“Drop Zone” In VR

VIRTUAL REALITY OF A PARACHUTE ASSAULT EXERCISE

FORT BRAGG, North Carolina — Experience one of the military’s most exciting training exercises in 360° virtual reality: a parachute assault operation.

VICE News partnered with Impact Creative, a Bay Area production and post agency, to capture VR/360° of the fabled 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, NC. The 82nd is best known for their tactical ability to deploy thousands of paratroopers anywhere in the world in 18 hours.

Chris McCard, Dave Sieburg, Philip Lima, Kaj Larsen, Eric Theirmann

Chris McCard, Dave Sieburg, Philip Lima, Kaj Larsen, Eric Theirmann

The 4-minute VR special is a huge leap forward for virtual reality journalism. The video combines emerging VR technology with coveted access behind military gates. This virtual ride takes you inside the belly of a Boeing C-17 as paratroopers perform a static-line jump exercise from 1000 feet.

The technical challenges were as much of a feat as the storytelling itself.

VR Rig

“This isn’t just another VR experience with GoPro’s strapped on a helmet,” said David Sieburg, Creative Director for Impact Creative. “The production was highly choreographed to align with the military exercise, including reporter stand-ups, nimble company moves to stay ahead of the troops, and even multiple VR camera arrays recording simultaneously from the air and the drop zone.”

Impact Creative experimented with multiple camera rigs for this production, ranging from 2- camera to 10-camera arrays.

“As it stands today, VR headsets are leaps ahead of the accessible camera technology,” said Sieburg. “VR agencies like Impact are relying on 3D printers to build custom camera arrays and test the best use cases. It’s a race to trail blaze the new frontier of VR/360° video production.”

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“In the new world of 360° production, there is nowhere for the camera operator to hide,” said Philip Lima, Director of Photography for Impact Creative. “I suited up in military fatigues and tried to blend into the scene.” You will see Lima peppered throughout the piece as he stabilizes the camera rig in bumpy situations.

The post-production process is equally exploratory and challenging. Impact has constructed custom editing machines driven by graphics processors to handle the multi-camera 4K content required by virtual reality.

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“The biggest hurdle is that the current software is inadequate and the workflow is extremely cumbersome,” said Joe Goldin, VR Technician for Impact Creative. “Every day we are learning something new, and the process not only becomes faster, but the possibilities become spatially vaster. Just wait until all content is 3D with motion tracking built in.”

For now, this VR/360° video is a captivating all-access pass inside our military on a viewing platform that offers a brand new, evolving visual language.
Sieburg adds, “I still get a kick out of watching people experience VR goggles for the first time, but with this piece is a guaranteed reaction when troopers start leaping out the doors!”

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