Bringing History To Life

An Application of 360 VR in Historical Studies


In the past historical documentation has relied heavily on outdated sources i.e., retro footage, drawings, or artifacts. While helpful, these things do not paint as vivid a picture of the past as is possible. This is where I believe the technology we have studied in this class can come in handy in the historical documentation field.

My hypothesis is that by using 360 drone footage to immerse viewers in the actual landscapes they study, they will have a better understanding of the events that took place there.

Technology Used:

  • 3DR Drone with dual Kodak 360 4k camera
    Use to media: Provides aerial 360 video at very high quality. Can be used to understand virtually an environment from the sky in any direction if it is rendered and shot correctly.
  • PixPro Stitching software. Used to stitch together 360 videos in post production.
    Use to media: Gives editor a chance to make 360 videos coherent. Prevents technological disruption.
  • Premiere Pro CC 2017. Utilized latest versions with VR editing modes.
    Use to media: Most popular and powerful video editing software available. Used in practically every market where video production is required.
  • Viar360. Beta website used to turn 360 content into engaging stills a videos with added infographics.
    Use to media: Turns VR footage into a coherent story by stringing shots together into a movable timetable and providing infographics.

Hypothesis Details:

I am lucky enough to be stationed in one of the most historically rich areas in the modern world, southern Belgium. This area saw the Napoleonic wars, the 100 Years War, WW1 and WW2. We decided to cross the French border into the city of Maubeuge where one of the largest sieges in WW1 took place. There were plenty of sites to see in the heart of the city that would have been great footage as well, however, French law prohibits drone operations in cities or densely populated areas. The war cemetery of Maubeuge served as a nice alternative.

Our target audience is fairly vast. This includes historians, reporters, journalists, professors, or anyone else who has a need/desire to gather vast 360 footage of historical sites. This can even range to hobbyists who simply find the footage captivating.

Field Test:

As stated, we decided on the nearby historic city of Maubeuge. The cemetery was far enough outside of the city to where we weren’t going to get arrested for breaking drone laws, but relevant enough to where we could get captivating video of a historically relevant area.

We took the drone to the exact tree line where the siege was held, though it’s just a tree line, it was relevant so we gave it a try. However, we learned that when flying the drove very quickly, the video tends to be warped. It didn’t help that the reporters whom I borrowed the drone from had only used it once and were not entirely sure on how to run it seamlessly. This rendered a result where the cameras we warped from speed and the ground did not always match the sky. Quite frustrating. However, we still wanted this shot. I did not end up using it because it was not captivating enough video. Plus, the landmarks that were needed to make the site relevant were distorted or hard to make out because of the camera issues.

We decided to go for an even more historic and visually appealing site, the famous war cemetery. The graves here were captivating. Shrines for the family lineage of men killed in the wars dominated the scene. Entire sections designated for children killed in their town during the conflict made for an enthralling subject matter. What we attempted to do was take the drone and fly it parallel to the children’s graves then arch upwards into the aerial shot. We achieved this, but the video didn’t quite turn out the way I had hoped. The horizon between the 2 cameras cut off half of the graves. This was a bit of a resounding theme while working with these Kodak 4k cameras. I was informed later by the owner that he forgot to calibrate the cameras before he started shooting. This would explain why when I pulled the footage into PixPro it didn’t match at all and I had to go in and calibrate it frame by frame.

What we did end up getting were some very engaging aerial shots from above the cemetery at sunset. These shots do a great job of showing the landscape where the battle took place, and the cemetery below. This was the primary footage I used to show my respondents, as well as a 360 still I took from the eye-level cemetery shots.

All of my subjects were either reporters, journalists, or local historians. I had them look at the footage and asked them a series of questions about it. These questions included:

1) Taking into account that the video for this project is about historical site documentation, do you feel that having this type of dynamic view is valuable in any way to better understanding the setting?

2) Which technological aspects did you feel hindered the experience?

3) How might you use this type of technology in your field?

4) As a user, what did you find yourself paying attention to most in these images?

5) Will you ever use 360 video/drones in an upcoming story such as this? Is so, how?

Instead of spelling out every single response, I would like to highlight the key responses that, to me, made the biggest impact on how this technology will affect the future of this technology in the field.

First off, 100% of respondents thought that this type of engaging footage would greatly aid the experience of viewers in their field. This means that history buffs, people who just want news, and journalists alike would generally all benefit from having 360 aerial shots of historic sites. They all mentioned that this gives a unique perspective that they would benefit their storytelling. However, Andrew Carroll, a local historian made a great point. He said, most of the people who engage in his WW1 and WW2 material are older people who do not have the RAM, internet, or VR capabilities to really engage in this. He fears that if his market is saturated with too much technology like this that it will actually turn his viewers off. If (in his demographic’s case) the technology far surpasses the capabilities of the average viewer, it may be doing more harm than good.

