The app, which is now available via the iTunes app store, is free to download and allows users to access three free short films - one on the recent revolution in Libya, another on Thailand's attempted government coup and a third on gun crime in America. Shot by photojournalist Patrick Chauvel, the films use innovative immersive technology allowing the user to choose where to look in the frame in a 180º field of vision.
Photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Danfung Dennis co-founded Condition One 12 months ago with three others, including entrepreneur Peter Sung, who was previously vice-president of business development, strategy and new media/mobile at WireImage/MediaVast, a company later acquired by Getty Images.
Dennis recently shot the award-winning film Hell and Back Again. His new initiative is a bid to engage viewers further, however, by immersing them in the footage they are watching.
"I became dissatisfied with the flat surface, and wanted to bring people even closer [to the action] and make them more involved," he tells BJP. "I wanted to create an immersive experience where they feel they have control. It's close to the experience of gaming in that it has that feeling of interactivity, but we wanted to combine elements of that with documentary footage."
The footage is shot with a specialist camera system, before being processed in bespoke software that projects it onto a virtual dome. This virtual dome is then tied to the gyroscope in the iPad 2, giving the viewers the ability to select what to look at on it by tapping on the screen. "You can look down at your toes and up at the sky, anywhere in the 180º field," Dennis says. "So far you can't move in and out but we're working on the technology."
The film is projected onto a 9ft dome in order to be edited, and although the technology is very new, Dennis estimates the ratio of footage captured to finished film produced will be about the same as in documentary film, about 10 to one. Editing the 180º footage is akin to editing a documentary film, he says, but the fact that the user controls what will be viewed within it means it requires a very different visual language. "It's a different type of shooting and a different thought process," he says. "In a documentary film the user is very guided; we have had to ask ourselves how to tell a story when we don't know where they will be looking. We've tried to use long sequences of footage rather than using lots of cuts, though, so that users can follow the action themselves."
Condition One was announced back in March, when a demo video of Chauvel's Libyan footage was made available. The team had initially hoped to launch it shortly afterwards but, says Dennis, creating the app proved much more complex than initially predicted, and Condition One's development team had to write much of the coding from scratch. The launch of iOS5 on 12 October then created further delays as Condition One had to update the project to meet the new requirements of Apple's mobile operating system. "I think every time there's an update you have to make adjustments," says Dennis. "There's that period [pre-launch] when Apple has the beta versions, but you don't know exactly what it will look like until it's out. Now we have everything buttoned up."
Currently the app will only be available for the iPad but Condition One hopes to roll it out to other platforms in future. The company is currently in talks with media companies and will be running trials in which third-parties can output their interactive films on Condition One's app. Once the trial is over, they will offer external companies access to their software on a monthly subscription basis, which will allow them to build it into their own apps. The camera system, which Dennis was unwilling to discuss further at this stage, is not a proprietary system.
"We're offering them guidelines and notes on best practice so that they can shoot their own content," he says. "Like stills photojournalism, it works best with projects that are visual and fast-moving - it wouldn't work well for a story on finance, for example but it would work with a story on the Greek protests - so we're talking to a lot of news organisations, but we're also being approached by brands and advertisers. The whole media industry is awry, so people are open to trying new platforms and business models."
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