MythBusters Shark Experiment — Story Review

The great thing about the emergence of virtual reality and 360 video is that, along with the completely new content, already present content creators can hop on and give their followers an additional layer of coverage and media. This is exactly what Discovery Channel and MythBusters do in their 360 videos on a shark experiment.

The two videos I watched and am going to review compliment each other in that they follow an experiment through the reconnaissance of the producers to the execution of the actual experiment. Both videos are narrated by the show’s host Adam Savage and he does great to guide viewers while also providing great information about what they are seeing and how it’s all involved in the experiment.

While the two videos are two parts of a whole, I thought it was interesting that the producers tried different things in both to make each capable of being a standalone content item. The biggest difference in the two videos is the placement of the camera. In the first, the camera is held by a diver as he swims past two shipwrecks that have a bunch of sharks swimming around them. The camerawork is really well done and the ride along is really smooth. The second video takes place on the haul of one of the shipwrecks where the experiment is taken place. The stationary placement allows for a nice contrast and a more engulfing view of the sharks swarming around you.

One of the things that seemed a bit new to me in a VR experience like this was how cognitive and upfront with this being a VR experience. Savage pointed out pretty quickly in the first video that he wouldn’t be in this video and at times hyped up the features of 360 videos a little much. This could simply be for promotional purposes, especially in the second video where he talks about how viewers can’t get this immersive environment in any other way, but I wasn’t too bothered by them because it was a really cool experience being so close to underwater shipwreck and a crazy amount of sharks. To me, this seems like the perfect use for 360 videos and while it’s not completely narrative driven, it serves as a really nice complimentary piece to the show.

The blatant statements about this being a 360 video also work because of the many ways they take advantage of it. Savage specifically tells the viewer where to look at certain points to great effect and there is also so helpful and informative labels that pop up throughout the video like in the screencap below. The type of VR experience leads to the viewer wanting to look around without any necessary nudge from the producers, but Discovery and MythBusters does a good job of making fun like in the second video they talk in-depth about a shark that lost half of its jaw in a fishing accident and then Savage lets you know that that shark is currently in the shot so you can try to find him.

This type of content is something that Discovery is no stranger to at this point, as they have a whole VR page on YouTube. And it’s pretty clear that shark content is a great match for this medium as four of their top 10 most popular videos feature sharks in some way. The shipwreck video is actually the page’s number one video sitting at over 15 million views, so I think that is pretty telling in itself.

Overall, it’s hard not to be entertained when Adam Savage and MythBusters is involved. These particular 360 videos add a great extra layer to the experiment and are fun to experience.

We Who Remain- A NYT Film Review

For my second blog post I took a look at the New York Times most recent VR film We Who Remain. Directed and shot by Trevor Snapp and Sam Wolson, the film is about the Sudanese men, women and children who remain in North Sudan in the Nuba Mountains, though their lives are continuously in danger from military forces via jets who have been dropping bombs on villages, markets and farms. On top of this, the government has put up a aid blockade for medicine that is preventing those injured and sick from receiving the help they need. Through it all, countless children have been killed from the attacks and are daily put in harm’s way when they should be attending grade school and not living in fear of the attacks.

I think the film did a great job opening with the dust to lead your eye and turned into the title slide. While I think it was very effective and has an important role within VR I had not thought about graphics and visuals beyond the 360 videos used in a film. I think it was exceptionally used and really benefitted the video throughout. The video opens with some great images with the families to set the scene and give the viewer a sense of place and launch them into the story. The thing I really appreciate when watching the video in Google Cardboard is the length of the video cuts and how they lead into one another. I have time to survey the whole “room” meaning the entire frame and really feel like they took me someplace I could otherwise not go but use the video effectively to tell the story.