They all agreed though that if this technology can become more accessible to the average home computer user that this will be a force for good as far as better explaining history. Right now the hard part is justifying using it when still majority of media and history users do not have the means/want to view VR video. We in the VR community know this is a shame because it is highly engaging. However, as with any technology advance, it will simply take time. Once the market settles for the average user, they all are in agreement that they will invest in VR.

Virtually all respondents said they were most captivated by the widespread view and how the battlefield was clear in a way that it have never been before. There were no complaints when it came to content. All enjoyed what they were seeing, and they found it relevant. However, there were technical aspects that they noticed which were perhaps the most frustrating throughout the field test.

The first thing they all seem to have noticed (though only a few of them said they were distracted by) was the horizon that was created by the differentiating cameras. The Kodak 360 4k cameras, while great quality, need very specific specs to record in sync. This equipment was used from a local new station who, they admit, were still new to using it themselves. While most of the footage looks very good, in much of it there is a very distinct line between the top and bottom camera. This creates a horizon which seems to warp. Though they all knew what they were seeing was a beta test and minor tech issues could be easily forgiven, each of them made a point to let us know that that was indeed distracting.

The horizon created by the 2 cameras also ruined many of the best shots in the cemetery. Some of the most important graves were cut off by the horizon. While this is not vital, it is a huge learning lesson. A lesson for the camera owners to make sure they calibrate their cameras properly, and a lesson for myself and other producers on what to look out for in the future. Even as a seasoned producer I have not dealt with drones much and as with any camera/new shooting ceremony; something will always go unexpectedly. In this field test, this was that instance.

While not everything went to plan, that is the essence of a field test. What’s reassuring is the fact that virtually all respondents said this technology will help the historical storytelling aspect of their field. However, the consensus was that it will not be helpful immediately. If it is at all helpful in the present, it’s for a small corner of their market. There is no doubt though that this technology will become an ever-emerging presence in not only the way historical documentation takes place, but all storytelling documentation in the future.

So, How Effective Was It?

After reviewing the tangible use of 360 VR drone footage in the field and testing respondent experts in their historical field, I would say that at the current moment it is just useful. Not extremely useful, and not useless. It’s not useless because there will always be a certain level of intrigue when it comes to stories with shots like this. They’re immersive, controllable, and somewhat mystic in nature. Enough people use VR or have an interest in it to not render it useless in this application. However, as stated, it is not extremely useful either. The lack of accessibility of this technology, especially by the demographics of people who deeply research history (according to Andrew Carroll) makes this something that has a lot of building to do in certain communities. In time, 360 VR will get there, but it just isn’t yet.

As of right now, this is something a producer should have in their tool kit, but not lean on too much. You’ll get some compelling footage, but too much is overkill. Use it to drive a point or get an atmospheric feel across; but past that; I’m afraid that’s about as far as I see this tool going in to current historical market.

Moving Forward…

The future of drone 360 VR is bright, it’s just in it’s infancy. This field test certainly proved that the potential is there, but it simply is not developed enough for non-producers/tech-savvy people to invest in. In the future, I can see this actually getting very intricate in historical documentation. I imagine (when drones get so precise at controlling themselves that there is almost no risk of crashing) that historians will send drones into extreme places. For instance, historic caverns or temples that perhaps even a human body can’t fit through…send a drone.

There will likely come a time too when A) the batteries do not die as quickly (even this brand new drone could not fly for more than 10 minutes fully charged) and B) the range will be greatly increased. Imagine if you could send a drone into a cavern and go get a coffee then come back and it’s finally finished. A drone which is so dependable and fail-safe that it basically does all of the documentation work for you; that is where I see the future going. I hope it does.

There will be naysayers who feel that this is ruining videographer’s jobs or that it is lazy documentation but as technology advances doesn’t everything get more lazy? It’s that essentially what majority of technology is; a way to make things more efficient/easier for the user? Like it or not, it’s going to stay; and surely get more advanced. Historical documentation will not be the only field affected, I foresee virtually every field that requires production being affected. 360 VR drones are one more example of how emerging technologies are going to shape the way we tell the stories of tomorrow, and the journalists/producers who embrace it and help it grow will forever be at the cutting edge of their markets.

