Today I was fortunate enough to have seen, or rather experienced, the award-winning VR Documentary “The Last Goodbye”. The Virtual Reality Documentary features Holocaust Survivor, Pinchas Gutter and was co-produced with USC’s Shoah Foundation.
I’ve had a personal connection with the Shoah Foundation and Pinchas ever since Shoah came to our school and our middle school students worked with the foundation to test and refine New Dimensions in Testimony, NDT, which is an interactive experience driven by natural language speech recognition and also features Pinchas Gutter’s testimony as well as about 12 other Holocaust Survivor’s testimonies. Today, though, marks a special place in my heart as I was able to experience The Last Goodbye which conveys Pinchas’s testimony in this powerful medium that is Virtual Reality.
The experience is 17 minutes and tastefully integrates 360 video footage and fully immersive 6DOF computer-generated scenes that incorporate the use of volumetric capture technology and utilizes a fully immersive VR headset. The experience, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017, will be available for bookings at these four locations: The Florida Holocaust Museum, Illinois Holocaust Museum, Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, and New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage.
“The Last Goodbye”
After placing the VR headset on, you begin by hearing from Pinchas as he prepares to journey to the Majdanek concentration camp. He states that although he has nightmares about the camp, one must confront their fears to overcome them.
Users are given primary source testimony from Pinchas as he describes the arrival and the last time that he saw his twin sister.
At times the users are viewing 360 video footage of the camp and Pinchas is standing with you providing his testimony so that, as he says, “to convey the truth”. Through gradual and appropriate transitions, users are brought to different scenes, some are 360 videos and some are completely room scale VR, which for those that may not know allows the users to walk around freely to explore. As users transition between 360 and room scale VR, black screens are presented and graphics that advise you to either look around, if the upcoming scene is 360 video, or walk around, if the upcoming scene is room scale VR, are presented to you for a brief moment.
As you can imagine, he describes the horrible circumstances he observed, the barracks and various chambers from the showers to the crematory. Pinchas is volumetrically inserted into the scene, that is he appears to have depth because his testimony was recording in what is called volumetric. Volumetric capture technology requires multiple cameras that film simultaneously and lead to a virtual asset that can be inserted into a computer-generated scene with “volume”, that is substance and depth. The effect in The Last Goodbye is extremely powerful as you feel as if you are standing in the barracks with Pinchas as he recalls only remembering the golden braid as his twin sister was whisked away as they arrived at Majdanek.
The Last Goodbye is a prime example of the power of Virtual Reality to convey information through an experience that links our most sensitive senses, sight, and hearing. Winning awards was not likely the goal of the producers of this film, knowing the staff and volunteers at the USC Shoah Foundation I know they have every intention of preserving the first-hand testimony of those involved in genocides. The Last Goodbye is the first of, what I believe, will be many digital archives of historical events that use Virtual Reality as the method of conveying those events to many generations to come.
There is one room scale VR scene in which Pinchas does not appear, that is the crematory. It is during this scene that he reveals that this room holds too many painful memories and he explores the users to end the wars occurring in today’s society to prevent the pain and suffering that he and so many others cannot escape even seven decades later.
For more information on “The Last Goodbye”, please visit: https://sfi.usc.edu/lastgoodbye