Prototyping Interactive Data Viz: 8. PALEONTOLOGY 360 VIDEO

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 “behind-the-scenes” video shot by Science Bulletins, showcasing the Museum’s paleontological spaces

Technology: Samsung Galaxy 5 headset

What we did: Inspired by the Mead Festival, we created a prototype 360 video that takes visitors behind the scenes to the Museum’s paleontological spaces. Using a rig of six cameras, we filmed three semi-scripted scenes:

  • An AMNH tour guide speaking in front of the T.rex on the 4th floor
  • Daniel Barta talking bones in the Big Bone Room
  • Mark Norell, walking around his own office, discussing dinosaur research

We created two versions of the 360 video: one for an immersive headset (Merge VR) and one for a flat mobile screen (Samsung Galaxy 5), which visitors could choose between. We set up stools in three locations on the 4th floor (near T. rex, near the Big Bone Room exhibit by Titanosaur, and in the Astor Turret) and invited visitors to “go behind the scenes with Museum paleontologists.”

We conducted 12 hours of public evaluation over two sessions (101 people interviewed).

Key finding: Visitors are eager to see what goes on behind the scenes at AMNH, and 360 video appeals to a wide swath—even those who are not facile with technology. The lack of interactivity makes it easier for visitors to “master” than immersive VR. But we should be careful not to overload our videos with information and narration.

Other findings:

  • Behind-the-scenes 360 video meets a need. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds found the experience compelling and were excited to explore content related to their location within the Museum. As with the Scales of the Universe prototype, we found visitors love hearing from scientists.
  • Information overload? While immersed in the virtual environments, however, visitors did not always hear or pay attention to what was said by the tour guide or scientists in the video. We were reminded of the eternal challenge of keeping content simple and easily digestible.
  • Interaction desired. Viewers wanted to be able to interact with the video, for example, by touching a particular bone or finding out what an object was. We’re now exploring ways of bringing interactive components into 360 video.
  • Long and short videos both work. Visitors were comfortable sitting and watching the 7-minute 360 video, which is longer than most Hall-based videos. Many said they would be happy to watch even longer. To manage the crowds, we had to switch to a shorter version of the video–which also seemed to satisfy.
  • Facilitation required. The VR headgear required considerable facilitation (to set up the movie, to get the visitor into the headset, to adjust the audio, etc). We need to continue to developing methods for reducing facilitation.
  • Immersive or social? Viewers could choose between the VR headset or flatscreen mobile. Each had its advantages. The VR headset is more immersive, but for those who wanted to keep connected with their social group the flatscreen was preferable.

Read more about this series of prototypes here or learn more about the other prototypes below:

  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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