Week 10: Imagining the Future

It’s so hard to try and grasp what my future career will look like through the scope of future technologies. That is partly due to the fact that at this current juncture I’m not entirely sure where I can end up. Most likely will end up on a media job somewhere, probably news, and probably reporting stories like I always thought I would. Or I’ll end up overseeing media projects like (for example) leading a production company for an organization like 2U which requires producers to create videos for their clients.

I think, honestly, what has happened and what will continue to happen is that the utility belt of reporters has become deeper. Think about this very class. Can you imagine college journalist students 2 decades ago taking a class like this? The industry was simpler. TV, newspaper, radio…that was about it. Now we need courses like this. Courses that are going to prepare tomorrow’s story tellers to work with an almost inconceivable amount of goodies that can not only further drive their stories but make them more profitable/competitive in the journalism marketplace.

I just know that if I end up working in a position where I need to report stories, that I will need to consider a very wide variety of options for virtually any shoot. Lets just say you had a seemingly boring story about street construction in NYC. It used to just be a story. Now I’ll have to ask myself, should I use a 360 camera to show to the site? An aerial shot with a drone? Should I 3d model it so people can navigate the scene? Technology is journalism now, and journalism is technology.

Week 9: Affect of Tech on Career

Going over some of the technology pieces we covered this week, I still have to gravitate towards the mobile VR system. This, while seemingly clunky, to me is the most user appropriate VR system on the market right now. Here’s why I say that:

Majority of people are not willing, nor have any plans of, shelling out real money on VR…yet. It’s just not on the masses radar. Tech people, gamers, journalists…they all have their finger on the pulse of VR and the impact it could have on their immediate careers. But Samsung, as much as I do not enjoy their products, is on the right track. Everyone has a phone. Just bring the VR to the item everyone already has and instead of making people invest in a new product they know nothing about, just integrate the new product into the already existing one that everyone in the world knows how to use.

That being said, if we can further the capabilities of phone-based VR I think that is the one way, as of now, that VR could really shake up the journalistic marketplace. NYT I think tapped into that already which is why I have a lot of respect for the fact that they are out in the field shooting things for 360 video and VR. Most of which can be watched from a phone. Get people excited about it by using what they already know…then they’ll be more likely to invest in the bigger and better versions in the future.

Week 8: Drones

The topic this week is how do I feel drones will affect my future career, or are they already? When it comes to drone impact on my current job in journalism the answer is no. While there are others in the career field in the military who are using drones, myself and my office are not deeply invested in drones. I don’t see the military getting behind their journalists using them very much for obvious security reasons.

However, I can definitely see drones becoming a go-to in any media/news agency’s arsenal. Being that that’s the type of industry that I plan to work for, I can see myself having to get at least mildly familiar with drones and having to consider them when scoping out how to shoot certain things.

We have toyed with the idea of using them during broadcast operations during the military…and we could likely get away with it without much of a hassle (which is not the right answer, but just being honest) yet unless we are paying for them ourselves, we aren’t getting them. Justifying that purchase to funding approval officials is just likely not in the cards.

Week 7: Sensor Idea

As told in my earlier post, I have always been curious as to the affects music has on the physical body. Everyone has heard a song that at one point gave them goosebumps, chills, or even made them cry. I want to use the following product (a body temperature detector) to see if certain artists that a listener enjoys induces any fluctuation in their body temperature.

This next product in particular is practically made for it:

This is a headset that measures your brainwaves in reaction to certain things. It even says in the description you can use it to measure your reaction to your favorite music. I find this idea fascinating. I imagine music can almost have the same affect on people as “foreign” substances does but I would love to conduct a study to find out how. Also, I would want to put certain artists to the test to see how impactful their music is to the human brain. That would be a fairly neat selling point as an artist.

Week 6: Pitch a VR Story

Amidst all of this news about the White House, and the future president meeting with Obama in it…I figure perhaps this could be a useful way to do an online tour of the White House. With all of the big meetings taking place in it, one would be able to walk around the halls and most famous rooms and it would be able to tell you in exactly what place at what times that the meetings where happening.

It would be like you walked into the Oval Office and there was a highlighted spot that said something along the lines of, “In this location president elect and Obama are meeting to discuss X, Y, and Z.”

While personally I probably wouldn’t spend too much time concerned about what was happening the White House that day…I’d be more interested in looking at the works of art on the wall and learning about the history behind everything I was seeing. But perhaps that would be a feature that this story could do as well; just on the side.

I still have a hard time believing that technology like this will have a huge impact in journalism because as of right now…but who knows. Years down the road there could be some new innovation that completely goes against that thinking. Hopefully I’m wrong cause I find it pretty cool.

