Violeta Ayala is a Quechua filmmaker , writer, artist and technologist best known for directing the award-winning documentaries Cocaine Prison (2017), The Fight (2017), The Bolivian Case (2015) and Stolen (2009). Her films have premiered at A-List film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival, distributed in cinemas (France, Colombia & Bolivia), broadcasters (PBS, Channel 8, Señal Colombia, Ibermedia, etc) and online platforms (Amazon Prime and The Guardian). Violeta has won over 50 awards including a Walkley Award, and nominations for the IDA (Los Angeles), Rory Peck (London), Platino (Panama) and Fenix (Mexico). She is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
From the moment I started working inside San Sebastian Prison while making Cocaine Prison, I always wanted to share the unspoken world I was experiencing. San Sebastian was three blocks from where I grew up. It's my world, but it wasn't a world you could capture with a camera. So I started Prison X because I was trying to create this world that cameras couldn't capture.
From that, we created Prison X from zero. At the beginning the technology wasn't even there to create the world I wanted to. But every person who came and joined the team and made it a little bit more of a possibility. We started in 2017 when it was a concept, drawings and a model. Later, new technology meant we could draw it in virtual reality. From our 3D model, we started drawing and it started becoming real. The next year, we started programming, then we started incorporating sound, then movement through motion capture, and every time we hit a milestone, it was amazing for me.
VR is an end, but it's also a tool for the democratisation of animation, and for people who otherwise wouldn't even think about other possibilities of storytelling. I had to create everything myself, which gave me the freedom to interpret the world as I see it, away from a colonised point of view, with the myths and traditions that are a part of my world. And it gave me the chance to create a community of people working outside of what's expected in the film community, with my brother, with amazing Bolivian artists like Maria, Rilda and Olivia (who worked on development); Alap and Alberto who made everything we're talking about reality; and now with XNY Wolf and the Ansah brothers.
Obviously when you create something, it's for everybody, but in this case I'm creating Prison X for the misfits. For my community of brown, black and Indigenous people. I'm also doing this for all Quechua children, all Indigenous children, and all children in general because I have a daughter who's 6-years-old and I want her to have a point of reference that's not the same narrative always focused on. We have the right to imagine our own stories, and we're making it possible."
ALAP PARIKH is an artist, director, and developer focusing on immersive experiences based in Goa, India. He is fascinated by the re-interpretation of narrative in participatory mediums of art, especially through technology. His work as a developer and technical director has been shown at museums such as the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida, Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University and Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai; he has also won awards at Ciclope Festival and Comm Arts Interactive, and has been nominated for Cannes Lion Innovation, Webby and Future of Storytelling Awards.
What drew you to Prison X?
I was curious about working on a project based in a culture and country I knew very little about. I thought that perhaps through this project I could learn more about Bolivia and the people that live there (in some capacity). I am always fascinated by drawing parallels between countries in the Global South. It was also so refreshing to see that almost the entire team came from Bolivia itself, as opposed to their stories being told by an outsider which is so often the case.
Why do you like working on Prison X?
I love the ambition! It's a huge technical challenge to create an interactive world that is entirely hand-drawn, and the technologist in me was very excited by this. The amount I have learned from working on this project is immeasurable - dealing with one unknown after another has given me the confidence to approach both the last stages of this project and any new project that comes along.
There is a constant tension between narrative and exploration in this project, and this is something I've been interested in exploring and pushing since I started working with/in immersive mediums.
Roly Elias is a leading audio engineer, sound designer and 3D illustrator born in Bolivia. He created and mixed all the sound for Prison X. He specializes in the creative aspects of live music and immersive experiences. He established Radical Media in Sydney, Australia.
I've been mixing bands for a while, on big stages and touring and I always felt there was a big disconnect between the artist and the crowd. I`d go and see these big concerts with big budgets, they had all this money and everything to make an amazing show, but I always felt that the sound technology stayed behind. Sound wasnt a priority on the big stage. And I thought something was missing from the experience of a concert.
About four months before Covid-19, I started looking into surround sound. V told me about Prison X, and I started looking into ambisonic sound, which felt like the opposite of the studio world, and realised a lot of what I wanted to do, like creating a world with people and making them feel part of something, was possible.
VR is a completely different way of thinking - it's event-based, not time-based. I'm used to working with things that have beginning, middle and end. In VR, if you walk this way, there's one thing. If you walk another way, there`s another.
I've really enjoyed looking into this new technology and how we can use it and how accessible it is. As long as you have the idea, you can do anything.
Maria Corvera Vargas is a Bolivian fashion designer, she founded her independent label C\V studio berlin in Berlin producing her collections with leftover fabrics or Fair Trade wool from Bolivia, becoming a pioneer on ethical fashion.
Meeting Violeta in Berlin was a chance connection that led me to become involved in this project that is something different than anything I've worked on before. We first got to know each other over a long chat in my shop which turned into drinks and bar hopping. That evening turned into a trip to meet Violeta in Barcelona where she invited me to get involved with Prison X. I was hesitating in my comfort zone until Violeta already knew I was in and sent me an article about the project naming me as costume designer. I guess by this time she believed in me but I just needed an extra push.
Your favorite moment from working on Prison X?
