InstaVR Interviews: Meet the VR Practitioners
InstaVR Interviews is a blog series where we turn the spotlight on our customers. We find out why they create VR, how they use InstaVR, and what the future of VR will look like. To read more interviews, visit the InstaVR Interviews homepage.
Kevin Liptak and Lauren Konopacki of Refresh VR
Kevin Liptak is the Owner and Chief Creative Officer of Refresh Advertising. Both he and Refresh’s Lead Designer Lauren Konopacki, are the driving force behind their newest venture, Refresh VR.
While trying to source a VR partner for a client project, they saw a clear need for better branding, photography, and navigation in the VR/360° experiences that were geared towards businesses. With a background in branding and UX, they worked with talented local photographers to master their high-resolution 360° photography, then chose InstaVR as their go-to tool to create their branded apps and experiences.
Goal With VR is to Provide Clients with “Clean, Well Branded Experience with High-Quality Photos”
Question: Tell us a bit about how your company got interested in 360/VR?
Answer: We were initially looking for a way for a client to showcase a portfolio of their work (they created large-scale AV installations for Vegas hotels, the lobbies of fortune 500 businesses, etc.) and regular photos couldn’t do them justice. So we had the idea of creating a VR portfolio for them.
We repeatedly found ourselves nitpicking the functionality and the quality of the 360˚ photos in the projects we’d come across. There was also little attention paid to the home screens and overall experience. They were just a tool to look at low resolution 360° photos. We said, “There’s got to be a better way.”
We knew we wanted to provide clients with a clean, well branded experience with high-quality photos. Something they would be proud to share with the world. So we started heavily researching app publishing platforms, attending VR expos, and performing our own seemingly endless experiments when it came to the actual photography and creation of the 360˚ environments.
Works With All Types of Clients, Particularly Colleges, Real Estate Developers, and Property Owners
Question: What types of clients do you typically work with (geographically and industry-wise)?
Answer: We are open to just about any type of 360˚ experience that a client will let us dream up. everything from location tours to 360° ads for YouTube. At the moment we tend to gravitate towards colleges, real estate developers, and property owners in the greater tri-state area due to the obvious value in showcasing these spaces in a 360˚ environment. Recently we worked with St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, NY on a multi-platform VR experience: https://stac.refreshvr.com/
They Stitch Together Highest Quality DSLR Photos, Create Custom Branded Home Screens
Question: How do you typically pitch clients on using VR/360? What’s a normal sales process like?
Answer: We like to showcase past examples of our work across multiple platforms such as web, mobile, VR, and teaser social content. We really try to highlight the reasons a client might want to do something like this, the benefits it can bring not only in PR but to their bottom line. We also try to make sure they’re aware of what we’re doing differently.
For example, we steer away from creating traditional “walk-through” tours that can become clunky and overwhelming. We streamline the viewer experience in the form of an easily accessible custom branded home screen menu that eliminates excess “filler content”, taking you straight to the spaces you want to see most.
Over the course of this year, we’ve also perfected the way we capture our 360˚ photos. We couldn’t help but notice that the cameras built specifically for 360˚ were severely lacking in quality (especially when viewing in a VR headset) so we stitch together the highest quality DSLR photos one-by-one. This allows for ultra-high resolution, and the ability to manipulate lighting, annoying stitch lines, etc.
Primary Equipment Includes Canon 5D Camera and Nodal Ninja Panoramic Tripod Head
Question: Tell us about what hardware you normally use (i.e. 360 camera, microphones, drones, monopods, etc.)
Answer: We’ve tried shooting with an array of different cameras such as the GoPro Fusion, the GoPro Omni, Nikon D3200 (cropped sensor), and the Canon 5D (full frame).
After a ton of trial-and-error, we’ve currently settled on the Canon 5D in combination with the Nodal Ninja (panoramic tripod head). While the GoPros may be the quicker option on shoot day, we weren’t satisfied with the stitching and the final quality of the photographs. We have a lot more control using a DSLR with a panoramic tripod head, and it produces and more professional end result overall.
Use a Shot List and Pay Attention to Lighting and Shadows
Question: What’s a typical shoot day like? Any advice for users new to VR?
Answer: We found that planning ahead in as much detail as possible is crucial to everything running smoothly (and even then, you’re likely still going to encounter a few hiccups). Once the shot list is established, we shoot on-site using our DSLR rig or depending on the project, the GoPro Omni.
We try our best not to interrupt the natural flow of things for the client. Sometimes we do need to stage people (or items) in the background of the shots and get rid of whatever shouldn’t be in the photo to save hours in Photoshop later on. We also need to keep in mind the time of day due to lighting and shadows, moving as quickly as possible yet get everything we need in one visit (if possible).
Additional Software Used Include Kolor Auotpana Giga, Lightroom, and Photoshop
Question: Do you use any post-production / pre-InstaVR software like Adobe Premiere Pro, etc? If so, what are you using it for?
Answer: For every finalized 360˚ photograph, we begin with 72 single photos. We use Lightroom to brighten up the photos. After merging multiple exposures (also known as HDR), those original 72 photos have been condensed to 24 photos. We then bring those 24 photos into Kolor Autopano Giga for stitching. Then, if any additional tweaks are needed (due to complex stitching errors) we use Photoshop to make the final touches.
Use InstaVR Because of White-Label Features, Intuitive Interface, and Publishing to Oculus Go
Question: How did you find and why do you use InstaVR?
Answer: We looked at several other platforms. Ultimately, we chose InstaVR because of the ability to white-label our products, the option to customize our experiences using a platform that is intuitive and to-the-point, the ability to publish directly to the Oculus Go headset, and also the fact that we can embed our experiences to work on web and mobile…because not everyone is going to have a VR headset laying around.
Main Features Used Include Navigation Links and Custom Branding
Question: What features are you using in InstaVR? (i.e. Hotspots, Navigation Links, Custom Branding, etc.)
Answer: The feature that we get the most use out of would definitely be the navigation links. The ability to add your own icons or graphics for the links really comes in handy when it comes to creating an overall look and feel for the client. The custom branding is something that will always be important when you’re creating content for a client – for us, the ability to both customize and white-label are a must.
Constantly Learning and Innovating; VR “Excites and Engages” Their Clients
Question: What’s next on the project pipeline for you? And what excites you about the future of VR?
Answer: What excites us most is that VR is a new creative frontier. The possibilities for us, and our clients, are endless. Every job is different so you are constantly learning and innovating.
Whenever we make a break through, new discovery, or create a new experience for a client who shares our vision…It’s basically like Christmas morning. Plus, a lot of what we’re doing has never been seen in that form before, so it’s a very rewarding feeling to be creating content that excites and engages our clients and their customers.
Question: How can potential clients reach you? (i.e. web site, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Answer: Our Websites:
Thank you to Kevin Liptak and Lauren Konopacki of Refresh VR for the interview! To learn more about their work, check out the links above!