Watching clouds form as a 360 timelapse

Time-lapse videos are fun because we can see something happen faster or slower than real time. By watching this content we gain a better understanding of the world and how it works. For years I have been filming time-lapses and the results can be fun. In some cases we record time-lapses with video cameras and at other times we set an interval timer to take pictures every so many seconds. In this post you will be watching clouds form as a 360 timelapse.

I have chosen to share both the flat image and the spherical image. The reason for sharing both versions is to give you an overview of how objects move in both.

Spherical Version

With this version look to your right and you will be able to watch the clouds move through space. As they move you will see them grow thicker and then cover the sun. At this point everything gets darker. If you watch this video a few times you can watch the landscape change.

The next step would be to get a 360 camera somewhere high during a total eclipse of the sun by the moon. During such events you will see a grey mask cross over the landscape, you will see birds fly away and then everything will be dark. You can then turn around and watch totality, the corona and then the reverse process. The time is right for eclipse chasers to be at the right place to capture such an event as a 360 video.

Flat Version

With the flat version you can imagine where you would aim a standard camera. Would you try to get the clouds that are forming over the mast or would you prefer to look out towards La Dôle and watch as the large clouds form and float to block off the sun? In this image you can see from Villeneuve and Lausanne to Geneva and the Salève.

Having such a wide angle of view allows you to see everything that is going on in front of and behind the camera. The timelapse is a sequence of pictures rather than video so in future I hope to export the video in a higher resolution.

Cosmic Trip – Physical Video gaming – Throw it like a frisbee

Physical Video Gaming

Physical video gaming is coming of age thanks to the HTC Vive and related Games. Cosmic Trip is one of these games. You can use both controllers to prepare machines that will prepare robots for mining and defence. These two sets of robots are autonomous. The more resources you mine and the more robots you have. These robots are attacked on a regular basis so defence is important. The laser robots provide some assistance. You can attack the enemy bots by throwing disks at them as if you were throwing frisbees. Most people should find this instinctive.

In the last 17 hours more than half a million people watched the video on how to play this game. The game is still in development and building up hype for when it is released properly. The creator of the video above now has eleven million subscribers on youtube. When he produces a video eleven million people are notified that there is a new video to watch.

Half a million views in 17hrs
Half a million views in 17hrs

Out of those 11 million subscribers on youtube only 1.6 million follow on twitter and a quarter of a million on Facebook. Within the next year or two I would like to see social networks such as Youtube and others expand and become niche communities where people can find content of interest without using Facebook or Twitter. I found Jack Septiceye content when I was searching for VR demos. I use youtube rather than Twitter and Facebook because I don’t want content creators and sharers to tell me how to feel or why the content is of value. I want to make that decision for myself. Youtube and social networks that allow us to browse and discover content based on niche interests are going to become increasingly important.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 08.58.19

A small Twitter audience
A small twitter audience

The creators of the game have just two thousand eight hundred followers on Twitter and approaching one thousand on Facebook. When youtube personalities make videos about products they provide companies with a lot of extra visibility. You reach game players, people who want to see what new technology such as the HTC Vive can do and people who like to watch gameplay videos without necessarily being game players themselves.

Niche Audiences

Twitter and Facebook have focused on broadcasting rather than niche audiences. As a result of this strategy they have lost their stickiness. This leads to people spending less and less time on their social networks. This opens up opportunities for Youtube and other content aggregation sites. The more content you watch on Youtube the more recommendations you will get based on your taste. This cuts out the middle man, in this case Facebook and Twitter. We reduce the signal to noise ratio. We increase the user’s Return on Investment.

The Immersive Video market is coming of age

I see this as a good, not a bad thing. It means that 2016 is the year where we can experiment on what content and story types work best for VR. It gives us time to establish workflows and intuitions about what subjects will work in VR and which ones are better left to UHD HDR.

People did speak about how VR is more demanding, how short content currently works better than long form content. I think that adventure sports will fill the demand. Climbing videos are five to ten minutes long. They’re ideally suited for VR goggles because content is usually short and the content is dynamic. Base jumping, rock climbing, windsurfing, kayaking, snowboarding and other sports are well suited to the format.

