Minimum Mass, by Areito Echevarria et Raqi Syed
Minimum Mass is a VR film made by Areito Echeverria and Raqi Syed. This interactive experience immerses us in the story of a couple that has to deal with a series of miscarriages, and ends up believing that their children are being born in another dimension.
Areito Echeverria and Raqi Syed started their career in special effects for film. While Areito earned his stripes in several well-known studios, Raqi worked at Disney on productions like Meet the Robinson or Tangled. They then worked together at Weta Digital on several very big budget films: Avatar, Planet of the Apes, or The Hobbit. In 2014, Areiro Echevarria won the Oscar for Technical Achievement for the role he played in developing a new cutting edge special effects technique, deep compositing. Today the couple has left the film industry and teaches at Victoria University in Wellington, in New Zealand.
The experience of grief
Minimum Mass is a VR experience that gives an account of the grief of a couple having to deal with several successive miscarriages. The directors Areito Echeverria and Raqi Syed, who take inspiration from their personal experience, chose a photorealistic rendering and surrealist ambiance, taking advantage of their knowledge in the area of special effects. As such the film explores the theme of black holes and travel between dimensions. The use of VR also enables the spectator, confronted with a series of sketches in the form of dioramas, to get close to the characters, which fosters immersion and identification.
Grounds for experimentation
Minimum Mass benefited from a Sundance Institute screenwriting grant. It was during a screenwriting workshop that the two directors decided to tell their own story, that of the grief they were dealing with following a miscarriage. Specialised in special effects, they chose to take directing through a new medium, VR, and put together a team of experienced developers to do so. Confronted with the challenge of interactivity for the first time, they also paid particular attention to how emotions are relayed. All of the scenes were thereby played in motion capture by the two actors playing the couple, Frankie Adams and Allan Henry.
An international co-production
The work Minimum Mass, which was assisted by the Floréal Films production company, was also supported by the Sundance Institute and Victoria University in Wellington. This Franco-Neo-Zealand co-production was then cofinanced by the CNC and New Zealand Film Commission. The teams worked remotely throughout the whole of the project, and despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the film was selected and won several awards in several prestigious festivals, like that of Annecy, Tribeca, and the Venice Film Festival. Today the directors Areito Echeverria and Raqi Syed are planning a sequel to Minimum Mass, and would like to continue exploring VR as a medium.