Matthew Niederhauser came from a background in anthropology and journalism. When he started dipping his toe in documentary and installations he got bit by the virtual reality (VR) bug. This led him to doing VR for three years and setting up Sensorium, an experiential studio that most recently world premiered ZIKR: A Sufi Revival at Sundance Film Festival this year.
Niederhauser explains that he was on a trip with Gabo on a United Nations special mission to Libya where they encountered some Sufi performing as part of a ritual in Tunisia. Blown away, they had never seen anything like it and decided John Fitzgerald, himself and Gabo Arora had to go back and make something out of it. Niederhauser says that Tunisia was unique as it was an Islamic nation. ZIKR: A Sufi Revival is aimed specifically at bringing interactivity to the documentary format, combining 360 degree video with volumetric interviews using Depthkit. Working together with interactive development firm Superbright, they helped use Unity to add another level of interactivity to the documentary. Enabling users to have beads that interacted with the user and those in the experience as well.
At the Sundance Film Festival, users were required to enter an empty chamber, take off their jackets and shoes, and put on an HTC Vive headset on. A special Tunisian rug was brought in and four users were put in a diamond like pattern in a ritualistic circle with HTC Vive controllers. Under two lighthouse sensors, four users were able to enjoy the experience together and interact with the content as well as each other. Everybody appears to one another as translucent avatars and the more you move your controllers, the more the environment reacts to you. Niederhauser says that people in the experience at Sundance thoroughly enjoyed it and the dancing, and this has inspired them to think about taking the experience online. “It was an amazing reaction and thinking of ways we can turn it into a home, a lobby… Come in people from around the world and participate together.”
Users were coming out of the experience laughing and smiling. Niederhauser says that it was a beautiful and joyous experience, which he believes was primarily due to people participating in it together. “We uncovered a new leaf in the documentary realm.”
With Dogwoof purchasing ZIKR: A Sufi Revival there are now discussions on improving the next iteration. Potentially through creating an online lobby so people can experience it at home, adding subpac peripherals and using HTC Vive trackers rather than controllers.
To find out more about the Sensorium, and how they used various levels of technology watch the video below.