yamammy is a short virtual reality film that seeks to understand how displaced individuals navigate a world in which they possess overlapping ethnic, religious, familial, or national identities.

In this project, a former refugee from Sierra Leone Yamammy describes her experiences moving from Sierra Leone to Guinea to New York to a small town in Idaho and how her sense of home and identity has changed over the years. The documentary functions as a fragmentary photogrammetric portrait of Yamammy, using images and stories she describes from her memory.

Project is collaboration work with Rebecca Ricks

The Research

The priority in this project was to most importantly find a compelling story that would be worth sharing, so getting to know Yamammy and hearing her story was a huge privilege. Before we got into the interview process we had to get some research done.

Refugee resettlement process

The process to be able to get a refuge in another country can take up to few years. The brief process looks like this.

  • Applying for a resettlement
  • After applying refugee and her family have to participate in series of interviews:

> the first one with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — they choose whether they are going to refer refugee to hosting country or not
> If refugee gets referral the next interview is being carried out by Resettlement Support Center (RSC) RSC working on behalf of the U.S. Department of State (if hosting country is U.S.)
>And finally, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

  • If all the interviews go well and resettlement case gets approved, the next step is to get series of medical screenings before refugee gets introduced to hosting family, local non profit and so on

Sierra Leone Civil War, 1991-2002

Civil War in Sierra Leone started in 1991 between Revolutionary United Front (RUF),  Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and Joseph Momoh government over the diamond production. More info here. During the war that lasted 11 years, 50,000 people died and around 500,000 got displaced. Yamammy and her family were only few of those people.

The Concept

The documentary takes the form of something like a radio interview but in 360 video. It pairs a compelling personal story with visuals that match the content of the story — a mix of photogrammetry and 360 video put in VR for final experience.

The aim of the project is to have a narrative that drives the mood of the film. The tone is emotional and personal.

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In terms of audience participation, the experience is heavy curated, where audience hears the audio of a story and explores places that appear in the narrative.

Experience takes user through 9 different narrative pieces.

Photogrammetry

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Visual reference is taken from the Shining 360 experience, where audio is paired with photogrammetric objects.

Photogrammetry seemed to be a perfect means to make this project alive: just as memories, photogrammetry makes objects fragmented, sometimes blurry and disappearing one by one.

The Process

Audio interview

Yamammy A. – A 29-year old refugee from Sierra Leone who was resettled in the U.S. during the country’s civil war. Interview conducted over the Internet after a pre-interview on the phone

Some of the questions that were asked during the interview:

  • What story do you want to tell? What do you want people to know?
  • Tell me about your childhood home. What do you remember? What stories did your parents tell you? Did your cousins live nearby?
  • Why did you leave Sierra Leone? What do you know about Sierra Leone now?
  • Tell me about the moment you first found out you were coming to the U.S. How did it feel? How did you react?
  • Tell me about the airplane ride. What do you remember? How did it feel?
  • Where did you live when you got here? Did it surprise you?
  • When was the last time you saw your biological mom? What was that like? How did it feel?
  • How did it feel to move from New York to Idaho? How old were you?
  • What do you want to do in the future? Do you see yourself staying in Idaho? Where do you feel most at home?
  • What did you expect? How was your experience different than you’d planned?

Visual content

A lot of photogrammetric objects were made using aerial / drone footage and cut into images using ffmpeg

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Photogrammetric 3D (.obj) models were made using Photoscan and Meshmixer

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screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-15-38-30 Unity was used to put objects into VR environment and creating scenes

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Audio edited and put together with visuals using Adobe Premiere

In final class we presented a rough cut which is meant to watch using spherical viewer.
The main feedback we got was that we should keep searching for where these objects should live in as moving 360 video might not be the thing. We decided to put it in a black environment and make objects static for now. Here’s a rough cut of changing the environment and making:

Next steps

To fully edit audio, to create a full VR experience for ITP Winter Show purposes and to make a 360 video experience to make the story more accessible by wide audience.

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