SA’s first look into virtual reality

Cape Town-based Hero Film have created and showcased three ground-breaking "full immersion" virtual reality videos using live action footage at the recent Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon Expo. This video technology is a first for South Africa.

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 (part of independent marketing and communications agency group, Hero) 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.

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. Viewers could also watch cars, cyclists and other runners approach and then turn 180 degrees to watch them as they passed by.

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 of Fordyce from 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."

"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." 2003 - 2021