Immersive videos are coming of age with dozens of headsets being made available. Samsung Gear VR costs 109 CHF, the Homido 79 CHF and the tepoinn around 19 USD. HTC Vive and the Oculus rift in contrast cost hundreds of CHF each and can be driven by one percent of computers currently on the market. (source)

Gopro Omni
The Gopro Omni will be sold for 5400 CHF.

The Gopro Omni, currently available on Pre-order is being launched at 5400 CHF. Contrast this to the Ricoh Theta S, available from about 390 CHF and you see why I settled for the cheaper solution. The Theta S is ideal to have with you at all times to experiment with whereas the Gopro Omni is ideal for facilities to rent out with an experienced camera operator. Software has been written specifically for this hardware solution which will simplify the workflow.

I look forward to when this technology comes of age, when people feel normal about watching certain types of content via VR goggles. I could easily see events where there is a VR goggles experience available. I also see content and goggles being made available at climbing gyms and sports shops to inspire people to make purchases based on the experiences they would like to experience themselves.

 

Rock Climbing in Virtual Reality

Rock Climbing in Virtual Reality has an interesting future because some people are afraid of heights, others don’t have the muscle tone to climb and yet more live too far away from climbing locations to enjoy the sport. Virtual reality is a great way of enabling people to get some of the sensations of rock climbing without the safety concerns.

As I watched this video I was curious to see whether it was a passive experience and then noticed the playstation controller. That’s a nice enough way to go “rock climbing but it it was up to me then I would pair this with the HTC Vive and it’s related controllers. Ideally I would go a step further. I would develop a conveyor belt system, place it vertically and program it to put handholds where the climber has somewhere to grip. As he or she climbs they would place their weight on the hand hold and it would slide down as the person climbs.

We have seen demonstrations of equipment that can emulate 3d shapes and textures. The challenge would be to take this from being flat on a table to being vertical and strong enough to hold someone’s weight. Tests should be carried out on near vertical and vertical “climbing routes” before being rotated to allow for the climbing of overhanging routes. You would definitely get a workout from such a configuration. Gamers would go from their current physiognomy to being toned and healthy. The next generation of gamers are going to be fit thanks to Virtual reality workouts.

This could also be attempted for sports like Via Ferrata, via cordata and others. Via Ferrata is a simplified form of rock climbing and via cordata is walking around a nice landscape where safety gear is available to keep you safe in case of a slip or fall whilst hiking.

I really look forward to when this gaming/fitness training experience comes of age.

The Immersive Video Experience

 

I was at the World Virtual Reality Forum in Crans Montana this weekend as a volunteer. During this time I was able to try many of the demonstrations and get a real feel for the potential of 360° and immersive videos. I was also able to listen to people comment on what they appreciated about the experiences and what they did not like.

Vulkane in 3D und 360

One of my favourite experiences was Vulkane in 3D und 360. I worked at this exhibit two out of the three days helping two people at a time every three minutes experience this. I had watched a number of videos before this one and when I watched this one I said Wow because the experience was so beautiful. The quality is excellent and there are some vistas that are spectacular. We are familiar with watching volcanic eruptions but with this experience we are watching the scene as if we are there. As the volcano erupts we can see the projectiles and follow their course through the sky. This is a novel experience for many of us.

Chernoby VR project – 360

Another experience that I got to try and received good feedback from was the Chernobyl 30th Anniversary experience. In this case you launch an app on the mobile phone and you can see a number of videos. You have interviews, videos of locations and interactive content. With this experience you can listen to an interview with a woman who still lives in Chernobyl. As she talks you can look around the room in which she lives. This provides you with a better understanding of whom she is.

Immersive reality - Chernobyl
This experience was in a room with green light, a smoke machine and some jerrycans. Two people at a time could spend about 15 minutes going through the interactive content.

Reframe Iran

Reframe Iran is another 360° immersive documentary experience. This experience was appreciated by some and disliked by others. If you study documentary making you are familiar with Cinéma Verité, direct cinema and the fly on the wall concept. In this documentary a 360° camera was put in between the journalist and camera crew and the artist whom is speaking. As the artist speaks you can look around the room. You can look at the journalist, at the artist’s work, the couch in one corner or the bookshelf. You are in the room with them, like a fly on the wall. If you appreciate direct cinema and Cinéma Verité then you will enjoy this documentary.