The first time I entered the world of VR was on a friend's console flying over Paris like an eagle which was more disorienting than impressive. My second experience, I found myself inside the bus from Prison X. This moment really struck me, it was amazing to see this mix of a bus from the '50s with the colourful cholas sitting there. As well, the moment I saw the diabla for the first time having this piece of art in front of me, the smoke, everything in this moment was like in a dream.
Why do you like working on Prison X?
Violeta's vision and her deep conviction that we must tell our own stories inspires me, the way she lives her truth helped me to understand the priceless importance of it.Coming from a culture that is underrepresented I didn't realize before now how incredible it can be to recognize the culture you grew up in represented in a virtual reality movie or any movie. Just seeing the blankets drawn by Rilda, blankets you see at the bus station or in every Bolivian household, made me smile in a part of my heart I didn't even know existed.
What do you hope people get from it?
A different world, an Andean world, far from the western Aesthetics and society.
Alberto Santiago is a senior 3D artist and multi-talented developer who rigged and animated all the characters in Prison X. With a professional background in CG animation and visual effects, he has had solo exhibitions from Tokyo to Sydney and developed the award-winning game Goat Punks. Alberto will be rigging and animating the characters.
The use of VR technology to enable immersive storytelling is what drew me to this project.
The production of animated films has always been a lengthy process requiring a large team of highly specialised artists to come together to create each frame. With accessibility to VR, 3D engines and the latest motion capture suits, we have reached a technological milestone where we can have an idea and create it in a short timeframe with minimal complexity and a high degree of control.
I like working on Prison X because the technology-enabled speed lets us play with the creative process. We can try new things without the penalty of losing hundreds of hours of work that comes with managing a large team.
I hope people can enjoy Prison X as a way to gain perspective of the art and culture of Bolivian people through this visually immersive experience.
Rilda Paco Alvarado is the Bolivian artist, designer and social communicator who hand illustrated the characters in 3D using Tilt Brush. Born in the department of Oruro, she graduated from the Hernando Siles National Academy of Fine Arts. She works at the intersection of art and activism and has volunteered for many different organizations that work with women and children.
In 2018, she was declared an "unwelcome person" in the department of Oruro and threatened with death for a work she made entitled "The Censored Virgin" that highlighted the issue of femicide and violence against women during Carnival, and caused a national scandal in Bolivia.
One day, I got a call from Violeta, and she invited me to come to her house and draw. She didn't tell me at first it would be in VR or 3D, so I said yes. So I went, and I was so surprised! But Dan showed me how to use Tilt Brush, and I liked it. I accepted Violeta's invitation because I like learning, I like VR and there are very few people working in VR in Bolivia. So I took it as a challenge.
I'm excited for people to know and learn about our culture, our myths, our legends. That what we have used in Prison X is fantasy, but it's based on reality. The devil is a mythological person they pray to in the mines, there is Quilla and Inti, everything is in accordance with Aymara and Quechua culture. Nuna is the Pachamama. The jail is reality - a small town where you have to survive, and deal with the economic conditions you have. Prison X is a unique project that shows the reality and culture of Bolivia.
Andres Alexander Patzi, known by his stage name XNYWOLF is a DJ/Producer of Bolivian and Cuban heritage coming out of Sydney with the sounds of versatile rap and trap blended with Brazilian baile funk to International Afro. Working with the Sauti Systems collective, he creates a style rich in nostalgia, soul and energy. XNYWOLF has supported acts such as Murda Beats, Xavier Wulf & Russ to name a few.
On meeting director Violeta Ayala he was inspired to return to his Andean Roots to create the music for Prison X.
Kojo Owusu-Ansah (also known as Citizen Kay or Kay Ansah) is a Ghanaian-born recording artist, music producer and audio engineer who lives in Canberra, Australia. Long fascinated with how we interact with and create music, in recent years, this fascination has extended to sound in general and how our auditory senses perceive the world around us.
Since beginning his career in 2014, Kay has toured with the likes of Ice Cube, Public Enemy and many more, and has earned two ARIA nominations for 'Best Urban Album' in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, Kay expanded into sound engineering and music production, and he has collaborated with brands such as ESPN, E! Entertainment, and provided music for TV series such as On My Block on Netflix.
What drew you to Prison X?
Virtual reality was an unexplored world for me, so the opportunity to learn, experiment & experience, particularly within a project like Prison X, was an opportunity impossible to walk away from.
Your favourite moment from working on Prison X?
Watching the motion-capture and seeing the characters come to life.
Annette Lin is coordinating and recording the production of Prison X. As a journalist, her work focuses on narrative and critical explorations of identity, immigration, diaspora and climate change, through the lens of design, culture and contemporary art. She has reported from Mexico, Honduras, Finland and Australia for publications such as Foreign Policy, Teen Vogue, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Nation, CityLab, and Hyperallergic, among others. She is currently based between Sydney and Mexico City.
Dan is a Walkley Award-winning Australian filmmaker and producer. Daniel studied visual communications at the University of Technology Sydney and St Martins College in London, graduating with a Bachelor of Design with Honors. Daniel first began working with interactive media in 2000 in London, for clients such as BBDO and Smash Hits Magazine, before returning to Australia to work at SBS television as an Art Director and designer. On leaving SBS, Daniel embarked on a filmmaking career that includes the award winning documentaries Cocaine Prison (2017), The Fight (2017), The Bolivian Case (2015) and Stolen (2009). In 2018 Fallshaw won a Walkley Award for The Fight. Dan is a founding member of United Notions Film.