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Nonny de la Pena

by Justine Amodeo

 

Nonny del Peña
Nonny del Peña

When Nonny de la Peña, formerly a print journalist with Newsweek, and then a documentary filmmmaker, decided to marry her journalistic skills with her love of technology, she met with a lot of resistance. The "newsgame" business that she pioneered, using virtual reality to tell non-fiction narratives, was not considered by her peers to be legitimate journalism.

But the writer and director's belief in "the astonishing sense of presence this technology affords," kept her focused on transforming the world of journalism. Now, her groundbreaking Los Angeles based company, Emblamatic Group, is one of the world's most sophisticated producers of virtual reality content, from Formula 1 to human rights stories, building immersive virtual worlds for the Oculus Rift and other customized virtual reality goggle and motion tracking systems.

USC Mxr lab
USC Mxr lab

De la Peña is considered the godmother of virtual reality films, 3D reconstructions that allow a form of immersive journalism in which viewers are placed within news stories to experience them viscerally. By experiencing firsthand the sights, sounds and emotions as events unfold, "it takes away the filter of the journalist and lets people become witnesses to their own stories," she said in 2014's "Journalism in the Age of Virtual Reality," a Future of Storytelling documentary.

Digital empathy: how 'Hunger in Los Angeles' broke my heart in a virtual world | The Verge
Digital empathy: how 'Hunger in Los Angeles' broke my heart in a virtual world | The Verge

Her entry into immersive journalism began in 2012 with the film "Hunger in Los Angeles," the true story of a diabetic's collapse due to starvation while waiting in line at a food bank in Los Angeles, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. To gather footage, her colleague went out into the field to record audio of people standing in line outside a downtown food bank, where he captured a real time incident where a diabetic man collapsed and was eventually treated by paramedics. Her next film, "Project Syria," an immersive journalism piece about Syrian children refugees and the civil war, debuted at the World Economic Forum. By using a mix of real footage and computer graphics (De la Peña sent her team to the Middle East to film actual refugee camps and interview survivors), "Project Syria" placed viewers in a calm Aleppo street scene, where there was a sudden mortar attack while a young girl was singing, and in a camp for refugee children. The audio comes from YouTube videos of an actual mortar strike in Aleppo. De la Peña also did a film about Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old African American fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February 2012 and her newest project, "Use of Force," is about a migrant without a green card who lived in the US since he was 15 years old and was beaten and tased to death by more than a dozen border patrol officers.

De la Peña, explains that if viewers can understand how difficult some of her featured situations are, they can suspend any disbelief by experiencing it through their bodies, "and can start to think about what kind of change they too can help bring about. " This kind of immersive storytelling, she says, "creates empathy that far surpasses any other medium to tell these stories. And we see the world not just through our eyes, but through our entire body."

 

 

 

 

 

Page created on 11/11/2015 1:08:15 AM

Last edited 4/13/2022 8:33:42 PM

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Emblematic Group - Emblematic Group is the world's leading creator of powerful virtual reality experiences. We immerse our audiences in the story, making them feel like they are in the middle of the action.