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in their shoes

Fort Tilden is a former military base hidden in plain sight, just miles outside of New York City. Located on 347 acres of land in the Rockaways, it was built post-WWI as a coastal gun defense. During the Cold War, it became a nike missile site, the frontier of protection against nuclear attack.

Missile Sunrise is a short 360 historical experience focusing on Fort Tilden, the Rockaways, Queens, New York. Created by Rebecca Lieberman and Nick Hubbard. Shot with a GoPro Freedom360 mount; stitched in AutoPano Pro; edited in Adobe Premiere; shown on a Samsung Gear VR.

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Voiceover Text:
From the history of Fort Tilden
“Memories of 69th AAA Gun Batallion (1950)”
“Battery 220 16-inch Gun Technical Data”

Audio sources (from YouTube):
Nike Hercules & Nike X Missiles in Action – Defense Testing NORAD – 1970s
Surface to Air Missiles: The Nike Hercules Story 1960 US Army

 

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The great thing about working with new and emerging technologies is that you get to try things that are not available to most people. The bad part about being a guinea pig is that because these things are new, documentation is often spare to say the least.

I decided to type up instructions on how to load 360 Video into the Milk VR Player for Gear VR after I spent an afternoon haplessly trying to get this to work. I found bits and pieces, but no step by step instruction. So, here it is.

To play 360 Video on the Gear VR, you can use either Milk VR or the Oculus 360 Video player. If you want to play something with 5.1  surround sound, you need to use Milk VR.

Export Instructions from Premiere

  • Codec set to H.264 (video must have with of 4096 px)
  • Make sure 5.1 is in your audio settings if you’re using 5.1 sound
  • Give the name a file extension _5.1.mp4 (MilkVR is looking for an underscore 5.1)

File transfer to Android Phone

  • Once you’ve exported and named your file, it’s time to load the video into the the phone. To play a video on the Gear VR, you need to put your video on the file directory of the Samsung phone itself***
  • There are two methods for doing this, one is to use Android File Transfer app and the other is AirDroid (which you need to have as an app on the phone, as well as a website on your computer)
  • AirDroid is easy to use. To do so, open the app on the Samsung and go to web.aidroid.com
  • Scan the QR code
  • The file system of the Samsung phone should show up in the browser
  • Put your video into the MilkVR folder; if there’s not already a folder, create one called MilkVR in the main directory of the phone (make sure there are no spaces in MilkVR)
  • When you hook your phone into the gear, MilkVR will launch. Your video should appear in the “Downloads” section of the Milk VRplayer.

***You only need a milk vr acount and to use the web interface if you want to put your content online and have it approved; to just test on the gear, use the instructions above

Alternative to MilkVR — Oculus 360 Video Player
http://phandroid.com/2014/12/19/360-video-gear-vr/

 

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This morning at the crack of dawn, Nick and I drove to Fort Tilden to explore the abandoned spaces there — missile silos, other fortification structures, abandoned buildings — for our 360 documentary. The idea was to explore similar themes to our project Monuments to Hart Island; we wanted to look more closely at places hidden in plain sight, to give a viewer access to a “blank spot on the map”, except this time using a different form. Our final piece will be finished Wednesday, but in the meantime here are some images from our shoot.

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Shot with the Ricoh Theta at Pelham Cemetery, City Island.

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Final Project Assignment: Create a 360° video that puts us in someone else’s shoes. This piece should transport us to another location, give us a different perspective and reconstruct how it feels to be another person.  Due Wednesday December 9th.

Hart Island is a one mile landform off the east coast of the Bronx, directly adjacent to City Island.  Originally used as a Civil War training, POW, and then burial location, it was purchased by the City of New York in 1869 and its primary purpose became serving as the final resting place for the indigent and unclaimed dead of the city.  Now managed by the Department of Corrections, Hart Island still fulfills this role, with as many as 1,500 bodies being buried on the island every year by inmates from Riker’s Island. At present, the total number of bodies buried on the Island is estimated to be over 1,000,000 people.

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Despite being just miles off the coast of New York City and the largest publicly funded cemetery in the world, Hart Island remains closed to the public and run ‘like a prison for the dead’; public visits are mostly prohibited (unless arranged through the DOC), cameras and recording devices are confiscated, and burial site visits can only be arranged if you are a relative, through proper legal channels. Hart Island is a blank spot on the map, a place literally hidden in plain sight.

For our In Their Shoes final project, Nick and I would like to make a 360 video that tells the story of Hart Island. The video will be a companion piece to a virtual museum we are creating for our final Cabinets of Wonder project. Like our virtual museum, the form of our project will be informed by the current state of the island, and the reality that we most likely won’t get access to shoot on site within our given time frame. This leaves us with the question: how can we tell the story of a place that we can’t actually go? How can we capture it from around, rather than within? Our hope is to do so by telling the story of this place through the lens of a person and their relationship to Hart Island. The following are two proposals for our subjects —

1) A Day in the Life of Captain Martin Thompson

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One thing that is remarkable about Hart Island and its inaccessibility is the way it is part of a bureaucracy of death — city organizations, paperwork, archives, costs of labor. For the people that work on Hart Island, from the officers to the inmates, death on a large scale is just a part of their daily routine. Captain Martin Thompson is the DOC Officer who has been in charge of the Hart Island detail for the past 10 years. In addition to running the daily ferry between City Island and Hart Island, he runs the daily operations — he picks up the inmates in the morning at Rikers, brings them to the island, manages the daily burials, and returns them by evening roll call. For our piece, we hope to tell this story through a day in the life of Captain Thompson. We would like to capture 360 footage in the following places: on the ferry to Hart Island, in the van with him, and at the DOC dock. Our hope is to have a continuous narration from him that unifies the experience of these three places.

