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Virtual reality gets real in SA

18 May 2015 by
| Filed in Serious Hardware
Virtual reality gets real in SA

With Microsoft’s Hololens, Google’s investment in Magic Leap and Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR, signs are pointing to virtual reality as the next big thing. Locally, Hero Film has showcased virtual reality videos at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon Expo.


With Microsoft’s announcement of Hololens, Google’s heavy investment in Magic Leap and, now Facebook’s recent acquisition of Oculus VR, all signs are currently pointing to Virtual Reality as the next great wave of technology that will revolutionise the ways we create, consume and share content.


Internationally, Virtual Reality technologies and industries are in the very early stages of development, but this did not stop Cape Town-based Hero Film (part of independent marketing and communications agency group, Hero) notching up what could be a first for South Africa.  They have created and showcased three  “full immersion” VR videos using live action footage at the recent Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon Expo.


Hero Film Creative Director, Brendan Stein filmed the initial video footage using a specially imported rig incorporating six GoPro cameras in an array designed to capture an almost complete sphere of footage at the same time.  Hero Film then used special software to seamlessly stitch the six streams of footage so that, when viewed via Oculus Rift headsets, the viewer experienced a fully immersive virtual reality. These headsets track the wearer’s head movements and display a perfect stereoscopic, life-like view of wherever the viewer chooses to “look”. The end result is that viewers see things through their own eyes as if they are physically present.


In this case, viewers found themselves accompanying Bruce Fordyce on a jog along one of three different segments of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon. With the addition of earphones, viewers could listen to Fordyce “personally” addressing them on how best to tackle Chapman’s Peak, Southern Cross Drive and Wynberg Hill, all while viewing their surroundings in every direction. Besides being able to look at Fordyce and take in the amazing Cape Town vistas, viewers could also do things like watch cars, cyclists and other runners approach and then turn 180 degrees to watch them as they passed by. Unsurprisingly, viewers are often advised to hold onto something while experiencing this incredible technology.


Oculus Rift headsets are produced by California-based Oculus VR.  The technology was originally designed by 21-year-old Palmer Luckey - aptly surnamed because Oculus subsequently sold out to Facebook for $2 billion! - and is to date only available as a second generation developer kit that encourages virtual reality specialists, who register with the company, to test the technology and create fully immersive content ahead of a consumer market launch. So far the technology has been mostly used for video gaming, which typically features computer generated contexts as opposed to the real-world videos created by Hero Film.


A year ago, Hero Film registered with Oculus VR as an immersive video content developer and began experimenting with the technology and its potential use for other kinds of activations.  The constraints of immersive VR filming demand a completely different approach and execution; and by necessity, cut the typically plentiful film crew down to a lone operator.  Stein shot the footage from alongside Fordyce as he ran while travelling on an electric skateboard. 


But getting the footage in the can was just the first of an array of new challenges.  The Hero Film team then had to get to grips with the complex image-stitching software.


According to Hero Film Technical Director, Pierre Steytler, the newness of the technology and the general lack of experience with the production of full immersion videos was a particular challenge. “Doing something this new, without much precedent meant a very steep learning curve for us,” he says. “On top of that, there was not a lot out there to assist in solving the technical glitches we encountered – although the VR community definitely does help where they can. We were constantly amazed by how few developers and enthusiasts could be considered experts.”


The magnitude of this technology is indescribable and the actual experience of immersive video with the Oculus headsets can only be visually comprehended - click here, and most people exclaimed in surprise and wonderment as they ‘lost’ themselves in the experience.  Stein comments: “People would say things like ‘I can’t believe I am back here in the expo!’ when they took off the headset; and many were in awe of both the cleverness and the potential of the technology.”


Experimenting with the new Virtual Reality technologies places Hero Film at the forefront of immersive video production locally.  The team has gained vital experience and expertise so that they are able to provide clients and agencies with this brand new service.  


“There’s no doubt that the technology can offer brands new and completely engaging ways to interact with consumers in specifically targeted ways,” concludes Stein “Our  first Two Oceans Marathon experience has shown us that South Africans are ready for the way that they experience interactive content to be revolutionised.”


For more information, visit www.herofilm.co.za or www.vimeo.com/herofilmsa


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