Hero Film, pioneering virtual reality video experiences in SA

Posted: April 23, 2015

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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 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 early stages of development; and Cape Town-based Hero Film (part of independent marketing and communications agency group, Hero) notched up what is likely a first in production for South Africa when they showcased three ground-breaking immersive videos at the recent Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon Expo.

Hero Film Creative Director, Brendan Stein shot the initial real-world video footage using a specially imported rig incorporating six GoPro cameras and designed to concurrently film the actual visual context in every direction.  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.

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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 routes. 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.

According to Hero Film Technical Director, Pierre Steytler, the newness of the technology and the general lack of experience with the production of 360 degree 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 no existing documentation to assist in solving the technical glitches we encountered. There is definitely a dearth of information out there, and we were constantly amazed by how few virtual reality developers and enthusiasts knew what they were doing.”

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 at the Expo’ when they took off the Rift headset; and all were in awe of both the cleverness and the potential of the technology.”

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He points out that it wasn’t only the new technology that had audiences wowed: “The fully immersive experience that we created was such a hit because it was also strategically relevant to both Old Mutual and the Expo visitors.  It provided professional advice from an experienced and knowledgeable source to a relevant audience in an extremely entertaining way.  And it put the viewer in control, which is always a good thing.”

Experimenting and grappling with the new Virtual Reality technologies, has now put Hero Film at the forefront of immersive video production.  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