk about it, but it sounds like they found the right person who is ready to tell the story and his experience and that. He really has this moment of emotional catharsis, and you can really feel the pain that he's gone through through losing one of his sons from this mine and being in the middle of this whole war. So it's an extremely moving experience, and I'm glad to see that it was able to make its rounds in a number of different festivals and that the creators, both Gayatri and Felix, are continuing to push forward and to create new projects within virtual reality. So that's all that 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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