A discussion with Joel Kachi Benson • Techpoint Africa
In a recent Publish, we took a look at how Taeillo’s team – a three-year-old startup – is using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to disrupt the furniture industry. Interestingly, virtual reality has started to make its mark in the African film industry despite low adoption for reasons such as cost and technical know-how, to name a few.
Nonetheless, in 2019 the opportunity to be part of the 20th Belfast Film Festival presented itself as calls for “African feature film / VR submissions” have been made.
Beyond the African coasts, adoption of virtual reality is high, with sectors like education using it to facilitate distance learning, which is especially important in light of the pandemic ravaging the world.
On the Nigerian scene
At the forefront of Nigeria’s VR cinema revolution is Lagos-based filmmaker and founder of VR360 Stories, Joel Kachi Benson, producer and director of the award-winning VR documentary, Daughters of Chibok.
In a fireside chat with Titilola Oludimu, Manager, Techpoint SMEs, at Techpoint Build 2020 in August, Benson talks about using technology to tell stories.
Asked about the differences between traditional filmmaking and virtual reality filmmaking, he felt that traditional tools were insufficient.
“Traditional tools do not give the best interpretation of the experience that a filmmaker wants to convey. Virtual reality gives me the opportunity to take people to places they normally don’t have access to.
However, when it comes to the art of storytelling, “the approach is the same that you have to figure out how to tell stories in the first place” before virtual reality kicks in.
The challenges of adopting virtual reality in Africa
In Benson’s experience, the technical side of making a VR movie presents the biggest challenge.
“As a filmmaker, you cannot be a current director; you have to be compensated, ”he said in the conversation. Benson also added that the post-production workflow is just as, if not more, difficult.
One could be forgiven for expecting the cost of entry into space to be the biggest challenge he mentioned. But the fact remains that if an unqualified filmmaker somehow overcomes his financial hurdles, the quality of the films produced will leave little to be desired.
Benson finally addressed the cost of entry, saying that “a decent camera, the Insta360 Pro, for example, can cut one down to $ 500”, while computers used to stitch VR footage, which didn’t are not the run-of-the-mill type, “can cost up to $ 3,000”.
“How many people interested in virtual reality can afford to spend such sums?” ” He asked.
One of the drawbacks of a nascent but expensive industry is the absence of many players. And unlike regular filming equipment, in the VR industry there aren’t many people who can hire cameras or computers to make a movie.
In what was likely expected, Benson raised the issue of content distribution. This prompted him to ask a few questions: How will people access the content? How many people have VR headsets? How many VR cinemas do we have in Nigeria?
Well, your guess is as good as mine.
On a positive note, he said: “The challenges shouldn’t stop us from exploring the exciting medium of virtual reality. “
These are the first days of virtual reality in the world, and the amount of investment – personal and institutional – invested now will determine where Africa will be in the years to come.
It must be exciting for African content creators to realize that with virtual reality they are not catching up with the rest of the world; for once, the rules of the game are a little level.
Positive points and optimism aside, overcoming the challenges unique to the African virtual reality space will require a level of institutional support from private sector actors and governments.
As a powerful storytelling tool, virtual reality can be used for training and education in organizations, schools and government institutions, etc.
One of the potential benefits of a virtual reality powered Africa is that African content creators tell the rest of the world stories about the unexplored parts of the continent.
Concluding the conversation, Benson advised Nigerians and Africans interested in VR to prioritize understanding the technology and understanding how to use it. He added that only after that can they start thinking about how to use their knowledge and skills to solve the continent’s own problems.
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