Tag Archive for 'virtual reality'

VR Conference for Journalism & Documentary 2017

Last week, we held our third annual VR Conference for Journalism and Documentary.

It is that one day in the year where narrative pioneers come together in Berlin. VR enthusiasts, journalists, interactive documentary makers, early technology adopters and other non-fiction storytellers meet to share experiences, seek inspiration and hopefully head back home feeling ‚virtually real‘.

We had an amazing line up of speakers, all focusing on what the latest developments of VR mean for journalists, storytellers and creatives.

Zillah Watson, BBC Commissioning Editor for Virtual Reality, is the author of Reuters Institute Report on VR for News. She offered insights into what lies ahead for VR in the newsroom. She pointed out that storytellers need to focus on experiences that truly add value to viewers, something viewers would not be able to get on TV. ‘WHY VR’ should be a question constantly asked. Furthermore, Zillah focused on the frictions that come with this new medium and how to possibly tackle them. Based on a study she conducted, current problems include hardware issues such as phones overheating and bulky headsets. In addition to that, social issues were raised, such as finding social spaces (fear of getting pranked). Lastly, content issues are also part of the problem, e.g. discoverability of good VR content is still challenging and a lot of times, people’s expectations are too high and they can only be disappointed when presented with a VR story.

Secondly, Florian Conrad, Lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences HTW, talked about spatial audio in immersive stories. Florian underlined that the topics evolving around spatial audio are still highly neglected. He offered very specific insights into the potential to guide users through the story in a genuinely immersive way. Florian used Stasi interrogations: Manipulated confessions as one case study.

Daniel Sproll came to the stage, blessing the audience with some sneak previews into his latest work (psst, we can’t tell :)). As CXO of realities.io, Daniel spoke about photogrammetry & non-linear storytelling to create photorealistic and interactive factual VR.

Our fourth speaker in the morning was independent UX designer Charles Ayats. He took the audience on a journey to discover VR examples from the worlds of animation, art, design and fiction, curated with 100% editorial freedom.

Following our four speakers in the morning, we had lunch and then went on to learn more about the Berlin VR community which is vibrant and becoming bigger and bigger. The practical fun part began in the afternoon. Participants were able to choose form nine different VR stations to experience different VR stories.

Last but not least, Stephan Gensch conducted a workshop on A-Frame for storytellers.

What’s left to say is that I am thankful for all contributions. See you next year!

Open up your own VR pop up store

Pop up stores are lit. We need more of them. It is an awesome way to get feedback from users, connect with potential partners and showcase projects you’re working on.

Last week, we opened up the doors to our second annual VR pop up store in Berlin. A whole week of VR showcases, storytelling and tech workshops, stand-up panels and social hours (full program here). Here, we want to share our findings in this five-things-to-remember-post, in case you are thinking about opening up your own VR pop up store.

We are Vragments, a Berlin-based virtual reality studio. We produce VR projects in collaboration with newsrooms and we are building a tool called Fader which allows users to create their own 360 stories easily and fast.

The original idea behind the pop up store was to open up a space where people can meet and experience various VR projects. Our goal was to offer a platform to network with like-minded VR enthusiasts but also to introduce this new medium to people who have never even heard of VR. Last year, we opened up our first VR pop up store and combined that with a Hackathon and our 2016 VR Conference for Journalism and Documentary (next one coming up September 22nd).

These are five things to remember while planning your own VR pop up store.

1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The venue for your gig plays an important role for the success of a pop up store. Especially, if you want to attract different kinds of people with various backgrounds. Thanks to Joaquin Alvarado and late 90s Kreuzberg resident Trey Bundy, we found the perfect spot in the heart of beautiful Berlin, Kreuzberg. It gave us the opportunity to welcome the coincidental walk-ins with no previous experience in VR technology. It also enabled us to invite potential partners and fellow VR enthusiasts because the store was easy to find and well connected to public transportation.

This also requires soft skills: Make sure that the vibe of the location matches your pop up store vibes. Do you need to invite potential investors? Make sure that you have a place ready for meetings. Your store needs to look like it’s ready to scale. Are you planning a launch party for your product? Don’t under- or overestimate the size of the location. Depending on what you are planning and the vibe you are trying to send, the venue has to match that exact message.

2. CREATE HIGHLIGHTS FOR YOUR DAYS AHEAD

It is not enough to open up a pop-up store, tell all your friends on Facebook and then expect it to be a success (unless you are super popular, then it might work). Your days at the venue can be brutally long and if you just wait/hope/pray for people to show up, chances are, you’ll be disappointed by the end. Instead, think about activities around your VR pop-up. Last year, we organized a VR hackathon in collaboration with a nearby media design college. The students gathered around the store afterwards and celebrated their VR projects. Also, we synchronized the pop-up with a VR journalism conference on the last day as a highlight. It worked, people showed up to specific events, sometimes more than once.

This year, we decided to offer mini-workshops throughout the week for people who were interested in different topics evolving around VR. For instance, we offered an A-frame and Unity workshop for storytellers and a rapid prototyping workshop for journalists to experiment with new VR concepts/ideas.

Also, we organized a stand-up panel on VR and ethics in journalism. We asked experts to speak about the subject while everyone else was able to chime in and discuss with them.

More importantly, think of different stations at your pop-up store representing different VR experiences. We had a three-steps approach:

1) explain who we are, give an overviews of our work and what we are doing here.

2) show people our different VR gear and let them experience at least one 360 and one CGI-based experience.

3) if they are still interested, invite them to one of our events, socialise and show them even more VR work from us.

That way, people stayed in the store for a longer period of time which gave us the chance to getting to know them and their work.

