The Guardian Launches Sea Prayer VR Experience by Acclaimed Author Khaled Hosseini
The Guardian is pleased to announce the launch of Sea Prayer, the publication’s latest virtual reality (VR) project, written by Khaled Hosseini and narrated by BAFTA Award winning actor Adeel Akhtar.
To commemorate the second anniversary of the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned whilst attempting to reach Greece in 2015, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and acclaimed author Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns; And the Mountains Echoed) has written Sea Prayer, an imagined letter in the form of a monologue, from a Syrian father to his son lying asleep on his lap, on the eve making the sea crossing to Europe to see refuge and safety.
Sea Prayer is the first narrative animated virtual reality film created using Tilt Brush, a tool for painting in a 3D space with virtual reality. Using this tool, the Guardian’s in-house VR team, in collaboration with acclaimed VR artist Liz Edwards, have brought Hosseini’s sensitive imagining of this letter to life.
Narrated by Adeel Akhtar, who plays the role of the father in the piece, the poetic text reflects back on the great city Homs the father grew up in, now a devastated war zone which he and his son are being forced to leave behind, and the dangerous sea crossings that lie ahead.
Throughout Sea Prayer, Hosseini’s powerful story is brought to life for viewers through Liz Edwards’s illustrations. Using Tilt Brush as a storytelling tool, Sea Prayer develops around the viewer, with vivid images growing and new characters coming into view as the story progresses allowing the viewer to be immersed in the story as it is being narrated to them.
The piece is accompanied by a moving score, composed for Sea Prayer by Sahba Aminikia, an Iranian-American contemporary classical music composer, and performed by award-winning string quartet Kronos Quartet and musician David Coulter, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost musical saw players.
Francesca Panetta, executive editor, virtual reality, Guardian News & Media, said:
“We’re delighted to have been able to work with UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini to bring his incredibly sensitive imaging of a letter from a Syrian father to his son to life. Using Tilt Brush technology for the first time in this way, Sea Prayer explores a new immersive form – 360 illustrated narratives. We have worked with the best artists in this field to create a story that truly unfolds around the viewer, providing them with insight into the experiences that many migrants are forced to endure when making a dangerous escape from war.”
Khaled Hosseini, author and Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said:
“I am a father of two. My immediate reaction upon seeing the photo of little Alan’s body lying limp on a Turkish beach – even before I considered the indelible place the picture was bound to hold in the sad lexicon of the Syrian war – was how unimaginably bludgeoning the loss was to his father. I am not, thanks to random good fortune, one of the countless fathers in Syria to have buried a son or daughter. But I know a father’s feral need to protect his children, and writing Sea Prayer, I knew this was my truest entry point.
“As the drownings in the Mediterranean Sea sadly continue, I hope that this collaboration helps keep alive the memory of Alan Kurdi, and that it serves as reminder of the unfathomable desperation that forces families to risk all they have in search of hope and safety on another shore, across the waters. This is a choice that no one, and certainly not a father, makes lightly. We all have an individual duty to let our Governments know that we stand #WithRefugees and that we welcome the urgent expansion of alternative and safe pathways for those in need of international protection.”
Liz Edwards, 3D and virtual reality artist, said:
“Working on Sea Prayer has been an amazing experience. It’s an absolute honour to bring Khaled’s writing to life in 3D with Tilt Brush – I hope I’ve done it, the city and the people justice.”
Sea Prayer is available to download from the Guardian VR app and can be viewed on Google Cardboard and Daydream.
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