Songbird: a virtual moment of extinction in Hawaii – 360° video (Story Review)

The Guardian released Songbird: a virtual moment of extinction in Hawaii on July 30, 2018.  It is a virtual reality experience set in Kauai, Hawaii in 1985.  The experience traces the footsteps of scientist, Dr. Jim Jacobi, and recreates his interaction with the last ʻōʻō (songbird) ever existing on earth.  Lucy Greenwell is the director on the project and Anetta Jones is the producer. Francesca Panetta, who is executive editor for virtual reality at The Guardian, is the executive producer on the project. Finally, Federico Fasce is the lead developer and creative technologist for the video.

A glimpse at The Guardian post.

The story is experimental, for it is an instance where there is no actual footage to go along with the audio, so an animated version of what the actual footage would have been is created.  The footage puts you into a part of history that no longer exists and makes it feel real with the use of natural sound and documentary-style narration.  There are times, however, the video can start to buffer and the graphics can get a bit blurry, so make sure your internet connection is strong when you are watching the video or you will have grainy footage and the birds will become indistinguishable from the background.

Personally, I had difficultly loading the video even when I had strong connection.  The video would not load on my phone, for my phone was not equipped with the latest update.  Therefore, if you are trying to watch the video on your phone, make sure your phone is updated to ensure optimal performance. If you are viewing it on your computer, your computer must also be updated to ensure optimal experience. I would also advise giving the video time to load prior to watching it as well, for the video is a bit long.

Though lengthy, the project is an example of great storytelling scripted appropriately for virtual reality.   It takes you on a realistic journey.  There is a conflict, for you are following Dr. Jacobi in his search for the last songbird, while at the same time you realize the songbird is searching for a songbird as well or its species will die out.  The way the story is told in the video evokes emotion from viewers and causes the viewers to empathize with the songbird.  Not only does the viewer empathize with the songbird, but it causes the viewer to look at the bigger global issue of bird extinction.

Along with great natural sound, the story utilizes insightful audio from Dr. Jacobi to describe the things he experienced first hand.  The path of the scientist can’t be explained by the narrator since the narrator was not there at the moment in history in 1985.  I also enjoy the use of captions in the video. The opening captions create a setting for the video and explain to the viewer what is about to be viewed.  The closing captions give insight into the problems that still face the bird population and what the issues stem from.

At around 2:00 of the video is an example of great use of interview clips to tell a story. Dr. Jacobi gives background knowledge from experience that only he can provide.
Above is an example of a caption used in the video.

Altogether, I believe the story is well-executed.  It is a well written, interesting story.  Being eight minutes, it is a little long, however I feel the story is entertaining and captivating enough to keep viewers engaged.  It is a good example of how virtual reality can be used and a glimpse as to where virtual reality may be headed in the future.

One Strange Rock: Space in 360

“I took a look at the planet at just sort of let it sink in. I thought to myself, ‘this is something that human eyes are not supposed to see. This must be the view from Heaven.’” When Mike Massimino along with three other astronauts boarded the space shuttle, they were not prepared for the life-changing events that would take place as they graced the galaxy above.

National Geographic’s One Strange Rockthe first ever VR filmed in space- lets viewers experience first hand what being in zero gravity is like. Award-winning filmmaker Darren Arnofsky was able to capture the beauty of the planet with the Vuze 4K VR Camera from Humaneyes Technology. The compelling narratives from the astronauts paired with breathtaking 360 views of our planet make this virtual reality story innovative and extremely emotionally effective.

This piece is not solely about being in space. There is no guided tour, facts about the sun, or asteroids flying past us. Instead, viewers are forced to simply be still and notice. The way the video is able to evoke emotion so well is through the storytelling technique-  the strongest part of the piece. The astronauts each voiced-over a section of the video, elaborating on how their perspective of earth changed after viewing it in person. Using astronauts to narrate allows for an intimate tone throughout the video. Their individual stories guide us toward the overarching theme of appreciating the beauty of the earth and life itself.

 

This use of an intimate tone helps reveal connection we as human beings have with each other and the earth. If a starker tone was used instead, it would have the complete opposite effect and make us feel disconnected and the mystery of the earth more remote. We are presented with 360 degree immaculate views of space, view of the interior space shuttle, and different atmospheric landscapes around the world. We feel a sense of enlightenment and gratitude for our amazing world by the end of the video.

