Virtual Reality with Purpose
Jonathan Powell and Brian Mahoney’s backgrounds in the game industry brought them together, but it was a fascination with virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree video that solidified their relationship. They formed their VR production company, Look On Media, less than a year ago with a focus on creating solutions for education, healthcare, and business.
Adobe Creative Cloud is an important part of their pipeline, helping them deliver high-quality projects. From the Baltimore Waterfront Future 360 virtual tour to VR stress relief rooms for people undergoing medical procedures to a 360 tour of the Bithenergy Solar Farm, Look On media creates professional 360 video and 3D VR environments that connect with audiences.
Adobe: What is your focus at Look On Media?
Powell: Our main focus is creating VR experiences for education, healthcare, and business. It’s a space in VR where others aren’t necessarily looking right now, but that we find fascinating.
Mahoney: Most VR applications are for gaming or traveling to amazing locations. There aren’t a lot of applications that deliver real value, such as helping people know what to expect when they get an MRI or giving investors a virtual tour of a production pipeline, so it seemed like a no-brainer to create experiences that help viewers accomplish more tangible goals.
Adobe: Tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on.
Mahoney: In the healthcare space, we worked with Johns Hopkins to create a 3D relaxation room to help relieve stress and anxiety in kids undergoing medical procedures. The virtual room creates a safe space with calming music and soothing visuals. In one room, viewers can look around and explore the natural and supernatural elements and in another they can enjoy an awesome beach scene with a pirate boat that rolls through. We’ve also done some prototyping of the same application for Chimes, an organization that helps people with disabilities and special needs.
Powell: For Bithenergy, a leading renewable energy company, we used VR to take people on a tour of the 10MW solar facility at Nixon Farm in Howard County, Maryland. Viewers “drive” in the front gate and are greeted with rows of solar panels in place of crops. The 360 video and VR experience lets them explore the panels from various angles and vantage points and includes captions that provide interesting information on the solar project.
Another project we have in process is with Ray Lewis, the former Baltimore Ravens player. He’s the vice president and cofounder of a nonprofit in Baltimore called Power52 that teaches underserved communities how to build solar farms on abandoned lots and then benefit from the resulting power credit. It’s creating jobs, creating education, and giving people this really great power discount.
We’re also creating an interactive virtual museum with Light City Baltimore and Project Mosul, now called Rekrei, for artifacts that have been lost to conflict, time, or otherwise. Using photogrammetry from crowd-sourced photos of pieces before they were destroyed, Rekrei is creating 3D models that we’re incorporating into a VR museum so people can interact with the artifacts and see them to scale. It’s a really powerful tool for preserving cultural heritage and creating a conversation around the destruction of important cultural art pieces.
Adobe: What is your workflow for creating VR and 360-degree content?
Powell: We shoot footage, pull all the files into a stitching software, and stitch them together to make the full 360, equirectangular video. From there we pull it into Adobe Premiere Pro CC and start pulling all the shots and actually cutting up the scenes to establish the flow of the video. We also do a lot of color correcting in Premiere Pro using the basic correction and color wheels in the Lumetri color panel in combination with the Vectorscope YUV, Parade RGB, and Waveform YC Scopes. This helps us get the most accurate color possible.
After we establish how we want it to flow, we’ll export from Premiere Pro into Adobe After Effects CC. We use the Mettle SkyBox plugin for After Effects to do all of our graphics, motion graphics, visual effects, and animation. Finally, we repackage the project, export it back into Premiere Pro, and export the final. We also use Adobe Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC for graphics work.
Mahoney: We’re working on a prototype of the Baltimore Aquarium right now. What’s really great about the process is we can model things in a 3D game engine like Unreal, kick out video, and then merge not only real-world 360 video but actually 3D game engine created content, using the Adobe apps to add all the bells and whistles on top.
Powell: We can do that with imaging sequencing too. We can spit stereoscopic shots out of the game engines, pull them into Premiere Pro, and then export stereoscopic. Adobe Premiere Pro has a monoscopic export, stereo left to right, and stereo top and bottom. It’s cool to see Adobe putting out VR-specific tools in Premiere Pro CC.
Adobe: What are the primary ways you’re making content available?
Powell: We’re putting monoscopic 360 video on websites and social channels, such as Facebook and YouTube, or on native apps for headsets like Little Star or VR Video. Going forward, stereoscopic is going to be more and more of a selling point as technology and cameras get better and the file sizes get smaller.
Mahoney: We’re also going to see a lot of overlap of the passive and interactive worlds start emerging as the technology gets better. The line between 360 virtual reality and 360 video that is interactive is getting blurred, and that’s only going to increase.
Adobe: What has the reaction been to the work you’ve done?
Powell: A lot of what we’re doing right now is client education because every time we go to a meeting we have to start by explaining how VR works. We try to go to every meeting with a prototype already built for the client, even if it is something simple, to illustrate the idea. When they get in the headset and we see them smile, we know they’re sold.
Adobe: What are the main challenges you’ve encountered.
Powell: Government and education grants fund a lot of the projects we work on, so we need to provide both qualitative and quantitative data. Over time, as we established that VR actually works in those spaces, we’ll see more progress and be able to really make a difference in those verticals.
Adobe: How do you approach storytelling in VR?
Powell: We’re still learning, but there are things that you can do with lighting, text animation, and sound design to direct people’s attention. But a lot of it comes down to content. Ultimately, it’s a different way of storytelling so we try to put the cameras in spaces where it’s not going to matter where the user is looking because it’s always going to be interesting.
Mahoney: Everyone is in an experimental phase, but that’s where you get the most unique results that will help define what VR filmmaking will be going forward.
Adobe: What’s your long-term vision?
Powell: We’re looking to build more platform-focused solutions as opposed to just delivering services. We want to provide a solution that can scale to help as many people as possible rather than just delivering projects on a client by client basis.
Adobe: How do you see the industry evolving?
Powell: The cameras will be better for sure. We’re starting to see a lot more camera bodies that do internal stitching and the resolution will start to improve. The cheaper the equipment gets and the less customized it has to be, the more people will start using it and solving some of the narrative challenges.
Mahoney: We’re also going to see platforms become more established. Facebook and Oculus are heavily involved in making sure there’s a way to create accessibility to VR and content platforms that are easier to use. All of these advancements will help us create content with even greater audience impact.