Friday, November 20, 2009

360° Video of the Day: YEASAYER "Ambling Alp" will Freak You Out!

UPDATE: Yeasayer "Ambling Alp" Video

So that was the "standard" video. The rest of the post below is about the 360 degree video that was produced to coincide with this video release. This marks the first official use of 360 degree video as part of the transmedia package for a property. Congrats to Bill Meikle and Kirby McClure/Radical Friend for an excellent collaboration.

CLICK HERE for an EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCE, but/and/or it does Contain Nudity

YEASAYER's 360° video teaser for the new album, "Ambling Alp", is an intoxicating trip into new territory for the medium.

This online experience matches Yeasayer's experimental, subconscious-tapping music as it takes you through a series of five scenes in which you are among a group of naked people. The user will quickly learn that by simply rolling the mouse over the circular video frame that there is more to see. Clicking the image will load the next video scene, transporting the user into another dream-like scenario in a deliberate effort to disorient and add to the compelling nature of the interface design.

The user wants to figure this out.
In the meantime, the audio/visuals sink in.

Riding a black horse through black volcanic tuff

Running to the Silver Fist

Close Around in a Mirrored Room

Hands Out Stretched

Lying Down

Hopefully, you've had the experience now. If not, go to right now and spend some time exploring the scenes, let the music effect you...

Ok? Now we can talk about it. I don't know about you, but I think this is going to give me strange dreams tonight. No, it's not the nudity, although I am rather proud of this new 360° video medium for it's first public nudity being of the artistic variety. There has always been speculation that it would go the other way. It's just so trippy and a big part of that is the user interface.

I can't get over the idea of using deliberate disorientation to drive the experience. Genius! Absolute genius, in my humble opinion.

Congrats to Yeasayer and all who were a part of this project's creation. Bill Meikle's 360° video imagery, shot with the Point Grey Research Ladybug 2 camera is exceptional for this piece. The effects usage to irregularly warp the image periodically lends to digital dream-like quality and the graphic design of the loading images also deserve real credit.

Although, this has already been tagged with a warning at, I think the public will quickly get over their puritanical impulses and accept this for what it is, really good art.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

360° Video(s) of the Day: Mount St. Helens by Helicopter

Three different 360° videos for you to explore today that will take you on an exclusive helicopter tour over Mount St Helens and its blast zone created by the massive eruption in 1980.

Created last year for the United States Forest Service by Immersive Media, these short edits were taken from a larger GIS project in which Immersive Media comprehensively "video mapped" the area while testing a prototype helicopter mount for their camera that was custom designed in Portland, OR.

30 frames per second 360° video was captured by the Dodeca 2360 camera and the GPS coordinates of the helicopter's position were imbedded into each frame of the video. Rendered together with detailed maps in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, the project will provide a user detailed visual information of any area that the helicopter passed over. By simply clicking anywhere on the path of the helicopter on the map, the user will be pull up the 360° video from that exact location, be able to look around from a view point below the helicopter skid, zoom in on an area of interest, and control the video play from that point.

With a comprehensive flight plan, the entire National Monument land area was efficiently documented in this manner. In dynamic landscapes such as the interior of the crater, the imagery captured in this project will help volcano researchers determine change over time in areas of interest, like the volcano's growing lava dome that has split the crater's glacier into two lobes.

360° Video Maps like this are the future of the online virtual tour and the race is on for the first provider of 360° video to release a functional application that has both exceptional user-interface design and a distribution model that makes sense. Map data need not be restricted to GIS level, but an application should also be versatile enough to function well when positioning from GPS and other sources aren't available, such as indoors. In those cases, visual acuity is sufficient to identify the position the camera was in when imagery was recorded on a floor plan or artist drawing. The application should allow lines to be drawn to indicate the route taken by the camera through a building interior. An application to incorporate 360° video with a floor plan or map would elevate the medium to a position as a useful tool over a visual novelty.

Immersive Media describes such an application as "coming soon" on its website, calling it IM OnScene. I know, because I wrote and narrated the video that describes it (not my best work, but it was tough to get excited by video of a grade school and the benefits to first-responders instead of the bigger picture applications like online destination marketing). That video went up publicly on the Immersive Media website almost a year ago, but there has been no publicly released usage or testing of the IM OnScene application since.

