BBC Unveils VR, 360-Degree Video Projects

'We Wait' BBC, Aardman VR project - H 2016
Courtesy of BBC

The BBC is rolling out several 360-degree video and virtual reality projects, developed by the U.K. public broadcaster and partners, as it explores the potential and interest of the emerging medium for U.K. audiences.

Most of the content will be showcased for the first time at the Sheffield/Doc Fest starting on Friday.

"We are looking to work out what works and what doesn't," said Andy Conroy, the BBC's controller, research and development. "Some of this is basic, entry-level [technology like 360 video]. Other offers are much more immersive, true VR content."

The BBC is also looking to address questions around how storytelling, pacing, direction, sound and more are all affected by the medium, according to executives.

The BBC projects premiering at Sheffield/Docs Fest include We Wait, an animated piece that Aardman Digital worked on with the BBC about the experience of refugees from Turkey who hope to make it to Greece by boat; 360 video Trooping the Color, which allows viewers to watch the annual birthday parade for the Queen from the spot where she typically stands; and Home – A VR Spacewalk.

They are available on BBC Taster, the broadcaster's space to develop new ideas for digital content and emerging technology. Home – A VR Spacewalk will be available in the next couple of months.

BBC Taster has already made available such experiences as Rome’s Invisible City, Attenborough 360 and Strictly Come Dancing 360.

Below is a closer look at some of the new projects.

Trooping the Color
Produced by BBC Television & Visualise
As Queen Elizabeth II turns 90 and the annual Trooping the Color will celebrate her birthday this Sunday, the 360 video brings viewers the traditional pageant from the Queen’s perspective. "Filmed from the dais on Horse Guards Parade Ground, the viewer will stand in Her Majesty’s footsteps and take the salute as she has done at every parade since her accession to the throne 62 years ago," according to a BBC description.

The 3-4 minute footage was recorded at the Major General’s Review, a test run, on May 28. The video will "include additional motion graphics that will highlight a wealth of information on the pomp and ceremony of the occasion including key units, regiments and officers, the location, the history and staging involved," the BBC said. The project will be available on BBC Taster on Thursday, Facebook and YouTube.

Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel
Produced by BBC Learning & Crossover Labs

The project allows people to step into a man's memories of a moment that changed Irish history forever, the 1916 Easter Rising against the British. Users are taken back to the streets of Dublin to relive the memories of 19-year-old Willie McNieve, a rebel who took part in the Easter Rising.

"The VR experience makes use of McNieve’s eyewitness account, a recording of which lay undiscovered for over 30 years, so people can see the Rising as if they were living through Willie's memories," the BBC said. It will premiere in Sheffield and be on BBC Taster on Thursday and will become available later in the year on Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR platforms.


We Wait
Produced by: BBC R&D & Aardman Digital

The fictional depiction of migrants making the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece on smugglers' boats is based on accounts gathered by BBC News from migrants and brought to life using animation techniques. It is designed to give the user a visceral understanding of what it is like to be on board a vessel as it crosses the Mediterranean.

"The project explores how VR can be used to give a sense of presence to the user by placing them at the heart of the story and with technology allowing interactive eye-contact between you and the characters," the BBC said. Designed for Oculus Rift, We Wait will be premiering at Sheffield festival and will be available on BBC Taster on Thursday.

Home – A VR Spacewalk
Produced by: BBC Science, BBC Learning, BBC Digital Storytelling & Rewind

"In the entire history of humanity, only 215 people have been on a spacewalk, so for nearly everyone who tries Home – A VR Spacewalk, this will be the closest they ever get to reality," the BBC said. "Inspired by conversations with Tim Peake about NASA's training program and the astonishing experiences of its astronauts, Home has audiences stepping into the suit of an astronaut on a spacewalk" in an emergency scenario.

With "some of the most advanced visual effects currently available in VR, accompanied with spatial audio," the project is designed to explore its potential for factual and science content, the BBC said. "Editorially, the aim was to combine narrative storytelling and a sense of drama and inspire the user in this immersive portrayal of space." Home is designed for HTC Vive, will premiere at Sheffield Docs Fest and will be available to download on BBC Taster in the next couple of months.

The Turning Forest
Produced by: BBC R&D, S3A & VRTOV

"Things aren’t quite what they seem in this enchantingly surrealist CG VR experience," the BBC said. "In a magical forest, a young child stares into the eyes of a fantastical creature; together, the two embark on a journey that transports audiences into an entrancing realm that weds folkish dimension with boundless imagination."

The sound-based fairytale adventure is inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, The Never Ending Story, In the Night Garden and Gustav Klimt’s paintings. Designed for Oculus Rift, it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be available to download from BBC Taster in the coming months.