3. SPARK VR CONVERSATIONS

Since VR is still new to many, we were able to get rapid feedback from viewers. It was powerful to watch their reactions and discuss VR’s impact.

4. FIND THE RIGHT PARTNERS

Needless to say, we could not have done this on our own! We had partners who sponsored some of the events (e.g. we offered our workshop in collaboration with Netzwerk Medientrainer). Also, we partnered up with amazing colleagues from NowHereMedia, euronews, and Deutsche Welle who also showcased their 360 work. And on Friday, the Media Design Hochschule took over the store and they presented their VR projects.

All these different VR experiences upgraded the program of our store. We were so lucky to find others willing to contribute to the space. Actually, acquiring partners for a collaborative VR pop up store is a reminder that we all need a kind of an offline version of a Facebook group to showcase VR experiences. Not everyone has VR equipment at home, so especially Oculus and Vive experiences are often not available.

5. BE GENEROUS

I think our store worked so well because we were not trying to sell anything. We truly wanted to make VR technology accessible to people and we wanted them to  experience this new medium. Let’s not turn these VR stores into spaces to sell things. Rather, make it a place to discuss. We gave out beverages and invited everyone to stay. People started sitting down, observing others who were experiencing VR projects. It was magical.

Ok, this is it. If you have organized a VR pop up store, let us know about your findings. If you are planning on opening up one, let us know if you have any questions. Either way, VR stories are still in its early phases and right now, the producers need feedback from viewers more than ever. Let’s create spaces where this can happen in a friendly, non-profit-driven way to really enhance storytelling techniques and understand what works and what doesn’t.

Three VR journalism reports you should be reading right now

Three years of experiences in VR journalism. Three years of countless experiments by journalists who are not afraid of trying out something new. Where does VR journalism stand in terms of technology, storytelling techniques and user expectations? Three reports, published in 2015, 2016 and 2017, tell the story of an exciting medium and its road ahead.

If you are interested in VR, maybe coming from an editorial angle or maybe you have an engineering background, you should know this: Journalism will be one of the key sectors that determine the (near?) future of Virtual Reality. Some journalists are excited about the endless ways of telling an immersive story, some want to put audiences into their protagonists’ shoes, others want to take them to places they have never been to. There is a lot of enthusiasm with regards to VR. However, there are also a lot of shortcomings: high production costs, little experience in storytelling techniques and almost no market penetration because, honestly: Who wants to wear these huuuge VR goggles?

If you want to understand more about the state of VR in media right now, look no further. Here, you can find three recent studies published about VR journalism.

2015: Virtual Reality Journalism (by the Tow Center)

This study, written by Raney Aronson-Rath, James Milward, Taylor Owen and Fergus Pitt, is going into detail about the production process by looking at a specific use case. From project design to distribution, you will find helpful information about the process!

2016: Viewing the Future? Virtual Reality in Journalism (by the Knight Foundation)

The report offers key trends in the business, including major technology players.

2017: VR For News: The New Reality? (by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism)

This most recent study, written by Zillah Watson, is an in-depth look into newsrooms that have picked up this topic. Watson describes how media organizations are currently tackling VR, from production to setting up teams and in how far they have been able to generate revenue streams (spoiler alert: still much work ahead in that area).

Conclusions

Revisiting these three reports, they all cover different matters, so it certainly makes sense to go through all of them. In general, it seems a bit as if we are stuck. VR journalists are in the experimentation phase – still. This is an all too familiar early stage of innovative topic in media. It takes more time to elaborate, more time for media organizations to experiment (and please not only the big ones — where is local VR journalism?), more people to pick up goggles and more businesses to invest in VR.

My bet is that it’s worth diving into VR.

Fader

Fader allows you to create and publish VR stories. Add multiple layers of information to your 360 spheres, design scenes and tell your story. Easy, fast and web based!

For our prototype, we had been selected by Google’s DNI funding. This gave us the opportunity to build an MVP which you can try out now by signing up for Fader. This is how easy it is:

Fader is designed and developed by our startup Vragments, a Berlin based Virtual Reality startup. Vragments is a team of technologists and journalists who are dedicated to bring new ways of storytelling to content producers by providing an easy-to-use VR tool.

You can find more information here:

Vragments project: Disfellowshipped

This story revolves around Debbie McDaniel, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness in McAlester, Oklahoma. With the 360 approach, we give the viewer a more intimate understanding of a character and her experience.

Visitor of our VR pop up studio experiencing Disfellowshipped. Photo credit: Trey Bundy

We have been working with the Center for Investigative Reporting on a first Fader use case. The outcome is incredible: A three episodes long mini VR series about Debbie McDaniel, a “woman with an extraordinary past.”

We were able to start working closely with CIR’s reporter Trey Bundy and senior supervising editor David Ritsher. Trey was working on an investigation into Jehovah’s Witnesses and child sexual abuse claims. This is the story, you can watch it on your Android device or on your desktop browser (try Chrome or Firefox).

Screenshot of 360 experience Disfellowshipped

The reason why Trey was interested in experimenting with an investigative story in VR is because it can

“give the viewer a more intimate understanding of a character and her experience. The technology allows us to put you in the reporter’s shoes, to feel what it’s like to sit with people as they look you in the eye and tell you their story, to visit their towns and the places that affected their lives. In some instances, it becomes a window into a person’s emotional memory.”

During a cold winter weekend in February 2016, Trey met with Linda and Stephan to begin exploring what by now is the 360° episodical Disfellowshipped. They were digging through text pieces, images and audio snippets and trying to align all that into a visual 360° concept. That proved to be a challenge that Trey more than once quoted to be like creating a movie while never having been to a cinema before.

You can find more information here: