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June 14, 2017

Virtual Reality Comes to Life

Simmons

Technology within the world of video, film and television production changes very rapidly. The first time I saw something online about somebody strapping a bunch of GoPros together and making a 360 degree video, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Pretty quickly I saw more examples. While strange, interesting and cool, I definitely did not think it to be anywhere on the level of a trend or entirely new style and technique of storytelling that was going to affect what we do. I was wrong.

Earlier this year, an opportunity came up that forced my hand, so I bought a camera – the 360fly 4k. In the course of one week, we went from researching and buying a camera to shooting our first “real” video with it as a demo/spec piece for a potential client.

360Now, in case you’re not quite sure what the “360” or “VR” terms even mean, 360 video is a 360 degree image that you, the viewer, navigate through by either clicking and dragging your mouse, if on a desktop computer, or if on your phone, simply moving your phone left or right and up and down to see what’s around you, above you and below you. VR, or Virtual Reality, video is when you are watching one of these same video clips, but in a headset that you are holding or actually wearing on your head. 360 and VR are different experiences.

When it comes to storytelling with this new medium, “experience” is the key word. The viewer can experience new people, places and things like never before. The New York Times does a great job of posting new 360 video content every day, from all around the world. I’ve watched videos from places I’ve never even heard of, but now want to go and experience for myself.

I really started to understand storytelling with the 360/VR format after seeing a three-part branded content series CNN did with Norfolk Southern. I love having real people on camera and while these CNN/Norfolk Southern 360/VR videos don’t have anybody speaking on camera, you still hear the voices of real people. You’re able to look around the train yard and get an idea of what it’s like to be there. That’s the beauty of 360/VR video – it can transport you to places you may not be able to go, or even think to go, but end up giving you some idea of what that place is like.

DeliveryThe demo project for which we bought a 360 camera fell through, but because of the testing we had done and the demo we produced, we were hired by ajc.com to produce a 360/VR video for Northside Hospital – Cherokee as part of a nurse recruitment initiative. The point of our video was to show prospective nurses that this new hospital is truly state of the art and provide information on how they’ll be able to help people from all around North Georgia because of it.

From a purely technical standpoint, one of the first things to think about is, where does the camera operator go, and the rest of the video crew for that matter? Where do you put lights? Or any of the other stuff that we usually have with us on a video shoot that is behind the camera? Well, you hide it or just plain don’t use it. Planning and shooting 360/VR video is all about putting the camera in an interesting environment and thinking about how to direct the viewer to what you think is important, while knowing they can look wherever they want. For the Northside Hospital – Cherokee project, we decided to have two people on camera as tour guides and by their words and actions, direct the viewer to look at certain things in whatever space they were in at the time. Our goal was to point out interesting features for future employees to see and at the same time, hope that they do look around and have a positive reaction so they’ll take the next step and apply for a job.

360FlyTo sum up, we (Mixed Bag Media and modern society in general) have just begun the journey into 360/VR video. There is still a lot to be figured out and learned. I’ve become convinced that it’s not just a trend; that there will be uses for it that are being developed right now. When a friend told me “It won’t be long and everybody will have a VR room in their house that is purely for experiencing video with a headset on.” I thought that sounded crazy. It may not be. I can totally see that as a normal thing in business headquarters for training, giving tours of new facilities and scouting potential building sites among many other uses.

Bottom line: it’s new and different and therefore strange. Don’t discount it right away, though, if you are skeptical. Give it a try. You just might like it.

-Jon Milavec

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