Question for Immersive Media representatives: Is this product or service currently available for online distribution?
If not,
Question for Immersive Media management: Why not?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

360° Video of the Day: South Pacific Journey

It's tough work, but somebody's got to do it. In this case, most of the "work" was done by the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation, a dedicated organization that has just completed its fourteenth year at sea on its mission to preserve coral reefs through innovative programs in science, education, and technology. With a 360° video camera provided by Immersive Media, the PCRF crew provides us first with a few glimpses of their journey and then with an amazing perspective on indigenous South Pacific culture.

The first 360° video we begin with a view from the deck of the SV Infinity in the tranquil waters of the South Pacific. This 120ft ketch is a home at sea for researchers and volunteers of PCRF for months at a time. One of their missions is to create a baseline map of coral reefs and to grade the degree of health of the reefs they encounter. The images from their research have been used to demonstrate the degree of damage that the bleaching phenomenon represents to world reefs and were featured in Vice President Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

Underwater sequences were accomplished with a custom built underwater housing by Ken Sexton of Salem, Oregon that has since been tested in the heavy surf Tahiti's Teahupoo by Red Bull athletes. Pictured below, Craig Adkins readies the Immersive Media camera with surf housing for surfer Jamie O'Brian.

The coral reefs featured in the 360° from PCRF surround an island in Fiji and are among the healthiest and most diverse on the planet. The second half of the video takes the viewer through a day at an island market to see the colorful fruits and flowers available.

The second 360° video takes you on a privileged island adventure aboard a hand- built outrigger canoe of original design in Papua New Guinea. Off the Trobriand Islands, the traditional Kula Canoe, built to transport significant goods for trade with nearby islands, slices low through the water. Men in traditional sailing attire hold a tight thatch sail and constantly shift their weight to maintain stability with the wind.

The people of the Trobriand Islands invited the PCRF 360° camera crew to enter the center of several of their traditional dances and canoe launching celebrations to give us a unique view of their culture. Thanks to them and to PCRF for the experience and to David McCutchen of Immersive Media for making this imagery available to the public.

Because a South Pacific dream vacation is out of reach for most in this economy, a 360° video experience online from the world's most amazing destinations seems like a winning proposition. Who ever is working on that project, do you need any help on your crew?

Monday, November 16, 2009

360° Video of the Day: Among Giants: An Immersive Experience with National Geographic

Today's 360° video holds a special significance for me as it represents an incredibly complete documentation of the most amazing experience of my life.

In late summer 2007, National Geographic's Crittercam inventor, Greg Marshall, invited Immersive Media to join a research team in Southeast Alaska and document the deployment of Crittercam on to the backs of humpback whales in 360° video.

Craig Adkins and I got the assignment, but had little idea of what we were in store for. We would be aboard an 18ft inflatable boat for up to ten hours a day in the cold and wet Southeast Alaskan marine environment, while getting up close and personal with some of the largest creatures on earth. As a former whitewater rafting guide, I'm pretty comfortable around inflatables and the water, but the idea of attempting to reach out and touch something so powerful, which would be necessary to attach the Crittercam to the whale, both intrigued and intimidated me.

National Geographic's Crittercam has been providing wildlife researchers with a window into the worlds of their subjects. In the case of the humpback whale in Southeast Alaska's Chatham Straight, researchers with the Alaska Whale Foundation study the unique feeding behavior that these whales employ here and nowhere else in the ocean.

Dr. Fred Sharpe uses the term Social Foraging to describe the cooperation observed between the whales when they corner a large school, or bait ball, of herring against the surface of the water. Their prey is further restrained with a constant and deliberate stream of air bubbles blown by the lead whale as it swims a tight circle around the fish. The herring will not swim through the curtain of bubbles as they travel to the surface. Once the "bubble net" is closed in a circle and arriving at the surface, all of the adult whales in a group will come together and swim to the surface, opening their enormous jaws and breaching the surface at exactly the same moment to swallow the sea out from under the herring. Moments before the whales "lunge" at the surface, the seagulls overhead will concentrate on the location of the bubble net, the whales' high-pitched song fills the air, and a mountain whale maws erupts as silver herring scatter through the whitewater.

Dive, organize, lunge, regroup, dive...every fifteen minutes this feeding routine cycles, over and over again, day and night (for there is little difference here during the summer) for a month. Hundreds of tons of fish are consumed and the humpbacks pack on reserves for long months of migration across the sterile open ocean. The population of humpback whales that visits these quite backwaters of the northern Pacific each summer are the only humpbacks in the world known to feed this way and the Alaska Whale Foundation needed the Crittercam footage to learn more about how the animals are organizing underwater.

