THE VILLAGES THAT DIED FOR FRANCE: A 360º Documentary
COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH PROJECT: Royal Holloway University of London, Durham University, Foxep Productions, Google Arts & Culture
OUR ROLE: Location Sound Recording, 3D Audio Postproduction, Music Supervision
The Portraits of No Man’s Land project is a collection of videos, photographs, Google Maps tours and exhibits that explore the life and stories of infamous areas throughout history, depicted as “no man’s land” due to their past as battlefields. A joint project between Durham University and Royal Holloway, University of London, all of the individual pieces of media can be found on Google Arts & Culture, and spreads the word and culture surrounding these parts of the world that have been affected by wargrounds. More recently, the project has released three immersive films on three separate locations to add to their library of informative pieces.
The Villages that Died for France follows Maurice Michellet, the mayor of the French farming village Bezonvaux, one of nine communities destroyed during World War I. In 1916, an area designated by the government as Zone Rouge was the centre of battle between the French and German forces, and the last line of defence before the Germans would reach Paris. As a result, the ground was pounded with bombs and footfall, littered with 300,000+ bodies and poisoned with various chemicals that rendered the area uninhabitable. Even with the planting of a forest to cover up the scarred earth and the slow shrinking of the danger zone, the nine villages destroyed have never been rebuilt.
Our approach on audio was relatively simple; we simply wanted to deliver an authentic sound and preserve originality of its sonic fingerprint of all of the locations we’ve visited, as each place offered something unique and interesting on its own merit, be it unusual and eerie soundscapes of former WWI battlefields in France or fauna rich rainforest in Colombia. We didn’t need to search hard — but rather simply follow the story of people.
The audio for No Mans Land VR films was captured in a few different ways. We’ve used an ambisonics VR microphone Ambeo to record diegetic audio along with the camera as well as individual interviews recorded on boom and lapel radio mics.
Our method proved to be efficient and effective; travelling light and constantly being on the move meant that the recording kit had to be portable and ready to roll at any point, whilst at the same time being able to record spatial audio which was instrumental for delivering an immersive experience to our audiences.
The audio post-production process was somewhat a continuation of our ethos embraced during the filming process — keeping the story raw and authentic.
With exception of several scenes where we felt the image alone wasn’t able to reveal all the complex layers of the story or particular twists in a plot, we resorted to more stylistic sound design to disambiguate the message — for example, adding archival footage audio, news reports or tonal textures to create tension and suspense.
Music played an absolutely critical role, often carrying an emotional undertone that really helped to shape the narrative in the right way. We’ve used a variety of sounds from Colombian communist-era ballads to cinematic, orchestral, rich-sounding scores.
For the final product, we’ve delivered mix in high spatial audio resolution in 3rd order ambisonics across 16 channels. For comparison, traditional TV or streaming services typically deliver in stereo. We are hoping that immersive audio will enable our audience to appreciate the finer details within the rich sonic experience and better connect to the stories of people from the no man’s land.
Portraits of No Man’s Land Project: https://artsandculture.google.com/project/portraits-of-no-man-s-land
Into No Man’s Land: http://www.intonomansland.org/
Image Credit: No Man’s Land