Virtual Reality Music-Based Story Unveiled In Kenya

The screening of the first part of the movie, Avengers: Infinity War at IMAX-Garden City mall, Nairobi, last Saturday after its global release last Thursday was accompanied by a hive of activities that included gaming, showcasing of local and international comic books, music, fan memorabilia and cosplay (costumes contest) as part of the Movie Jabber Expo.



The events highlighted a convergence of sorts among different entertainment genres with one aim – to engage audiences as well as make their experience interactive.

Technologies such as 3D and 360-degree videos and virtual reality (VR) are making it possible to achieve these objectives.

Among the entertainers showcasing latest interactive work was Kenyan musician Muthoni Drummer Queen and UK-based artist and filmmaker CiRCA69 (Simon Wilkinson) who unveiled a virtual reality music-based story.

Ms Muthoni expressed optimism that her latest work will gain traction despite the technology being nascent in Africa.

“Technology responds to a need. Humanity needs to be immersed in something. Research shows consumers want to participate in their entertainment,” said Ms Muthoni at the event organised by Movie Jabber a cinema, pop culture entertainment and mass media company.

The Briton, who describes himself as a “transmedia” artist, says he combines audio-visual, virtual reality, electronic music, and online and performance media to “tell stories through multiple platforms and immerse audiences in experiences which blur the line between truth and fiction”. He had been in Kenya for the past two weeks until Monday to help Ms Muthoni produce what she touts as “the first VR music video in Africa”.

“Consumers are demanding entertainment in which they are empowered to make decisions,” says Mr Wilkinson who, according to his online profile launched his filmmaking career in 1993 and organised events that encouraged “people to shoot film on the streets where they lived, using whatever equipment was available, screening the films in local venues”.
“People have been experimenting with VR for a long time but now it is a consumer product and music has always been immersive. Revolution has been happening and VR is going to be another true turning point in humanity,” he says.

The filmmaker says the production of the VR video in the two weeks he had been in Kenya involved 18 hours a day of scripting with some collaborators in Switzerland. “Virtual reality requires only small teams to achieve a lot,” he says adding that unlike other video works that are expensive, creation of VR content is relatively cheaper because production software is incredibly efficient.

Production of the VR video involved buying of six second-hand headset gear on eBay at £110 and hiring three locally at Sh8,000 a day. The software for production is available free of charge online, said the duo adding that they plan to make it available on Google PlayStore. However, they are yet to decide on whether they will charge for downloads or not. “We think it should be free but we are contemplating ways of monetising it. We will weigh between the two options and see what works out,” said Ms Muthoni.

She adds that the production targets tech-savvy people not only in Kenya but also globally looking for the next frontier of experience. “It’s technology that you have to go out of your way to acquire.”

The technology is yet to fully take root. In Kenya, Nairobi Garage, a co-working space for start-ups, was one of the hosts of Africa’s first 48-hour VR hackathon between April 20-22 that involved 35 participants from seven countries in the continent including artists, writers, creatives, hackers, filmmakers, activists and entrepreneurs.

Ms Muthoni said the adoption of VR is expected to grow with the rising demand for augmented experience among consumers of media content and as the technology advances.

“Whenever I watch news, I always have my Twitter on to monitor what other people are saying about the stories highlighted. We are demanding interactivity all the time. So the landing of VR is timely,” she said.

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