FIVARS spoke with the creators of Ripples of Kindness – a beautiful interactive multi-user communal VR experience that is a story of brotherhood, love and positivity, inspired by the stories of Hussein Amiri and his family, who were forced to flee Afghanistan in 2000.
FIVARS: What led to the creation of this piece?
I’ve been working as a creative producer on public digital engagement projects using location-based VR/AR for over 5 years now. When I discovered that we (Wales Millennium Centre) were developing a stage play based on the story of the Amiri family, I started to consider ways that we could share this story with audiences outside of the theatre, understanding how we might explore the themes of family, love, and positivity using immersive storytelling and documentary.
I wanted to learn more about this deeply moving story so I approached the Amiri brothers, Hamed and Hessam, who wrote the book The Boy with Two Hearts, learning more about how they had to flee their home, traveling from Afghanistan to the UK, alongside navigating the complexities of their brother, Hussein’s heart condition.
The story is hugely inspiring and we instantly got on! I feel privileged that they shared their story so candidly with me. It was at that moment that we started to explore the possibilities of what we might make and how we might collaborate with a creative storytelling studio to realize the story in VR.
FIVARS: What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?
For us, as producers and commissioners, it’s about hearing new voices and sharing stories that excite, entertain, and challenge audiences in new ways. We were really keen to take some of these ingredients and choose the right platform to recreate intimate moments from the Amiri family’s story through a series of vignettes that might not be necessarily possible to recreate on stage. It was important to find the right collaborator who would deal sensitively with the story. I’d admired the work of All-Seeing Eye so approached them about collaborating with Hamed, Hessam, and myself and was thrilled when they agreed to come on board.
We always knew that we wanted to make a location-based VR piece and after reading the book and speaking to the brothers it became clear that the Sofra (the living/dining space where the family meets to eat and talk) and this idea of a circle was a running theme that Hamed returns to in the book. This felt like a good starting point for us to workshop with the brothers to identify the hallmarks of the story that we could build the story narrative and condense into 12-15 minutes.
The brothers helped us explore the moments and timeline and from this, we started to shape the script and storyboard. It was an intense (we had 3 months to deliver it) but incredibly creative process and we all felt privileged to be telling this story in a unique way.
FIVARS: How did you become an immersive media content creator and why?
I’ve been working in the broadcast and creative industries since 2000, but things changed for me in 2013 when I was working for Welsh National Opera and trying to understand how we might create new artistic digital experiences to excite new audiences about music, drama, and storytelling.
In the autumn I attended a digital producers lab at Watersheds, Pervasive Media Studio. It was here that I had the opportunity to undertake personal and professional development and explore different forms of creative technology production. This opened my eyes to XR tech, understanding how it might translate, and exploring the possibilities that a digital world can give us as performers and story makers. It gave me the autonomy to play, collaborate with immersive studios and production houses, performers, reimagine traditional stories, and transport audiences to another world using headsets.
My focus now is understanding how large art centers like WMC can help foster and cultivate these new creators using this form of storytelling and continue to surprise and challenge audiences of the future.
FIVARS: What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?
I feel that there is a lot of potential for Wales to be a leader in this field and there are some organizations and individuals that are experimenting with XR technologies and how they might be used in performance and marketing but for many, it comes down to cost as virtual production can still relatively expensive.
That being said, there is a level of investment for virtual production and the screen sector within Wales, but I think there needs to be more support for artists wishing to explore this form of storytelling and helping them achieve the results they want within cost-effective ways. At WMC we hope to help foster this by investing in an XR studio, and being a home for a network for artists and practitioners wishing to play with ideas and technology.
FIVARS: What would you like to share with fellow content creators and/or the industry?
I’d love to hear from XR creators who are looking for a location to present their work to audiences in Wales. I’ll be programming work for our front-of-house spaces throughout this year so please get in touch!
FIVARS: Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?
Immersive-based festivals like FIVARS are a fantastic platform to showcase new, exciting, experimental work from emerging and established creators and it’s a great way to network and meet other fellow creators. Technology is moving at such a pace it’s always a thrill to see how artists present new ideas, showing audiences and creators inspiring ways to tell stories.
Learn more about Ripples of Kindess