The New York Times Used Thousands Of Old Photos To Recreate Olympic Stadiums In VR

by Joe Durbin • August 12th, 2016

The New York Times is one of the most well respected and venerable news outlets in the United States. It is also one of the few “old school” organizations that seems to be prioritizing and understanding the new immersive medium beginning to crop up. To that end, the Times launched the NYT VR application and began filling it with 360-degree content.

NYT VR first came on our radar when it released an immersive political documentary called “The Contenders” that brought you into the campaign rallies of top presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Now, the company has released a new experience that takes you to the stadiums and structures of the Rio Olympics while also letting you explore the famous stadiums of past games as well.

This new experience is called The Modern Games and its producer, Graham Roberts, explained in an interview that his goal with the project was to give people the ability to go in VR where they could never be naturally.

“Our goal with these NYT VR experiences is to give people the chance to go places they wouldn’t otherwise be. Things like a Trump Rally or an Olympic stadium. We’re always thinking about what makes something valuable in virtual reality. There has to be a reason that we’re making it in VR and not a standard 2D medium.”

The film’s cinematographer, Evan Grothjan, spent 11 days in Brazil gathering footage. According to Grothjan, The Modern Games was shot using the GoPro Odyssey camera: a 360 rig that is made up of 16 synchronized Hero4 Black cameras and is only made available to select industry professionals that can qualify through an online application.

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Powering the Odyssey rig is Google’s Jump compiling software. 360 cameras require software and algorithms to assemble or “stitch” all of the different camera feeds together into a single, seamless, spherical image. Google’s Jump provides that service for the Odyssey camera and, according to Grothjan, it is the best combination he’s ever worked with.

“Jump is amazing,” Grothjan said. “We’ve used a lot of different hardware and software on these projects and this is the one that’s given us the best results for shooting in stereoscopic 3D. Half of the game when shooting 360 is looking for the composition, and half is making sure the camera doesn’t fail. Google Jump made both of those a lot easier.”

Much has also been made over the questionable health and safety conditions in Rio, but Grothjan said that — even though he spent time in every corner of the city — those concerns never really bothered him.

For any shoot, environment is just a matter of preparation. If you have a good fixer, good security, and can maintain a good demeanor and don’t act foolish you will be fine,” Grothjan said.

While Grothjan was gathering this on the ground footage in Rio, Roberts was spearheading an innovative project back in the states. He explains that by using the thousands of photos in the Times’ archives, they were able to stitch together 360-degree immersive recreations of historic Olympic stadiums and moments that go as far back as the 1896 games in Athens.

“Our approach to the stadium recreations really was unique. We had to go through our photo archives and make sure we had enough visual data to complete these spheres. We then had to go through all of the projection, mapping, and stitching processes to complete the images.” 

The Times partnered with a studio known as The Mill to complete this process and help with the technical aspects such as mapping and projection.

The Modern Games will not be the last we see of the NYT VR team. According to Roberts, the company is already working on a new experience, this time taking viewers into the heart of Iraq, that will release next week.

The NYT VR app is available for free download on iOS and Android.

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  • Apoc

    This isnt VR. There is nothing VR about a 360 degree video.

    VR at a minimum requires stereoscopic 3D for presence to cover the “reality” part of Virtual Reality. Please stop peddling this 360 video nonsense as VR. The casual consumer is confused enough already

    • Ali Zareiee

      Get grip dude. Going bananas like this is nonsense. 360 video is VR much closer than the computer generated low quality garbage that is flooding the market for a quick buck. The effect of viewing real images through 360 video is much more immersive for the mind than what CG is able to deliver at this moment. I agree that the stereo aspect gives it an optimal leverage, but the 2D is already powerful enough to be used to treat mental illnesses and for educational purposes heighten level of engagement at unprecedented levels. So 360 footage from reality presented in VR headsets presents a VR world for sure. Stop hating and start innovating! Take a breath and be creative.

      • Texazzpete

        Well said!

        “VR at a minimum requires stereoscopic 3D for presence to cover the “reality” part of Virtual Reality”

        As against the averagely rendered 3d visuals in the VR experiences you tout?

    • Toddard

      Viewed with a head mounted display, this video is 3D. I just watched it in my Oculus Rift via the Virtual Desktop app. It is not interactive at all, but still represents something more than just a 360 video that you might watch on a computer screen.