Ultimately, there were no flaws in this piece. The video is appropriate for all ages, and the storyline is unique as are the visuals. The story being told in Virtual Reality is essential to the piece. We have seen several photographs of outer space throughout our lives to the point where we have become desensitized to the fact that there is an entire universe floating above us. However, reintroducing the universe using Virtual Reality brings back our awareness and curiosity that some have lost. Of course the amazing 4K quality drastically helps immerse the viewers too. Seeing textbook style photographs of the moon may feel repetitive, but actually feeling like you can reach out and touch the moon may open our eyes a little wider. We can become inspired and educated about the earth with a fresh eye– future generations are going to have a powerful learning device in the classroom too.

One Strange Rock is an example of innovation in Virtual Reality. The 3D visuals and creative use of narration by the astronauts makes for a nearly unbelievable virtual reality experience. Incomparable to any other Virtual Reality story I have seen, One Strange Rock a definite must watch.

Chick-Fil-A 360 Advertisement Review

Last winter, Chick-Fil-A released a series of advertisements promoting their infamous message, “eat mor chicken” through their website leading to a 360 video advertisement. The main 360 video advertisement of the series, produced by Chick-Fil-A and enjoyed by customers of all ages, was successful in that it was of good quality and it was entertaining to watch. However, it is hard to determine how many people the advertisement reached as the official website that it is on does not provide statistics on viewership. A video titled CowzVR is coming soon! that was found on Chick-Fil-A’s official YouTube channel had over 12,000 views, and another video titled CowzVR Delivery that tied in to the virtual reality series found on the same channel had 39,000 views. I viewed the 360 video in 4K.

The virtual reality advertisement video takes viewers through a series of scenes in nature. Viewers start by standing in a sunny field, surrounded by grass and trees with a cow standing in front of them with a sign that reads “eat mor chikin” hanging on its body. The viewer then gets to experience skydiving through the air, swimming in the dark depths of the ocean, go karting on windy track, skiing along a snowy mountain, hot air ballooning over scenic hills, and flying through the sky over a canyon, all depicted in the still images below.

The same cow from the beginning of the story was among you in every scene, accompanied by other cows, swimming, skiing, flying, etc. among you. The story does not necessarily have a beginning, middle, and end, but rather, takes the viewer through a completely unique experience with every scene. Therefore, the advertisement as a whole is extremely location driven as it takes viewers to places that they likely could never have the opportunity to go to.

There are no other main characters besides the cows in the scenes, but there are other people partaking in the activities such as sky diving and skiing. The content of the video was perfect for virtual reality, as the scenery and movement of the video makes it feel as though you are actually there. The only audio in the video derives from natural sound and the mooing of the cows.

I detected few weaknesses throughout the video, as the quality is good and the overall message of the advertisement is clear; however, in some of the scenes, I did find myself struggling to find all of the cows who had writing on them. Also, the go karting and skiing scenes did make me feel a bit nauseous, as there was a lot of unsteady movement in them.

Though the scenery in the video did make it interesting, it may have been effective for Chick-Fil-A to have viewers to follow a story line rather than just view the cows. The rapid change in scenery helped to maintain my interest, but I question if Chick-Fil-A used the most effective advertising strategy possible in not having voice overs or any other advertising elements beyond the cows. Overall, the 360 video advertisement was successful and fitting for virtual reality, but I think that Chick-Fil-A could have implemented better advertising throughout.

 

Taking VR Subaquatic

One of the biggest limitations in the ‘reality’ part of virtual reality is the disconnect between the things that we are seeing, and what our bodies feel. When we pick something up, we don’t feel what we are picking up, we feel the controller. Movement is regularly done with a joy stick rather than our legs, and this disjointing experience removes the viewer from really feeling like they are a part of the virtual world. There are options looking to solve this, but none are perfect. There is one fascinating alternative that creates a synchronized experience for mind and body .

Tech company Avegant works with VR and mixed reality, designing the closest thing to a hologram that I’ve yet to see with their mixed reality Light Field projections. They have also created several virtual experiences designed for use while submerged underwater. The combination of a waterproof headset and a completely submerged user is a potent duo. It creates a new type of immersion where the viewers experience and the virtual world are completely simpatico.

