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VR Storytelling

From Director Joanne Popinska:

The Choice is an intimate and emotional experience, inviting the audience to participate in a deeply moving conversation with a woman sharing her personal story about abortion. VR offers unique narrative possibilities and creates a much more direct relationship that no other form of art can build. 


I invite the audience to enter this space with their own identity, and when the experience finishes, return to their everyday reality. But this conversation stays with them in an entirely different way than if they had watched a traditional documentary. 


The way I designed The Choice allows the audience to dive into this story gradually, slowly unfolding the real meaning of what they’re going to hear. With minimalist illustrations and beautiful music, I am providing a very much-needed comfort so they can — together with Kristen — go through her trauma.


The visual style of the animations is light and minimal. I find it challenging when VR experiences provide too many stimuli, making it hard to follow the story. I used the childlike style of the illustrations to refer to the world that Kristen was dreaming about when planning a family. This dreamed-up world will probably never crystalize in her future because of her deep trauma.    


The interactions in The Choice are simple. Making a narrative piece feel like a game makes it easier for the audience to follow the story and becomes more like a play. With such an emotional subject, I felt like guiding my audience gently through this narrative would be more appropriate and would harmonize with the story’s tone.   


Reactions from the early viewers are intriguing. Many have come back to me repeatedly as the story affected them deeply. They cannot shake off the feeling of wanting to help Kristen, even if simply to be there for her. I am deeply touched by such reactions, especially when they come from people who admitted before watching the experience that they would never want to talk about these matters, some of them being openly anti-choice. Watching The Choice and talking to Kristen allowed them to see this issue through her eyes. Thanks to presence and proximity, they now remember and feel like they’ve just met her when they take the headset off. And this sparks the change, making them the allies of the issue.

From Illustrator Zoe Roellin:

The animation is meant to immerse the viewer in both the physical and emotional spaces Kristen journeys through as she tells her story. 


It was important to me to choose a style that’s both evocative and simple, that would weave into Kristen’s narration without taking away attention from her. Shapes and objects emerge from the black around us, often only hinted at with delicate outlines. The black space, to me, is just as significant as what we do see: We are asking the viewer to step into this conversation and, as they listen to Kristen’s story and take in the imagery, fill in the gaps with their own experiences and imagination as they connect to Kristen.

All the illustrations were created directly in virtual reality. Quill, the program I work with, let me draw the scenes around me, wearing a VR headset and using a controller as a brush. It’s a very unique way of creating 3D art, and having that hand-drawn quality to the illustrations brings out another aspect I found important for Kristen’s story: There is something simple, childlike to the drawings that surround us, tying into Kristen’s hope for a family that accompanied her through this very traumatic time in her life.


From Composer Janal Bechthold:

"A source of comfort, like a warm hug” was one of the directions I was given when composing the music for The Choice. We approached the music score in an organic way, using instruments and tones specifically designed to support the emotion behind Kristen’s story and to guide the viewer through the experience. It was important that the music would play in duet with Zoe’s beautiful animation to highlight and bring portions of the story to life. At times the music mirrors Kristen’s emotions, amplifying specific moments to shape the viewer’s understanding of what she was going through. At other times its absence is used to create a sense of loneliness and isolation while giving space to the viewer to decide for themselves how they feel about what they are hearing and experiencing, rather than manipulate their emotions. I hope this documentary experience leaves the viewer in a thoughtful place as they consider Kristen’s choice and perspective surrounding women’s rights.

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