Meet the augmented reality explorers who will chart a new course for nonfiction storytelling

It feels a little bit like the start of a new school year around McClatchy New Ventures Lab this week. There’s an excitement in the air, newly hung green screens in our studios and a fresh batch of prototyping supplies are ready to be transformed into new inventions. And on Monday, our inaugural cohort of Storytellers in Residence walked through the doors of our workspace at Sacramento Valley Station.

We are beyond thrilled to welcome two teams of creators: Cassandra Herrman and Nani Sahra Walker, and Eric Howard and Stan Okumura. This group will be embedded here for six months to create nonfiction augmented reality experiences for mobile devices with an emphasis on volumetric video and 3D art.

Central to embarking on our experiment with AR was finding small teams who could do it all — including interviews and research, capturing and rendering 3D assets, building episodes in Unity game engine and programming new user experiences. We want to explore if nonfiction XR can be produced by a lean team, much like video journalism and some indie games are produced today. And we are confident we have the right group of Storytellers in Residence to work alongside our team of creative technologists to test this out:

  • Cassandra Herrman is an award-winning producer and director who has created work for Emblematic Group, PBS, MSNBC, The New York Times and National Geographic. She co-directed the room-scale VR experience, “After Solitary.”
  • Eric Howard is a web developer, game designer and installation artist. He has worked on projects for companies such as Clif Bar, Pandora and the Coachella 2018 festival site, which won a Webby award.
  • Stanley Okumura comes to New Ventures Lab from ATTN: where he focused on mobile-first video as supervising producer of editorial. He often uses 360-degree video, gimbals, drones and other new video technologies in his work.
  • Nani Sahra Walker recently earned her master’s degree at the University of California at Berkeley where she led a team in creating an AR app for children living with cancer. She is an experienced producer and director, and her work includes stories for The Atlantic, the BBC and The San Francisco Chronicle.

We want to thank the dozens of applicants who responded to our call for talent, including virtual reality directors and producers, creative directors for premium cable companies, investigative reporters, video game designers, best-selling authors, documentary producers, broadcast journalists, artists experimenting with technology, 360 video creators, a reality TV star and more.

While it was an incredibly tough decision to select our top teams, we are confident that the ones we’ve chosen will break new ground for our industry and the medium.

The Storytellers in Residence will start with low-res prototypes made of clay and construction paper, but we’ll quickly advance into higher-res versions, using the tools and techniques our crack team of technologists has assembled — including kits for structured-light scanning, photogrammetry, motion-capture and volumetric video.

After the high-res prototypes get the green light, teams will launch their projects. They’ll test the feasibility of producing not just one premium AR experience but a series that will be released over time. And we’ll be putting the AR episodes in front of users every chance we get, to test the desirability of what we produce.

And that’s where you come in! Do you want to be a beta tester? Or join our closed Facebook group to connect with other creative minds in journalism, business and tech? Sign up for our newsletter or drop us a line at newventureslab@mcclatchy.com if you’re interested in learning more. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.