Search Unity

The Changing Same’s creators explore Black history and healing

February 16, 2022 in Community | 9 min. read
The Changing Same, Episode 1 backlot
The Changing Same, Episode 1 backlot
Topics covered
Share

We believe the world is a better place with more creators in it. Our mission is to empower a diverse community of developers, give them the tools and resources they need, and help them bring their visions to life.

While we regularly spotlight talented Black creators and share their stories, February is Black History Month – a call-to-action to immerse ourselves in the richness of Black culture and the lived experiences of Black people around the world.

In honor of this important month, we interviewed Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster, and Yasmin Elayat. Together, they leveraged Unity technology to create The Changing Same, an immersive, episodic virtual reality experience that uses time travel and magical realism to explore the history of anti-Black violence in the United States.

The Changing Same team with a green background

How did Unity become part of The Changing Same?

Joe was introduced to Unity after his team at Rada Studio received a grant from the Skoll Foundation, which supports transformational social change by investing in, connecting, and championing social entrepreneurs and other social innovators. Joe’s team had originally envisioned The Changing Same as a 15-minute documentary, but the grant enabled them to expand their scope and consider alternate forms of media for their story. This was how Unity entered the picture, along with their co-creator, Yasmin Elyat.

Yasmin had prior experience with Unity through her company, Scatter. Scatter is an Emmy award-winning creative studio that pioneered volumetric filmmaking and produces Depthkit, the most widely used toolkit for accessible volumetric video capture. Depthkit integrates with Unity through a plug-in and expansion package, allowing creators to use it with Unity’s Visual Effect and Shader Graphs.

That initial exposure – through Scatter’s work with volumetric filmmaking – “got us excited about the possibilities of nonlinear 3D storytelling,” said Michèle. To get their feet wet, they created a branded 2D short for Planned Parenthood, using Unity to tell the story of three women and their intimate decisions about motherhood. “That exploration allowed us to become more familiar with Unity for our bigger, more complicated project, The Changing Same,” she added.

A person wearing a long, white dress

What was the inspiration behind your project? Why did you create it?

“Our work as storytellers is dedicated to giving voice to those excluded from the American narrative,” said Joe. “We must celebrate those contributions to achieve the dream of becoming a multicultural democracy, a nation where we are all seen as potential contributors.”

Michèle added that as storytellers, she believes it is their duty to “witness, expose, and provoke on all experiential platforms. History is present today – and all art is political.” She explained that Unity’s mechanics allowed them to play with time in a 3D space, which aligned perfectly with their creative passions.

 “It all has a purpose, and the purpose is to show that the past is sitting on our shoulders. What we’re experiencing today, our ancestors experienced a variation of 300 or 400 years ago. And, we’re compelled to make that statement as part of our own healing process, and to acknowledge that the oppressive structures persist but our future can be different. That’s why we took this collaborative journey. We were drawn to the three-dimensional format to help us and our communities reckon with this inversion of time and space, in order to think in a creative way about how to change the future world for ourselves.”

What do you hope people take away from your project?

Joe explained that their goal is to inspire Americans and media makers of all ages while instilling a sense of belonging and pride within the Black community. Michèle added that they also want audiences “to make connections between our past and present, and hopefully feel in their hearts how the Black experience is lived today.”

Dark scene of a tree-lined path leading towards light.

What did Unity technology enable you to do?

This content is hosted by a third party provider that does not allow video views without acceptance of Targeting Cookies. Please set your cookie preferences for Targeting Cookies to yes if you wish to view videos from these providers.

Yasmin noted that developing the project and achieving their creative vision was made possible by Unity tools. The Changing Same team needed the ability to blend new workflows, a unique rendering pipeline, and Unity’s Visual Effect Graph to create the fireflies in their project and add custom effects to their volumetrically captured Depthkit characters.

The Changing Same team customized Unity’s rendering pipeline to pull off the time travel illusion in 3D, which was one of the project’s more complicated technical feats. “The concept of the time travel mechanic is that when you are in one of the lush 3D environments, the world breaks and tears apart to reveal another liminal backlot environment, which the user will fly through past symbols and moments from 400 years of Black history,” Yasmin explained. “We are always rendering four cameras simultaneously – two in the world the user is currently in, and two in the next world we plan to reveal. This mechanic has never been done before in VR and it’s really compelling as a user experience!”

Landscape with trees, a car near a house with a red light

What did the Unity for Humanity Black Visions Grant enable?

The grant funding allowed The Changing Same team to finish production and create the installation that was presented at the 2021 Tribeca Festival. The visceral sonic and visual experience went on to win the Best Immersive Experience award at the festival.

The Changing Same VR experience, and afrofuturism in general, is an expression of hope – it's about acknowledging the fact that we've always been resourceful and will continue to be, and that should be a source of pride for us. In order to make those connections we have to go through the past, present, and future; this piece was about the present. Once you're able to look at all of that, the realization is that the last 350 years have been amazing. It tells us that if we have been able to achieve this much, with all the obstacles we've endured, imagine what is possible down the line.”  – Joe

A police car driving on a tree-lined street.

How have you integrated your values and mission into your work?

Michèle strives to intentionally cross-check work with her core values and mission, examining the potential compromises she must engage with. “It’s a daily practice to not lose that sense of purpose that drives my work. If I don’t check in on a daily basis, I risk falling into unwanted or unforeseen compromises. It’s an ongoing tension and battle to keep one's independence, integrity, and true vision at the center of what we do as artists. Compromises are inevitable, but which ones and at what cost are the deeper questions we always need to ask.”

What are your future plans for the project?

The Changing Same is an episodic series. The first installment has been released, and the trailer is available to watch here.

This content is hosted by a third party provider that does not allow video views without acceptance of Functional Cookies. Please set your cookie preferences for Functional Cookies to yes if you wish to view videos from these providers.

“We’re all very proud of episode one – the strong storytelling, the uncompromising subject matter, the technological innovation, and the beauty of the worlds we’ve designed. We cannot wait to bring the future episodes to audiences!,” Yasmin added.

The team is currently fundraising for the second and third episodes. For updates on future episodes, subscribe to the Rada newsletter and follow the creators of The Changing Same on Twitter: @2Joedigital, @Michele0608, and @yelayat.

–-

Through its innovative VR format, The Changing Same invites audiences to witness connected historical experiences of racial injustice in the United States. As always, and especially during Black History Month, it’s essential to honor Black history and examine the uninterrupted cycle of racial oppression – past and present.

February 16, 2022 in Community | 9 min. read
Topics covered