CLOSED CELLS, OPEN WOUNDS: The Collective Damage of Mass Incarceration

Sisa B. HolguĂ­n

Can live action video remain an essential medium for deconstructed, abstract storytelling in cinematic virtual reality?


Cinematic VR as it stands is immersive and captivating, but we have yet to achieve its full potential. We can consider looking beyond using one primary medium within the 3D space, to using a mixture of art forms, including live action video, to tell a story within a single VR experience.

CLOSED CELLS, OPEN WOUNDS is virtual reality documentary experience that aims to address the core issue to the mass incarceration crisis that is plaguing this country. Much research shows that poor communities of color are becoming incarcerated at alarming rates for the past 30 years, and thereby resulting in a significant part of our population to be condemned to a vicious cycle of a lifetime of repeated arrests.

Many ask why is this the case? In this VR experience, we hear first hand from a young New Yorker, who was criminalized and incarcerated at age 16. By telling his story in VR, we will learn how both his community and jail are linked due to a lack of adequate help and reform from officials.

This story will be told by two siblings (a brother and a sister) who will appear in the experience and talk about their Harlem neighborhood, the older brother’s first arrest at, and how it impacted their family. This is an emotional conversation, filled with tough questions, self-reflection, and tears.

The aesthetics of this VR documentary film will appear to be of a minimalist look in black negative space. Their story will be told in deconstructed sections as the viewer travels down the hallway, creating symbolic metaphors of this damaging system.

The project is currently a work in progress, and will be completed within the coming months. The experience will eventually be enhanced by graphic effects and animations that will be added in the future. Some of the tools used to create this experience will be traditional filmmaking and photography, photogrammetry, Unreal Game Engine, Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere, and DepthKit.

CLOSED CELLS, OPEN WOUNDS is powerfully emotional experience that uses of a variety of artistic mediums to creative a living collage that communicates the destructive impact of this ongoing crisis in America.



Thesis Presentation Video