Katy Perry’s Disembodied Head Takes to Augmented Reality for W Magazine

This week began with one of the world’s foremost fashion publications calling me to check a friend’s reference before hiring her as their first ever tech reporter. Fittingly, it’s ending with word of pop megastar Katy Perry gracing the cover of another big time fashion rag, W Magazine.

In AR.

Sam Reed, Hollywood Reporter:

Subscribers as well as readers in New York and L.A. will receive the limited-edition cover (on newsstands Aug.14), which shows the aforementioned floating head. Simply hover your device, which will become tethered to the page, over the image and tilt it this way or that way for a closer glimpse at Perry’s neck or perhaps her left or right ears (you know, whatever floats your boat), all without losing the high-gloss quality of the image.

From this default page, Perry’s face becomes the guide to the exclusive cinematographic content; readers are instructed to tap her eyes, her ears, her lips or her forehead to get a closer, exclusive view at [photographer Steven] Klein and Perry’s world. Three of the pieces of cover content are beautifully staged, gif-like moving images that play on a loop, while the fourth is a music video-esque short film.

Klein worked with NYC-based studio The Mill to create the cover. The September issue of W also some other bits of AR wizardry, and all of the issue’s digital content is also available on the magazine’s website.

“We come from a high-end visual effects world, and this level of aesthetic in AR was the challenge,” added Sallyann Houghton, executive producer at The Mill. “That’s what’s been the excitement for us — emulating print in the moving image.”

There are three other stories that take advantage of the technology throughout the September issue, including a feature on the last living working chimpanzee, which is paired with a short narrated science fiction short story; a fashion editorial by Mert and Marcus that allows models in the city-girl photographs to showcase their sassy, brusque personas; and another fashion editorial which, unlike the others, which unlock videos, simply shuffles the images around right there on the page thanks to the work of a collage artist.

The Perry feature is live on W’s website.

Volvo and The Weather Channel Plan Big AR/VR Plays for Upcoming Eclipse

Volvo (in conjunction with CNN) and The Weather Channel have interesting plans to leverage AR and VR during TV coverage of “The Great American Eclipse” later this month. As AdWeek’s AJ Katz reported:

When CNN’s livestream of the eclipse enters a commercial break, CNN’s brand studio Courageous will produce live ads for Volvo in 4K virtual reality and 360-degree video across all of CNN’s digital and social platforms.

This will be the first of a larger live ads effort from CNN parent company Turner and the Courageous studio.

This particular campaign centers on a 360-degree view of the eclipse and helps celebrate the 360-degree camera feature in Volvo’s all-new 2018 XC60.

I’ll admit I was surprised by that last bit: Advertisers are so often willing to push, shall we say, less than obvious product tie-ins that the direct link between 360 video of the eclipse and Volvo’s 360-degree camera is refreshingly obvious.

On the day of the eclipse, Courageous will station four cameras in different locations around the country where they will film influencers, sharing their perspective on the significance of the eclipse as it happens.

… Each will arrive at the eclipse viewing location in a XC60. The cars will be equipped with 4K VR and 360-degree cameras to help capture the commercial.

It’ll be interesting to see what Volvo airs live during CNN’s coverage (when viewership will likely be at its highest) and what they do after the fact with the 4K VR and 360-degree video footage.

The Weather Channel’s AR/VR plans are quite a bit vaguer, at least as reported by Katz:

In addition to stationing meteorologists across the country, TWC will also deploy its augmented reality technology to take viewers into space and help those watching at home understand the science behind this extraordinary event.

“Our Total Solar Eclipse experience will span from live broadcasting across the country augmented reality technology in-studio, to sweepstakes for a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the eclipse from 35,000 feet,” Weather Channel’s svp of live programming Nora Zimmett told Adweek.

But, hey, at least TWC has added their own brand name to the eclipse hype! Seriously, though, I hope they pull off something cool, because using AR to “take viewers into space” and help folks understand the science behind the eclipse sounds pretty awesome.

The eclipse will be viewable over parts of the United States on Monday, August 21st.

