A new iPad app out today in the app store, called Condition ONE, allows users to physically control the camera’s perspective in movies by moving their bodies as if they’re holding the camera.
The app was created by photojournalist Danfung Dennis and his partners as a way to make more immersive documentaries, but the format has the potential to work for any subject matter that is enhanced by a feeling of immersion (sports, live music, etc.).
Dennis stopped by the Wired offices on his way to Jason Calacanis’s LAUNCH ‘Pad event in Mountain View, California, a couple weeks ago and what we saw was impressive. The act of controlling the camera’s perspective immediately creates a visceral feeling of being inside the video. We’ve seen a similar experience in 360-degree video viewers on the web, but the tablet/gyroscope element takes the effect to another level.
The app was born from Dennis’s experience covering combat conditions overseas. “It was difficult coming back from Afghanistan and not being able to convey what I saw,” says Dennis, who was embedded with marines during a large offensive in 2009. “I had to create a technology to do it.”
The app turns specially encoded video into a virtual reality experience, where the iPad becomes your window into the movie that you’re watching. Using the iPad’s gyroscope, as you twist your body the viewing window follows with you as if you were in control of the video’s camera. Want to see where that gun fire is coming from? Just turn your body (with the iPad) and look. It’s an experience that’s “almost like gaming,” says Dennis. As soon as you start watching a film this way, the unique experience becomes clear.
While the effect gives the impression that some fancy 360-degree camera is involved, Dennis claims that the video can be shot with readily available equipment available at any camera store. We suspect this means a wide-angle lens of some sort, but Condition ONE is being coy about its trade secrets. There are edges to the video, it’s not a full 360 degrees, but there’s a wide enough field of view to feel like you’re in the movie.
The app itself is free and users purchase immersive movies through the app. Dennis says there are a handful of 10- to 15-minute films already available. The company has been in talks with The New York TImes and CNN about branded channels and hope the app catches on as a way to provide a premium experience so that people will actually pay for content.
“None of it is proprietary until you get to our software,” says Dennis. That means that the only thing content providers pay for is the licensing. CNN, for example, would shoot a video themselves using Condition ONE’s techniques, then hand it over to Dennis’s team for encoding and after that it would be available for purchase through the iPad app.
Dennis’s documentary, Hell and Back Again, also premiered recently and is the end-result of his trip to Afghanistan that first gave him this idea. As the name suggests, it depicts the combat that soldiers face there and the trials they are bombarded with at home after they return.