New York Times to discuss virtual reality production at Siggraph

The session “VR/AR to Go” will also feature how Pokemon Go made augmented reality a mass market phenomenon.

A special presentation on immersive journalistic storytelling at the New York Times has been added to the keynote schedule at Siggraph 2017. The annual computer graphics conference convenens July 30 – August 3 in Los Angeles. The presentation is part of a special session, “VR/AR to Go” and will also include a presentation from the creators of the popular Pokémon Go augmented reality game.  

A scene from “Antarctica: Under a Cracked Sky” from the New York Times virtual reality production team. (Source: Siggraph)

Graham Roberts, director of immersive platforms storytelling for The New York Times, will present a 40-minute talk about the organization’s virtual reality (VR) expertise and integration of the new medium into the famed media outlet’s news reporting. The talk will include insight into the making of “The Antarctica Series: Under A Cracked Sky,” a nearly 10-minute short film that was executive produced by Roberts and is one of four films within the Times’ Antarctica series.

“Under A Cracked Sky” will also be seen during a recurring screening within the conference’s first-ever VR Theater, part of the Siggraph 2017 Computer Animation Festival.

“VR is an incredible new tool that gives people a different perspective—it offers the feeling of full immersion within our news stories and reports,” says Roberts. “I see VR as an important change in the way in which people digest news and interact with the media. It is a new paradigm through which people can experience brand-new perceptions of the world … it transports the viewer somewhere he or she has never been before.”

Roberts added, “I’ve been attending Siggraph for the past few years, and it’s always been a place that has its finger on the pulse of technology—one step ahead of the curve. I’m always inspired when I attend Siggraph and when I get the chance to see ‘behind the curtain’ of what’s coming up in the near future. [The conference] has been a huge influence on me, personally, and has allowed me to help establish VR at The New York Times.”

Roberts is a five-time Emmy Award nominated senior editor at The New York Times, focusing on innovation in visual journalism. He directs immersive platforms storytelling, leading a team that explores new approaches in video, motion graphics, and virtual/augmented reality. Roberts also teaches motion graphics at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

The NYT VR short film “Under A Cracked Sky” presents footage taken under eight feet of Antarctic sea ice, where the clearest water on Earth lies. Viewers of the film can experience a plunge through a small hole in the ice to dive with seals, explore ice caves, glide past stalactites of frozen seawater, and swim over a rocky black seabed crawling with life. The film was narrated and photographed by two research divers at McMurdo Station, one of whom has more experience under the ice than anyone else on the planet.

The New York Times distributes a free app (iOS/Android) for viewing its VR content: Google Play Store and App Store.

Nintendo and Niantic popularize augmented reality

Pokémon Go has inspired user behavior as few smartphone apps have done, introducing millions to the capabilities of augmented reality. Four members of the Niantic Labs team, which created Pokémon Go for Nintendo, will be at the Siggraph session to explain the technical and design choices that went into the creation of this evolutionary product.  

Millions of consumers have been introduced to the capabilities of augmented reality by playing Pokémon Go. (Credit: Niantic Labs/Nintendo)