How Animation Drives 360º Narratives Forward

In this week’s blog, we interviewed the two animators who worked on our original productions, I Am Rohingya and Oil In Our Creeks, about their processes for using 360º animation to propel the narratives forward in compelling ways.

For Tasneem Amiruddin, it was her first time illustrating for a 360 video, which she described as an exciting adventure: “it’s not as daunting as it sounds, as it expands your horizons in terms of animations, making you keep in mind the larger dimensions of a moving image in 360 degrees.”

Screenshot from I Am Rohingya.

Tasneem created the illustrations for I Am Rohingya, a documentary that follows the story of Jamalida, a Rohingya muslim who fled the violence of Myanmar to arrive at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. As Jamilda gives a detailed account of the pain and suffering she underwent in Myanmar, including instances of violence and rape, the animations provide a visual journey for the viewer.

Tasneem says,

“The illustrations gave the story life, as it was too graphic to imagine or view in any other way, but it described the scenes in a way to create an impact… The illustrations accentuated the story and added detail to the already existing video.”

Trailer for I Am Rohingya.

For Angela Haddad, the animator for Oil In Our Creeks, her foray into the world of 360 video and virtual reality animation began long ago, when she “decided to find a way to create my art not in VR but have it live in VR,” transforming her watercolour to be animated in a full 360 environment. She is the founder and VR Creative Director of One Third Blue, a VR studio based in Los Angeles.

Oil In Our Creeks follows a young woman in the Niger Delta who dreams of a better life for her community, showing us how her world has been devastated by a series of oil spills. The animations were used to juxtapose the past and the present, as Haddad created “the art for 180 degrees of the 360 video to illustrate how these communities used to look like before the oil spill, which created this difference between the past and the present.”

Screenshot from Oil In Our Creeks.

When asked about the difference between creating animations for 2D linear video, and for 3D 360 video, Haddad broke it down to the following categories:

  1. Mindset: “When you are creating any content in 360, whether it’s animation or live action, you have to adapt to a completely different mindset. You can’t think in frames anymore; in 2D content your video or picture is very much constrained to this rectangular frame so you’re able to 100% control what goes into that frame. Whereas in 360, you cannot guarantee where the user is going to look as there is no frame, but rather a 360 image wrapped all around them.
  2. Agency: “You have to think of how much agency you want to give them to look around in the full 360 space. And if you want to limit their agency, what are you going to do to create these visual cues to help drive where they’re looking? Do you want to guide them throughout the whole piece, or only in certain sections of the narrative? If you do choose to use these visual cues to drive people’s gaze, yet they decide to look in the other direction, you have a decision to make. Do you want to reward them for it, or do you want to not have anything interesting in that quadrant? What I mean by reward, is that do you want to give them something interesting, but not super critical to the narrative, to look at, rather than having this empty quadrant that doesn’t mean anything at all?”
  3. Narrative: “The other part of it is the narrative itself, does it make sense to have them look in a certain place, or all around them? How do these considerations help drive the narrative forward? Do these choices make sense for a 360 narrative, and do these animations make the narratives more compelling?”
Screenshot from Oil In Our Creeks.

Haddad concluded, speaking to aspiring animators who are starting to enter into the 360 space, “It’s a completely different mindset as I was saying; each project is going to be different as each narrative is different, but getting your hands dirty is the best way to tackle it and jump fully into VR.”

When asked about whether Tasneem would do it again, she responded, “It was a little hard but I’m glad I did it, as it was a great experience. I’m definitely excited to do more.”

Angela Haddad (left); Tasneem Amiruddin (right).