Selfie or Bust: An Introduction to Immersive Storytelling Technology

By Alex Calderwood.

Over the weekend, The Brown Institute’s Creative Technologist Ziv Schneider hosted a two-day Immersive Storytelling workshop, introducing a room full of journalists and new media artists to photogrammetry and virtual reality. Ziv began the day on Saturday exhibiting technologies that are used to digitally render the physical world in 3D, from infrared scanning to LiDAR.

Ziv first demonstrated how to capture 3D models with an infrared sensor mounted to an iPad, but demonstrated that besides requiring this expensive external sensor, the method often fails to produce clean models, free of extraneous floating geometry. Ziv recommended against this approach. Instead, she taught the techniques of Photogrammetry, the art of producing reconstructions of the physical world by piecing together standard images. She showed how paying close attention to capture angles can result in stunningly detailed 3D models that can be used to tell stories.

Photogrammetry relies on traditional photography skills, like being aware of lighting conditions, but requires the photographer to be even more meticulous in their attention to each possible angle of their subject. Having captured dozens of still images from all angles of an object, the photogrammetry practitioner can use software like Metashape to stitch the images into a 3D model. Ziv demonstrated that in just one dedicated afternoon, you can pick up the technical know-how to construct a high resolution, textured model with this software.


Interactive photogrammetry scan of Columbia Sundial. Captured and rendered by filmmaker/photographer Alexandra Ostasiewicz during the Saturday workshop. Model shared via Sketchfab.

During the workshop, Ziv showcased a catalogue of stories that used photogrammetry, augmented reality, or a combination of the two. These include The New York Time‘s recent look at air pollution levels across the world, The Economist‘s story about future sustainable foodstuffs like edible insects and lab grown meat, Google Arts & Culture’s Meet Vermeer. Each of these are experiential stories, where VR is used to surround the viewer with pollutants or confront them up close with an insect-covered meal.

Selfi bust by Jeremy Hinsdale
Selfie or Bust? by Jeremy Hinsdale.

On day two, Ziv surveyed the use of AR in journalism. She demonstrated how to import the models created in the previous day to “augmented reality” with Spark AR Studio, the software used for making face filters for social media. And having thought through AR design principles and acquired the technical skills of the software, including object placement and surface tracking, participants collaborated to think through this technology’s potential to tell journalistic stories.


Rumi finger puppet by Lisa R Cohen
Rumi finger puppet by Lisa R Cohen.