Status: We met him last week and have reached out to him with a request to participate in the project. No word back yet and will follow up on Tuesday.


2) Perspective from City Island Resident

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To get to Hart Island, you take the ferry from the DOC dock, on the Eastern Edge of City Island. City Island has the look and feel of a New England fishing village. It is a small sleepy marina town that transports you to another time and place. But despite this, Hart Island is part of the backdrop, visible from its shores but entirely inaccessible. For the people who live in City Island, Hart Island is part of their daily reality in an entirely different way — for many, it is quite literally in their backyard. Our second approach to telling the story of Hart Island would be to do so from the perspective of someone who lives in City Island. We would plan to shoot at the following locations: the Pelham Cemetery, a public cemetery (photo above) that overlooks Hart Island; the site of a former scrap yard that’s being turned into a complex of single family homes overlooking the dock of the DOC, and other sites along the shore of the island.

Status: We don’t have a subject for this yet, and would need to find someone who would be willing to participate.

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Assignment 3: Create a piece that tells a story through 360° sound. No visuals allowed.

Amy is a 360 sound story written, recorded and edited by Shaun Axani, Rebecca Lieberman and Dalit Shalom. Created using Adobe Premiere Pro and shown on a Samsung Gear VR headset using Milk VR.

 

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Yesterday I tried out the new NYT VR app on my Google Cardboard. (Side note: it was so weird to see many people at my neighborhood coffee place this past Saturday morning carrying a cardboard around with their weekend paper. There was more than one). It was an interesting experience to try out the app as I make my own 360 content and think through a lot of the questions that are coming up around this new format.

These are just initial thoughts but I wanted to have a place to record them as I try out more stories on the app. I’d also like to look at some of the documentaries VRSE has released on their app, which I haven’t had a chance to spend time with yet.

My thoughts on NYT VR after watching The Displaced:

  • extreme closeups don’t work; there’s a happy medium where it’s close and you feel like you have intimacy with the subject, but there were moments were it was too close (the scene in Lebanon when you’re in the truck, smack against two other people) where it is disorienting and takes you out of the moment
  • pacing was way too fast – I felt like I was racing to keep up with the text; time is key, I want a slower pace to look around
  • nice moments were people directly address the camera; feels personal, like you’re making eye contact
    5 minutes in I felt nauseous and had to stop; maybe because there was way too much movement? or because the cardboard is not as good with lag time as the Oculus?
  • also there were some light leaks in my cardboard that were distracting — need to tape those up!
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Assignment 1: In groups of 2 meet someone new. (Not a friend or family member) Create a documentary experience that allows us to get a portrait of this person that is not a linear video. This can be a sound installation, website, interactive installation but can’t simply rely on edited video played back in a single channel. The experience should tell us who this person is, where they work, what their beliefs are. 

Andres B: A Portrait through Objects
by Gabriel Andrade and Rebecca Lieberman

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For our nonlinear portrait, Gabriel and I had the idea to try and get to know a person through their objects. We decided to constrain ourselves to three elements: sound, images, and a website.

We met our subject, Andres B, at the pizza place downtown where he works. He brought five objects with him and we prompted him to tell us stories about his objects with the following questions:

  • What is the object?
  • Where did you get it / where did it come from?
  • Who gave it to you?
  • Can you tell us a story about it? Do you have memories associated with it? Why is it important to you?
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In our first class for In Their Shoes, we did some quick experiments taking 360 footage with the Ricoh Theta. Later in the semester we’ll be using a more complex GoPro rig that can take higher resolution footage, but for now the Ricoh Theta is a good way to quickly prototype ideas and get comfortable with the 360 format.

Below is a test video we made in NYU’s creepy sub-basement. I stitched the footage using the Ricoh Theta’s easy drag and drop interface, and then uploaded it to YouTube based on these instructions from AJ (and these ones from Google, for more info on how to add 360 metadata to your video file). YouTube now has a 360 player that lets you easily navigate around a video using either your mouse or keyboard. The next step will be hooking this up to a Google Cardboard to experience it in VR.

Speaking of which, I came across this article in Wired today about an upcoming collaboration between the NYTimes and Google. They’re working on an immersive journalism piece that entails delivering Google Cardboard to over a million readers, to launch in early November.


Some considerations and things I noticed about this format:

  • The 360, at least in this case, really doesn’t work well when the camera is moving a lot. Better to keep it still.
  • The stitching gets really weird around the hand of the person holding the camera. I wonder what a better approach to this would be.
  • This video has the camera above eye level, which creates a weird floating / hovering effect.
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