Prototyping Interactive Data Viz: 7. MEAD FESTIVAL 360 VIDEOS

The following is a deeper dive into one of the projects developed at the American Museum of Natural History in FY17 to help us better understand how to bring the digital work of Museum scientists to visitors through emerging media. Read the top-level findings from the year or carry on below. 


Assets: 360 documentaries presented at the Mead Festival 

Technology: Samsung Gear headset

What we did: Our first foray into 360 videos was observational. We observed and interviewed 2016 Margaret Mead Film Festival attendees who had watched short (7- to 12-minute) documentaries on VR headsets (Samsung Gear).

What we learned through 3 hours of public evaluation over two sessions (27 people interviewed):

Key finding: 360 filmmakers have homed in on a style that clearly differs from traditional documentary videos: minimal storyline and sparse narration. With planning and ample staffing, crowds can be managed.

Other findings:

  • How to set up. Having viewers sit on swiveling stools worked well. People could turn and look in all directions without losing their balance. The Mead Festival set up 20 VR devices, and had a large staff to welcome visitors, manage the waitlist, reset the videos and get people seated and geared up. The operation required a sizeable crew.
  • 360 videos are exciting and immersive. 360 videos aren’t interactive, but they are highly immersive. Viewers had the sensation of being surrounded by Cuban dancers in the middle of a performance or among Mongolian nomads having supper in a yurt. When asked to describe their experience, nearly all visitors used words or phrases like “immersive,” “it felt real,” or “I was there.”
  • No narration required. The Mead videos had little or no narration, which freed viewers to look around and take in the scene. The option to forgo narration, dialog or extensive subtitling is one way 360 video may differ from traditional video. 360 video seems most impactful when the viewer feels physically close to interesting objects, animals or people–when a fascinating scene is “within reach.”
  • Cultural content is a good fit for 360 videos. As one interviewee said, the videos gave a “unique opportunity to briefly experience another’s culture. Promoting a better understanding of other cultures hopefully will lead to a better world.”
  • Universal appeal. All ages, from children to seniors, were engaged by the 360 videos, regardless of their overall interest in film, or whether or not they’d had previous experience with VR technology.

Learn more about the other prototypes:

  1. AR SHARK (learn more)
  2. CT SCANS WITH HOLOCUBE (learn more)
  3. VR WEEVIL (learn more)
  4. AR CONSTELLATIONS (learn more)
  5. ESCAPE THE PLANET (learn more)
  6. AR SCALES OF THE UNIVERSE (learn more)
  7. MEAD FESTIVAL 360 VIDEOS (learn more)
  8. PALEONTOLOGY 360 VIDEO (learn more)
  9. CT MUMMIES (learn more)
  10. TREE OF LIFE (learn more)

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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