Psychoactive Studios 8 Zendetta - A story from Syria

  • Pou Auaha / Creative Director
    Andrew Hillstead
  • Ringatoi Matua / Design Director
    Kunyang Ji
  • Ngā Kaimahi / Team Members
    Alex Bannwarth, Laird Kruger
  • Client
    Karam Alhamad


Zendetta tells the story of Karam Alhamad, an activist from Syria who joined the thousands of other Syrians marching in the streets of Deir Ezzor in the revolution against President Bashar al-Assad. From protestor to war journalist, political detainee, refugee and policy advocate, Karam’s story is just one of millions like it from the Syrian conflict which now spans over a decade.
The goal was to condense Karam’s story into a 10 minute interactive experience using visual storytelling that evokes feelings of passion, hope and empathy. We aimed to shed light on not only his personal story, but the plight of Syrians who are currently detained as a result of activism.


From the beginning, we knew the illustrations were the most important aspect of this project. To make each slide feel like a memory, we used a rough and expressional drawing style reminiscent of old paintings. This art style needed to be respectful of difficult emotions while staying palatable to a wide audience. A strategic use of colour and a consistent sepia tone push the idea that this is a memory set in the desert of Syria. Our artist drew every frame in Photoshop to make the animations feel more analog than digital. Using WebGL allowed us to make transitions smooth and cinematic, add texture around the site, and customise how each illustration moves.

Portraying this story in as accurate a manner as possible meant our initial research was critical. We wanted to keep all aspects genuine, so every sound is taken from Karam’s own recordings or other recordings from Syria. We worked with a Syrian musician to create a soundtrack that perfectly matches the story.

While the illustrations were created to play through like a movie, we wanted to keep users engaged by giving them the ability to advance the story. We designed a simple and consistent interaction that users only need to learn once, keeping the necessary website elements standard so focus is maintained on the illustrations and story.

In order to make this story accessible to a global audience, both narration and text are available in 7 different languages. To make this possible, Karam worked with translators and voice actors from around the world through a CMS solution we created using Sanity.

To provide context to the story, additional pages on the website teach users about the conflicts in Syria. A historical timeline tells the story of uprising and war in Deir Ezzor, while a gallery of Karam’s own photographs take us to the frontlines. Personal stories, political insights, and beautiful poetry all written by Karam can be found on the Articles page. A directory provides a collection of links that allow users to learn more about Syria.

Acknowledging that education is crucial for the future of Syria, we have launched the Zendetta Grant to support Syrian applicants for universities worldwide. This will give 100 Syrians the financial support to pay for their university applications and foreign language tests.