Condition One app immerses you in the story

[From The New York Times’ Lens blog; the post includes a 1:37 minute video]


Immersing Yourself in the Story

November 11, 2011
By Michael Kamber

Tired of news footage where all you can see is what’s right in front you as the camera rolls down a road in a war-torn landscape? A new iPad app is about to change all that, immersing viewers in a near virtual reality where they can become director and editor.

With the Condition One app, which debuts Friday, viewers can get a 180-degree field of view by simply moving the iPad in their hands. Swipe the screen or move the tablet left or right to see a truck full of soldiers rolling beside you. Want to examine the sky?  Hold your iPad up, as if you are blocking the sun, and your field of view is filled with clouds or warplanes streaking overhead.

“We are trying to create a new type of storytelling for new devices,” said Danfung Dennis, a combat photographer and filmmaker who developed Condition One with three colleagues.

“We have heard from older people that their young kids approach the TV, swipe their fingers across it and say, ‘It’s broken.’ Today, it’s almost expected that our experience is interactive.  Viewing is no longer a passive experience, it’s one where you have to participate and explore.”

The company will license its software and technical support to media companies whose employees will shoot video using what Mr. Dennis describes as a small, inexpensive camera – though one about which he declined to give more information, citing its proprietary technology.  The Condition One software embedded in each media company’s app will interpolate the footage, providing the viewer with an immersive experience.

“It’s a time of change, and the media business model is dissolving,” he said.   “Media companies are moving to tablets; they are pursuing stories but they are failing to innovate and capture audiences.”

Condition One tested the app with Patrick Chauvel, a well-traveled combat photographer, who filmed three short pieces in Libya, Thailand and New Orleans.   The Libya piece is a sensory revelation: the viewer, surrounded on all sides by chaos and gunfire, pans the iPad to experience new fields of view and follow the combat.

In one astounding scene, Mr. Chauvel takes cover behind a berm with Libyan rebels.  The viewer hears the whoosh of rockets overhead and can pan up to watch the streaking missiles burn through a smoky sky.  Here, with excitement on all sides, the app breaks new ground in creating a genuine experience for the viewer.

Yet even in the combat scenes from Libya, easily the most successful of Condition One’s pieces, there are signs of the medium’s limitations.  It conveys a great experience, but can it become something more?  Created expressly to give the viewer editing choices, the app appears to add little to traditional storytelling.  It may even prove an impediment. Lovers of linear narrative need not apply here.

“I didn’t get any in-depth information from that — there was no story there,” Nadia Hallgren, a director of photography on the Oscar-nominated film “Trouble the Water,” said after viewing Condition One’s Libya video.   “You can tell a good story in five minutes with traditional methods – here, I just got an experience.”

For a generation raised on moving through the neon landscapes of video games, the technology  may prove to be a natural entry into exploring weightier topics. Mr. Dennis freely admits that Condition One borrows from the nonnarrative video game experience.

“Previously, this technology has only been available in video games,” he said.  “Now we have created a platform and made this technology available for things like news that have social weight and serious political or social relevance.”

An experienced cameraman or woman, however, will nearly always find the most interesting and relevant action in front of his or her lens.  What’s going on beside the cameraman is not often of much interest — the Libyan revolution notwithstanding.  See Mr. Dennis’s own film, “Hell and Back Again,” for a primer on where to point the camera.

Mr. Chauvel’s New Orleans piece shows the limitations. Nearly all the action happens directly in front of the camera.  Tiring of fruitlessly panning for several minutes, I simply settled in to watch the piece unfold.

Nonetheless, Mr. Dennis is convinced that those shortcomings are temporary and will be quickly solved by journalists and documentarians after they get used to Condition One.

“We have just developed the tools,” said Mr. Dennis.  “When this is adopted by the next generation of shooters, they will start pushing the boundaries, tell complex stories and give a visceral experience.  This is a new medium — lots of rules don’t exist yet.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ISPR Presence News

Search ISPR Presence News: