I have a new girlfriend: she is blonde, beautiful and dances very well. There’s only a problem: she still doesn’t know who I am.
It’s all started when Shawn Jung, a member of the Amaze team, contacted me to review their media and entertainment platform. I was like “Oh, another 360 videos thing, yeah, interesting… like all the zombie wave shooters out there”. Then I tried it to give it a chance and well, I was actually amazed.
When you start Amaze on your GearVR, you are presented with a nice intro that, in 30 seconds, gives you a taste on all the videos that are available on the platform. The intro is cool and makes you want to give the app a try. It was this moment that I fell in love with the blonde dancing girl.
After the video ends, you’re presented with a menu that makes you select a category based on your interests: sport, music, fun, etc… so that the system can suggest some videos for you. Your choices won’t prevent you from seeing videos from other categories, but they will just help the app to suggest what you should watch. I went with dance (it featured the blonde girl!), sports and something else and then went on. After that, you finally enter into the home screen of the experience, the one that you’ll see each time you run the application: this is where you can select from some of the featured videos or just browse all available videos.
Can you guess which video I decided to watch first?! Yeah, exactly. The blonde girl. I’ve discovered that her name is Magga Braco and she has made a video where she dances to the song Despacito on the Walk of Fame. You can spend 4 minutes watching her here if you want…
…but watching it in VR is completely different. First of all the environment is amazing, since you feel like you’re there at the Walk of Fame. Then seeing her dancing right in front of you is really more immersive, it’s more “intimate”, it’s like really you’ve really gone to LA with her and you’re dancing together. The video is a 180° VR video, so there is depth and it looks really realistic. There are a few moments when she seems like she really wants to involve you into the dance, like when she puts her hands near to your face. We all hate the song Despacito, but, at the same time we all sing it, so the video ends up being very catchy. And she’s very good at dancing to this latin song. In the end I’ve fallen in love with her. And in the video she smiled at me, so I am guessing that she’s interested in me too. So we are basically engaged 😀 😀 😀 . The video has some moments where the camera moves to follow the dancer and this could cause a little bit of sickness (but I was fine with it). Today I’ve made a new discovery: Magga is able to defeat all the motion sickness symptoms, I should add her to my post on how to remove motion sickness in applications…
Still singing Despacito in my head, I started to check out other videos. I went to the Temple Nightclub (in San Francisco), dancing in the disco with other people and having fun with the DJ next to his console; I was part of a MMA training session; I fenced against some world-class players; I hangout with a juggler; I went shopping with a swimsuit model; I listened to a rehearsal of a really talented singer; I was part of a zombie apocalypse! Damn, the zombie apocalypse was awesome! There were these two crazy guys guiding me through the apocalypse to save my life. In Amaze, I was able to do a lot of interesting experiences, one after the other!
Apart from my love for Magga, I think that Amaze is cool for especially these reasons:
- All videos are in streaming mode: a lot of apps saturate my SD card space downloading videos, while Amaze works completely in streaming. This has let me experience a lot of videos without any concern for the space on the phone;
- All videos are in VR: I’ve not found a single 360 flat video. All videos have depth information, all videos are stereoscopic and this is great for enhancing the immersiveness for the user inside the video;
- There are videos for all kind of people: if you like music, there are lots of videos about music; if you like funny things, there are comedians video; if you like action, there are action movies. Amaze doesn’t focus on just one interest, but tries to please everyone and this is great for VR adoption. As I’ve said in my article about Women In VR, if we want VR to become widespread, we have to make content for all kinds of people, not only for us, men: for instance, the Amaze video with the swimsuit model is awesome for us men because…well, the model :D, but it’s also interesting for women since she showcases a lot of different swimming apparel;
- All videos are… amazing: all have a good resolution and have been well directed; in every video, I can perceive the effort to create an experience that is original, that can involve the user, that can astonish, and that can bring out real emotions. I’ve not found even one video that I would define “really boring”.
Of course nothing can be perfect, so even this app has some problems. First of all, due to VR + streaming, the battery cries while you use it and, after some minutes, my GearVR started to complain about overheating. Streaming is subject to all of its standard issues like sloppy video playback if the wi-fi traffic is too-high and a long waiting time before the selected video starts to play. Of course, a small share of the videos can cause a little bit of sickness. But these issues didn’t ruin my experience that much.
Few days ago, Amaze has launched a new video called “Blast Off”, made in collaboration with the Backyard Scientist. This is an incredible video where you’re in the garage of this crazy guy and he starts making insane experiments like a fight between a flamethrower and liquid nitrogen (even reading the name is super-cool), explosion of watermelons using an enormous mice trap and popping champagne bottles using an ultrasonic cleaner. I’ve said that the Amaze team wants to be original every time and I can confirm it: they surely did an awesome job this time.
There are certain parts of the video that are fantastic only if you see them in VR, like when the crazy scientist starts throwing liquid nitrogenum smoke right into your face. I had the instinct to move it away with my hand: in that moment I said myself “wow, this means that they really gave me the presence!”. Experiment with the fireworks really scared me for a moment. I really was happy in seeing all these experiments and I felt really empty inside when the video finished and I had to remove the headset. I was like, “What is this damn office? Why am I here? I want to do crazy experiments in the backyard!”.
