Founded in 2011, VISYON is an award-winning company empowering innovation through emerging technologies and creative solutions, such as VR, AR, Holograms and AI. Over the years, they have collaborated on VR projects with the likes of Redbull, Tommy Hilfiger and Samsung Spain.
VISYON counts more than five years innovating together with over 50 technology enthusiasts from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise; including storytellers, humanitarian, artists, coders, and engineers.
The origins of Visyon’s award-winning VR film for Social Impact came about in January 2017 when they were approached by The Cornerstone Partnership to create an inspirational and realistic VR exercise for possibly-to-become fostering and adopting families to convey the positive impact of changing a child’s life.
The Core Objectives of Window to Our World:
Notwithstanding a desire for a library of content, priority was given to the recruitment piece in view of a common problem faced by many Local Authorities across the UK, hampered to recruit in-house and retain sufficient foster carers, so were using expensive independent agencies in a time of cutbacks. This wasn’t a case where the ‘business problem’ has to be teased out, but one that was having serious human, social and financial implications. The core objective was to create an immersive and interactive 360-degree VR experience that could bridge the gap and be used as a recruitment tool to help people more fully understand the profoundly positive impact a foster carer can have on a child’s life chances.
In the early stages there was an element of competition with other outfits. However, in our favour, we had a strong precedent in using immersive technologies for social impact. It also helped that we struck a chord with Cornerstone, as we shared a genuine motivation to make a transformative difference in children services.
Creating a Brief and Bringing in a Director:
Now that a problem and a purpose had been established, the next step was to develop a detailed brief along with a ‘sliding doors’ creative concept, shown from the first-person perspective of the child, that we felt would work well for this purpose. The key messages, positives and negatives, and real scenarios to be considered for the basis of the story were detailed and realistic. This development stage was important to think hard about the subject matter before triggering the creative and technological brainstorm.
Pressing deadlines kept the production team on our toes, as the annual Foster Care Fortnight had been targeted as the firm release date, just two months away on the calendar. All hands on deck, a creative proposal that was heavily narrative-driven was furnished to generate empathy and emotional proximity with the viewer. It was narrowed down over two follow-up meetings with Cornerstone. By then it was late March, so with a rough and ambitious treatment, we were forced to expedite pre-production preparations, albeit we didn’t have a working script.
The decision then was to look outside and hire creative light and commercial director Ben Perry to take the reins. He swiftly stepped into the fold and, remarkably quickly, turned around a powerful script along with a visual treatment which captivated everybody. It captured beautifully the emotions and sensitivities of the subject matter. To have a strong and creative script and visual treatment that was deeply moving on paper, was a good place to be.
Challenges within the Production Process:
In parallel, the production engine was contending with the the thorny issue of obtaining child permits within the timeframe. There were budget constraints as well, as the costs were also spiking threefold, circa £20,000. In light of this insurmountable problem, a left-field decision was made to relocate filming abroad to Barcelona – VISYON’s backyard – as this would give us greater access to production resources (including many friends!) at half the cost.
Moving parts forced us to cancel the initial release date despite all efforts to align availability of the key players. However, Cornerstone had commitments with Local Authorities to pilot the finished film so it couldn’t be delayed further.
The production was a test of resourcefulness and flat-out hard work. Filming ran for a continuous five-day fast-and-furious shoot with ten different locations – that could be dressed to resemble anything in the UK – across Barcelona and Girona. The only production element that couldn’t be sourced in Barcelona and needed to be shipped over from the UK were the school uniforms for the actors & background.
An aspect of pre-production was upskilling director Ben Perry to 360-degree filming. Ben came from a traditional background which uses a different kind of cinematic language. For instance in 360 filming there is no framing or close-ups. It is more akin to stage theatre where the elements are choreographed with complex angles. Needless to say, Ben took to it seamlessly. He arrived to Barcelona one week before the filming start date to acclimatise with the medium and workflow, see examples of work, and develop the shot list. This was important because commercial filming relies on quick clever cuts to create dynamism, but this doesn’t translate well to a 360 piece. There was an experienced DoP that Ben could lean on for composition of shots.
Creative Ways of Working around Budget Constraints with Filming:
To achieve a cinematic calibre level and stay under budget, the choice of camera was to use a single RED Weapon. This is an unorthodox approach, as typically one would use multiple cameras to cover a full spherical view but this was cost prohibitive. The technique we adopted consisted in recording one angle of the set and then rotate the camera multiple times until the full sphere was captured. In some cases this entailed filming ten to twelve angles per scene. Though this may seem contradictory in hindsight, this is the approach that we deemed most adequate given the budget constraint.
As a thought exercise, if filming had taken place today, twenty months later, the video team would have opted instead for a 360-specific camera rig such as Kandao Obsidian, as it would’ve expedited hugely the stitching nitty-gritty workflow. In our case, post-production was a long and laborious three-month process. Even though the editing was straight forward, the use of ultra-wide-angle lenses (8 and 10 mm) in a process when there is an average of ten angles per scene makes the stitching labour-intensive to smoothen out the parallax effect.
A ‘little’ known fact is that we were producing two films simultaneously: in 360 degrees and a 2D version. First it was filmed in 360, then the 2D unit would step in and do their business. This inevitably put strain on the schedule, but it is a unique feat and the results speak for themselves. The value of having a film in two formats can’t be underestimated for wider distribution.
Release and Reception to Window to our World:
Window to our World launched in October 2017 at a red carpet premiere in City Hall, London, and was highly acclaimed by those who have contact with Children in and on The Edge of Care. It is now used as high-impact content piece by our partner The Cornerstone Partnership and is currently piloted with 18 local authorities across the UK for use within adoption and fostering.
The Real-World Impact of the Project on Foster Care:
Although progress has been made, the fact remains over 7,000 new foster families are needed in the next 12 months alone to care for a range of children, with the greatest need being for foster carers for older children, sibling groups and disabled children. WtoW aims to recruit and support more foster carers using the interactive immersion to enable carers and professionals understand how trauma and abuse impacts children’s development and behaviour and the important role that the adult can play.
Current existing research in the market tells us that VR content receives 27% higher emotional reaction that 2D content and engagement is 34% longer (YuMe and Nielsen, 2016). In addition to early evaluation and analysis, below is the impact of the pilot during the first six months since its launch. It focused on evaluating the impact of using VR as a tool to accelerate learning and /or behaviour change.
Impact on Foster Carer Recruitment
- Since October 2017 Window to our World has been utilised as part of a targeted recruitment programme with 18 Local Authorities. In the first 6 months Cornerstone has held more than 60 local recruitment events and included the VR episode “Window to our World” as part of these events.
- The availability of the film at local Foster Carer recruitment events has increased passer-by engagement and increased time at stand from an average 2-3 minutes to over 7 minutes. An increase of +130%.
- The number of qualified leads has increased by 87.5% from 16% in the 3 months prior (without VR) to 30 in the first 6 months (with VR).
- Over the last 3 months of the qualified leads at enquiry stage 100% have gone through to Stage 1 Assessment after seeing the VR film.
- Drives understanding and action from all parties
VISYON and The Cornerstone Partnership are immensely proud and grateful to The VR Awards for bestowing the Social Impact honor that acknowledges a film that is helping bridge the gap in the recruitment and retention of foster carers.