Deep Inside an Artwork

INTERVIEW. "Nothing Happens," a film and virtual-reality project by animation directors Michelle and Uri Kranot produced by Marie Bro, invites you inside a singular universe of snow, black birds, poetry and calm. Venice Virtual Reality Competition 2017.

One is holding a violin case, the other a cello case. Two male musicians stand among birch trees in a snow-covered landscape, looking around. What or who are they looking at? The woman nearby with the headscarf and a sled? The two eerie, black birds up in a tree? 

Unlike the other VR projects I have experienced, 'Nothing Happens' has great poetry and a wonderful calm. It's not technically show-offy – Marie Bro, producer

Or, are they actually looking at the one who is looking at them, the participatory audience of the virtual-reality work "Nothing Happens"?

In addition to the VR-version, Michelle and Uri Kranot's "Nothing Happens" is also made as a 2D film.

Getting the Audience Involved

"The VR edition can do something very special," says producer Marie Bro of the Dansk Tegnefilm production company. 

"It can take the audience much further into the work. You truly become part of it, and you get a powerful sense of being one of the characters in the piece. Instead of just watching, you are drawn into it." 

Bro is behind numerous films by director and artist Jannik Hastrup, but in recent years she has also been working with younger talents. That includes the husband-and-wife team of Michelle and Uri Kranot, who moved to Denmark from Israel seven years ago.

Nothing Happens af Michelle og Uri Kranot
"Nothing Happens" by Michelle and Uri Kranot.

The Kranots live in Viborg in the west of Denmark, where they teach at the world-renowned Animation Workshop. Marie Bro's Dansk Tegnefilm produced the couple's animation film "Hollow Land" in 2013.

Making their current VR project, "Nothing Happens," the Kranots were dealing with material which "called for a form that involved the audience more," Uri Kranot says.

"That naturally led us into the world of VR. With film, there is always a safe distance between the screen and the viewer. Here, there is no screen. Everything happens around the viewer."

Deep Into the Work

Before entering "Nothing Happens," you put on VR goggles and headphones. The first thing you notice in the snowy landscape is the two musicians with instrument cases. The musicians, snow, birches and birds obviously look drawn, not real. But they feel very real as you stand there, deep inside a VR work, as if you were actually part of the events.

Suddenly, the perspective shifts. While before you were on the snow-covered ground, you are now inside a cave. Or high up on a branch in a tree, where you're joined by a growing number of black birds. The birds aren't real either, of course. They're drawn.

But once you get the sense of sitting high on a branch in a tree that's attracting growing numbers of screeching, crow-like birds, it's hard not to get shaky knees, sweaty palms and a strong desire to be back on the ground. It's all about the work's ability to convince, the audience's ability to be seduced and the dialogue between work and audience.

Nothing Happens af Michelle og Uri Kranot
"Nothing Happens" by Michelle og Uri Kranot.

VR Medium Constantly Evolving

When Bro was first presented with the idea of producing the VR project, she was a bit sceptical. Mostly because she had no experience with VR.

"Now, I'm so happy we did it," she says. "I think it was really interesting to be part of as a producer. It would be exciting to do more VR. Perhaps in the same style as 'Nothing Happens.' Unlike the other VR projects I have experienced, 'Nothing Happens' has great poetry and a wonderful calm. It's not technically show-offy. You feel welcomed into a space with time and room to exist and explore."

The Animation Workshop in Viborg is ramping up opportunities for creating VR works, which pleases Uri Kranot.

"At the moment, there's a very wide gap between art and technology," he says. "We think it's important for art to keep up with technology, so we don't leave it to people with commercial interests to develop and explore the technology. We want to use VR more in the future."

While Bro is excited about the prospects, she also sees certain economic challenges in producing VR projects.

"We can only get in 33 people every day to experience 'Nothing Happens,' and VR can't be shown on TV or in a regular cinema. But the medium is constantly evolving and there will be better opportunities in the future," she says.

No two people will ever have the same interaction with the work. But most will probably be surprised at how powerful an experience it is •

The interview was originally published in May for the Annecy Film Festival, where both the film and the VR version of "Nothing Happens" were screened.

About Nothing Happens

"Nothing Happens" is directed by Michelle and Uri Kranot and produced by Dansk Tegnefilm and Marie Bro in co-production with Miyu Productions of France, with support from the Danish Film Institute, the West Danish Film Fund, CNC and the Animation Workshop.

Festival competition

"Nothing Happens" is released as both a short film and a VR experience. The latter is competing in the Venice Film Festival's Virtual Reality Competition (30 August – 9 September).

Watch trailer