DEFROST – The Series

Defrost was filmed using the Nokia Ozo and puts you in the place of a woman who was cryogenically frozen and then reanimated. For this experience we wore Samsung VR headsets and sat in a wheel chair. We were the re-animated woman. The experience was interesting because it allows you to feel empathy for whom you, as the viewer are meant to be.

The Difficult People Project.

The difficult People project has as it’s aim to provide people with an immersive experience in to the world as perceived by people with a different perspective on the world. In the first film we saw the world as someone would with hyperactivity. A second video was produced for the World VR forum and showed the world as someone with OCD would see it. This is a project that I personally contributed to with sound recording. The aim of the video was to provide you, as the viewer, with an experience of what it is like to go shopping with the disorder. You see the coping mechanisms via her interior monologue. You hear her worry that people are watching her, that people will see that she buys three of everything and that she may steal if she is alone in the aisle.

On the first day of the conference I was helping people with this experience and as I received feedback I started to see 360° or immersive videos as literature because of the way in which it enables people to feel empathy for the subject of the video. Some people said that they were curious to see whether they suffered from the same problems.

Viens

Viens can be translated as either “come” or “follow me”. I saw this as art, as an experiment which took advantage of what 360° videos have to offer. The camera is hanging from the ceiling and you see a group of people standing around the camera. At first they are hidden behind plastic but as you get further in to the video you see nude people standing. As the film progresses the camera changes position. At one point the camera is lower and you are looking up at giants. At another moment you seeing the action from above.

In each sequence you have the choice of which action you most want to watch. In this experience you choose what you want to see, rather than the camera operator or director. You are in control. You are the camera operator. This video really demonstrates the power of 360° videos. It demonstrates how immersive film making is an opportunity to think about what works well as an immersive experience and what works well as conventional video content.

The new role of camera operators

Immersive video content requires the content maker to think as a camera operator, to think about what is in front of the camera and what is behind it. It requires a new way of lighting a scene and a new way of recording sound. Wireless technology makes this much easier. In hallway conversations I heard people speak about how important it is to think as much about what is going on in front of the camera as much as behind it. If there is nothing interesting to see behind the person then normal video is enough.

Content duration is also relevant. Virtual reality and immersive experiences are still new to people. The experience can be tiring so short content is best, for now. When people get used to immersive story telling program length can grow.

The challenge now is to find subjects that lend themselves well to immersive story telling.

 

The High Tech World is not making us weak and weird.

The High Tech world is not making us weak and weird. I believe that the opposite is true. According to Patrick Mustain in his article “Welcome to the Devolution: The High-Tech World Is Making Us Weak and Weird” for The Daily Beast he worries that modern technology and conveniences have taken the physical aspects out of our daily routine. We don’t need to clean clothes by beating them against a rock and we no longer need to clean dishes manually. We take the car from point A to point B and we take a lift to go up a floor or two.

“We find ourselves interacting with chairs and doors and walkways, and as a result, we get used to bending only forwards. Almost never backwards, never to the side, we don’t really rotate our hips very much.

This premise is false. This article ignores that there are a growing amount of climbing and bouldering gyms. This article ignores that there are an increasing number of via ferratas being built and that crossfit gyms are common. “But our evolutionary drive for acquiring cheap energy also makes us loath to unnecessarily spend it.” is a fallacy. Look at Strava, Sports Tracker, Movescount, Runkeeper, fitbit, Withings and other products. Each one of these not only tracks the effort that people are making on a weekly basis but congregates that data so that people can compare their workout to that of others. This implies that technology is encouraging people to move, to compete with friends, family or other sports enthusiasts.

strava stats 2016
Strava stats so far for this year

There is some humour in the article. “I think any change in the direction of just moving more is better. You don’t have to take off your shirt and go climb a tree to get value.” It is not simply about moving more but about moving more energetically, more enthusiastically. If you’re walking down the street increase your stride length just a little and you will increase your heart rate and energy expenditure. When I walk up to the base of the Val De Tière via ferrata and when I walk up to the base of the Tour D’Aï via ferrata I am usually the first one, leading the way. I love endurance training so I forget about the group and I enjoy the hike. Once I am at the base I relax, I look at the landscape and I take photographs.

As a camera operator/photographer I need to be at least as fit as everyone else and if possible I need to have more energy. By having more energy I can go ahead of the group and document their effort as they make their way up or down a mountain.

Since I owned the Nokia N95 8GB model I have tracked more than a thousand sports activities. I have tracked skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, cycling, climbing, via ferrata, indoor training, sailing and swimming. It is thanks to the high tech world that I can track my progress and assess how well I am doing. It allows me to set goals and exceed them and it allows me to evaluate when to take breaks and when to continue pushing forwards.

I love technology but I still walked up five floors to get to my office. I almost never sit in public transport and I usually take the stairs or walk up escalators rather than stand around. Movement is an integral part of my daily routine so I do not accept the premise that high tech world makes us weak and weird.

 

Self Driving Cars will teach us How to Drive

I am impatient to try a self driving car. I am impatient for the day when the car will know where we’re meant to be and at what time. That is when cars will be autonomous. In this future I envision that self driving cars will teach us how to drive.

For the moment learning to drive a car is problematic because you need fuel, you need a car and you need someone trusting enough to put their life and car in your hands. You also need to find enough money to pay for a driving instructor to teach you how to drive. These are seen as barriers. People say that they would like to learn but that lessons are too expensive.

Self driving cars that teach us to drive are the solution. Cars are driving themselves around California and self driving truck convoys are driving around Europe. As these cars drive and provide data for algorithms, and as exceptions are found so the algorithm is tweaked. We remember the story of the Google car confused by a track standing cyclist and by the Google car that was crashed in to by a human driven bus.

When the bugs have been ironed out, when the challenges have been overcome I visualise a future in which we will choose whether we want to use our phones to read the news or socialise or whether we want to drive the car. In this future the car will be advanced enough to teach its passenger/driver to drive. Cars already provide drivers with a lot of assistance. Breaking assist, automatic windscreen wipers, parking sensors, automatic gear box, cruise control, parking assist and speed limiters are already familiar. The car is “teaching” us to be better drivers, or at least assisting.

The next step is for cars to teach us to steer and situate the car on the road. It could warn us if we are too far to the left, too far to the right, if we are below the speed limit and creating a traffic jam or driving too fast for the road conditions ahead. At a roundabout it could remind us to indicate our intentions both when entering and leaving. It could also assist with parallel parking, backing in to a parking and more.

Once the basics have been learned we could also envision cars teaching us to drive with a trailer or caravan. Software could be written to help people negotiate bends properly, place the caravan properly in a parking and more. Driving assist can be as complete or as passive as we want.

I would like to see how self driving cars would cope with mountain roads. It would be fun to get them to go up narrow roads with traffic and teach them to get around easily. It would also be interesting to develop a behaviour which the car knows will minimise motion sickness for people not used to mountain roads.

Weather and climate affect driving ease. Cars have sensors that are optimised for driving in good weather. When cars meet, rain, snow or other conditions they may get confused by reflections or obscured road signs. Humans should be able to take over in these conditions. We have to see whether cars or people are better suited to drive in fog. In theory cars have technology that should help them see through fog so it should be safer handing control to the machine.

When autonomous cars are ubiquitous and self reliant the shift will move away from humans teaching machines how to drive. Machines will teach humans how to drive instead. In theory there should be no need for humans to drive cars anymore. Redundancy is good.

Virtual Reality Advertising

At this moment in time Virtual Reality is an abstract notion for most people. It is easy to find news features and documentaries speaking about the potential of the medium. The video above is the most effective demonstration of Virtual Reality that I have seen so far. I like that they use a greenscreen to key in the environment that the guinea pigs are in. We are immersed in to the reality that they are seeing. It demonstrates not only the games and environments you could find yourself in but how it is a communal rather than solitary experience. This advert removes some of the stigma of virtual reality.

From the 6th of May to the 8th of May 2016 a meeting will take place in Crans Montana Switzerland. It has the title of World Virtual Reality Forum.  “The World VR Forum is dedicated to advancing the virtual reality industry and culture.” Artists, documentary makers, news producers, architects, surgeons and an ever-expanding group of people will benefit from this technology. The video above helps us understand the intricacies of using something as simple as two hand held controllers.

In two to three months the Music festival season will start with Caribana, Montreux Jazz, Paléo Festival and many other music festivals. During these events media outlets and artists love to give interviews to journalists to drive interest in their upcoming performance. For now we usually have two or more cameras. In some cases you have one wide shot of the room or the artists and the second camera is a close up of the artist as he speaks. This summer I expect that we will watch interviews in 360° video where we can turn and see the journalist asking questions and turn to face the artist when he answers. When a group of artists are interviewed you will be able to watch the antics whilst listening to what they are saying. You will watch the artists and the journalists smile and laugh.

When I think of VR goggles I do not think so much about gaming as I think about documentary and television production. I like to think about how it could provide new opportunities for content producers to create interesting and immersive video content. “Their headsets were connected with the school campus more than 900 miles away in Okinawa, where the school’s headmaster spoke. The students were also treated to a 360 degree view of the campus inside the augmented reality.” (source) Google Streetview could provide live 360° vision of specific squares, St Marco in Venice, Notre Dame in Paris, St Peter’s in Rome or the market Square in Wroclaw. Imagine Google Street view when wearing a VR headset.

VR headsets are being offered by a number of brands for all mobile phones and the number of cameras able to provide 360° video are growing in number. As both of these democratise the market so content creators will have more customers and more incentive to produce relevant content.

Virtual Reality Goggles and multicamera Production

I have worked with video cameras, from hi8 to MiniDV, Beta SP, SX, DVCAM, XDCAM, AVCHD and other formats. Cameras have grown and shrunk, controls have changed from manual to partially automated to fully automated. Television news and Studio camera productions have gone from three or four camera operators to needing a couple and then a single camera operator sitting in a side room with controls for all three cameras. Crane and jib moves are programmed so that the same action is performed at the start of each news program.

Virtual Reality technology and Virtual reality headsets are going down in price. Apps provide mobile phone users with 360° videos in normal vision and 3D. The technology we use to watch 360° content and immerse ourselves in the VR world could be adapted and made suitable for multi-camera production.

It would be nice for software to be written that moves the camera as we move our heads. This technology is already used by gunners flying in Apache helicopters. The point would be to adapt this technology to camera operating. I would manual controls for zoom and focus and a control  to lock off the camera once the desired shot is ready.

Imagine how much simpler controlling drone and crane cameras would be. Imagine also how much nicer it will be for conference attendees, concert goers and UN delegates if a smaller remote controlled camera could be used. Camera operators often obscure people’s view. This technology would be less intrusive. Camera operators could sit rather than stand for hours at a time, barely able to move.

VR goggles and the technology they contain should not be used just to consume a finished product but should instead be used as a creative/production tool. VR goggles and related tech could be used to simplify people’s work, to make it more intuitive. Multicamera production with VR goggles would reduce costs and make high-quality video coverage achievable even for modest budgets. The excuse for using a single webcam to Livestream an event will be gone making virtual attendance of events more enjoyable.

Sports tracker: 1004 hours tracked across multiple devices over the years.

For years now I have been tracking my sports activities with sports tracker on a variety of mobile phones, dive computers and sports tracking watches. I have gone canyoning, hiking, swimming, skiing, snowboarding, climbing, to do via ferrata, explored caves and trained indoors. In that time I have not had too many injuries and I have taken hundreds, if not thousands of photographs.

1000hrs with sports tracker
I have tracked more than 1000 hours

These activities have been in France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, England, Poland and maybe in or two countries that I have forgotten about.

Sports tracking has progressed enormously since I started tracking activities. In the beginning I was using the N95 8gb and the battery lasted for about an hour. I then switched to various iphones and android devices before deciding that mobile phones were crap. That’s when I moved over to the Suunto Ambit 2 and later Suunto Ambit 3 devices. Since then I have been very happy tracking my physical activities.

One key step was when Suunto and Sports tracker decided to share data between their services. At this moment I could track with the Suunto Ambit 3 and share to Sports tracker without four or six steps per activity. Since then the service has been reliable.