So far, 2016 has been an interesting + out-of-this-world fruitful year. I was offered a bid in January to shoot a virtual reality marketing film for Duke Kunshan University through a dear friend, who describes himself as avuncular, at Incipient VR, and I jumped on it. With this medium exploding across the internet, it is clear that VR isn't going away anytime soon, especially in the journalism world. Immersive storytelling with cutting edge technology seems to be the cure to all our techie-ADD problems, but also allows audiences to explore different worlds and be a part of a something unknown to them.
This project has consumed the majority of my year thus far. From field research, story development, jumping through hoops to get visas into China and permissions to shoot across Shanghai and the neighboring Jiangsu Province, teaching myself [read: really basic] Mandarin, and the actual production phase, I cannot believe that we are already in June.
After weeks of editing, cursing at my computer, and one of the most challenging edits I've ever done, the first of three short VR experiences are done for Duke Kunshan University, Duke's study abroad campus in the Jiangsu Province, China. This first installment is fast paced and showcases the University and its surrounding areas: Kunshan, Suzhou, Zhouzhuang, and Shanghai (also, here). It shows the people, the places, and the culture in hopes of making you want to see more.
I'm not going to lie, VR is one of the most difficult mediums I've had to learn. In addition for composing a scene for every camera, because they are GoPro's with 195-degree wide-angle lenses, you can't control what people look at. You also, can't control what happens around the camera because you've got to be out of the frame.* The conceptual thought process that goes into filming is much different than standard video or still photography. You have to rely on each frame, the subjects of each frame and their movements, and the curiosity of your audience to make a successful VR experience, without making them sick.
(*In China, because of the huge crowds and fear that my equipment would either be stolen or confiscated by police, I'm usually hiding in plain sight throughout filming. I plan on making a "Where's Waldo?" series, but rather a "Where's Lauren?" VR experience.)