The strategy for deploying the Crittercam onto a whale's back was to follow the group at a safe distance until they lunge on a school of herring and then race in while they are at the surface catching their breath and regrouping toward the next feeding. Time and again, attempts were made, but each time the nearest whale would avoid us nimbly at the last moment or Dr. Sharpe, whose research permit allowed such close proximity to these endangered marine mammals, would call off the chase, not wanting to stress the animals to the point that they would stop their feeding and miss out on critical resources. "It will happen," he said after each failed attempt while watching the tails or flukes of the whales disappear as they dove again. Indeed, it did happen eventually.

Everything finally did come together as Dr. Sharpe motored the boat among the giants and audio researcher; Sean Hanser readied the suction needed for Corey Jaskolski's Crittercam cam at the end of the long deployment pole. Like an Inuit hunter, Corey steadied himself as one whale approached the boat from the port side. When the whale's dorsal was within feet of the four of us, he gently dropped the Crittercam onto the whale's back and the suction running through the cup clasped it tightly tot he animal before disappearing below the bow. Scanning the surface for confirmation that we had managed a successful deployment, we spotted the whale as it came up for its next breath. The Crittercam was there attached like the remora fish on which its design was based. The researchers would have more video data to analyze and a bit more about these amazing creatures would be brought to light.
Read Crittercam 5.7 Tech Specs

The Crittercam provides more than just great imagery, though. Also onboard its waterproof housing are sensors for recording depth, temperature, and velocity, as well as an accelerometers and a compass. All providing the researchers with deep knowledge about the journey it takes with its host animal, but only if it is recovered.

At a pre-programmed time, the suction on the cup is released and the Crittercam floats to the surface with its delicate radio frequency antennae pointing up. The team tracks it with radio telemetry and can tell by the signal that is has come off the whale. Finding the little data package on the surface of the water can still be very difficult in the flat evening light of the northern latitudes.

It was right after we recovered the Crittercam that we were rewarded with closest whale lunge of the trip. We were sitting quietly talking about the adventure of the day when the first bubbles hit the surface right next to the boat. The eerie song from the deep called out just as the quiet was shattered by the five leviathans lunging for another meal within ten yards of our raft. This time we didn't need to rush in, but could just stand there and watch with our mouths, too, wide open.

All of the experience I've described here was documented in 360° video over the three days we were with the humpbacks of Chatham Strait, and much more. Let's just say that there is a whole other story about the Alaskan Brown Bears of Chichagof Island that got up close and personal with the Immersive Media 360° video camera.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

360° Video of the Day: In the Crowd at the Obama Inauguration

President Barack Obama takes the oath of office and becomes the 44th President of the United States. Immersive Media's inventor and Chief Technology Officer, David McCutchen, was out of his hotel room at 2:00am that morning to wait in long lines of happy people to find his place on the lawn among almost two million others to celebrate the Presidential Inauguration. Like almost everyone else there, David brought his best camera to document the occasion.

This is the kind of 360° video I really enjoy the most. It captures a significant moment in time from a very natural perspective. The emotion in the crowd is captured as much with the camera's 4 microphones as it is with the eleven video sensors. Despite Chief Justice John Robert's failure to remember the proper phrasing, the new president managed to take the oath and be sworn in. The crowd, as they say, went crazy.

Thanks to David's hard work, this 360° video allows you to experience that moment again as if you were a part of that historic crowd. It is also the first time (online) that David has appeared on camera in one of the 360° videos he has pioneered. He is the one with the biggest smile on his face. Good times.

Friday, November 13, 2009

360° Video of the Day: B.A.S.E Jump

Before we take the plunge, I wanted to introduce a new feature here at the 360° Video Blog that I have been doing for sometime via my @video360 Twitter account: a semi-daily 360° Video for you to sink your teeth into. Mostly, it's because I'm beginning to see some real traffic to this blog and I feel a bit guilty that there is not always consistent stream of content, but I also can't deny that now that I have some traffic, I want more. You'll always get as much of the background as I know or can share about each video and a link to where I found it.

Because I prefer to embed videos here (instead of sending you elsewhere) and the majority of 360° videos currently out there with available embed codes are from Immersive Media, you'll find that the bulk of the content is theirs. It is my hope that all 360° video providers will see the benefit in allowing others to share their content and provide embed codes for their content as yellowBird and Immersive Media have so wisely done. All right, let's jump off a building, shall we?

