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Immersed In Virtual Reality with Vanishing Point Media

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Vanishing Point Media Co-founders Annie Lukowski and BJ Schwartz with a Vive VR camera.

While interest in virtual reality journalism is at an all-time high, information about the production process remains relatively scarce for the unacquainted video journalist. VideoJournalistToday sat down with Annie Lukowski and BJ Schwartz, veteran producers and co-founders of Vanishing Point Media (VPM), to get a sense of where VR is in relation to the world of video journalism. 

Based out of Los Angeles since inception in 2014, VPM is a full service production company that has created immersive experiences for brands including “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” LA ComicCon and Banana Republic.

What are your thoughts on the evolution of VR capture technology?

Lukowski: Which changes on a weekly basis. 

Schwartz: If not daily. Our first rig was a 10 camera GoPro rig where we were manually stitching everything and not even able to rewind or play back footage. I mean, now you can instantly play back inside of a headset or on your monitor.

Lukowski: Software that’s out there today, like Kolor's Autopano Video Pro, just didn’t exist. We really had to learn each and every step of the process, which I think ended up helping in the long run. 

Schwartz: But it’s definitely not monolithic, there’s no one-size fits all (for cameras or software). Find the right tool for you and your project.

Lukowski: (For that reason) Similar to the majority of production houses that exist today, we rent specific VR equipment and rigs for each new job. 

What are your thoughts on journalism blending with VR as a medium?

Lukowski: Journalism is really, really ripe for the VR community because VR is in essence transporting you to somewhere else.  There’s also an honesty, an authenticity to telling a story (in VR). There’s simply just not as many camera tricks you can play with or slight of hand to hide behind.

Schwartz: At least not yet.

Talk about the initial learning curve, and getting through that process.

Lukowski: We got our start when a VFX producer friend of mine was dabbling in VR. 

Schwartz: They were really looking to jump in and start telling stories in the medium, but no one could really bring it out yet.

Lukowski: (Similar to us) I really encourage people to just go out there and start making stuff or working on something. It doesn’t matter if it’s a documentary or making a commercial for your Uncles restaurant, you’ll learn a lot. Just take out a camera and start shooting. 

Schwartz: You can’t know without doing. There is just no way. Even when someone like the New York Times wants to do something, they can’t be a 100% on how it will turn out until they go and shoot it.

How is distributing content, getting it to into the hands and eyeballs of viewers, different with VR than traditional video?

Lukowski: I  really don’t think there is a clear-cut distribution model in place.

Schwartz: It’s very frustrating.

Lukowski: But it’s also very full of opportunity.

What’s next for the VR industry?

Lukowski: If you’ve seen Facebook faces or their social VR avatar demo, that’s off the hook. I’m the most excited about that.

Schwartz: For sure the ability to easily share content both in and out of the headset. Also an increased melding of interactive and video content going forward.

Modern VR content creators are forging ahead with enthusiasm and concern, like the pioneers of any nascent era. The tools constantly evolve but the required adaptability, courage and imagination for navigating this challenging medium remain the same. New explorers that are thinking of making a foray into the medium, especially video journalists, must decide for themselves whether the ambiguity that currently exists throughout the VR landscape is signaling incredible opportunity or the call of a siren. 

More information on the Vanishing Point Media website.

ImageAuthor’s Bio
Nathan Grotticelli is co-founder of EdenVR, inc., a virtual reality & 360° production studio that specializes in making immersive experiences remarkable.
Check out EdenVR’s latest projects at www.EdenVR.co and reach him at Nathan@edenvr.co.