New film brings sense of movement to virtual reality

By Francesco Marconi

“The Second Line” is the first virtual reality story in the industry to incorporate 360-degree video cameras that move on their own, producing a better, more natural experience for viewers. This article provides a behind-the-scenes look at how we produced the film with RYOT and Spherica.

At the beginning of our new virtual reality experience, “The Second Line,” viewers find themselves strolling through a New Orleans neighborhood accompanied by the soulful tunes of a trumpet.

Filming that opening scene, though, required a technical feat seldom seen so far in VR’s nascent existence.

Up until now, 360-degree video cameras have needed to be stationary while recording. Such was the case in our first film, “Seeking Home,” which worked around the lack of movement by relying on scene transitions.

In “The Second Line,” the camera sits atop a custom-built rig and dolly operated by remote control, creating a better, more natural experience for viewers. No longer tied to a specific location, viewers have additional flexibility in the way they can consume the story.

“This is an entirely new approach to VR filmmaking, where the camera can roam freely up to a speed of 50 mph with full stabilization control,” said Nikolay Malukhin, the founder and CEO of Spherica, which developed the technology. “It’s a game-changer.”

Producing a stable cinematic experience is critical for virtual reality because of the ease with which viewers can get motion sickness. But the freedom of camera movement itself also carries important ramifications.

For storytelling, we now have the ability to film in potentially unsafe environments ranging from construction sites to natural disasters to war zones. Like drones, this technology enhances journalists’ ability to provide in-depth coverage from around the world.

At AP, we continually ask ourselves how we can tell stories in new ways while adhering to best practices.

It’s just the latest tool for reporters, who have long experimented with innovative ways of sharing news with the general public. At AP, we continually ask ourselves how we can tell stories in new ways while adhering to best practices.

With emerging technologies such as virtual reality, the answers aren’t always clear. That’s why we’ve worked our way into the medium cautiously, starting with “The suite life,” which involved stitching together still images from a 3-D camera from Matterport.

We then worked with RYOT to produce “Seeking Home” before bringing in Spherica to help with “The Second Line.” Collaborating with companies at the forefront of virtual reality helps us better understand how it’s evolving and better create industry-leading content for our customers.

“With the medium still in such early phases, we don’t yet have much in the way of ‘off-the-shelf’ tools and techniques that we can use in our stories,” said Nathan Griffiths, AP’s interactive editor. “That’s what’s so exciting about it.

“As we experiment with new tools and different techniques, we’re beginning to establish the vocabulary of virtual reality.”

In addition to this post, viewers can find “The Second Line” on AP’s new virtual reality and 360-degree video channel powered by AMD, which features all of our stories in these formats. After going to places as diverse as the red carpet and a massive package-sorting facility, we can’t wait to see where we’re going next!

“AP has a rich history over the past 170 years of bringing audiences closer to the news,” said Paul Cheung, our director of interactive news. “Virtual reality is one of the most immersive new approaches to storytelling, so it’s a natural fit with what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Francesco Marconi

Francesco was the manager of strategy and corporate development at The Associated Press. He is also an affiliate researcher at the MIT Media Lab and an Innovation Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

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