Authoring for Virtual Reality Experiences
Introduction to VR in the industry today
Virtual reality is on the cutting edge of digital media products.
Virtual Reality has launched into mainstream technology by dynamically immersing consumers into real environments and/or settings without changing their surroundings. Virtual Reality’s popularity has vastly increased within the past couple of years, more people in many industries are starting to utilize the technology. It provides every day industries with the opportunity to increase innovation through interactivity.
How is it being used?
Virtual Reality environments can be used to tour college campuses, museums, shops, sports venues, plan events at locations without visiting them in person; show real estate, entice viewers to travel to vacation getaways; and create historical documentation.
Authoring for Virtual Reality Experiences is an upper division class, taught in UVU’s digital media department. The course takes students through the process of creating multiple types of high quality, professional, beautiful, and functional VR products. Students learn to take still photos used to create 360 panoramas, (using a very meticulous process) that are processed through multiple pieces of software, edited, and used for various platforms.
Every great project needs the right tools
It takes a group of very specialized pieces of equipment, assembled correctly, and used properly, to achieve great VR results. Because this equipment is expensive, students are allowed to check out VR kits, containing all the necessary items used throughout the semester. These kits contain a camera, fish eye lens, ninja arm, tripod, and plate as vital parts of the process to be successful. Not only is it important to use the correct equipment, it is equally as important to set things up correctly in order to capture images that are able to be processed through multiple pieces of software.
The goal is to capture images in a full circle, including top and bottom, capturing an entire area. For a panorama to become spherical it needs to be 2 wide by 1 tall ratio. This is done by taking 21 images, or a quicker 7 shot method. The 21 images are compressed, edited, and stitched into a spherical panorama that can be used in a variety of ways in an array of digital products.
Software and Process
“My drive is a drive of Order, and not a drive of confusion.” -Paul Cheney-
Aword about asset management, after all, there is a large amount of frustration and heart ache that happens when hours spent at a photo shoot is wasted due to poor asset management. VR is no different in that regard, in fact, it is crucial for students to manage their files from start to finis after a finished product. Students work with a client through out the semester, giving real world experience about the importance of managing assets.
After students have taken all photos necessary to create a spherical panorama, they must be processed from RAW image files to TIFF images. This step retains the quality, while converting images to a format that can be edited and stitched. Adobe Bridge can be a useful program during these steps of the process; asset management is crucial throughout the process to ensure that all images are organized and properly grouped. There is a specific method for organizing and processing files, when working with large file sizes, multiple images, especially for clients; this part of the process cannot be overlooked.
When all 21 TIFF images are are together in one folder, they are processed using a program (students use photomatix) that combines the three HDR images into one image with all ranges of light. Reducing the number of images to 7, two of these images are down shots, containing the tripod, which is removed in photoshop, and then there were 6….Images that is.
The result of combining the three images, (underexposed, overexposed and a regular exposure) is a higher quality panorama with a wider range of light. Above is an example of three TIFF image files in HDR. The 6 images are then stitched together in a program called PT GUI.
The stitching process creates a spherical panorama that can then be used in a number of ways, including, uploading to Google maps. As shown here, the images can be viewed as spherical images at the location where they were captured.
Spherical panoramas can be linked together with multiple nodes, pop-ups, audio, and video media; used to create a complete experience of a location. This process is done using a program called Panotour pro. This program can turn a series of panoramas into a full immersive tour that can give viewers a very real sense of a location’s look and feel.
This program is where some of the magic of VR takes place, with the ability to add progressive disclosure to a product, making it more interactive. The tours can be used in various programs, to create a variety of products such as digital brochures, websites, and Ibooks.
Here is one example of a website tour, Vasa Gym allowed their Orem location to be photographed for a student project that takes viewers to multiple areas throughout the location, with pop up information, video and audio elements-that a basic photo gallery cannot touch. These multi node tours can also be made into widgets, and placed into iBooks and other digital publishing programs such as Mag+. VR tours integrated into these platforms give audiences an experience that goes far beyond reading a ebook with basic static text and images.
Virtual Reality is moving towards video and gaming
The future of VR is seems to lie with video and gaming, with the increased popularity in headsets that can all provide a VR experience for prices ranging from $15-$500+(google cardboard, Samsung, and oculus.) Sony’s PS4 VR system has crossed into a whole new realm of interactivity by providing gamers with a futuristic, rich, immersive, and realistic experience in its new line of a VR games and headset.
Students have taken the initiative to combine the VR skills from this course to create amazing projects for other classes, as well their senior projects. One UVU project, the Biet Lehi project, is a student project that documents ancient village sites that are currently being excavated and studied by various professionals. UVU students and faculty were able to document these findings in a way that is stunning and dynamic by creating VR tours of the sites, as well as VR objects. Two of these ancient objects were documented from all angles with the use of this technology.
Virtual reality is also a fantastic way to document historical sites.
Proper Documentation of a historical requires a substantial amount of photography. But, even with high quality images, it is limited. VR 360 images can be linked together to take audiences through an entire property. Zooming capabilities, and media files can be added to provide reference to a documented site. In an effort to support the documentation of local historical sites, students have the opportunity to document a historical site with the VR skills that they have developed throughout the semester. This project is called a capstone project, it requires countless hours of work, and combines all the skills learned throughout the semester. The finished product is a full multi-node tour of a historical site, and is added to the UVU historical tours site.
Where is VR headed ?
VR is becoming more popular with headsets and google maps, Sony and Samsung are pushing VR with their increased advertising for their headsets. Google maps allows 360 panos to be published and made public, boosting SEO (search engine optimization) for web content. VR is done in the real world but games and movies is the big shift right now. Businesses can benefit with VR tours, especially in tourism, but the industry is behind in this sense. Businesses invest in hiring special photographers and film makers, but VR is a different market. One huge VR benefit is a much smaller file size is, compared to video. With video, narration is needed, VR tours can provide context without the need of audio narration. The industry is slowly coming around, some have made the switch to VR, and some aren’t there yet. It’s unclear why the explosion has moved at a glacial pace thus far. But a few things we know for sure: the when the boom really hits, it will be huge; It’s really freaking cool, and it is not going away any time soon.