5 thoughts with virtual reality story director and narrator Charlotte Mikkelborg

Charlotte Mikkelborg is a British producer and director who uses virtual reality technology to create immersive narrative experiences. His character-based experience Born in exile (2016), a story of two Syrian refugees, was screened in U.S. homes in Congress and The trip (2018) premiered at SXSW and won the 61st Golden Eagle Award for Best Virtual Reality Short Film.

KRASIA spoke with Mikkelborg about his innovative and emotional work in his chosen medium. The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Behind the scenes rolling The journey. Courtesy of Charlotte Mikkelborg.

KrASIA (Kr): The United Nations was one of the investors Born in exile. What potential did they see in using the RV?

Charlotte Mikkelborg (CM): The United Nations was a major investor in RV content from the earliest days. Finally, the RV is known as an empathy machine and carried out a test project where random pedestrians on the street were asked to show humanitarian RV content and found that the number of people willing to donate was doubled. There’s always a crisis somewhere in the world and there’s always someone suffering, but the news cycles are so constant that, for the most part, you feel immune. RV allows you to get into these environments and feel in the same physical space, which is much more powerful.

Within minutes of seeing it The trip, some viewers cried and the film is not even meant to be sad, but rather about hope and possibility. Technology can put you in someone else’s shoes, which can be both educational and inspiring.

Kr: When you were on the ground creating The trip in Ethiopia, did your main themes know that the film would be a virtual reality experience and not a normal documentary?

CM: Given the language barrier, trying to describe the project and the technology was not really feasible and did not do justice to the content. We decided that the best way to communicate our goal was to let them see for themselves. We let our 10 and 17 year old collaborators try on the headphones and were really amazed at the experience. After that moment, they had a much clearer understanding of what we were doing and their enthusiasm only increased. In the end, we were able to create a really powerful project that evoked people’s emotions.

Kr: How do RV creators look for investment and funding?

CM: The sources of funding for the virtual reality industry are everywhere. Unlike the traditional film industry, which has established funding channels, investment in RV content comes from various organizations. There is a lot of public funding in Europe, in places like the UK and France. NGOs such as UNICEF or organizations such as the United Nations are also interested in supporting humanitarian content projects. Then you have gaming engine companies like Unity and Unreal investing in technology for gaming and entertainment applications. Hopefully, as the industry matures, there will be more fixed channels for creators to raise capital.

Kr: Can we talk about the potential of virtual reality to rejuvenate historical studies?

CM: The potential is almost limitless, because there are so many fascinating events, characters and periods in history to explore. I think the only challenge is budgetary. How much money can you spend on a specific effort? Ultimately, money means time to research and research is the key. But who wouldn’t want to live the day at the Roman Forum or go back and witness the pilot Wilbur Wright on the first flight to Kitty Hawk Beach? There are also many uses for augmented reality technology when it comes to recreating history. You can create layers on top of a real environment, like in a project I worked on called “Tudors Augmented”.

Kr: What are the main barriers to the development of the virtual reality industry?

CM: There are still a very limited number of VR headsets compared to TVs and mobile phones, even in rich countries. In the developing world, even in fairly developed countries like Nigeria and Kenya, their VR industry does not exist. Getting access to virtual reality headsets on these sites is difficult and most virtual reality projects already have tight budgets. We shot part of The trip in Chad, and although the trip didn’t cost much, I would love to have the resources to show the content to the local communities that had helped us produce it. If we can expand the technology to mobile phones, we can reach more users around the world.

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