How a Digital Agency Used InstaVR to Create an Immersive, Compelling 360 VR Experience for the US Navy
Left of Creative – Agency Overview
Left of Creative is a next-generation digital agency that links Hollywood innovation, creative ideas and millennial thinking to a wide range of exciting projects. Founder David Bellino has been at the helm of numerous multimedia productions for over 20 years. He launched his career with Virgin Records, directing the Rolling Stones’ first interactive experience (Voodoo Lounge), before following that up with projects for other media companies such as BMG, Sony, EMI, Universal Pictures and Hasbro.
In 2001, he moved back his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island to raise a family. He began working with the Navy shortly thereafter. His work enabled Navy organizations to adopt new technologies in 4K video, visual effects and modeling & simulation. Bellino currently commutes between Los Angeles and the northeast , balancing media projects between entertainment and government industries.
Genesis of “Disrupt the Future” App
The Sea-Air-Space Exposition was launched in 1965 to bring together the U.S. defense industrial base, private-sector US companies and key military decision makers. Hosted by the Navy League, the event is the largest maritime exposition in the United States. This year, the event took place April 3 -5 at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.
The Left of Creative team has been supporting the Navy as a boutique creative agency for three years. They chose VR/360 video aboard the USS Carl Vinson because they felt the U.S. Navy’s symbol of power could best be captured by an immersive approach and presented to audiences in a more compelling way. In all likelihood, most people will never get an opportunity to ride aboard such an awe-inspiring vessel. “By using the VR/360 format, we are able to transport audiences to experience both the vastness of an open flight deck, or the confined spaces within the cockpit of a F/A-18 Super” according to Bellino.
By allowing viewers to take control of the 360 space, the experience would naturally be more realistic and compelling. The VR/360 technology and storytelling approach was the right fit for their unique Navy application. So the Left of Creative team set to work capturing the 360 video.
Filming on the USS Carl Vinson in 360
The shoot was accomplished in two visits. Bellino and his team used the Nokia OZO and Kodak PIXPRO. The first pier-side visit was helpful to scope out the space and potential problems. The goal was to shoot basic plates (for CGI compositing later) and experiment with the camera/workflow technology. In their return at-sea visit, they would be actively working alongside a Navy crew and observing a training exercise.
They chose the Samsung Gear 360, due to the high-pressure atmosphere and small margin of error. This approach offered slightly less resolution and image quality vs. a larger rig, but provided them the flexibility, portability, compactness and rapid turn-around necessary. “Our number one goal was to get the shot, while not interfering with Navy personnel or flight operations,” said Bellino. “Overall, we were very happy with the 4K image captured by such a portable and cost- effective camera.”
Audio was captured by their location sound mixer using production quality lavs and shotgun mice. In addition, they used the Zoom H2 to capture binaural recordings on and below the flight deck. Stitching was done using the Nokia software utility, Autopano and Action Director, depending on the camera source. Because of time and space constraints, they needed to keep the crew small, 5 in total. The post-production team consisted of 4; image processing/stitching, editing, color grading and sound mixing.
Authoring on the InstaVR Platform
In order to meet the technical and creative requirements for the U.S. Navy, they needed a platform that was flexible, easy-to-use and would allow them to deliver their VR/360 experience across multiple platforms. They were able to deliver an engaging VR video product quickly, with the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as the backdrop. Their approach was to focus on creative and production workflow, but alleviate potential programmer/developer costs. “InstaVR was the perfect choice,” commented Bellino. “The support team response for questions and solutions was nearly real-time. Working with the InstaVR technical team was all we needed to quickly author, test and deploy our app for Android, IOS, GearVR and the web.”
Since the objects and landmarks on a carrier flight deck are generally familiar to most, they decided to use this as the “anchor” location for the hotspot choices. When the app is launched, the viewer is immersed in a short introductory video, setting the stage with Navy innovation with respect to young sailors. They used After Effects/Mettle to create HUD-like displays floating on the flight deck that would ultimately act as hotspots. The user can then choose to explore four additional short story threads. Each is accompanied by a Commanding Officer narrative; welcome to the bridge; hangar bay; a ride aboard the SH-60 helicopter and lastly F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighter (where the viewer experiences a mid-air refuel from the cockpit).
The message of how important our young sailors are to the Navy, and the innovation within, was the most important aspect and goal for the product. One of the most unique shots that they are most proud of is flying at mach speed inside the F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft. Very few individuals will get to experience the adrenaline rush of flying inside the cockpit of such a remarkable military aircraft. It was important for the videos to be short. The average for each of the five videos is approximately one minute.
Distributing “Disrupt the Future”
The main audience for the app is US Navy personnel. However, they expect that the product will go public on YouTube and possibly in the app stores. Since their audience would also consist of senior Navy leadership, those less familiar with VR/360 technology, it was important to create an easy-to-use experience.
“We wanted to keep it simple, flexible and mobile,” said Bellino. “As a cost-effective branded solution, we decided on Cardboard for the Navy conference.” Because they were able to brand the pop-up viewers to fit the Navy’s theme for the booth “Toughness. Reach. Readiness.” This would provide a fun, yet robust solution for event goers, while offering a unique give-away. GearVR is a relatively inexpensive yet quality experience for mobile VR/360 video. With a slightly better field of view and a higher quality experience, they also wanted to offer the Gear VR experience for attendees at the conference. Because their product is live action 360 (no CG or gameplay), the more expensive headset options and tethered systems were not necessary or practical in this situation.
What’s Next for Left of Creative?
Left of Creative is focused on helping the government and military achieve their goals when it comes to visual storytelling. They feel that government and military production value and story quality deserves to rival that of other industries, known for bringing high production value. “Our company helps provide the talent, creativity and technology to these organizations to help raise the bar,” said Bellino. “VR can vastly improve training and storytelling within the military.” The company’s entertainment division has recently launched, focused on immersive storytelling in music and documentary film. “We are excited to see what the technology and the future brings us. The left and right sides of our brain are the only barriers!”
To read more about “Disrupt the Future”, visit http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=99645