6x9 - The Guardian's first Virtual Reality experience

The challenge

The Guardian was approached by Google with the idea of collaborating on a virtual reality experience. The challenge was how to create a fully 3D virtual experience without compromising the journalistic integrity of the subject.

The solution

The project began with selecting a suitable subject for a VR experience. The Guardian had extensively covered the long-term effects of solitary confinement on inmates. This subject was chosen for the VR experience, aiming to place viewers in the perspective of a prisoner confined in a cell.

As the creative technologist on the team, my role encompassed interaction design, developing an internal prototype, and supervising external production. Unity was chosen as the 3D engine for its support of Google Cardboard and optimisation for mobile exports. Its popularity in the gaming industry provided us with extensive external resources.

I chose to use Unity as the 3D engine since it supported Google Cardboard and was optimized for mobile exports. Unity is also very popular in the game industry, which meant we had greater access to external resources.

Unity editor screenshot
Unity editor used to place 3D spatial audio

Before reaching out to an external developer, I created an internal prototype using Unity. This gave us the opportunity to learn about the asset pipeline and explore the possibilities the Unity engine provided.

For the final production, we partnered with The Mill, a renowned creative agency. Together, we crafted a fully interactive 3D experience that leveraged the potential of Google Cardboard while staying true to The Guardian's journalistic storytelling. The final VR app launched for iPhones, Android devices, and even included a special edition Google Cardboard in the print newspaper, inviting readers to literally step into the story.

But the impact of "6x9" wasn't confined to the virtual realm. Recognizing the limitations of VR accessibility, we also created a 360-degree panorama video of the experience, making it accessible to a wider audience on YouTube.

Inside the prison cell
360 degree render of the prison cell

It premiered at both Sundance and Tribeca film festivals, garnering critical acclaim with its immersive storytelling. Even Robert De Niro, an early adopter, discussed the experience on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," bringing its message to millions.

"6x9" went on to further acclaim, appearing at SXSL's White House lawn event, where policymakers had the opportunity to experience the virtual cell firsthand.

"6x9" demonstrated the power of VR to go beyond entertainment and truly deliver impactful journalism. It stands as a testament to The Guardian's dedication to innovative storytelling and my own passion for leveraging technology to amplify important narratives.

Project skills