expanding focus
Header Picture of the "Cabinets of Wonder" VR Experience

Cabinets of Wonder

VR experience and documentary

Cabinets of Wonder is set as a feature length documentary movie, accompanied by a VR experience series and media literacy program for schools and educators. In our search for the essence and mystery of childhood, we found children who touched us deeply, each in their own way: Wisdom (9), a German boy of Cameroonian heritage, Joline (10) a girl with dyslexia, Elias (12) with a diagnosis of autism and Roja (11) who fled from Iran to Germany two years ago. All very different, they have one thing in common: they do not fit into the framework of our function-driven society und wish for a place where they can stay timelessly, as long as they want and where no one tells them what to do.

The VR experience lets us directly witness the wishes, dreams and imaginations of the children. Each user acts independently within the VR experience and follows the dramaturgy of a story which they choose in a playful way.

Together with our children we developed a world for each protagonist – an audiovisual mix consisting of 360 stereoscopic photos, documentary material, drawings and 3-D models, meandering somewhere between stories told by the children themselves and a game.

Our main platform will be the VR headset “Oculus Go”, which enables small interactions, triggered by the user’s gaze or by operating the controller. Animations and mini-games that lead to another experience level – into a new “room” – as well as noises/music can also be activated in this way.

Our VR experience makes it possible to enter the inner worlds of our young protagonists, to look around curiously and to explore new stories and spaces with each visit.

A picture showing Elias with VR gear on

Content

There is a “main cabinet of wonder” which acts as a starting point for the VR experience. It houses a colourful collection of curiosities, such as sparkling diamonds, a talking fish, a lion, a bust smashing on the floor, guinea pigs dancing in drawers, a lamp playing water music, a real jungle and much more – all of which were conceived by our children to create their own world.

Doro, who is looking for the missing children in the movie, welcomes the user and gives a short introduction. The “tickets” for the personal inner worlds of each child are in the main cabinet of wonder, these can be experienced in approx. 3 to 5-minute settings. A mini-game takes you into a child’s world. For example, there is a chameleon with the same blue eyes as Elias. The user can paint the animal using the controller, because there are pots of paint next to it that glow in an inviting way. If you choose the blue color, the transition to Elias’ planet is unlocked and you are transported to his world: a planet on which he lives with his somewhat cranky friend the ROSE voice box, flying fans, monster plants and cat people. Or is he a cat person himself?

A animation of a walking lion which symbols Wisdoms ancestors
A animation of a walking lion which symbols Wisdoms ancestors
A animation of Rose, the robot-companion to Elias

You are greeted by ROSE and while you blow-dry or water plants, guinea pigs and ufo’s, ROSE tells you a little more about Elias’ world.
You can reach Roya’s room when you return the lost fish to the mermaid princess in the main cabinet of wonder. Both then jump into a vortex that leads them straight into the courtyard of Roya’s new home in Jena-Lobeda. While Roya talks about her memories of her old home in Tehran, her castle and her chickens “appear”. Her memories of escaping across the great ocean are also depicted with animated drawings

Each of the four children’s worlds is characterized by a different narrative style, which offers the respective child its individually appropriate form of expression. Wisdom takes you on a raft trip while you listen to his family legend in which his great-grandfather fights a lion and defeats him. In Joline’s world, users can turn letters and numbers into shiny blue bugs, creating fun nonsense music.

Our Child Heroes

Portrait of Wisdom

Wisdom – the traveler: When nine-year old Wisdom Enow is asked which story he would like to tell, he decides for a story about a journey. His inner map will bring him to Cameroon one day, the land where his parents lived before they came to Germany. Wisdom is very affectionate, but there is also anger in his heart.

He cannot stand anymore to be „foreigner“ and being ridiculed because of the color of his skin.

Joline – the story collector: Joline is 10 years old and when she tries to read a text, the words are jumbled up and some letters seem to scatter away; she can only stutter her way through its meaning. Joline, however, knows how to describe her feelings precisely. In a group, she is often the annoying child, the one who does not fit in. Her mother is very concerned about Joline’s future, because she has the feeling that her daughter does not really strive to learn or reach something.

Joline‘s greatest desire: “I wish that life weren’t so stressful”.

Portrait of Joline
Portrait of Elias

Elias – the child in the bubble: Autism spectrum disorder was the diagnosis that Jenny, Elia’s mother, received when she consulted a specialist. An IQ test showed that Elias would never learn to read and write. This shock did not make her doubt on her son’s intelligence: nowadays, he can read and write well, although he needs a bit longer for some school subjects. Today, Elias is 12 years old and loves technology. His favorite pastimes are visiting electronic markets and try virtual reality glasses on as well as collecting fans. Most of the time, he says, he lives in a world of his own, inside his head. Cat people, cats and guinea pigs live there, too.

And there are no schools.

Roya – the fighter: Roya, 11 years old, is participating in a swimming competition to get her first swimming badge. She loves to be in the water and is happy to learn how to swim, especially because she often dreams of her boat trip over the sea. Two years ago, Roya and her family came from Iran to Germany. She was so scared then because she could not swim at that time. What Roja misses the most is speaking her mother tongue. She does not really like to always play translator for her parents.

Roya thinks of her old home, she is not sad. While she says that, she looks quite sad.

Portrait of Roya

A VR documentary designed for children

In documentary observations, animated sequences and staging of their „invented“ stories that stand for metaphors of desires and inner conflicts, we immerse in the inner world of the protagonists. And the additional VR experience even makes the cabinets of wonder of our children accessible. The term cabinet of wonder does not only define a collection of objects, but also of inner landscapes, moreover our brain or thoughts. There, you can go for a walk, curiously look around and be astonished. And it is all about astonishment.

Project Details

Director Susanne Kim
Author Susanne Kim
Production Company Neufilm
expanding focus GmbH
Producer Holm Taddicken
Alexander Herrmann
Genre Feature Length Documentary
VR experience series
educational project
Status in development
Language German / English
Funders

Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung

Sächsische Landesanstalt für privaten Rundfunk und Neue Medien

Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen