Crafting Virtual Reality Experiences for Social Change and Impact

For the first time in history, virtual reality can give us an opportunity to more efficiently and sustainably change public perception. VR is a powerful medium for empathy building, allowing the audience to feel what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. We caught up with Catherine Feltham, VR filmmaker at WaterAid, to discuss her work on 360 films and VR experiences for social change and impact.

Raindance: You’ve managed a variety of film projects for charity campaigns and most recently ‘Aftershock’ has been a great success. Could you tell us about the reactions you’ve been receiving?

Catherine: Aftershock is WaterAid’s first project in 360 video and it’s been a pretty exciting journey!  We are still in the rollout phase with the project and are constantly learning from it. Before we set out to create Aftershock, which was made in collaboration with HSBC through their eight-year global Water Programme, we felt strongly that we wanted to create a film that would be viewed and ‘experienced’ within a headset rather than online as a 360 film.  Therefore our campaign is all about giving people the opportunity to experience the film and our work, whether it be in their own living room using a free Aftershock cardboard headset, or at an event or festival where we’ve installed Samsung Gear VR headsets.

We worked hard at creating an experience that was playing to the strengths of the medium from the outset and this has paid off in the reactions we’re getting to the film.  For example, by using methods like eye contact to give the viewer intimate connection with Krishna, our central character at the start of the film, people have responded with comments like “very impressive, immersive and brings you right into the community.”

By experimenting with perspective and point of view we attempted to increase the audience’s understanding of particular situations, for example, by placing them at the centre of a community meeting or looking down steep paths that women have to carry water up to get it to their homes. By doing so we have gained empathy from our audience and been able to provide them with insight into what it might be like to be in the shoes of someone else.

“Watching the women bring the water up the hill was my favourite scene. It really showed the tricky terrain and the challenges to get the water to where it is needed.”

By giving the viewer access to an environment they have most likely not experienced themselves (a community damaged in devastating earthquakes) and letting them learn about a story behind the headlines of such a disaster, we have been able to demonstrate how progress is taking place in communities like Kharelthok and also showcase WaterAid’s approach of working in partnership – from local partners and communities to the organisations that fund our work. Through the HSBC Water Programme, we have reached more than 1.6 million people with safe water and 2.5 million people with sanitation over the last five years. The Programme also provided vital support to our long-term earthquake recovery efforts in Nepal.

“A key takeaway for me was that it’s possible to create change, and that working with communities is key.”

One of the most rewarding parts of distributing Aftershock has been seeing its ability to connect with such a wide range of audiences. We’ve managed to engage with all of WaterAid’s target audience segments, from school children and young people, to digital natives and global citizens to parents, partners, industry and grandparents!  It’s also been interesting to observe how you can hold someone’s attention for nine minutes in a headset, at a time where attention span online is trickier to hold.

We’re excited over the coming months to learn more about the different supporter journeys we can take people on after watching Aftershock.

How efficient has the project been in increasing engagement in contributing to charitable causes?

There’s no doubt that VR and 360 videos have been helping charities and NGOs increase engagement in the issues we’re working to raise awareness of.  The medium allows us to bring our supporters closer to our work than has ever previously been possible as well as offers an exciting way of reaching out to new audiences, perhaps those less traditionally interested in international development or charity.  In addition, it is a really powerful way of communicating with sector professionals, potential partners and donors, and at influential events as we have seen.

“Much more immersive than I imagined. Really brought everything to life in a way that I didn’t think would be so vivid. Insightful and one of the best ways I’ve seen a sustainability story told.”

The medium also enables an element of participation from those you are filming with which excites me, as it allows communities and partners a greater stake in the storytelling process.  By working closely with Krishna on how to tell his story viewers have commented on the authenticity they feel from hearing him tell the story and seeing candid moments like when he’s at the shop with friends, for example.

I think the challenge now is in understanding how to create suitable supporter journeys for audiences of VR and also being able to continue to excite and inform new audiences once you’ve got their attention.  In addition, working with partners like HSBC on projects like this creates huge opportunity for reaching wider audiences. We look forward to working more with them this year on this project.

What are the next projects you would like to work on in 2017?

That’s a tough one! I’d love to see some strong examples of AR being used for storytelling in 2017.  It feels like it’s been a bit of a buzz term for a little while without many examples behind it so I’ll be watching that space.

In terms of VR, WaterAid has committed to continuing to promote Aftershock for the majority of this year as we’ve noticed that these experiences have a much longer shelf life than a typical film as they can be used with so many different audiences and for a range of reasons.  The film can be used to specifically talk about our work in Nepal, or more broadly to introduce someone new to WaterAid and our approach.  We want to ensure that as this is our first project we really get the most back from it and test it in different ways before diving into another big production so that we can take our learnings from the project and apply them to any future VR/360 projects on this scale. That being said I think there are some exciting quick turnaround content opportunities with the Samsung Gear 360 camera I’m keen to explore, as well as the more interactive elements with the new controller for the Gear VR.

Join Catherine for our Raindance VR Masterclass on Monday, May 22 to learn more about crafting VR experiences for social change and impact. Reserve your spot here

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iAnimal: Virtual Immersion Into the Reality of Factory Farming

By Dr Toni Shephard, Executive Director (UK), Animal Equality

Paul McCartney once famously said ‘If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians’… but of course they don’t, and most people remain unaware of the lives and deaths of animals raised for food. But now all that has changed with Animal Equality – a leading international animal protection charity – transporting people inside factory farms and slaughterhouses via virtual reality technology.

In 2016 we launched our iAnimal virtual reality project with the film ’Through the eyes of a pig’. It took 18 months to produce and features footage from inside pig farms in the UK, Germany and Italy as well as a slaughterhouse in Spain. In all of these countries, and most of the western world, the majority of pigs killed for meat are intensively reared inside barren, filthy factory farm sheds with breeding sows confined to tiny farrowing crates for weeks at a time when they give birth—a sight that moved Downton Abbey actor, Peter Egan to tears as he narrated the film.

“I have never seen anything as shocking as this in my life. It’s devastating, and completely inhumane. Virtual reality enabled me to experience, close up, for just a few minutes, the horror of the short lives of factory farmed animals, to see what they see, to get a real sense of how they live. It has shocked me deeply, and it has strengthened my resolve to help them.” –  Peter Egan, Downton Abbey Actor

The practices that take place inside factory farms and slaughterhouses are deliberately kept hidden from the public. Animal Equality believes people have the right to know what happens in modern farms and slaughterhouses so that consumers can make informed decisions about the food they buy. Now, through our cutting-edge iAnimal project, we can open up these secretive, sinister worlds and allow everyone to experience first hand how farmed animals live – and die.

Through the lenses of the virtual reality headset, viewers feel that they are inside the farm and slaughterhouse, trapped alongside all the other animals, and sharing their fate. You stand next to a mother pig while she gives birth for the sixth time to piglets who will soon be taken away from her. You experience the extreme confinement of the farrowing crates. You witness the daily suffering that takes place inside a pig farm. You are right there when they take their last breath.

Our second film, 42 Days, immerses viewers in the lives of the most abused animals on the planet – factory farmed chickens. From the crowding and suffering inside vast chicken sheds, to hanging on a conveyor as you approach the slaughterman’s knife, this powerful film puts viewers in the place of the chicken, allowing you to see life – and death – through their eyes. Amanda Abbington, star of Sherlock and Mr Selfridge, was so horrified when she narrated the film that she threw down a challenge – ‘You should watch this before you eat meat, because I don’t think you would eat it.’

Having personally filmed inside countless factory farms, I have always felt that if I could only take people there – into the farms – so they can see how animals are treated like mere machines, they would stop eating them. Virtual reality has now made this possible and we are bringing this experience to as many people as we can. It is changing, and saving, lives.

Over the past 14 months, we have toured the country with iAnimal, visiting university campuses and high streets where more than 30,000 people have dared to put on a VR headset and enter the world of farmed animals. iAnimal is also available to everyone on www.iAnimal.uk where you can watch the 360° film and take a virtual tour. Do you dare to watch it and see what the meat industry is hiding from you?

Join Toni for our Raindance VR Masterclass on Monday, May 22 to learn more about crafting VR experiences for social change and impact. Reserve your spot here

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‘Rick and Morty’ VR Trailer: Enter the World of Virtual Rick-ality

Rick and Morty VR

Even though the surprise third season premiere of Rick and Morty was a nice treat for fans who have been waiting for the animated series return, now we’re still stuck waiting for new episodes to come back this summer. Thankfully, there’s something that might hold us over for the time being.

Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality is a new VR game available on the HTC Vive and Oculus + Touch that allows you to enter the wild world of Adult Swim’s animated series. Check out the Rick and Morty VR trailer below to see what kind of adventures you can have.

The Rick and Morty VR game takes the premise of the popular VR game Job Simulator and combines it with the Adult Swim animated series created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. Owlchemy Labs (who designed Job Simulator) worked with Adult Swim Games on the project, but they were given a lot of creative freedom with the game.

You’re given the point-of-view of a clone of Morty helping Rick with various experiments by solving puzzles and completing tasks, all while following the directions of the perpetually drunk Rick. At first, tasks include doing laundry or repairing the spaceship, but IGN notes that “scenarios get more involved as you go, and developer Owlchemy does a good job of keeping the pacing up by cycling through several hallmark VR tasks like solving puzzles, environmental exploration, and the occasional shooting gallery.”

Aside from the experience of pretending you’re inside the world of Rick and Morty, perhaps the most appealing aspect of this game is the all-new dialogue recorded by the show’s voice talent for the two to three hour total game experience, including Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon, Spencer Grammer, Chris Parnell and Sarah Chalke.

If you’re wondering if Virtual Rick-ality is worth your time and the $ 30 price tag, here’s what IGN says:

Virtual Rick-ality does a great job emulating the dark humor of the source material, even if it occasionally overindulges in its self-awareness. Smart use of well-established VR minigame mechanics guides you through the experience, and aside from some slight issues navigating the space on a two-sensor Oculus Rift setup, these familiar and fun activities mesh well with the amusing efforts of the writing team and cast. Rick & Morty’s first foray into virtual reality is not only a solid VR experience, but the duo’s strongest attempt at translating the spirit of the show into a game yet.

You can get Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality now on Steam and Oculus Home.

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Step inside an artist’s painting with virtual reality

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Virtual reality artist Teek Mach takes you into her beautiful 3D paintings. Experience a world that can only come to life in VR.

After digging into this video, fly your own jetpack and take to the skies. Go on a VR journey in the latest episode of ‘The Possible’ by downloading the app here. Read more…

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Amazon eyes VR and AR homewares stores to show you products in your virtual home

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Augmented reality and virtual reality are still in their infancy in terms of non-gaming applications, but a new tip hints that Amazon may be about to change all that. 

We already know that Amazon is keen to go wide with brick-and-mortar bookstores and grocery stores, but a new report from the New York Times says the e-tailer is looking at doing the same with appliances and furniture.

Citing a «person briefed on the discussions,» the report claims that VR and AR are being looked at as possible features of a chain of Amazon homewares stores.  Read more…

More about Lowes, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Vr, and Amazon
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Virtual Body Horror: An eXistenZ Retrospective

 

With the recent rise in popularity of virtual reality gaming lets take a look at a film that touched on this new form of entertainment almost two decades ago.

eXistenZ is a 1999 Canadian science fiction film written, produced and directed by David Cronenberg. The film stars Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh and features Willem Dafoe and Ian Holm in supporting roles. eXistenZ looks at our relationship with technology in a near future setting. It deals with the nature of reality as well as a good dose of body horror.

I wanted to take a look back at eXistenZ because I feel it is one of Cronenberg’s lesser known and somewhat under appreciated films. I have talked to many people, including self-proclaimed Cronenberg fans that have never seen the film. It is one of the few films that uses virtual reality gaming as a major plot point and being release the 1999 it was way ahead of its time.

The film follows Ted Pikul played by Jude Law, a mild mannered man who gets caught up in a surreal plot to kill the world’s most famous game designer, Allegra Geller, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. After an assassin tries to kill Allegra at a game event to reveal her newest virtual reality game, Ted is tasked with protecting her and getting her to safety. While on the run they embark on an odyssey through Allegra’s virtual world, they encounter strange and dangerous characters and odd scenarios mimicking those in happening in reality. Soon the line between the game and the real world begin to blur for Ted and Allegra.

Technophobia is a major element in the film as well as there being a religious undercurrent throughout. Allegra Geller seems to be regarded as some sort of messiah to her fans and followers and some sort of false prophet or anti-Christ to her enemies, “Death to the demoness Allegra Geller” is a recurring quote in the film. The film ends ambiguously, leaving the audience asking how much of it was actually a game?

eXistenZ is a unique film due to it’s subject matter. There have been a number of other films that have dealt with virtual worlds suck as The Matrix, Tron, Total Recall but most of them don’t really focus on the video game aspect of virtual worlds. eXistenZ is unique in this respect.

Aside from it being filmed in Toronto I couldn’t find much information about the production of eXistenZ but it is without a doubt one of my favourite films. It has a unique plot, great practical special effects and some surprising twists and turns along the way. I highly recommend this great Canadian film to any video game or science fiction fan or anyone just looking for an interesting film to watch. You can check it out right now on iTunes.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you think are some other films that dealt with subject matter that was ahead of it’s time.

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They’re Making ‘The Lawnmower Man’ Into a Virtual Reality Series For Some Reason

the lawnmower man vr series

In Stephen King’s 1978 short story “The Lawnmower Man,” a pagan employee of a lawn service company run by the god Pan murders a new customer with a magic lawnmower. It’s not a great story, but it is what it is. What it is not is a riff on Flowers For Algernon about a mentally challenged greenskeeper who becomes an all-powerful, all-intelligent, telepathic super-villain thanks to early ’90s virtual reality technology. Stephen King sued New Line for slapping his title on a completely different screenplay and advertising the film with his name. I think about this more often than I should, because how the hell did anyone think they could get away with that?

Anyway, the film version of The Lawnmower Man is about to get a second chance at being a thing that exists: it’s being developed as a VR series, which is so on-the-nose that I expect it to cause a nasal fracture.

Jaunt, the same company behind director Doug Liman’s VR series Invisible, is responsible for this one. It should be noted that “The Jaunt” is the title of a 1985 Stephen King short story about teleportation gone hideously awry, just in case you’re like me and are in constant search of unnecessary connections between disparate things.

According to The Verge, the new Lawnmower Man series will be a “a VR realization of the film,” whatever that means. I can’t help but hope that the series retains the 1992 setting of the original film and allows the viewer to experience some truly ghastly early CG imagery using cutting edge modern tech. Otherwise, I have no idea what a VR adaptation of The Lawnmower Man looks or feels like.

Jaunt is currently working on several other VR projects, including a science fiction suspense series called Luna, a political sci-fi series called The Enlightened Ones, a futuristic series about robots called Miss Gloria, and a surreal stoner comedy called Bad Trip. I’ve had enough experience with VR at this point to be completely won over by it as video game experience, but I’m not quite as sold on it as a new form of cinema. The rules are still being written on how to create a satisfying VR movie and I’m not sure we’re 100% there yet. Still, there’s something here. VR isn’t going to replace traditional movies, but it will offer us something new to explore and enjoy.

And one of those things will apparently be a new version of The Lawnmower Man. Sure. Okay.

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A year in Virtual Reality: 2016 in review

Why is Virtual Reality is so hot right now?

Its proverbial Big Bang began in the 19th century, with long intricate panoramic paintings and sometime later William Gruber’s view masters.

«So real!»

But never mind all that! The real catalyst was a kickstarter from nerdy 19 year old kid from Cali – Palmer Luckey.

Frustrated with the lack of existing head-mounted displays, Luckey created a prototype at 17 and launched his Kickstarter Campaign for the Oculus at 19. He became an overnight success Facebook bought his company for $ 2 billion dollars and since then the brand, and riding on its coattails the rest of Virtual Reality industry, has expanded and improved at a phenomenal rate.

If you’ve been following our Virtual journey here at Raindance you’ll have seen we’ve been running a Saturday VR Film School, a VR weekend workshop, and even included seminars and an arcade during our festival, all in 2016 alone. Suffice to say – we love VR, and when we fall in love we don’t tip toe; we backflip right in there!

Why, after 2016 being the worst year in all of recorded history (I mean we just can’t even), do we still love this new, fragile and previously laughed at subsection of technology’s greatest novelty? Because in as little as 12 months the product is more accessible, marketable and frankly as impressive as ever.

VR’s Tech Boom

First up on the development list – Go Pro; they’ve finally clocked that their cameras are being used as the leaders for cheap and cheerful VR productions. This company has pulled up its extreme culottes and created a camera rig that would allow that precious simultaneous sync between 6 cameras.

The omni rig allows «precise, pixel-level synchronisation [that] makes stitching in Post Production easier and more exact – especially when compared to unsynchronised camera arrays.» The whole package costs around $ 5000, including professional stitching software, smart remote, cables and memory cards, but with results like these one can hardly wonder where it all goes.?

The perfect collaborator for this is a stitching software for the new iPad Pro; Teradek’s Sphere 360. This incredible app that allows for real-time viewing including monitoring whilst filming and giving you the ability to live-stream wirelessly.

This can support up both Omni and custom rigs (up to 8 cameras) and contains numerous parameters for tweaking 360 footage, such as ISO and stitch lines.

Even VR drones have come on the market this year; on the back of the Omni, the Janus 360 drone is a balanced, two-headed mythical machine that creates in flight VR footage. Dimitri Batsis, President of Drone Volt states that: “One of the major strengths of our model is the ability to shoot in the air at 360 ° without any elements of the drone, such as propellers or landing gear appearing in the image”.

Go Pro’s Omni not doing it for you? Well there wouldn’t be a bar to raise without some competition. The iZugar 3D 360 is the little camera rig that could. With a little bit of tweaking, regular Go Pro cameras on this bad boy can create a 3D Virtual Reality experience. This thing will shoot better than a Nokia OZO for 1/10th of the price. 3D printing has allowed iZugar to create an ‘affordable’ versatile rig which allows for stereo filming.

Of course you may be asking – where do I start my career in VR? And yes, 2016 has an answer for that too. Samsung, after partnering with Oculus have created their consumer kit with the Samsung Gear VR 360.

The workflow is simple, sharing is easy and the camera itself is light and adorable, just like their advertising. We were gifted with a prototype for the first VR Weekend and have used it every session since, with any Samsung S6 phone or later, live monitoring and recording is easy. No Go Pro’s required, and its simplicity and overall quality surpasses that of competitors Richo Theta S (which objectively does take nice 360 photos).

Samsung isn’t the only tech company to dip its toes into the Virtually Real, Google’s own Google Cardboard is still going strong. Through a HTC Vive + Steam setup you get access to their spectacular Google Tilt Brush, for which there is sure to be a gallery opening any day now. Whether it’ll be real or not is another matter.

Competing with Oculus they’ve released their own headsets DayDream to be used in tandem with the Pixel phone. Both setups allow you to use services such as educational Teleportation app called Google Expeditions, and they’ve even developed a platform for sharing VR and are chomping at the bit for new developers and creators.

The year in review wouldn’t be complete without Oculus’ own contribution to VR tech.

The Oculus Rift came out early this year in March, having used one at Raindance’s inaugural Virtual Reality Arcade it is a truly immersive experience. Not only does the visual quality surpass any other, it’s perception tracking abilities (created via infrared link from the sensor and headset) allows you to literally look around corners within the infrared field. Being able to move around in that Virtual Reality brings us that much closer to a Black Mirroresque world where we can easily look around the cloud, (no spoilers!) and then sufficiently ruin our lives in it!??

I for one cannot wait.

Who wants content?

Who doesn’t! Raindance isn’t the only Film Festival after quality, story-lead virtual reality films; the likes of TIFF, Sundance and Sheffield – yes Sheffield! All have Virtual Reality categories just begging to give out awards.?

If glory doesn’t grab you, both Google and GoPro have created platforms for VR video sharing, as has YouTube.?

Many tech savvy car companies are creating more and more experiences to help advertise their brand, Lexus sponsored our VR Arcade this year and Mini have created a series of oddly engaging shorts loosely linking to their cars.

The New York Times has dedicated content creators banging out a 360 video a day!

The NBA is partnering with NextVR, to broadcast live 180 virtual reality one game every week of the season; giving viewers courtside seats without spending a dime on a plane.

VR near me?

Outside of Raindance events – the VR community has blossomed this past year on both the internet and the outernet.

Sisters doing it for themselves! VR Girls UK is a London organisation hosts VR events and seminars, possess and online platform nurturing and appreciating female VR talent. Find out more about them on twitter @VRGirlsUK.

In its 2nd year in 2017, VR World Event is coming back, the 2 day conference on augmented, mixed, and virtual reality and it’s impact beyond gaming is happening 16th and 17th of May at Olympia, London, and anyone with a business brain should come along. Find them here at http://vrworldevent.com/

Augmenting Reality is a FREE meetup, arranged on EventBrite and based on the Google Campus to meet to talk about, demonstrate and try out the latest innovations in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and related technologies.

Pop-ups, café’s and installations are rife in all major cities; for gamers and filmmakers alike Virtually Reality in Camden, Tension VR in Lincoln and Inition VR in Shoreditch are just some of the permanent VR installations providing experiences per paid session on a variety of machines.

I am so mad I missed the The Royal Academy of Arts hosting an exhibition of virtually real works this January! A HTC Vive Pop-Up project that allowed ticket holders to create artworks in Google Tilt which are then 3D Printed and exhibited! (Hopefully they’ll do another one, Royal Academy if you’re reading this please – DO ANOTHER ONE!)

When a door closes, another one opens – tickets are on sale for mixed theatre and virtual reality horror experience Virtually Dead. Taking place at a secret east London location for 2 weeks only, ticket holders will be invited to experience a post-apocalyptic world, interacting with the locals and finally “commence training” with Vive, the new VR headset from HTC, which promises to “blow people’s minds”. http://virtuallydead.co.uk/ 19th of March til the 3rd of April.

In conclusion, Virtual Reality is awesome and it’s only going to get better. You can enjoy it for virtually nothing and making it isn’t as hard as it may seem, in fact as time goes on it’s becoming even easier.

Interested in learning the basics? Come along to the Raindance VR Weekend and we can show you everything you need to get started through the medium of practical skits; beginner camera’s, scripting and storyboarding, to marketing and selling your final product.

«You can build any building you want if you know how to lay bricks!» Elliot Grove – CEO of Raindance.

Led by VR Evangelist Johnny Johnson, myself, Raindance Technical Genie Harvey Puttock, and a woman who literally saved my life Denise Foley; we look forward to seeing what you might add to 2017’s list of incredible Virtual Reality achievements.

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