The Guardian's latest immersive project is the first narrative animated virtual reality (VR) film created using Tilt Brush, a tool for painting in a 3D space.
Sea Prayer, which commemorates the second anniversary of the death of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned whilst attempting to reach Greece, brings to life an imagined letter from a Syrian father to his son.
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and author Khaled Hosseini wrote the piece, imagining the refugees were on the eve of their sea crossing to Europe, seeking refuge and safety.
Francesca Panetta, executive editor of virtual reality at the Guardian, explained that the publisher chose to use illustrations to highlight the child-like nature of the film.
"We could have taken the piece and filmed or used archived material, for example when we're depicting the Syrian countryside or Homs, but because it is fictional, that illustrative quality felt appropriate," she said.
"There's real journalism at the heart of the story but has that element of the child in it.
"The media can get quite tired reporting on the same subject over time, yet the refugee crisis is still hugely important for us as a media organisation and also for the general public to engage with, so finding other ways to tell that story and get people to engage with it is really important."
Illustrations, from VR artist Liz Edwards, develop around the viewer, with images growing and new characters coming into view as the story progresses, enabling the viewers to be immersed in the story as it is being narrated to them.
"With Tilt Brush, I was able to quite organically sketch the beautiful and haunting scenes from the text surrounding the viewer, placing them directly into the artwork – the farmland, Homs and ultimately sharing the beach with the father and his son during that heartbreaking moment in time," Edwards said.
But as Edwards discovered, this tool has weaknesses and while it excels at 3D illustration, the software is still in its infancy and is currently missing a lot of features taken for granted in traditional 2D and 3D software.
With this workflow being so new, she said, it's possible the problems you will need to solve haven't been solved by anyone before you.
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