A VR documentary about the right to choose
Enter the body and mind of a woman considering abortion, and meet real people who made this choice themselves.
In this immersive experience, engage in authentic interactive conversations with real women, who have had an abortion and are sharing their stories for the first time.
Interactive: length 15-45 minutes
6 degrees of freedom, PC & Mobile VR
You put the VR headset and enter a boundless black void. You look down and realize that you are in someone else’s body -- a woman’s body. You raise what you think are your hands, but they are unfamiliar. You hear your thoughts and you are not sure who you are.
You reach out for a pregnancy test. It is positive.
You hear a voice in your head as if it was your own: “How could this happen? What should I do?”
You have entered the mind of a woman who has just learned that she is unexpectedly pregnant, and she is not certain what to do. She is looking for someone to share her experience and concerns.
Real women appear in the space around you and share personal stories of making their decision to terminate a pregnancy. Through an interactive conversation, you learn the circumstances and emotions they felt, what they went through, and why they made their choice. Every story is unique and authentic.
The void that gradually fills with illustrations painting abstract vignettes following along each woman's personal story. You not only listen, but engage and ask them questions, and together in these immersive paintings, live through their experience.
Expanding Empathy with VR Stories
There is a lot of stereotypes surrounding abortion. I believe a powerful way to address them is to meet in person with the women who’ve made this choice.
This is an intense subject and people debate is emotional. In some communities, it is dangerous for someone to openly share their abortion story. I believe my project promises a safe space for a conversation and to develop a deeper understanding through storytelling and user engagement.
I have found compelling subjects to share these most intimate stories. I want my audience to pause and contemplate, without rushing, and engage at their own pace. With these personal conversations, the most important thing is to create the possibility for a new understanding, to shift the attention from politics to the women as they recount their personal choices.
Will people care more deeply? Will they empathize with my subjects? Will they understand why they made their choices? Will they start to see the people in their own lives facing similar choices with more compassion?
I believe that change is possible - and the way to have it, is to have deeply personal conversations.
Meeting Real Women
My subjects are not professional advocates and activists, but regular people from all walks of life.
You will meet Elisabeth, an 18-year-old homeless girl from Toronto. Leigh, a woman in her early 40s who never planned to have a child. And Kristen from Texas, who very much waited for her daughter to be born, only to learn about the long list of fatal abnormalities in her pregnancy that endangered her life.
Each story looks at the right to choose from the unique perspectives of individual women. Their reasons and circumstances may be different, but common experiences underline the challenges and struggles women continue to face when making the choice whether to terminate the pregnancy.
By placing these interview subjects in a black void that gradually fills with animations mirroring the questions and fears inside the women’s minds, I use negative space to take advantage of VR’s immersive qualities and capacity to create a deep and lasting emotional connection.
The Choice gives the audience not only the opportunity to hear these personal stories, but thanks to a very unique technology used to record these conversations, participants will walk away feeling as though they’ve met and talked to a genuine person.
As a director, I am concerned with what's happening around us and I want to look for some answers: Will these conversations change how people think? Will it make them stop, ponder?
VR is perceived as an “ultimate empathy machine”, but to actually accomplish people to empathize with what and who they see - it requires careful design of how they will experience the story, what will be their role, and how space will be used in enhancing immersion and emotions.
- Joanne Aśka Popińska : Director's Statement
We are living in a pivotal point in history. Democracies around the world have never been more divided. Whether it's the rule of law, or the environment or the rights of individuals to control their own bodies, there are forces battling to seize power and attack these pillars in order to enforce their world view. They do this through media, legislation, or even violence.
In order to resist these forces, a great many things need to be done. One of them is to challenge their narrative and to cut through the rhetoric to bring the voices of whom this issue matters the most to those who need to hear it.
We are making this project so that these women can safely share their stories and so the public can meet and hear them through the power of virtual reality.
Women who choose to have an abortion do so for all sorts of reasons and come from all walks of life. They are the only ones who can make this decision for themselves.
AN INTERACTIVE CONVERSATION
A critical question immersive stories must answer: what is the user's purpose?
So many social impact projects made using VR technology neglect a fundamental strength of this new medium: to visit a new world and become a new person.
