Pushing boundaries: VR storytelling

Still from Dami and Falian, a VR graphic novel. | Photos by Perrin Grauer

Edward Madojemu, a 19-year-old Emily Carr University student who arrived in Vancouver just two years ago from Nigeria, has not only built a new life for himself in a new country, but also managed to construct new worlds in virtual reality (VR) based on his personal experience of moving.

Madojemu’s first VR graphic novel, Dami and Falian, about two female lead characters exploring new worlds and overcoming different challenges, was so ground-breaking in this still-developing medium that it was featured in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) and became a finalist of the International VIFF Immersed Competition alongside works by industry veterans.

According to his university faculty, Madojemu is charting unknown waters in VR as he constructs his characters and sets directly in a 3D space whereas other animators typically still work with

2D devices and then translate the results into a 360 degree experience.

“I can’t say I am an expert in making these experiences, but I wasn’t trying to make the same old VR story. I wanted to make something that feels like an extension of a comic book on paper. If there is something in the background you want to learn more, you can do so to satisfy your curiosity,” he says.

Madojemu and his team incorporated a lot of interesting little details in the story that the audience can explore at their own pace. For example, they invented a new alien language that can be translated when one interacts with a character.

“The more you write, the more you start to notice what could be changed for the better; the medium kind of tells you how to make it best. I am taking the same values that I learned on paper and in film, I am just opening the field of view even wider,” he adds.

This VR project irreversibly changed Madojemu’s life trajectory too.

“Once you open up something that the audience can participate in, I really want to see where I can take this. I want to push boundaries as far as possible, to see how many different ways I can use the medium and what kind of story I can tell, truly,” he says.

Grateful for the opportunity given by the Basically Good Media Lab at the university, Madojemu says he also grew and learned while assembling a team and working with other people.

“There is enough room for everyone to be creative in VR and you end up with something deeper and greater than you originally started with.”

The moral of the story

Edward Madijemus, VR enthusiast. | Photos by Perrin Grauer

The story idea of Dami and Falian came to Madojemu a few months after he arrived in Vancouver.

“I just landed here and it was a lot to take in – it is very different from Nigeria. I needed a way to process that, so I wanted to make a story to get all these emotions out. Just as I was writing the story, my brother purchased an Oculus Rift, and I just kept on using it, you can literally draw in three-dimensional space and till this day it still blows my mind,” he says.

As a male writer, Madojemu feels it is an interesting choice for his lead characters to be female. He explains that it is challenging, and he himself feels male writers do not portray women properly, especially in sci-fi. But since he grew up with strong women in his life –his mother and his friends – he opted to give it a try.

“A lot of the dialogue that happens in the story have happened in real life,” he says with a chuckle. “There are aspects of me in both of them too; they are very dysfunctional. Dami is the sweet and optimistic one and Falian is full-on cynic.”

Parallel to his own experience adjusting to a new environment, Dami and Falian is also about self-discovery, where the two characters are either learning about the world around them or about themselves, sometimes with their values pushed to the limits.

“If I see something horrible, am I going to accept it as this way or am I going to fight against it? In the VR space it stops being a debate and you can see them in action and you can make your own meaning out of it,” he says.