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VR For Impact: Accused #2 Walter Sisulu

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Below, the creative team from La Générale de Production talks about the making of this powerful experience…

What was the inspiration for tackling this subject in such a way?

Jeremy Pouilloux: There are no images of the trial. At the time, the trial was carefully recorded on Dictabelts, a now-obsolete audio recording format. In 2012, NARSSA approached the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) and the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA) to start a process of digitization and restoration of the entire Rivonia Trial sound archive.

Nicolas Champeaux had the chance to have access to this work and when he came to la Générale de Production, we were convinced that we should try to immerse the audience deeply in the sounds of the trial, and to create a proximity with those great historical figures.

People always remember this trial as the Mandela Trial and we wanted to bring the other accused into light. We quickly decided to highlight Walter Sisulu, without whom Mandela always said he wouldn’t do anything.

Oerd’s art imposed itself as obvious as we thought that his style and universe would match with the original sounds, and with the atmosphere we wanted for the film.

Talk about the research and design process of crafting Accused #2 – seamlessly marrying 2D illustrations and animation in an immersive 3D space is no easy task. 

Jeremy Pouilloux: At la Générale de Production, we believe creating for 3D space can be explored in many ways. And sometimes, 3D animation can seem a bit too “clean”, too “childish”. For Accused#2, we wanted to keep the charcoal touch of Oerd art direction. But such things said, It was quite a hard job to keep the artistic approach while working in a 3D environment and with a real-time engine. It has been made possible thanks to work of Novelab, a French development studio we have been working with. We worked hand-in-hand to reach the quality level we wanted and design an optimized immersive experience for the audience.

Many know this story due to famed activist Nelson Mandela being among those on trial – but Accused #2 focuses on the oft-omitted Walter Sisulu, Mandela’s mentor. What about his story did you feel made it important to shed light on as part of the greater narrative of this pivotal moment in history?

Jeremy Pouilloux: The complete name of the trial is “The State against Mandela and the others”. People usually know about Mandela but rarely about “the others”, especially outside South Africa. It seemed essential to us to give back their place to the members of the collective, starting with accused number 2, Walter Sisulu. Sisulu was the grey eminence of the ANC. He knew the history of the movement by heart and was very close to the inhabitants of the townships. Mandela was put forward by the collective and by Sisulu himself because he was brilliant, formidable speaker and one of the few blacks to have become a lawyer. Sisulu had only his certificate of study. But the ANC was really a collective movement and it is in the name of the collective that they choose Mandela so that a man can incarnate their struggle in the eyes of the whole world. Nevertheless, Mandela said he wouldn’t make any decision without consulting Sisulu.

Were there any unique challenges you encountered during the development of Accused #2? Bringing hundreds of hours of audio recordings from half a century ago and making them feel immersive and powerful in a 3D space must have been difficult. 

Jeremy Pouilloux: Yes, the audio part was a big challenge. The audio recordings have been recorded on vinyl material and have this very specific and authentic-sounding textures. But in 3D space, you need to be able to spatialize the sounds and to do so, it is always easier to work on very clean material. To keep the authenticity of the voices and spatialize the sounds, we worked with the research division of Radio France (French national radio) to create the most immersive sound environment possible. 

Accused #2 has received multiple accolades as a result of being shown at art and film festivals, including Tribeca and New Media Film Festival. What has been the feedback when showing viewers this experience in that setting? Have you been surprised by viewers’ response?

Jeremy Pouilloux: Globally, people appreciate the film very much. We received tremendous positive feedback during festivals, and when we have been invited to speak about the project during these events, it was always a great pleasure to share this adventure with the audience. But what has been the most emotional moment for us was without a doubt was when we came to South Africa showing the film for the first time, and realizing how important it could be for them to hear this moment of their own history. It was a real reward to see young audiences realizing how much those great figures had fought for equality and justice.

What are your thoughts on how the role of emerging technology like XR play in the future of art and education? What would you like to see from the tech going forward in order to further empower you and your team to reach new people and expand their hearts/minds? 

Jeremy Pouilloux: For us, this emerging technology is part of a great history of immersion, from the very first storytellers or drawers to our times. At each step, the audience is moved in new ways made possible by new innovations. Nowadays, we are not moved by movies (even in theaters) in the same way as we could be in the earlier ages of film. AR and VR are contemporary ways to break the so called “4th wall” and emphasis the emotions of the audience and bring them closer to the different themes and issues.

How long did Accused #2 take to develop, and how many people helped bring it to life? 

Jeremy Pouilloux: It took us two years to develop the project from the idea to the distribution. The production process brought us to work with various professionals and companies. We had a core team around Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte as directors, Oerd the drawer and artistic director, Michael Bolufer the artistic and tech director and Aurélien Godderis-Chouzenoux the music composer. We also had the chance to work with the digital department at ARTE, Marianne Levy-Leblond and Heideline Blumers, the research team at Radio France, especially Hervé Déjardin and Fabien Mezzafonte, and the team at Novelab studio, Grégoire Parain and Clément Chériot.

What ultimately do you want viewers to take away from this powerful experience?

Jeremy Pouilloux: I hope that they take away some kind of empathy with Walter Sisulu’s fight for freedom and emancipation, but I also hope it can help people today to remain vigilant about injustice, and empower them to resist any form of abuse. 

What is next for your team – are you considering further explorations in the realm of VR art/documentary experiences? 

Jeremy Pouilloux: We definitely have a few VR documentaries in development, and hope we will soon be able to share these different works with the audience. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to follow our work on the social networks.

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