The 20-minute experience is a visceral recreation of PTSD and the effects of war based on the story of Scott England, a young US soldier. Sutu (also known as Stuart Campbell) and his team of technicians; including Technical Director Charles Henden, used a selection of Tilt Brush VR paintings to immerse audiences in the experience.
For all its innovative techniques, the collaboration between Australian Sutu and the US serviceman happened almost by coincidence, technical advisor Henden told us.
“The origin of the project was actually two guys sitting around a campfire in the middle of the night and having a really good yarn about their lives and spilling their life story out; and that was the protagonist of the film, Scott England and the director and artist, Sutu.”
Taken with the stories of his war experiences, Sutu kept in contact with England. Wanting to record his testimonies, he sent England a voice recorder. Listening to the soldier’s recollections, Sutu decided to turn them into a short VR film.
“It was a process of about a year of editing and paring the stories down to deal with their true nature. There was such a huge backlog of stories and experiences.”
Which is when Sutu and his team reached out to Henden, hoping to collaborate on the project. The technical advisor, who had just quit his day job and wanted to get into VR storytelling, jumped at the chance.
“Sutu’s process is really unique, he’s an extremely talented artist, and he’s got a very unique set of capabilities. He was able to go from comics, seemingly a 2D medium, to being able to illustrate in three dimensions.”
Sutu is the publisher of webcomic series Nawlz, an interactive online cyber punk comic book series.
“In the first couple of weeks of using VR, he was able to start giving his illustrations volume and depth. He really is a powerhouse for environment and character,” observed Henden.
According to Henden, VR offered a way to tell the story in an appropriate way.
“Being able to conjure up three dimensional spaces that are very tangible, without being grounded in reality is very unique. Virtual reality is now actually being used as a tool to treat PTSD. The ability to re-tell the story and give the viewers a sense of presence, hopefully they can understand the circumstances around Scott’s experience with the armed forces.”
Working on and off on the project with Sutu for years, support came in the way of a Sundance Lab, along with backing from renowned international VR house RYOT – behind pieces like Body Team 12 (2016), which was nominated for the Best Short Subject Documentary Oscar, and won gongs at Tribeca and Austin Film Festivals.
“It was a big shot in the arm to be able to take an intensive week of doing nothing but thinking and talking about the piece itself,” reflects Henden about Sundance.
“That lab was pivotal in taking it from an idea and an experiment to the assumption that this was going to be a fully finished, polished piece of VR storytelling that gets distribution.”