virtual reality • interaction design

Chornobyl 360

Project Overview

A new way to learn about one of the most impactful nuclear disasters in human history using virtual reality.


• A complete paradigm shift in ways to approach spatial design
• Very undeveloped frameworks for VR back then introduced some limitations
• Complexities in communicating design choices with the development. No clear handoff strategy


After a successful Kickstarter campaign, we released first episode of the documentary in October 2016 and continued developing next episodes until 2018

*My role was to work with creative director on interaction, UI, and graphic design of the documentary. The project was created and developed by Sensorama Lab
Person in hazmat suit wearing vr headsetChornobyl 360 interface demonstrationChornobyl 360 interface demonstration - a menu

What is it about?

The project was created to raise public awareness of the problem of nuclearization and the potential consequences that it can do to the world. There are only a few places around the world that were affected in this way. Virtual Reality turned out to be a perfect tool to transport the viewers directly to the zone, telling the stories of the past and the present.

Why now?

In April 1986 the world has faced the most devastating nuclear event in its history - the Chernobyl disaster. Released for the 30th anniversary of this catastrophe, Chornobyl360 explores how it happened, tells stories behind the people who helped prevent even bigger disaster as well as of the others who still choose to call Chernobyl their home. With the help of virtual reality, we are now able to tell stories like never before - with an unprecedented level of interactivity and storytelling, which makes it a much more engaging, personal, and exciting experience.

A panorama shot from Chornobyl 360 documentary
360 Panorama taken in Chornobyl, still from from the documentary

Shooting and production

The best way to learn is by doing. Chornobyl360 is a non-linear documentary where viewers can explore the surroundings of the zone in their own pace, fueled by mini-games and interactions

360 camera rig

The uprising of VR technology seems to be a greater achievement than introduction of voice in motion pictures. It enables a completely new approach to storytelling and shooting in documentaries and fiction movies. Based on interactive choice made by a user every viewer’s experience is now different. One gets a unique exploration opportunity and endless fun.

a team of Chornobyl carrying a drone

Capturing images of Chornobyl360 was done with the help of 6 Ultra HD cameras and military-grade drones modified for our purposes and advanced computers for fast processing data. In some cases, we needed to shield semiconductor equipment against radiation. We also added some cool effects and amazing 3D sounds in order to provide you with a truly fascinating experience. Although main locations were already filmed in 360-degree manner, we enhanced it with generated 3D-content including photo-realistic scenes from the inside of the power plant. Moreover, we used photogrammetry and stereoscopic 360-video capturing for some closer look parts of the Project.

Drone flying Inside of the cooling station

The event was a success, with multiple people interacting and asking questions about the demo during the event. I also closely monitored users (without them seeing), and witnessed how the app was being used in person. We confirmed our hypothesis that having multiple layers of content on a single AR marker was a good idea - an artist was able to tell a story about their art and themselves, each chapter of the story was a separate layer, and you could easily swipe to navigate between

An abandoned, a black suitcase are placed on a concrete road in a forested area, with a ferris wheel in the distance, creating a scene of solitude and abandonment

The event was a success, with multiple people interacting and asking questions about the demo during the event. I also closely monitored users (without them seeing), and witnessed how the app was being used in person. We confirmed our hypothesis that having multiple layers of content on a single AR marker was a good idea - an artist was able to tell a story about their art and themselves, each chapter of the story was a separate layer, and you could easily swipe to navigate between

Putting it all together

Technology headline

Virtual reality environment allows its user to experience immersion, the brain-induced feeling of being inside and a part of the observed world. But our brains are not so easy to full around with. In order to achieve this effect our team has been working in the field of virtual reality solutions and 360-degree video production for more than two years. For shooting and production, we used the latest technologies and the most advanced equipment affordable for indie projects

Using photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is a method of 3D reproduction that allows us to generate 3D models out of photographs and sensor data. At the time of the filming, we captured more than 30,000 photographs of Chernobyl environments, interiors, machinery, and control mechanisms.One of the biggest 3D recreations done was the shooting of the Reactor 4 before it was covered with new safe confinement - the Arch in October 2017. The combination of about 14,000 aerial and ground photos allows us to replicate the whole reactor in 3D

Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration
Using visual and sound triggers to guide viewers attention and make the process of exploring more engaging
Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration
Recycling radioactive waste
Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration
Visiting old movie theater, here you can travel back in time to 1984
Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration
Measure radiation levels of objects around you
Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration
Higher levels usually mean points of interest and is used throughout the app to help guide the user forward
Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration
We used mini games to guide users and make storytelling more engaging. You could even unlock achievements!
Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration - a menu
App Menu allows for easy navigation between different locations
Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration
Learn about life of the locals and learn history of Chornobyl through dialogue
Chornobyl 360 interface demonstration
Access restricted facilities without the risk of radiation

Driving storytelling with interactions

Latest technology gives users an opportunity to plunge into the breathtaking atmosphere through the various scenes from the unique locations of the catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred at the Chornobyl NPP in Ukraine (then officially the Ukrainian SSR). They will have an immersive experience of moving through the ghost city of Pripyat and the Exclusion Zone, the Nuclear Power Plant, become a witness of the nuclear waste management, and have the opportunity to take part in the construction process of the new sarcophagus.

Users will also interact with living witnesses of that tragic events. NPP workers, liquidators of the disaster, engineers and locals, who have managed to return to live in the polluted area, will share their memories about the tragedy.

‍The project is created by using innovative technologies, which give the viewer a way to dive as deep as possible in what is happening in the 30 km Exclusion Zone. The plot is built on multiple paths through the stories that can be watched selectively or sequentially. But in order to see the culmination and to get inside the Chornobyl unique objects, which are usually accessible only to selected employees of the zone, you will have to pass all the levels of the project.

Viewer’s abilities to move through the plot depend on the selected story of the characters, which are opening the way to the plant. They will be also able to see exclusive interactive inserts of locations and people from 1986, which are recreated by the team of Chornobyl360.The main idea of the plot is to show past, present and future abilities of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.

Using real-time game engine

After shooting all of the footage and 3D scanning the environment, we put everything in Unity game engine and started developing our VR application. We had to create a navigation concept, to connect all of the footage together. Luckily, we had a storyline already created by a Sensorama producer and

Showcasing Chornobyl 360

As we developed the documentary, we constantly tested it to make sure that everything was working as intended. We also made sure to get feedback from other people to see if they were enjoying the storyline, and if interactions were clear enough. After a few months of development, we had a finished product that we were proud of. It was a time to start showing it to the world.

In April 2016, we opened a trans media exhibition at the American House in Kyiv, Ukraine. It was the first public showing of our documentary. The exhibition consisted of photos by Ivan Chernichkin, an interactive-audio installation by Evgeny Vaschenko, and the Early Preview of Chornoby1360 documentary.

a bunch of VR gear laying around

We also started preparing marketing materials and delivering some of the perks to our Kickstarter supporters at this time.

VR Exhibition at the United Nations HQ, New York

Hosted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we conducted an exhibition dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster. The exhibition consisted of the gallery by Ivan Chernichkin and showcasing a release version of the Chornobyl360 documentary.

Crowd demoing a VR demo of Chornobyl 360

Chornobyl 360 in the press

The Verge
"Chornobyl 360 promises a different focus, chronicling the lives of people who still live or work in the Exclusion Zone, and creating a series of individual stories that can be pieced together during the experience."

Upload VR
"This 360 video experience is not simply another immersive documentary. Nor can it be classified as a game or pure entertainment. No, this is something new. Something we have never seen before and lack the proper terms to define. For now, let's call it "Immersive History""

"Filming in the radioactive exclusion zone around the power plant obviously makes for a more complex and expensive project than the average film shoot, but it seems a fitting topic for VR to fulfill pushers' promises about the tech enabling people to experience places they might not otherwise be able to"

Featured in Verge


We released the preview version to the Oculus, App Store, and Google Play in May 2016. It was greeted with great reviews on all platforms and gained recognition in the VR world and was showcased during multiple conferences. We continued releasing subsequential episodes until 2018 but after that, sadly, the funding has run out and priorities of the team shifted to other projects.

For me personally, it was an unforgettable experience to work on that project and be part of the team that was driving technology forward as much as was possible back then. I learned a lot about spatial design, how to handle hand off and work alongside the team of VR engineers, as well as how to launch a crowdfunded project into the world.

Chornobyl Poster

Have a similar project in mind?