Client

The Guardian

Brand

The Guardian

Capabilities

Direction / Creative Coding / Software Development / UI & UX / Design / VFX / VR

Brief

With approximately 100,000 people in solitary confinement in the US, some spending 22-24 hours a day in a cell with little to no human contact for days or even decades, The Guardian wanted to raise awareness and bring empathy to the prevalence of extended solitary confinement in the US.

Approach

Collaborating closely with The Guardian, we worked to produce a nine minute VR experience titled “6x9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement”. Placing the viewer inside a solitary confinement cell with little more than a bed and toilet, it presents psychological effects including blurred vision, hallucinations and a sense of floating that may occur after long-term sensory deprivation.

Impact

The ground-breaking VR experience which went on to win several industry awards, including a British Arrows Craft Gold Award for VR and a CINE Golden Eagle Award for VR short documentary. We also built a Gear VR Physical installation at Tribeca Film Festival and the piece was subsequently showcased at over 50 festivals around the world, gaining huge exposure for the cause.

“A radically different way to approach journalism”
One Journalism Awards

The Guardian’s “6×9” is an innovative documentary, which utilises game engine technology to create a groundbreaking film. We worked from first-person accounts and documentaries as references for both cell design and spatial audio capture. The cell was designed in Maya and further developed in Unity. Environmental binaural audio was also used which ensured the audio was anchored to the environment, enhancing the sense of space and ensuring the sound continually moved with the viewer.

VR barriers were fully embraced, effects typical after long-term sensory deprivation are played with to mimic a prisoner’s experience of being locked away for 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. This immersive experience provides an innovative style of storytelling used to ignite conversations around the topic of solitary confinement.

“The task was to give a sense of what isolation feels like. By giving people a visceral experience of solitary confinement we were able to emotionally connect them to the cause. One of the great tools when directing in VR is body language. Looking at how people react when in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable setting, you can see how they become more absorbed in the space, more closed in and self-protective. Part of us trying to build empathy was to give a user agency; the ability to make choices and interact with the experience makes you invest emotionally in the narrative and outcome. VR puts you in the cell without any of the safety one gets from the detachment of a screen. This is not like watching a documentary, you are in it.”
Creative Director at The Mill, Carl Addy