Sea Prayer: a 360° story inspired by refugee Alan Kurdi

The Challenge

The heart-breaking reality of the Syrian refugee crisis failed to reach many people on an emotional level until the tragic death of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi in 2015. Two years on, the Guardian has chosen to commemorate the event in their latest virtual reality project. UNHCR goodwill ambassador and award-winning novelist, Khaled Hosseini, was invited to pen the narrative for an illustrated story animated in a virtual reality film: Sea Prayer.

To get the specialist audio support they needed, the Guardian reached out to Visualise. Our Head of Sound, Henrik Oppermann, is at the cutting edge of ambisonic sound and worked closely with Francesca Panetta, the Guardian’s VR Executive Editor to fill the 360° canvas with ambisonic sound.

“Henrik's 360° sound skills are extraordinary. He has a command over the technical landscape of spatial sound and is fast and efficient in implementing. He also has a good ear, creatively interested in exploring how the sound can support the piece the best.”

Francesca Panetta, VR Executive Editor, The Guardian

Creating a Spatial Concept for the Story

As a leading ambisonic sound specialist, the challenge for Henrik was to create a spatial concept for the story. It needed to fill the whole space, directing the viewer’s gaze to different points on the virtual canvas to guide them through the narrative.

In order to capitalise on the immersive quality of the medium and to capture the emotional weight of the story, the sound design and musical score was recorded with the Kronos Quartet at Skywalker Sound.

Henrik opted to mix everything in 3rd order ambisonics using the Blue Ripple Sound plugin suite – the highest quality solution for spatial sound currently available and has unparalleled spatial resolution for 360° video.

By choosing to mix everything on 16 channels of spatial resolution, Henrik was able to future-proof the project. Although the audio had to be rendered down for YouTube and Facebook upload (4 & 8 channels respectively), the full version can be uploaded in the future when both platforms have the capability to support it.

Project Delivery

Visualise provided the fully ambisonic final deliverables of the Sea Prayer video, which was uploaded to YouTube for the Guardian website and onto the Guardian VR app, to be viewed on Google Cardboard and Daydream.

Read the full feature on the Guardian site here.