From around the 3-5 minute mark of the video, the videographer takes us inside what looks like an empty school classroom. Through the use of moving graphics, archived video and words on a ‘chalkboard’ updates the reader on the situation and historical context of the video. This is a powerful storytelling use and really pinpoints the viewer on what they are watching and how each frame is important to what they will be seeing, rather than just throwing a number of clips together. The videographer and editors of the film were intentional about it and show prior and proper preplanning.

The remainder of the film shows clips and really dives into different portions and realms the people face such as the banned journalism, the struggles in the hospital and the rebel forces fighting back and keeping others safe. I think the main strength of this film was the use of characters and really
helped us connect to different individuals as the video progressed and get a brief moment of connection to each of them.

I think the main weakness of the video was the interviews. Each time a new character was introduced it was generally one figure sitting on a bed or standing alone outside. The clip as a 360 was boring as it was very one dimensional and didn’t contribute to the video other than to introduce a character where I would have liked to see them moving or working within the context of the story.

MatPat’s The Global Gamer: Innovative and Immersive

Matthew Patrick is the creator of The Game Theorists, a well-known YouTube channel with nearly 8 million subscribers as of the writing of this post. On the channel, MatPat (as he is more commonly known) discusses his unique and often controversial theories about video games. His latest project is a bit different, however, as he jumps into the world of VR.

MatPat’s The Global Gamer takes gamers on a journey across the world. The first episode takes us to the place where gaming was born and continues to thrive today: Japan. He explores temples, marketplaces, and restaurants, and participates in Kendo, a type of martial arts. It’s currently sitting at around 1.5 million views on the Game Theorists YouTube channel, with 63,000 likes.

The video has a strong narrative, and the story is driven by the different locations MatPat visits. It’s a perfect story for VR. There are things going on all around, and when some areas are a bit bare, there are pop-ups with pictures or extra information. There’s a portion of the video where the camera is moving through a marketplace, but the motion is very smooth and not too disorienting. At the end, he straps the camera to his head, which was a bit nauseating to watch through a headset, but because it didn’t last long, it wasn’t too bad.

The most fascinating part about this video isn’t the content, however. The quality of this video is amazing – it’s one of the first 8K videos on YouTube. It’s also one of the longest VR videos ever, and this combined with the high quality required special programming to work on the website because of the large file size.

Additionally, this video utilizes 3D to create possibly the most immersive VR experience I’ve ever had. While watching it, I completely forgot where I actually was, and even tried to ground myself in reality a few times to remind myself that I was sitting in a dorm room in Kentucky, not walking through a marketplace in Japan.

The 3D, however, did bother my eyes at a few points. It felt similarly to how I feel if I turn the 3D on my 3DS up too high. This was mostly just a small annoyance, though, and didn’t bother me too much.

The file size could cause issues for people with slower internet connections, as many commenters on the video have noted.  Many people have internet connections that can barely handle normal YouTube videos, so a high-quality, 3D, VR video is out of the question. Accessibility is definitely an issue here.

PROS:
Interesting story
Works well for VR
Very immersive
High quality and innovative

CONS:
A bit disorienting at times, both because of 3D and because of movement
Difficult to watch with slow internet connection

Overall, MatPat’s The Global Gamer is a fascinating, innovative, and immersive experience. Once your video buffers and your eyes adjust, prepare for one of the best VR experiences yet. Watch it here.

Red Bull F1 VR – Story Review

By Matt Wickstrom

Red Bull F1 VR is a 360-video experience produced by VIEMR, a specialist in virtual and augmented reality. The video, which directly appeals to race fans or anyone hoping to pursue thrill-seeking adventures, was posted on YouTube on Sept. 15, 2015 and has been a massive success, garnering over 271,000 views in the time since.

The video features Formula 1 star Sébastien Buemi making practice runs at TT Circuit Assen in The Netherlands during the Gamma Racing Day in front of over 80,000 spectators.