Avegant prepared two experiences for their aquatic experiment. The first placed viewers in a coral reef. With the headset on and in the water, the viewer wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between swimming in the ocean above a coral reef and the reality of the swimming pool (as long as the user doesn’t bump their head against the edge of the pool). What’s amazing is that with only the waterproofed headset, Avegant is able to create a completely immersive experience. There is no haptic devices or treadmills required. This is an easily replicable experience that can serve as excellent example for the future of immersive VR.

The second experience that Avegant had prepared was a spacewalk, where the user was free floating in the cosmos. I think this is where the application of VR really shines. It is a creative way to give users the ability to experience something impossible. The user feels weightless floating in the pool and the visuals of the virtual environment support the imagery, working together to realistically create the unique feeling of being in space.

Compare this experience to the VR program Home by BBC Media Applications Technologies Limited. In Home, the viewer takes on the role of an astronaut doing repairs on the International Space Station. But the user’s physical experience is still standing on solid ground. While Home is still an extraordinary use of VR, the physical experience of the user is not the same as their virtual experience.

The future of virtual reality is creating a cohesive experience for the viewer, where both mind and body are taken into a digital space. Subaquatic VR is a modern example of what VR is heading towards. One thing I would like to see is an interactive experience that takes advantage of its physical immersion.

Learn more about Avagant here at their website:

https://www.avegant.com

Isle of Dogs: The Complete Behind The Scenes VR Experience

What do you get when you combine the 360-degree experience with the process of stop motion animation? An incredible insight into one of the most anticipated movies of the year: Isle of Dogs.

This promotional featurette was published by FoxSearchlight, the production studio’s YouTube account for Isle of Dogs. In the 5-and-a-half-minute video with we’re instantly transported to the setting for the movie. Looking in one direction, we see a dog voiced by a famous actor from the actor’s point of view, using the animated dog as a vehicle to talk about their character and its relationship to the movie. As you look around the room, you notice you’re not actually in “Trash Island,” the setting for the movie, but the studio where they create this dirty dog world. As the dog is speaking, the animators are seen on a monitor moving the puppet at hyper-speed to match the movement of the dog.

The video begins with Bryan Cranston’s character, Chief. There is a subtitle with Cranston’s name with his character’s name below in smaller print, signaling to the viewer that this is the actor talking and not the character. He explains why his character is stationed on his island and general character traits. This goes on for several other actors in different settings for the movie including Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Scarlett Johansson. This video is less of a narrative structure, and more of a behind the scenes documentary with a twist: Using the actors describe their character, as they’re in their characters body. We see them truly embody their characters, speaking emotionally about them as if they’re real people (dogs), while being thoughtful and sympathetic to the relationship they have to the story.

The premise for this featurette is great. Not only do we see a glimpse of the animation of the dogs and the beautifully built setting, but we see behind the scenes of Trash Island and the people that are creating these creatures on the fly. We hear familiar voices playing new roles, and unfamiliar animators moving quickly to see how much work goes into just a 5-minute video. Simply put, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a great way to promote a movie that is already going to be pushing the limit for the future of technology (modern stop-motion animation), and combining it with another technological advancement being VR.

The use of virtual reality in this video is extraordinary. We’re first in a pitch-black atmosphere with the Isle of Dogs logo and title “Behind the Scenes (In Virtual Reality)” at the bottom. When that disappears we then see the dog. The first thing I noticed when turning my head away from the talking dog is its voice becoming muffled and distant the more I looked in the other direction. Then when I moved my head back towards the dog I could hear the actor’s voice clearly again. It’s details like this one that really enhance the virtual reality experience and makes the viewer feel like they’re in another world.

This featurette made me more excited to see the movie than I already was, and with 350,000 views at the time of me viewing it I’m sure a lot of other people are as well. I got to see the characters in their respected setting, while having their connected voice describe them. It was just enough to get a taste of the movie without giving much of it away. I love seeing what goes on behind the scenes of movies, and the use of virtual reality was a perfect way to combine that with a glimpse of what the characters are going to be like.