Acclaimed author Khaled Hosseini’s short story inspired by Alan Kurdi—the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015—has been illustrated using Tilt Brush for a unique 360 degree short film. Sea Prayer is the latest of several thought-provoking VR experiences from The Guardian VR team.
The seven minute piece is viewable on The Guardian’s website via a YouTube 360 video link, or on the native The Guardian VR Daydream app. The narration is accompanied by an illustration that slowly builds around the viewer, combined with spatial audio effects that help to focus the viewer’s attention in the most relevant direction. The artwork was created in-house by the Guardian VR team, in collaboration with VR artist Liz Edwards.
According to the press release provided to Road to VR, Sea Prayer claims to be “the first narrative animated virtual reality film created using Tilt Brush,” Google’s popular VR painting tool. The effect has similarities with the hand-illustrated, narrative experience of Dear Angelica (2017), a short film created by Oculus Story Studio using Quill, another creative VR app. Unfortunately, the conversion to 360-degree video, while vastly broadening Sea Prayer’s potential audience, has a detrimental impact on the quality of the image compared to the real-time brush-stroke rendering seen in Dear Angelica. Sadly it doesn’t appear that a real-time version based on the original Tilt Brush rendering is available at present.
Technical shortcomings aside, the effect of virtual brush strokes combined with a powerful story is profound. The presentation gracefully commemorates the second anniversary of the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, and raises awareness of the plight of refugees who continue to attempt these dangerous sea crossings to Europe.
“We’re delighted to have been able to work with UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini to bring his incredibly sensitive imaging of a letter from a Syrian father to his son to life,” said Francesca Panetta, executive editor, virtual reality, Guardian News & Media. “Using Tilt Brush technology for the first time in this way, Sea Prayer explores a new immersive form – 360 illustrated narratives. We have worked with the best artists in this field to create a story that truly unfolds around the viewer, providing them with insight into the experiences that many migrants are forced to endure when making a dangerous escape from war.”