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Let's look behind the scene of the VR experience success The Key. Image courtesy The Key.

The Key is a huge VR success. It aims to provide a deeply metaphorical vision of the experiences of refugees. This is the story behind this work of art.

The Key took center stage at the Tribeca Film Festival. It is a VR experience like no other. It’s based the concept of refugees holding onto seemingly mundane relics that are actually packed with meaning.

“Most refugees — even though they will never go back home, or their house is destroyed by war or being taken by other people — most of them cannot let go of the key to their house,” director and producer Celine Tricart said in an interview last week. It was the concept of an unusable key that was the driving force behind the VR experience.

The Key ended up winning the festival’s Storyscapes competition. It’s the top prize that is awarded to only one project out of a handful of others. The award recognizes innovative approaches and storytelling.

Scene from The Key
The experience uses watercolor skies, primary colors, and a bare landscape. Image courtesy The Key.

More than VR

One of the most innovative things about this VR experience is that it doesn’t just rely on VR. At the beginning of the experience, you put a VR headset on. From there the headset’s soundtrack syncs with the speaker collar you’re wearing. It makes the transition from the real-world to VR more seamless than many other experiences.

“VR is mostly a sensory experience, visual and sound,” Tricart said. The majority of the experience visually uses primary colors and a lunar-like landscape. However, as the experience moves forward, you begin to lose colors slowly.

Interviewing refugees to bring their experiences to the world

While on the project, Tricart worked with an Atlanta nonprofit Friends of Refugees through the Oculus VR for Good program. There she and her partners interviewed many refugees to try and find shared experiences.

“We took those moments, and it was all about building these sensory metaphors,” Tricart said. “How can I make you feel those emotions, but not tell you what it is?”

At one point in the experience, the more artistic approach that’s taken throughout changes into realism and the viewer learns the truth behind the experience. In fact, the refugees aren’t even mentioned until the end.

“There’s so many metaphors in the story. For me, the goal was not to have a single person understand all of them,” she said. “There actually is a real syndrome of forgetting” inside the refugee community, she continued. “The concept of the key — it’s like you’re unlocking the memories that are, in a sense, compartmentalized as a survival mechanism.”

An experience that sticks with you

Once you finish The Key at Tribeca, you are given a key. It is attached to your festival lanyard. In many ways, it gives you knowledge over others, because you’ve experienced something that those without keys haven’t. Those that have gone through the experience will be able to relate. It is a symbol of a journey you’ve taken and, like in the story, becomes more than just a key.

Image courtesy The Key

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