The emotional content of our interviews might not be something a given user might be comfortable with, but the virtual consciousness the user is pretending to be is. This gives them a purpose and point of view that opens up to ideas and choices they might not make.
We give the users another tool. At points in each story, the user can direct the conversation just like they are asking a question, through the artifice of the virtual consciousness avatar. This key mechanic fundamentally changes how users engage with the material, they are no longer being spoken to, but are instead speaking with the virtual representation of our real interview subjects. Each choice they make is a mini-commitment to hear an answer, each choice an act of participation.
This is what creates true empathy; not callous observation, but through agency and engagement.
USING SPACE AS CANVAS FOR IMAGINATION
To achieve the full immersion and emotional connection with the subjects, we use the whole 360 space without cluttering it and without drifting the viewer’s contemplation from what is important. All visual elements, other than interviewees, will have a feeling of being undefined and abstract.
The surrounding space is black, and the avatar you entered - is hardly defined, it is only a shape to give your mind a frame, canvas for you to draw your own images on it.
The women storytellers, before you see their faces and meet them in a conversation - are only glowing silhouettes, representing everyone and no one, representing our whole society - where anyone could have an abortion, and there is no defining feature for them.
When the woman begins her narration, she becomes very real. And then your virtual mind starts drawing immersive and then sweeping Quill illustrations to put you, the viewer in the center of the events, and then gently leads you back into the space and presence of the storyteller.
Visual references: Dispatch, Notes on Blindness, Dear Angelica
We have developed our own process for recording volumetric video for our interviews. It is a custom process of combining stereoscopic 3D cameras with a “depth” camera that records the distance of each pixel. This creates a “volumetric video” which contains not just color, but also shape, allowing you to observe the moving images from angles beyond the original camera lens.
This effect is key to feeling like you are virtually co-present with a real human being, and not just watching a static video playing back on a virtual screen.
What’s important is that our capture system is small enough to allow us to travel light, and even record interviews inside of our subjects’ homes, where they can feel comfortable and safe.
Sample from VR experience
Dr. Joanne-Aśka Popińska immigrated to Canada to pursue filmmaking and activism.
With a Master’s Degree in Sociology & a Ph.D in Film Directing (Speciality VR), Joanne-Aśka dedicates her creative vision to exploring the similarities between us homo sapiens all other life we share this planet with, and that ‘rights’ don’t just end at human rights. She is the former Artistic Director of the 3D IMAGE Film Festival in Łódź, Poland and is at the forefront of the bleeding edge of cinema and technology. She is a recipient of Toronto Arts Foundation “The RBC Arts Access Fund Awards” for the newcomer artists.
Zoe Roellin is a VR artist and illustrator from Switzerland who works with VR drawing tools such as Oculus Ouill to bring stories to life in VR.
She’s created experiences for events and exhibitions including Fantoche Film Festival and Bourbaki Panorama Museum, and is teaching VR art and storytelling as a guest lecturer at The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, from which she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Illustration Fiction in 2019. Her main interest lies in creating impactful, engaging narratives and using illustrations to help viewers connect to a story.
Lead Software Engineer
Becca Little is a software engineer specialized in games and immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
After receiving a bachelor's degree in Software Engineering from Arizona State University in 2015, Becca began working at State Farm Insurance in IT Research & Development. She founded the company's XR team and led the development of a number of prototypes and pilots across a wide range of use cases and devices.
She is currently a senior engineer at Playbyte looking to bring video game creation and sharing to the mainstream.
Kevin Bolen crafts immersive audio experiences for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality by bridging the gap between traditional film sound and interactive audio.
Prior to joining Skywalker Sound, he contributed to multiple AAA video games including Electronic Arts' critically acclaimed Dead Space franchise. Kevin brings 10 years’ experience at Skywalker Sound and EA. His skills include supervising audio production for virtual reality from previz to international localization; audio production and implementation for film, TV, 360 video, VR, mixed reality, & interactive; recording, editing, and mixing with Avid Pro Tools and other DAWs; developing efficient workflows for content creation and deliverables.
His VR credits: Star Wars: Droid Repair Bay – A 360 Story Solo – A Star Wars 360 Story Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire - ILMxLAB and The VOID - Immersive Entertainment Experience
Tom C. Hall
Travelling all around the globe, Tom C. Hall is an award winning Stereographer, Cameraman and Virtual-Reality Filmmaker.
