Thomas Hayden is a co-founder of 360 Labs, a production company specializing in 360º immersive panoramic photography and video based in Portland, Oregon. With more than a decade of work exclusively in virtual reality, Hayden is a pioneer of 360° video. He has produced 360 projects for world-class brands like GoPro, The Sierra Club, Google, Daimler, the United States Coast Guard, Nike, and Columbia Sportswear.
Q: What is the importance of virtual reality?
A: With immersive technologies you can put people into places, and they will remember that experience differently than what they’ve seen on a screen on these rectangles all around us that we’ve been looking at for over 100 years now. This is a medium designed entirely differently; the rectangle is no longer the frame that is the border for the content that you’re watching.
You can look left and you can look right by simply moving the rectangle in your hand or putting that rectangle light over your eyes in a virtual reality headset, and then simply using your neck like you do in the natural world to experience this reality because it might not be critical to the story what the rock looks like that you’re standing on when you’re in the Grand Canyon. But it is critical to the experience when you’re there. You absolutely become intimate with that rock type and what surrounds you. It permeates the experience and it seems like a simple thing like the texture of the floor that you’re standing on. But it is absolutely critical to knowing the story of the Grand Canyon.
Q: How does this technology help journalist?
A: It currently is helping journalists around the world take people into the story. Imagine the difference in the way someone might behave at a Trump rally when there is a CNN camera pointed at them as opposed to a camera that points everywhere and captures everything. There are people behaving differently behind that camera than there are than they are behaving in front of that camera, and in a 360 environment, when you’re capturing 360, you capture all of that. I can think of The New York Times after the Paris attacks a couple of years ago. They were able to take a 360 camera into the middle of 10,000 mourners. To tell the story of what it’s like to be in that community suffering that pain together. And you know you can get that shot from the balcony with a long lens and try to get the wide angle of the crowd. But they won’t put you in the crowd.
Q: When fake news comes to play, how is VR seen?
A: That’s where the virtual and the real start to blend. And that can be dangerous, too. And we have to be very careful about how that is used in journalism, too. You know this is an entirely created environment. Even though we’re capturing it with cameras, we’re stitching it with software where we can add and subtract any kind of thing we see… someone from that crowd in Paris. And you know that can change the journalism. What if, say, all people of a certain tone and color and their skin were removed from the experience. What does that suddenly become? Because now that technology is available. And it’s it can be used for good and evil, but we hope that this is the most inherent truth the medium ever invented and that it will be used by journalists, to tell the truth around the world—as it happened and as it is. And it’s it really is one of the most powerful tools journalists can pick up today.
Q: What component of VR do you think is critical for storytelling?
A: Spatial audio and 360 video are hand in hand (and) absolutely critical. I can hear all these gentlemen’s conversations slightly to my back and to my right and I should be able to get that in a 360 video experience as well… we call that spatial. So you get multidirectional microphones that are just like your multidirectional camera heads, and we’re putting and we’re matching that to the orientation of the sphere.