Revelator Branches Out Into Virtual Reality

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This past month, Revelator hosted a few thousand guests during the incredible East Austin Studio Tour, or E.A.S.T. Knowing we would have thousands of folks filtering through our offices during the tour, we thought it would be a fun opportunity to give them something a little unexpected…a dip into Barton Springs. So, in preparation for E.A.S.T. this year, we storyboarded, cast and shot a virtual reality experience at Barton Springs. Folks were able to sip traditional Revelator Bloody Marys while they relaxed in the virtual beauty of Austin’s local treasure. The whole E.A.S.T. experience can be a little overwhelming, and heck, so can VR pieces…so we wanted ours to be a quiet, meditative, and reflective experience. It was a terrific success and we were able to, honestly, blow a few minds and convince some awe-struck kids that they were invisible…because “You can’t see your HANDS!!!!” You can watch it right now, just drag your mouse or tilt your phone screen to explore:

When people ask us why a storyteller company like Revelator has chosen to enter the world of Immersive Media, we give them a simple answer. Why not? As storytellers, content producers and creative technicians, many of us have always striven to be on the cutting edge, and the new advances in Virtual Reality Experiences are just that. Immersive Media itself, which includes such applications as Virtual Reality, 360 Degree Videography, Stereoscopic Imaging and Interactive Experience is just another tool in the ever expanding toolbox of popular media. It has begun to boom due to the recent and ever expanding interest of head mounted displays (HMDs) like the Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, Samsung GearVR and the HTC Vive, among others. The creation of affordable hardware display solutions for the end user has democratized what was once a very costly and time-consuming endeavor: to create completely immersive media.

In regards to videography (which relates directly to the Barton Springs project) it’s possible now to affordably configure a setup of GoPro cameras and capture an environment in 360 degrees at sixty frames per second and create a literal capture of time and space, where every potential view is possible from a given point at given coordinates simultaneously. On the interactive end it’s also possible to use AAA game development software to create architectural visualization, virtual art galleries or even a tour of the surface of Mars. These hardware and software solutions, once cost prohibitive and non-intuitive have now become affordable, easily accessible and relatively painless to learn. Now let’s watch a sports-driven piece for VICE. Our own Deepak Chetty was the VFX producer/artist and VR Post-Production lead for this fun and innovative piece:

We are currently riding the wave of momentum regarding the promise that these HMDs will deliver once they go to market. Sales estimates are conservative, but promise long-term growth and the question on everyone’s mind is if there will be enough content to satisfy the demand once all of these devices have been released into the wild. This is where we, the content producers come into play.

Since the playing field has been leveled and the display equipment, which once would’ve been priced in the tens of thousands of dollars, has been made into a commercially viable product, the opportunity to create experiences within almost all categories of Immersive Media has become a reality. What we’ve created at Barton Springs is just one of the many examples of how this technology can be used to provide a unique experience. Filmed using eight GoPro cameras in a 3d printed housing (The DK2 by DigitalQuilt), we are given the opportunity to create a piece which gives the user freedom to choose their view in real-time, as the experience unfolds. This allows the potential for each experience to be somewhat varied and fresh, encouraging replays and further absorption of the content.

The process of crafting the video starts with the location scout. One of the downsides of the current level of this technology is that it is not possible to adequately monitor what we are actually filming in regards to the entire 360-degree view. This is temporary as there are dedicated solutions on the horizon for this. In the meanwhile, adequate location tests are ideal to rough out exact positioning. The concept of filming in 360 also brings into greater scrutiny the literal position of the camera housing or rig. The sense of “presence” which is the term that is used to describe one’s feeling of immersion or grounding within the scene is strongly dictated by the way we perceive the viewpoint we are given by the creators of the content. For example if we had placed the cameras way above eye level in the Barton Springs experience, the user might not have felt grounded in the world, but more omniscient which is not a common sensation we have day to day. Therefore the decision is made to keep all of the shots around average eye level, as not to provide any sense of disorientation or disconnect with the environment. Having the viewer feel like they are actually at the springs is the goal, so, ya know, putting the viewpoint ten feet into the air will not exactly help us achieve that. After all the footage is processed from the shoot we organize and methodically stitch together every camera used in a given take to create a panorama that can effectively cover all 360 degrees of what we’ve captured. Currently we are using a combination of VideoStitch and PTGui for the stitch and After Effects (to erase any other aberrations that occur when the cameras are combined).

Let’s also take into consideration the viewer’s freedom to choose his or her own viewpoint. The idea of a cross fade within shots works well for 360-videography that doesn’t rely on narrative, audio or graphics based cues to inform the viewer that the location or the “shot” is about to change. Without the cross fade, there would be nothing to inform the viewer that we are switching shots. So at one moment they might be staring at a subject crossing the frame, yet at the next they’d be given a totally different viewpoint without any advance warning of potentially nothing of interest to look at. The fade serves as a notice that we’re switching views and for this sort of un-cued content works nicely as a transition rather than a hard cut. It allows the viewer to anticipate the change.

360-Videography is one of the many ways this technology can be used to create exciting and meaningful content. Its application crosses all sectors from pure entertainment or education, commercial or branded content, industrial and scientific purposes as well as documentary work and journalism. To us, the most exciting thing is that we are currently learning, solving and identifying the best practices and diagnosing the problems inherent with this technology each and every day as we move forward and create more (and more varied) content. While right now an immersive media or virtual reality project might seem a bit challenging, we look forward to the day that we’ve created the baseline set of rules (which of course can be broken and reformed as the technology and practices evolve) and this type of content will become as prevalent as any other form of media for the end user or client. We at Revelator are excited to be working at the forefront of that evolution, and we look forward to sharing even more virtual reality projects very soon!

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ABOUT REVELATOR: Revelator is a full service film & video production company in Austin, Texas. We like to write, produce, & edit projects for t.v. and the web. We specialize in brand films, corporate identity work, as well digital advertising and t.v. broadcast advertising. If you need help with your script, production, or just an idea, give us a call.

REVELATOR SERVICES: Video Production, TV Commercials, Brand Films, Virtual Reality, VR Experiences, Script Writing, Music Videos, Lifestyle Videos, Technology Videos, B2B Videos, Product Videos, Feature Films, Motion Graphic Videos, Turnkey Solutions, and Live Event Video Production.