’The Hangman at Home – VR’ wins prestigious international award

The VR-project 'The Hangman at Home - VR' directed by Michelle and Uri Kranot sprouted at The Animation Workshop/VIA University College, and is now the Grand Jury Prize winner of 'Best VR Immersive Work' at the international Venice Film Festival 2020!

Familiar faces behind the project

September 12, Uri Kranot walked up the stage while Michelle Kranot joined virtually online.

- I went to the Awards Ceremony in VR. I had a very cute avatar, but it was very short. I could not reach the bar, Michelle Kranot explains with a smile through the screen in an online interview.

- It was very moving. It was very exciting. We watched it with the kids live, and our family around the world were all watching it live. It was extraordinary. Very glamorous too!
Michelle and Uri Kranot are familiar faces at The Animation Workshop/VIA University College – commonly referred to as TAW.

They are teachers, and they are the producers and creative directors of the ANIDOX program. They work in collaboration with the Center for Animation, Visualization, and Digital Storytelling (CAV), The Animation Workshop/VIA University College.

They are also the directors behind films such as ‘Black Tape’, ‘Hollow Land’, ‘How Long, Not Long’, as well as the VR installations ‘Nothing Happens’, ‘Songbird’, and now the internationally praised ‘The Hangman at Home - VR’.

‘The Hangman at Home – VR’ premiered in the VR Expanded Competition of the 2020 Venice Film Festival, with Uri and Michelle directing the production in collaboration with a big team. 

- Uri went to Venice with our production team consisting of Late Love Productions, Floreal Films, and our distributor, MIYU Distribution. The award is meaningful, but it also symbolizes a lot of hard work by many people as well as the huge support we have had from everybody. From The Animation Workshop/VIA University College, from the West Danish Film Fund, from the Danish Film Institute, from CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée), from the Région Novelle-Acquitaine, Charente country council (as part of Pôle Image Magelis), and from the National Film Board of Canada.

Developing the project: Years in the making

- We encountered the poem ‘Then Hangman at Home’ many years ago. It has been in the drawer for 10 or 15 years. We acquired the rights to it about 3 years ago. Since then we have been in development, prototyping, and in production for about 2 years, Michelle says.

- There is a radical message that people should become aware of, Michelle says.

‘The Hangman at Home’ is a poem originally by Carl Sandburg, written nearly a century ago in 1922. Michelle and Uri are animators with years of experience in multi-media arts and made the first part of the multi-media project in VR.

The experience begins with a call to action, as the user is asked to light a match to ignite the narrative. This non-linear, layered story is both interactive and observational. Users are given the choice to cross different thresholds, such as a door, a window, or a fireplace; each is a portal to a room where one of the five animated scenes unfolds. Eventually, they have the opportunity to interact with objects that are extracted from these stories, to engage and create a soundscape.

- The technology is just the medium and the facilitator. VR is one of the many platforms we use for storytelling. VR is a very interesting medium because it incorporates a performative aspect, so we can bring together from the performing arts words, the literary world, the fine arts, and the cinema under this, and using this technology allows us to bring in all these different disciplines.

Supported by The Animation Workshop

As directors of the ANIDOX program, and part of TAW’s Center for Animation, Visualization and Digital Storytelling (CAV), Uri and Michelle are frontrunners of using new technology for storytelling. They experiment with the traditional craft of animation to find new interesting ways of finding audiences and different ways of engaging with viewers and spectators.

- The Animation Workshop/VIA University College and specifically the Research & Development department we collaborate with has been instrumental to this particular project, Michelle says.

- In immersive storytelling, there is a lot of experimentation. In order to be truly innovative, you need to take a lot of risks. Which is something that is difficult to achieve within the industry and in business. However, in an educational context, it is not only acceptable, and encouraged, but also an integral part of the process.

The Animation Workshop/VIA University College supported the project in the Open Workshop program, which sprouted the seed of ‘The Hangman at Home –VR’ 2 years ago. Michelle and Uri Kranot could that way apply for further funding for development, which the Danish Regional Film Fund granted first. At this point, the ball started rolling, and with a package and a prototype, they could apply for further development funding.

- It’s quite a complex production, and we would not have been able to put together the concept without that first seed money from The Animation Workshop/VIA University College, Michelle says.

- Practice-based research, as a branch, is so conductive to both education and business. It is the bridge. Again, this is where it is so crucial to have this kind of financing for innovation because we can experiment and create things that have never been done before, and then get business on board, Michelle continues.

Two more installations planned

Michelle and Uri Kranot will be busy in the coming years. ‘The Hangman at Home – VR’ is the first output of three distinct and singular outputs:

  • The Hangman at Home – VR – a single-user immersive experience
  • The Hangman at Home – an animated short film independent of the VR experience (to be released in 2021);
  • We Are at Home – a multi-user VR installation for a larger venue and audience (to be announced).

It is a co-production between Late Love Production (Denmark), Floréal Films (France), Miyu Productions (France), and the National Film Board of Canada.

While Michelle and Uri have plenty of reason to celebrate, they are currently enjoying the fast lane.

- I am feeling great! But I’m super busy! We’re organizing the 2020 ANIDOX:VR Awards, and we have an exhibition of VR-projects from around the world, which we showcase at the Viborg Animation Festival 2020 in Viborg, Denmark. We get to be with many people who supported us as artists, and we get to celebrate them, Michelle says.

Facts

  • ‘The Hangman at Home – VR’ is inspired by the iconic Carl Sandburg poem (1922), this VR single-user immersive experience explores themes of acknowledgment and participation. It is not about hanging people, but about the awkward intimacy that comes with being human, and the connection between spectator, witness, and accomplice. The animated, interactive experience invites you into five interwoven stories, capturing pivotal moments in people’s lives. The Hangman at Home – VR ultimately reveals that we are all more alike than different, while raising questions of responsibility.
  • CAV is Denmark’s national Center for Animation, Visualization, and Digital Storytelling, and aims to celebrate, investigate, innovate, develop, and research subjects and possibilities in any imaginable way, related to animation, visualization, and digital storytelling.