Last week, The Associated Press published their first animated virtual reality experience, offering viewers a 360-degree view into the latest scientific theories on the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This is a re-post of an interview with Sasa Marinkovic, the head of software and VR marketing at AMD, and Darrell Allen, the lead editor on AP’s project with Jake Kreinberg, publisher of Insights at The Associated Press.
We’ve all heard of virtual reality, but this video shows how VR can be used for educational purposes through animation. Is this where you see virtual reality headed?
Sasa: We’re seeing applications like this for the first time, where you can zoom in to see incredible levels of detail inside of 360-degree “views.” I think this platform is a completely new way to experience content, to be told a story and to look at the world in a digitally simulated way that is going to help us relate to things we weren’t able to in the past.
Darrell: VR can take you to places a photographer can’t reach, and use animation techniques to explain a concept that makes it easier for viewers to understand. The advantage of using animation is that you’re not limited to the resources of where you are (with a camera).
Let’s talk about the technology. It’s the same that’s been used in gaming, correct?
Sasa: That’s true – this project uses AMD’s Radeon™ graphics. We believe that with virtual reality, technology actually needs to take a backseat to the experience. Obviously, the experience needs to be smooth, immersive and impactful. But it also needs to be seamless in order for this experience to really be amazing.
And I think in this piece in particular, not only do we enable the viewer to see things, but we also can connect them emotionally to the patients, to the doctors, to how the brain works and some of the things that people go through in their daily lives and Alzheimer’s effect on them.
So from our perspective, pieces like this represent a tremendous opportunity to help improve the understanding and awareness of important issues affecting humanity, and I think it’s a great example of what we can do together with AP, which has a knack for getting to the bottom of the story.
Darrell: The biggest thing with VR, whether it’s with video or animation, is how do you get the viewer to see and understand everything? The viewer sees whatever’s in front of them relative to where they’re looking – it’s constantly changing, unlike a regular video camera.
So it’s possible they miss something because they’re looking somewhere different from where you intended. To combat this, we put labels in multiple places and wrote the script in a conversational way so that no matter where they’re looking, they can hopefully understand what’s going on.
Are we getting closer to a point where virtual reality can be used for breaking news?
Darrell: I think we are as far as raw video. Our reporters could film with 360-degree cameras and send the footage back to editors, and it’d be a similar process to what we do with regular video. Unlike regular video, though, now viewers can see everyone around an event and all the chaos that’s going on as it’s happening.
For animations, it’s more difficult because we have to build them from scratch. We have to gather all the information first and then create a design for it. With Alzheimer’s, we decided on how best to allow viewers to journey through the brain and see how the disease develops in a way they haven’t before.
What would you like to explore in future videos?
Darrell: I’ve learned a lot about Alzheimer’s, and I hope that for others, seeing how the disease progresses causes them to get their health checked more often. Even for people who don’t have Alzheimer’s but are living with those who do, I hope they can understand what causes it and raise awareness.
As for future projects, we’ve discussed recreating natural disasters. What’s it like to be immersed in a 360-degree view of a tornado’s destruction, or a building shaking during an earthquake? We could also do a before and after, like with the World Trade Center – “this is how the towers looked before, this is how the destruction happened, this is how the new buildings are being built and how long they’re taking.”
But that’s the challenging part – trying to find that perspective that’s interesting enough that people want to see it in that medium.
See more virtual reality videos at bigstory.ap.org/vr360.