Tom is constantly exploring how emerging technology can enable storytellers to better connect with their audiences and drive the art form of cinema forward. As a lead technological thinker he made possible the Canadian Screen Awards nominated Horizon: A 360 Journey, a large format 360° film experience to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada. A pioneer in virtual reality filmmaking, Tom is constantly pushing the envelope of what the future of narrative storytelling could be in the 21st century.
Janal Bechthold is a composer for film, TV, games, and interactive media, having worked on numerous scores including horror noir feature Art of Obsession, documentary Gods In Shackles, videogame The Rival Books of Aster, and interactive graphic novels, Dystopia 2153 and 80 Degrees North.
Her music for television has been broadcast on CBC/SRC-Radio Canada, CTV, TSN, Discovery, and TV5 international among others! In addition to being a participant in the Canadian Music Centre’s 2018 electronic music incubator EQ, she is the recipient of the 2016 Chris Dedrick Music Fund Award for Live Musicians in Media Soundtracks, the founder of Toronto Women Composers, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Screen Composers Guild of Canada.
Hannah Estes is a software developer with special interests in virtual reality (VR) and human computer interactions.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Texas Tech University in 2019. As a college student, she had internships working in VR development for State Farm and mobile application development for a startup.
She is now a software developer working at State Farm in Research & Development.
With almost 20 years in sound design and field recording, award-winning sound designer Andy Martin's work has been featured in games, VR, film, television, commercial post-production, radio, art, & all-around fun projects.
Prior to working in VR, Andy spent more than 10 years crafting interactive super powers and ambiences for the inFamous franchise on the Sony Playstation. It was there that he discovered a love for recording and conveying natural soundscapes to bring attention to the dwindling naturally quiet places of our world. Now he travels North America's Pacific Northwest region recording the most inspirational places he can find, publishing under the name Northwest Soundscapes. He is a featured artist on Quiet Parks International's website.
His VR credits include the Vader Immortal series for ILMxLAB, and his nature recordings are featured heavily in the VR title Moss by Polyarc Games.
The Choice is being developed both for the Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, and other PC & Mobile VR headsets.
In the current political climate, our project has a very strong international festival and press potential and would be a focal point for events, rallies, conferences related to reproductive rights.
We will license the documentary as an educational tool for universities and pro-choice organizations to share with the communities they serve - to start the discussion and show from an empathetic perspective.
Under our current level of funding, we are working towards producing individual interviews piece-meal from the full experience to showcase them at smaller events and galleries and grow buzz about the project.
NOTABLE MEDIA COVERAGE
The Guardian, Laura Hudson - The female game designers fighting back on abortion rights
Indiescreen, Lisa Svadjian - Virtual Vanguard
Flare, Lindsay Pinter - This Virtual Reality Flick Shows What It’s Like to Have an Unwanted Pregnancy
VR Focus, Dave Aubrey - Powerful Virtual Reality Documentary ‘The Choice’ Attempts To Remove Stigma Surrounding Abortion
VR Scout, Presley West - This VR Film Lets You Experience an Unwanted Pregnancy
Wysokie Obcasy (Polish main magazine for women), Wiktoria Bieliaszyn - "The Choice" - Załóż okulary VR i zobacz jak to jest być w niechcianej ciąży
RECENT PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS
Games for Change - Virtual conference for social impacted based games and interactive media
The Talking Back Feminist Media Conference - organized by Shameless Magazine
VIFF Immersed 2019 - Co-production Market with Kaleidoscope
GDC 2019 - The Choice VR’: Volumetric Documentary Filmmaking
VRTO 2019 - The Choice VR’: Volumetric Documentary Filmmaking
Immersed 2018 - The Choice VR: Using VR & Volumetric Video to explore emotionally charged subject
iVentures - Stereoscopic Volumetric Capture Technology presentation
The Choice is being independently funded and developed through the work of our team, the material support of our partners and the donations from our incredible crowdfunding backers.
If you are an individual or organization who's values align with our project and would like to help, or someone who would like to contribute as a interview subject, please contact us here through this form or via our social media.