Another innovative thing of this video is that it is slightly interactive. After a brief introduction, the scientist asks you what experiment you want to try, and then everything freezes. Looking around you can see that there are some objects that are brighter than the rest of the scene and if you look at them, a pop up tells you the name of the experiment and you can go to the experiment by clicking it. When this video ends, you return automatically to the “experiments menu” so that you can select others. How do you exit this menu? Easy… you select the car, so that you can go away from this garage.
I loved this possibility to have a slightly interactive experience and their choice to create a “natural” and intuitive menu that hightlights the objects in the video and not a standard menu with a standard flat UI. I think that something like that could be used to create a video with a story that you can pilot with your choices and reach different possible endings. Amazing!
Having been fascinated by their app, I also conducted a little interview with the Amaze team… and they’ve been very kind in answering my questions:
Tell me more about the experience made with BY Scientists from your point of view!
The Backyard Scientist is a household name in the YouTube community, so he’s a veteran when it comes to making these videos. It’s always great to work with content creators who have distinct styles that they want to bring to the VR format.
I think the experience is cool because there’s a clear differentiation with his YouTube content and what we are able to do in real life. For example, our VR experience allows the viewer to be “physically” close to the experiments (say, standing just a few feet from a flame thrower), which isn’t possible in real life.
The biggest difficulty in the Backyard Scientist shoot was our exploration into interactive. What will make live action interactive experiences compelling is the feeling of weight – that your decisions are consequential. Also adding value is the feeling of agency over your experience and that the experience can only be done interactively. While this is just our beginning into interactive, we learned a lot in terms of how we can improve upon the interactive experience as we move forward.
I’ve seen in the app only VR 180 videos… why did you pick this format above standard 360?
To us, what’s amazing about live action VR is the feeling that you can reach out and touch someone, like you’re physically in the middle of the action. For that, we believe that high-quality, stereoscopic videos are essential for this immersion. Thus, instead of diluting our 4K video across a 360 canvas, we’ve concentrated our resolution in the 180 space, rendering the high video quality we’re able to achieve. Last note, we’ve begun taking a rear 180 3D still photo to use as a background, which doesn’t compromise our video quality but gives the viewer the impression of a 4K+ 360 experience.
We definitely believe in the future of 360 VR videos. But as VR is a newer medium for live action, 180 has been less of a burden on our content creators to adopt the new technology. Also, with only 75% of 360-degree video users only looking at the quadrant in front of them, we believe it’s more important to focus on higher quality in the 180 space until mobile can host these higher quality videos in 360.
How do you select the subjects of your videos? What drives the inspiration?
We strive to center the storyline around the viewer, treating the viewer as not just a passive observer, but someone included in the narrative. Initially, we’ve collaborated with new media content creators as they’re comfortable and creative in front of a camera, yet relatively easy to work with. Curiosity sparks our inspiration as we want to create experiences that can’t be experienced in real life such as becoming a baby sea lion or surviving the zombie apocalypse.
Tell me more about the difficulties of designing and shooting these kind of experiences!
We’ve recently expanded our scope of experiences, trying to discover new genres that will be birthed through VR. Content ideation is a dual effort – we have to listen to our users and create content we know they love (i.e. Magga’s Hollywood Walk of Fame) while also exploring new concepts at the risk of having a few misses. It’s an exciting time though as these early content creators are shaping the landscape for the future of VR.
Another challenge is breaking the mindset of what video should be. When film was first birthed in the early 20th century, much of the content resembled theatrical plays, because that’s what people understood as performance. Similarly, we often find content creators leaning on what they know, and it takes some effort to explore new techniques not traditionally explored in video.
Something else you want to tell me?
First of all, we are really excited about your interest and enthusiasm for us. 🙂 [Thanks, guys!]
As we are trying to discover new genres, we’ve just launched Amaze New Filmmakers Competition, in which anyone with a traditional film reel and a narrative treatment for a VR live action video can apply. There will be a cash prize, but more importantly, we will provide a VR boot camp for the finalists, resulting in a VR short film of their own.
Besides interactive, we also believe series are important for live action VR, and we’re beginning to shift our focus. One series in production right now is Dead Man Walker, an interactive zombie apocalyptic experience in which you can choose to follow a storyline for either a survivor or zombie. The first episode is expected to release by early September and is created by ZombieGoBoom, a YouTube channel by filmmaker Chuck Meret with over 1.6M subscribers.
Wow! Can’t wait to see their series in September! And I’m really intrigued by how they speak about experimenting in virtual reality movie-making (something I’ve already heard when I talked with MANDT VR) and the passion they put in trying to make their creations the most appealing possible for the users. I’d really love if they would shoot some long film and would play it inside some VR Cinema! Also the idea of the competition is interesting since can help young film-makers to learn how to properly shoot for these new technologies! (If you’re interested, contact Amaze!)
In the end I think that Amaze is a amazing app to spend some times inside your GearVR having fun watching amazing videos. Time really flies inside there. And I also loved talking with their creators and having a better insight on VR film-making! So I really advice you to have a look to their website or directly download their GearVR app! And if you know how I can get in touch with my new girlfriend Magga, let me know in the comments… 😀
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