Take the Matrix-popularized concept of being able to view a subject encircled in cameras from 360 degrees worth of angles. Now put just one camera in the middle of the scene, with 11 lenses facing in all directions, and shoot those 360 degrees of viewing angles, around and up and down. With me still? Now take that shot and turn it into a full-motion video.
Calgary, AB-based Immersive Media (s IMC), founded in 1994, has been trying to help us come to grips with this admittedly crazy concept for years, having designed such a dodecahedronal camera and the platform and services to put it to work. The company started out with military applications, then helped Google pioneer its maps’ Street View (that relationship ended after 2007), and now it’s trying to get into experiential marketing and sports.
I recently had a chance to view a bunch of demos of applications of IM technology, such as a set of surfing videos created for Red Bull in Tahiti. The camera, mounted on a backpack worn by a surfer (the rig weighs 25 pounds), gives an amazing view of the inside of a wave. It’s very cool to see what it looks like in the surfer’s wake by navigating around all the angles captured simultaneously. “I’m seeing perspectives of the barrel that I’ve never seen and I’ve been surfing for 20 years,” said one pro surfer in a behind-the-scenes video.
For me as a viewer, messing with the concept of a point of view was in one respect incredibly freeing, but on the other hand completely nauseating. With the surfing videos especially, I had trouble placing myself between sky and water. It was a relief when a new shot started, and the player set me back at a forward-moving starting point. I also had to push myself to remember to pivot around the screen — after all these hours I’ve spent watching video over the years, mousing around on the screen is a learned behavior.
However, what I like about IM is that, unlike 3-D, it expands the possibilities for video capture without putting too much of a burden on viewers. I think it’s pretty awesome that these 360-degree videos run in a regular Flash player and are embeddable. IM said the multiple angles drive users to watch videos again and again to experience a variety of angles. And you know what that means: more engagement — and potentially more monetizable experiences.
Other ongoing IM projects include a secret-code promotion for Microsoft around the launch of Halo 3: ODST and a set of videos for Vail-owned ski resorts. IM said it is in talks with all the major sports leagues and could potentially show up at the Olympics as well. Other planned uses include behind-the-scenes footage, red carpet coverage and concerts.
One cool new expansion of the technology will be live streaming. There’s a live demo from one of Immersive’s offices here, and the company is doing a trial with Canada’s MuchMusic next week. You can imagine a live 360-degree feed might be pretty cool as a static installation in a public venue like Times Square.
But I have to say I’m taking IM’s intimations about big potential deals with a grain of salt, as the company has been doing trials here and there for years in this space — it filmed David Beckham’s U.S. debut, for example, and did something with the NBA a couple years back. This 360-degree technology has been crazy and weird forever. For IM to make the leap from marketing campaigns and trials to a longer-term deal would be more interesting.