Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary digital experiences of these past years, something that interactive storytelling has tried to accomplish without ever succeeding: an immersive journey so powerful the audience can literally let go.
The narrated VR experience is a companion piece to the feature length documentary Notes on Blindness by Peter Middleton and James Spinney, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Festival. The documentary tells the story of John Hull, an Australian theology professor at the University of Birmingham who upon losing his sight at mid-career, started keeping an audio diary to document his experience of blindness.
Using binaural audio, VR and real time 3D animations, this moving piece designed for GearVR follows Hull’s emotional journey through confusion and despair to insight, inspiration and epiphany.
‘I knew that if I didn’t understand blindness, it would destroy me.’
– JOHN HULL
Each of the four chapters of Into Darkness start with the sound of the cassette recorder being switched on, followed by the warm, soft spoken voice of John Hull. Shimmering blue-tinted images emerge from the darkness, slowly followed by inky objects and silhouettes. A park overlooked by a highway, the interior of a house filled with the sounds of raindrops falling into bowls, a choir of children inside a cathedral.
In each sequence, the viewer is invited to look around to reveal hidden details. As chapters unfold, we get to visualize John Hull’s world, a landscape of challenged proportions, reminiscent of surrealistic paintings. When it comes to sound, Hull confesses to preferring rainy days to quiet, sunny ones; he wonders how the wind can get so loud; he calls his cat to come purr in his lap.
What makes Into Darkness such a strong experience is the way it reverses what the process seems to impose: the confession of a man determined to fight the solitude forced on him by his condition. The story manages to produce the opposite effect: standing in the shoes of the narrator, we get to experience our surrounding world with unequaled sharpness, a feeling that dissolves once you remove the headset.
Into Darkness doesn’t force a new world upon us, but subtly attempts to make us take a better look at the one that surrounds us.
Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness
Made with Unity, the full VR experience will be released in 2016 on Samsung GearVR, Cardboard and Oculus.
A 360° version will be available on all iOS and Android devices.
Experience designed by Arnaud Colinart, Amaury La Burthe, Peter Middleton & James Spinney
Produced by AGAT Films Ex Nihilo, ARTE France & AudioGaming in co-production with Archer’s Mark
- COMFORT / USER EXPERIENCE8