360° Video of the Day
B.A.S.E Jump off the Kaula Lumpur (KL) Tower

Last year, Immersive Media's senior cameraman, Craig Adkins, was invited to join Red Bull Air Force member, Miles Daisher, in Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia. While Craig has logged a lot of time strapped to the side of helicopters and skiing powder while managing to get great shots with the Dodeca 2360, he wasn't about to throw himself off the KL Tower's 1,099 ft perch (this time) so he rigged the 360° video system up to the athletes and, literally, let it fly.

Thanks to Miles Daisher and the Red Bull Air Force for doing what they do and letting the rest of us live vicariously through them. CAN NOT WAIT to see Human Flight 3D next summer!

Thanks also to my friends and former colleagues at Immersive Media. I will, from time to time, have criticisms for the videos that I review here and for things that I see the company doing, but most of you know how much I believe in the good work you are doing to broaden the online video experience.

That said, here is my issue with the piece embedded above and most of the demo pieces you currently have online. The idea that the optimal length for a 360° video is around 30 seconds does your content and your entire value proposition a disservice. The majority of first time users of 360° video must overcome the learning curve of becoming comfortable using the control of the point of view, as NewTeeVee's Liz Gannes recently pointed out. 30 seconds simply isn't enough time for many of them and for those of us who know how it works, I'll tell you a secret: we want to see more, explore more, and see it again. That's not a bad thing. After all, the landing is a really important part of a successful BASE jump.

If you ever do add more content to your set of online demos (there has only been one addition this year), I hope it gives the viewer a little time to look around. That is the point, right?

As always, your comments are welcomed here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

More Great Press For yellowBird

Great BBC explanatory 360° video for yellowBird

If only those that are so far ahead in 360° video development did as well as yellowBird at marketing themselves, the medium would be much farther down the road to wide acceptance.

Today reporter Dan Simmons of BBC Click, the BBC's flagship technology program, put up an excellent report on yellowBird, the new Dutch company that has made great strides with Point Grey Research Ladybug 2 cameras.

The BBC and yellowBird have put together something I've wanted to see for some explanatory video that uses both 360° and "standard" video versions to tell the story. On the BBC Click post, you can watch a "standard" version of the video that does a great job of showing how the technology works and the above 360° video (which can also be found at yellowBird's website)uses Mr. Simmons description ahead of some of their best demonstration footage. The skiing and helicopter footage is really impressive and the best I've seen from mobile Ladybug 2 cameras.

It mentions that it takes yellowBird about a week to turn around an hour long 360° video, which is actually quite fast even when compared to a standard production studio. To ensure the best quality of image for their clients, they are not above doing some of the "stitching" of components by hand, which is truly essential for some environments.

Marc Groothelm, yellowBird's CEO, discusses some future applications for their platform, including live broadcast and multiple 360° camera streams. It is good to hear that they are working towards those goals, but it must be mentioned that Immersive Media and MATIvision are well ahead of them on those developments. Immersive Media, the original provider for Google Map's Street View, has been broadcasting live feeds from their own 360° video cameras for several weeks from the set of MuchMusic's pop music TV show, Much On Demand, and even streamed an entire hour-long concert by Billy Talent.

MATIvision is the only provider of 360° video that has been successful in integrating multiple 360° video cameras to record an event. The user simply picks which camera they want to view the show from a diagram of the stage setup. This functionality brings an incredible sense of freedom to the user who can see just about anything at anytime happening on stage or in the venue. According to the MATIvision homepage, they have recently completed a project with MTV Studios in London to record a live session by UK rockers, Biffy Clyro.

While both companies seem to be much farther along than yellowbird, neither has been able to grab nearly as much media attention this year. A TechCrunch post in August about yellowBird was awash in comments from amazed readers that had never seen a 360°video before despite the fact that Immersive Media has had its demos online in a Flash player since January of 2008. Today's BBC piece has had many similar reactions being shared via Twitter and Facebook. Immersive Media was recently featured in WIRED's Epicenter blog for it's new live streaming capabilities.

Each player in the 360° video arena will need to find the appropriate balance in its marketing efforts, but congratulations to yellowBird for getting the message out so well. Any increase in awareness of the medium is to the benefit of all.

Stay tuned to the 360° Video Blog for more information about the newest player, SlopeViews, an Immersive Media "agent" company specializing in virtual video tours for facilities such as resorts, campuses, golf courses, and sporting events. Based in the mountains of Colorado, these professional outdoor enthusiasts promise to deliver the most engaging 360° content yet for clients and their prospective customers.

Part of making engaging content is the ability to tell a good story. Until one of these companies finds the right project to use their platform to do that, acceptance and the demand that will come from it may be still be a long way off.