Journalists from Al Jazeera’s immersive storytelling studio Contrast VR gave NU-Q students insights into creating high-impact virtual reality experiences at the latest Media Innovation Lab (MIL) workshop session.

Elia Ghorbiah and Viktorija Mickute use 360° video and virtual reality at Al Jazeera as a platform to give audiences new perspectives on issues happening in underreported societies.

At the NU-Q session, the journalists outlined the components of an engaging VR experience: action, environment, and compelling characters. To illustrate these components, they shared a recent film they had produced, Yemen’s Skies of Terror, which provides a rare glimpse into the fallen city of Sanaa, four years into the country’s civil war, through the eyes of a child. 

“Strong characters will always push a story forward, but with 360° content especially, you have to find people who are willing to really take viewers on a journey with them and walk them through every part of their daily life,” said Mickute.

Furthering the conversation on filmmaking best-practices, the journalists workshopped a step-by-step VR production exercise with students from storyboarding to delivery, using editing software to stitch together video sequences and refine audio.

“Strong characters will always push a story forward, but with 360° content especially, you have to find people who are willing to really take viewers on a journey with them and walk them through every part of their daily life.”
- Viktorija Mickute, Contrast VR

With the industry constantly evolving, Ghorbiah also provided tips on various VR distribution options currently available on the market, including headsets and cameras such as the Oculus Go, Samsung Gear, Google Daydream, HTC Vive Pro, and the Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream, among other technologies – most of which are available at the MIL. 

“I will definitely be using a lot of what I learned today to advance my own projects at the MIL – seeing what Elia and Viktorijia have produced in a little more than a year was very inspiring,” said Rui Xin Oh, a student in the Journalism and Strategic Communication Program.

The Media Innovation Lab is a new initiative from NU-Q – a dedicated space for the discovery and experimentation of emerging technologies, providing an annual student grant program and workshop series. The next MIL session in November will be presented by VICE News journalists Devin Greenleaf and Maral Usefi.