This summer, we are working with Houston’s Writers in the Schools (WITS) to support teachers who are guiding students to create immersive media about what Houston means to them. Using the prompt “Dear Houston,” students were challenged to write letters to their city, still rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and create 360° films to share what they believe is special about Houston.
Participating teachers started the training with no experience making 360° video. In some cases, teachers had no experience making any type of video. When I met them in person, my enthusiastic claims that they would learn enough to make a 360° film and watch it in a VR headset by the end of a two-day workshop were met with varying levels of disbelief. However, we have learned through our work in the 360° Story Lab that creating 360° media is more accessible than people might think it is. As promised, through an iterative process of ideation and experimentation with 360° production equipment, this group of teachers at WITS created their 360° film in just two days.
There are two essential questions at the heart of creating any piece of media in 360°. The first: What elements will make an idea uniquely compelling as immersive media? And second: How can we use the entire 360° canvas to inform and entertain the audience?
We started this exploration by asking participants what they saw, heard and felt when they closed their eyes and thought of Houston. They came up with a range of ideas and emotions that included looking at the city as a network of veins, with a mixture of several diverse cultures, and the sounds and anxiety induced by traffic. Every idea included food and traffic in one way or another, which could be seen as a core part of the Houston experience. As our session unfolded, the group gravitated toward making one film that incorporated all of their individual ideas.
The film they created was about a young woman, Amanda, meditating outside on a yoga mat. One by one, other members of the team would appear and circle Amanda, yelling different things at her until there was a cacophony of seven voices all trying to disrupt her peace. Yet through all of the distractions Amanda remained calm and focused.
These learners answered the challenge to use the entire 360° canvas to engage the audience and fully seize the unique potential of immersive video. Because they spontaneously emerged from different angles around Amanda (and the camera), they gave the audience reason to look in every direction. This technique provides an opportunity for the audience to be fully immersed in the scene. They also each brought a part of their own story into this collective story by choosing what to shout.
I watched expressions of joy and accomplishment wash over their faces as they screened the final version of their film in the headset. Having gone through the process, the teachers are ready to share their knowledge and inspire their students to tell their own immersive stories.
In the coming weeks we will share the stories that students created with teachers from WITS. In the meantime, you can learn more about the 360° Story Lab and watch 360° films produced by students in 360° Story Lab programs.