RYOT, an LA-based multimedia news and image gathering organisation has filmed the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake with game-changing technology that will alter the way the world experiences newsfeeds and how natural disasters are documented.
The first ever virtual reality (VR) reporting movie, a collaboration between Bryn Mooser and David Darg – co-founders of RYOT – delivers an experience of the devastation and situation facing Nepalese with this totally immersive technology.
The device itself is made up of six cameras (GoPro Hero models), attached to a 360-degree mount on a tripod. Darg took it to Nepal just after the quake struck where he spent two days in Kathmandu before travelling to the much-harder-hit mountain districts of Bhaktapur and Sindhupalchowk. Once the RYOT team arrived in Nepal, Darg’s first priority was to distribute food, water, and shelter to the communities. But from their experience covering disasters—most notably in Port au Prince, Haiti in 2010 —the RYOT co-founders both knew that ‘so much of disaster relief is in storytelling.’
The underlying philosophy of using VR technology to capture the human cost of events such as the Nepalese earthquake was to let the viewer occupy and interpret their own experience of the landscape. With this VR technology stitching together multiple video sources, it is the VR user who decides how long to stay on any one angle, scene or unravelling scenario, not the filmmaker.
Personalisation of disaster imagery certainly sounds morbid, but Mooser, a veteran of disaster-relief and an award winning documentary in his own right, has a somewhat more pragmatic approach. ‘There’s a moment when you can catalyse the world’s attention,’ says Mooser. ‘It’s brief, but it’s crucial.’
With VR technology becoming more affordable, developers have mobile platforms available so viewers can experience mobile VR content on their phones by swiping through 360⁰ video. Though it’s not going to stand alongside the experience offered by a VR headset like the Oculus Rift (available early 2016), the cross-platform viewing is an important step for documentary projects like RYOT’s Nepalese one, when the object is to communicate the message to a mass audience quickly and gain momentum with disaster relief efforts.
In their own words, ‘RYOT creates documentaries, web content and narrative feature films about the most important issues of our time,’ and to this list they can now the kudos of pioneering this film-making technique that is sure to set the standard for new approaches for professional and citizen journalists and their audiences.
Even without VR-compatible eyewear, this 3-minute film is powerful. Death erupts on screen in the first seconds and moves through the futility of rescue crews working to the intimacy of survivors in food queues.
Narrated by Susan Sarandon, the film is available on RYOT (www.ryot.org).
Film – http://www.ryot.org/nepal-vr-disaster-virtual-reality/933476