Just in time for World Oceans Day, we’re excited to share that Out of the Blue—a short film borne out of the Oculus VR for Good Creators Lab program—is now available on Oculus Video for Rift and Gear VR.
Narrated by famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle, Out of the Blue tells the story of the Castros, a family of fisherman who sacrifice their livelihood in order to save their reef and bring back local sea life. Since its world premiere at the SXSW 2017 Film Festival, the film has helped to spread awareness of nonprofit Pelagic Life and its mission to address overfishing and protect the open ocean’s biodiversity.
To celebrate the launch of Out of the Blue on the Oculus Platform, we sat down with director Sophie Ansel to discuss 360 filmmaking, her experience working in Cabo Pulmo, and more.
What inspired you to apply for Creators Lab in 2016?
Sophie Ansel: I’ve explored a variety of media to tell stories that matter to me, from radio and film to graphic novels and print. With VR, I saw the possibility to really bring the viewer into the full 360 space of the stories I wanted to tell. The Creators Lab opportunity came at the perfect time, since I had developed a good idea of what could be done with VR and was ready to create more impactful stories to inspire action and deliver positive impacts for the viewer.
What really appealed to me about VR for Good and Creators Lab is that it was a call to people from all over the world to bring their own unique backgrounds and perspectives—expanding the marketplace of ideas in VR.
What does the element of 360 film add to Out of the Blue that wouldn’t be possible using conventional filmmaking techniques?
SA: It first adds a sense of immediacy for the viewer. Once you’re immersed in a VR experience, you’re suddenly transported elsewhere and there’s no coming back unless you take off the headset. You dive into another world, which lets you better understand situations in the world that may be hard to really understand unless they’re part of your lived experience.
Do you think that leveraging 360 film improves the documentary’s effectiveness from a conservationist perspective? Why or why not?
SA: Most people live in urban areas and have less and less connection to nature. The power of VR is to transport you into a space where you become more than just an observer—you’re an active participant in the experience. That’s where the film director’s role becomes more subtle, guiding the frame while maintaining that feeling of freedom for the viewer. Bringing that sense of agency and decision-making into a VR experience that supports conservation efforts is already a victory in the sense that it gives the viewer a sense of responsibility together with the connection, intimacy, and presence they feel.
How did you feel when you first learned that you had been paired with Pelagic Life?
SA: I’m passionate diver and have been involved in environmentalist efforts since 2013 through my collaboration with The Ocean Agency and XL Catlin Seaview Survey, as well as Seaview 360, so I was thrilled to work with a well-established NGO. While I had previously worked on oceanic conservation projects in many places around the world, I didn’t know much about Mexico’s waters. Working with Pelagic Life helped to break down some walls in my own knowledge and let me dive into something new while working in an innovative new form of storytelling. I loved the fact that they want to help more fishing communities transform into eco-warriors.
The idea is to leverage the voice of the people and wildlife who don’t have a voice, and there’s lots of space for those voices to be heard and felt in VR.
What was it like to work with Oculus Executive Producer Yelena Rachitsky? What kind of advice and guidance did she provide to you as your mentor?
SA: Yelena is a highly-regarded VR industry veteran, so having her as a mentor was a great honor and very exciting. She’s a great listener, open to hearing ideas and analyzing them, brainstorming and giving you the keys to help push those ideas to new levels. She has a strong sense of respect for people’s ideas to help leverage, which was truly amazing.
I loved working with her because she’s the kind of person who challenges you to question yourself, the project, and the path you’re taking, pushing you to ask the important questions so you find the answers. She also welcomes innovation. For example, I really wanted to incorporate 360 animation, which I thought fit the storytelling perfectly as a way to bridge the separation between the past and the present. Although adding animation was complicated, Yelena was very supportive and helped me connect with some talented people so I could deepen my understanding of animation and find a way to bring that into the project.
How did you get Sylvia Earle on board? How did her participation influence the project?
SA: Sylvia Earle is a living legend for most of us who are involved with oceanic conservation. She’s also very familiar with Cabo Pulmo, the community the film is about. She identified it as a Hopespot for the planet thanks to its conservation efforts and has been diving several times there. She was the obvious voice for the film from the start because she’s been an advocate for Hopespots like Cabo Pulmo for a long time. She carries the message and encourages artists and filmmakers to get on board and advocate for the ocean—so really, she got me on board with her mission! I reached out to her to explain the project, and she agreed to do the voiceovers straight away. I was truly amazed by her humble and enthusiastic response.
How did the community of Cabo Pulmo react to the project?
SA: Every one was very supportive. They’ve acted to make Cabo Pulmo a better place for the people and the reef, and they’re more than willing to share their story and inspire more people. I’m really grateful for every one’s support of this project, from the dive professionals to Judith Castro Lucero and the community. My biggest thanks go to Yerick, who is the main character of the film. I was moved several times by the relationships he has with his cousin, his uncles, and—most of all—his mother, Judith. There was a moment where both his mother and I had tears in our eyes as he spontaneously expressed some of his thoughts about the future and the kind of impact he wants to have. He’s really an astonishing and inspiring child to work with.
What’s next for you? Will you continue to work in 360 film and/or VR?
SA: Yes, I have new stories to tell that will be best told in VR, and I’m about to collaborate on a new VR project based on a remote island in the Pacific. I want to continue to direct and create VR stories with an impact—stories that will inspire people and contribute to a positive transformation of our society.
Never before has technology been so relevant to connect us with the world. At the same time, we’ve never been at such a critical moment where it’s become necessary to reconcile humans and their environment. VR creates a space where you can feel that connection and be inspired to take action.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Sophie.
Now in its second year, Creators Lab pairs nonprofits and rising filmmakers to shed light on important social issues and drive meaningful change. We’ll have news about our 2017 program to share in the coming weeks. Until then, explore the possibilities of VR for Good with Out of the Blue on Oculus Video for Gear VR and Rift.
— The Oculus Team