Meet the VR Experience Customized By Your Body

VRScout’s Zeynep Abes checked out the VR Village at this week’s SIGGRAPH show in L.A. She was taken by Strata, a VR experience from The Mill, a global media studio better known for producing hip-hop mogul Jay-Z’s recent, “The Story of O.J.” video.

Strata was actually released last year, but neither I nor, apparently, Abes, had heard of it until this week. The experience combines an Oculus Rift headset with a chest-worn heart monitor and a Bluetooth device called Muse:

Before putting on the Oculus Rift, the developer placed a headband on me, called Muse, to track my brainwaves—to monitor wether or not my mind was calm or active. Muse is described as a meditation assistant, but in this case it was used to help Strata tune into my heart rate, breathing, and stress levels. The experience can respond to my emotional state and create a virtual world depending on that data.

Muse is just one of a growing fleet of consumer-facing biometric devices that leverage low-cost sensors and the power of computers consumers already own, namely smartphones and laptops. While Strata requires a relatively expensive Oculus Rift-and-PC combination to run, the $249 Muse headband was originally designed to work directly with an Android or iPhone app.

That said, the notion of leveraging biometric sensors to create customized VR experiences based on an individual user’s state of being at a given moment is intriguing, to say the least. Imagine the old “iTunes Visualizer,” but in virtual reality, and responding to/controlled by your breathing and heart rates, and other biometric data:

Strata gave voice and form to the invisible happenings within me. The minimalist designs with the dreamy color palettes for each world gracefully reflected me back to myself; my breathing created ripples across the water, my stress level changed colors around me and heart beat pulsed in sync with the floating orbs of light around me. A state of calm washed over me as the experience started to come to an end.

It’ll be interesting to see if these types of devices and experience gain traction once they’re able to work with standalone VR rigs like the ones coming soon from Google’s partners, HTC, and, most likely, Facebook and Samsung.

Virtual Aggregation! RTL Leads $15M Investment in Inception VR

Advanced Television:

Inception, a next-generation immersive content network, has announced a $15 million Series A funding round led by RTL Group, the broadcast, content and digital media giant. This investment helps Inception expand its content catalogue, enhance its technology platform and accelerate growth.

Inception’s home page showcases a ton of 360 video content, most of which looks mildly tittilating and/or annoying on first glance. Interestingly enough, scroll down the page and you’ll see a bunch of Time Out branded content. I haven’t seen a copy of Time Out in years!

RTL Group is a media conglomerate with interests in 59 television and 31 radio stations in 10 countries across Europe. Their home page is also not a model of modern aestheticism.

But, hey, content aggregation is alive and well in the age of VR!

Meet the LA Startup Designing VR Theme Parks in China

Rebecca Fannin, Forbes:

One of the more fascinating startups in the ever-so-heated virtual reality field has to be Spaces. A DreamWorks Animation spin-out in Los Angeles funded to the tune of $39.5 million by U.S., Chinese and Japanese investors, the 16-month-old is doing something that seems fairly far out — designing virtual reality theme parks in China.

These VR attractions are in prototype stage now at large-sized back lots in LA, Orlando and China, and are set to open by early next year in at least two key Chinese locations. This comes through a $30 million joint venture with Chinese theme park operator Songcheng Performance in May 2016, celebrated at a formal ceremony where the Blue Man Group performed.  Now, Spaces’ virtual reality attractions will reach 23 million thrill seekers in China who want to experience the latest enhanced rides, stage shows and live-streaming video content — all without getting nauseous.

Last year at Samsung’s developer conference in San Francisco, I watched people ride a VR rollercoaster. The single car coaster was mounted on hydraulics, not a track, and moved up and down and to and fro in sync with VR content displayed on individual Gear VR headsets worn by riders. Look at the photo at the top of this post and you’ll get the idea.

Pros: VR coasters are cheaper to build and install than the real thing, take up less real estate, and can be reconfigured via software to simulate endless coaster layouts.

Cons: Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby!

We are inching slowly towards a Ready Player One sort of reality, aren’t we?