The story begins with Buemi’s car finishing up inspection at the circuit’s paddock before cautiously navigating the narrow path to the pit lane with the flashes of the cameras of eager fans clicking away. Once departed from the pit lane, Buemi’s time trial run begins, giving viewers a glimpse into the sense of speed and quick reaction times necessary for driving behind the wheel of one of the most fine-tuned machines in the world. Following the time trial run, the video ends with Buemi celebrating with burnouts on the course’s front straightaway, throwing up clouds of smoke before his crew runs out onto the track to embrace their driver and celebrate.

While the video is more of a 360 experience, it also features storytelling elements due to the different scenes played out over the video, including the car inspection, time trial, and celebration. This setup with scenes also lends to the story having a narrative structure.

The video only contains natural audio, which in this case consists primarily of car engine noise. While it may have added more context and immersion laying over audio from Buemi or someone else on his team describing the weekend, car, etc., I am more than satisfied with the video only containing natural audio. As an avid race fan, nothing excites me more than hearing the sound and power of a race car’s engine.

I believe this story is appropriate for virtual reality because it places the viewer in a situation and environment that most people only get the chance to live out in their dreams or through video games and other simulators. The perspective of the camera in the video makes you feel as though it were actually you speeding around the race course in an F1 car, and the lack of outside or laid over audio allows for the user to focus even more on the experience they’re partaking in.

However, laid over audio during the beginning inspection scene could’ve added even more immersion by capturing audio of Buemi or someone else describing the weekend’s events, their team’s expectations for the season, or anything else related to the race team that provides the viewer, who may not know much about racing or F1 specifically, more context into the events, format, and race cars.

“Surfing in Tahiti” Story Review

World Surf League published this video on October 28, 2015, about a surfing experience in Tahiti. The story follows C.J. Hobgood, a World Surf League World Championship surfer, and his friends on their adventure in the water while they drive over to the site, take a boat out into the ocean, surf and snorkel. The video currently has 18,370,240 views on YouTube.

I liked this video because it was immersive and made me feel like I was included in it. Sometimes VR Stories face barriers with making the viewer feel like a part of it because we cannot interact with the subjects by talking to them, but this video did a good job of overcoming that. Right off the bat when you’re riding in the car on the way to the ocean, I felt like I was the shotgun rider on my way to a trip with my friends. There were other shots when we were on the boat where we are all sitting around the outside of the boat together, so I got to look around at all the people. Other shots where I felt included in the story where when the people were looking directly at the camera, so it looks like they are looking at me. It looks like they are taking pictures of you on the boat, acknowledging your presence and making you feel like a part of the group, which I thought was really cool.

The video used a narrative technique in a subtle way. It wasn’t narrated at all, but it started from the beginning of the trip with driving in the car on the way to the ocean. Then it showed the people walking out the pier with their surfboards, getting on the boat to take them out into the ocean, jumping into the water, and then finally surfing. The video was character, location, and experience driven because using CJ as the celebrity focus of the video gave it a cool twist, but you got an awesome experience in general from being right in a wave as it’s barreling or being underwater while people are swimming around. Being in Tahiti didn’t hurt either! It was a beautiful place with a lot to look at all around, and it was an awesome experience that most people will never get to see otherwise.

I also liked the use of audio in this video. There is music overlayed, but you can still hear the waves crashing all around you, the rush of water when the surfers first jump into the water, and people cheering when something cool happens. It was a good use of spatial audio because I was hearing things all around me, and it made me want to look around and see what was happening. I thought everything was smooth and cohesive, and while there was a lot to look at, it was never too much happening at once.

I thought this was a very appropriate story topic for a virtual reality 360 video because it provided viewers with an immersive, up-close experience that they likely would have never gotten to see without this video. They used all elements like characters, location, and experience to drive this video, and I thought it was very intriguing and fun. The whole video was upbeat and adventurous, so it played on people’s desire for excitement and fun. It was overall just a pleasant experience that made me smile while I was watching it. I found myself wanting to rewatch it again and again when it was over, so I think that shows what a success this video is.