It's very weird to watch a single person for an extended period of time, especially when they don’t know you’re doing so.
I’m right in front of the stage at a giant rock show, and I’m watching the front row. They jump when the pyro goes off. They take selfies, hugging their friends close and standing cheek to cheek to fit in the frame. A couple dances to the song, looking into each other’s eyes. I’m surrounded by tiny, interesting stories.
My back is to the band, and I spend the entire time watching the people watch the show. They have no idea I’m here. I can stare at anyone I want, for as long as I want, and no one says a thing.
"This is pretty cool," I tell the gentleman at Oculus Connect as I remove the virtual reality helmet. It takes me a few minutes to adjust to being back inside the hotel. This is the product Jaunt VR is hoping to sell: The ability to take you someplace you could never go otherwise.
"It is extremely portable, weighing about 7 pounds. It is a completely self-contained solution." Scott Broock, VP of Content at Jaunt told me. "Power is delivered by industry standard, hot swap Anton Bauer batteries and media is recorded to SD cards. Unattended record time is about 2 and a half hours."
If the video is the product, this is the means of production.
"We capture a full sphere of ambisonic audio with an external omnidirectional microphone connected to a battery operated field recorder," Broock said. "This gives us significantly more audio information to work with than a simple binaural recording, and we can bring our sphere of audio into Dolby Atmos for additional mixing and sweetening."
It may seem simple, but creating a working interaction between you and the scene is tricky. "Our proprietary player places sound constant with where you look," Broock explained. "If a loud sound occurs ‘behind’ you, it will then be in ‘front’ of you when you turn your body to look at it." The camera can be set up in five minutes, and is portable. The idea is to place you inside situations you would never get to see.
It’s a celebrity simulator
The results are amazing. One video was taken from a few feet behind a DJ playing a huge club show. The sound thudded through the headphones, and the DJ began to jump up and down with the beat. The crowd did the same thing, and this is what it feels like to be behind the decks in front of tens of thousands of people paying attention to everything you do. It’s a celebrity simulator, and it was hard to keep myself from jumping.
That’s the first part of the experience, the feeling of being somewhere you would never be in real life. The second part is the exploration of that space. Once I got over the excitement of watching the crowd react to the music I began to look around. There was a man hiding under the decks, moving around equipment and readying what looked to be a tub filled with champagne.
People were adjusting the lighting and cabling behind the scenes, and I began to watch them, suddenly aware of the dozen or so people in constant motion around me. This is what you don’t get to see unless you’re behind the scenes; the amount of people the constant activity that keeps a show of this size running smoothly. You can't move, you're locked to the position of the camera, but being able to pivot around and see everything in the scene with no distortion is impressive.
I cycled through the videos, and began to get lost in the people around me. One experience puts your ringside at a boxing match, and being able to watch the fighters this closely was amazing. You could see their muscles bunch as they hit each other, and watch them moving around the ring, trying to get into position. The crowd was just as interesting. I turned around and faced them, and I could tell when a punch landed due to their reaction
The crowd pulls away in sympathy when it looks like someone may have gotten hurt A man whispers into the ear of the woman next to him and she smiles. I pick one person at the edge of the ring and watch him closely, just to see what he does. This is a thing that happened at some point in the past, and if I was actually ringside I would have been soaking up the match and ignoring everyone around me.
Instead this is a video I can watch over and over, taking in all the tiny dramas and stories happening around me. You can watch one person through the entire thing, and they have no idea anyone is studying them this closely. The crowd has become extras in a movie I get to experience over and over.
There’s no distortion to the 3D video, and the audio is fantastic. In a way it turns you into a sort of ghost in these situations. You can look around and focus on anyone you can see, and you can openly stare at them to watch their reactions to the event, you can see what songs they like and don’t like during a concert.
You can take a look at what happens behind the scenes at a large event, but looking around and following the work of one roadie instead of the band. You can watch a single video as many times as you’d like, experiencing the same thing many different ways.
It’s a pure experience, repeatable and explorable.
The future of event coverage
"Personally, I would love to have our camera capture a breaking global news story. The ability to feel like you are in the middle of an event will make news more 'objective' — you can interpret the facts for yourself," Broock said.
"We are extremely excited about the narratives we have been shooting that put you inside a movie. The Mission, which we shot with New Deal Studios and Director Matt Gratzner is currently in post production and will be releasing shortly."
They can take the camera damned near everywhere, and then share that bubble of space and time to anyone with a VR headset. They shot a video during the premiere of the Avengers, and you get to stand by the red carpet and watch the stars walk past. I spent my time watching everyone around me, trying to see how the reporters do their job in that situation.
It’s a pure experience, repeatable and explorable.
I learned more about what it’s like to be at the opening of a Hollywood movie in those few minutes than by reading any number of articles about it. The camera isn’t editing this experience for you, and it doesn’t cut away. You decide what to look at and, due to the use of the 3D audio, what to listen to.
If you feel like you missed anything you can start over and look at something else as it happens. The implications for news reporting, or narrative works that require multiple views to understand the story, are all interesting.
You could drop one of Jaunt's cameras onstage at more concerts, so you could watch your favorite band as they perform live, focusing on whatever you'd like to see at that moment. You could pay attention to just the drummer, and then watch the same song as the guitarist plays it. It makes history repeatable, and takes away the power of editing and curation of these moments and gives it back to the viewer. You don't have to watch any one thing, you can experience the same moment many different ways.
This is amazing technology for anyone who has ever taken part in "people watching." Turning your back to the action to take in how people interact with a rock show or a DJ’s set, to see what the world is like inside of extraordinary situations, it’s intoxicating.
I kept waiting for someone to pick their nose, or do drugs at the concert. I saw people kissing and hugging. The crowd became part of the act, even if they didn’t know it.