Week 5: 3d Impacts

This is a very interesting week when it comes to interpreting how the future of my career could be affected by the technologies we have covered this week. As the professor stated, there may not be a plethora of applicable uses for these technologies as the industry is now. But I think if there is going to be a big use for them, it’s going to end up being for ways which might aid a story.

I used the example earlier of forensics examples. Say there was a murder or something, you could recreate the person and show how/where they were hurt. Or create interactive 3d models of someone who is involved in the news.

I don’t see one hugely over arching way in which these tools will rock the world of journalism…but I do think each of them in their own way may change the game a little. Broaden the spectrum of a lot of things. They can help shed a more detailed light on a lot of things which used to have to be up to people’s imaginations. Will people have the technology in their palms to host these types of tools in another aspect in itself. I do feel like it will be a solid few years before these things become commonplace and we start to begin to see just how there may be a market impact.

Impact of 360

I have a lot to say on the topic of how VR/360 will affect the future of my career. As a matter of fact I was just on the phone with a professor of journalism/marketing from Northwestern yesterday talking about how there is no such thing as a traditional “journalist”. When I was first getting into journalism, you thought that’s what you were getting into…journalism. Journalism by it’s traditional nature is not what is used to be, and that’s not a bad thing.

Now whether you are an advertiser, a marketer, a journalist…you will all have your hands in the pot in terms of work. Sure, a journalist will probably create most of the content. But now they are also responsible for social media metrics, analytics, advertising online, click-bait…you name it.

My point is that 360 is no different. I personally think it is a really cool innovation. I was explaining the journalistic impact to my father who I don’t think could really wrap his head around it. The fact that you can basically live in a live setting of whatever is going on in the world. But this is where the future is going…and the future is inevitable. This will be one more medium which all stations are going to have to account for when going out on a shoot or story. Bring the 360 camera…that’s probably going to become a common phrase.

While it doesn’t necessarily  help the plight of the dying art of journalism, it does give a certain level of rawness and realness to any given event; which I suppose is almost equally, or even more so, valuable in it’s own right.

Unity 3D, Week 3

So this week we completed our very first Unity basic scene. Boy, do I have a lot to say about this.

Disclaimer: Unity seems like a very cool program. I have to work with different editing software every day and (for the most part) this is a pretty user-friendly application. It reminds me of a mix of Illustrator and Ableton in its layout. I had a lot of fun toying around with it and even found myself adding random add-ons from the store to just see what was offered. Unfortunately, there weren’t many free items for what I was looking for.

Anyways, first off…Unity is clearly not for the average persons computer. I was able to edit my project and export it then all of a sudden Unity would crash and not recover. Not with a restart, not with anything. I then realized it was my project it would not open. I could start a new scene…but not open the one I just started. HOW FRUSTRATING. The last step was to do my Quicktime video and post to this very blog. However, Unity seems to have other plans.

Luckily I was able to export the project before this began happening, so I was able to show my professor that I did indeed successfully complete the project and was not just making excuses. Hopefully this will still suffice for a complete grade.

All in all I had a fun time building a scene. Assuming I can find a way to work around these major glitches I very much look forward to building more scenes, assuming that’s what we’ll do. I want to just play around on the program and see what I can do. If there is a way to build figures in it I would toy around and build my house or something.

If someone is avid enough at this program I can definitely see how this can be a useful tool in VR. I also really enjoyed the head-bobbing feature when exploring your scene. All in all, really enjoyed this.

Innovator’s Dilemma: Week 2

So as I reflect on innovations in the media which disrupted the industry for better or worse, and made a lasting impression, I can’t help but think of a distinctly cliche answer. That answer being social media. Now I know what you’re thinking…social media, no crap he said social media. But here me out.

When referring to social media, social media was not always the “social media” we know today. Think about when you first made a Facebook page in 2007 or sometime around there. Your entire news feed was not populated with news sites, memes, auto-play videos, and everything else that it is today. I was simple. You had your friends, and that was about that.

It worked at the time. But media agencies and the social media sites themselves wised up to the potential. However, if you think about the Innovator’s Dilemma graph; social media was a bit of a flop at first. I was cool, but it wasn’t THAT cool. You had Friendster, Myspace, even AIM. These went almost as fast as they came. Once Myspace began to decline people didn’t see social media as an idea which had the utmost continuity.

Facebook’s ability to evolve changed that. Granted, Facebook started out as a crude personal rating system for Harvard students. But, that was disruptive enough. Enough for them to figure out how to work the system and become what they are today.

Now, social media is THE source for media. I would argue even more so than television. If it isn’t now, I certainly think it will be in the not so far away future.