November 17, 2015Brown University

Immersive Storytelling: NY Times Virtual Reality to IE Brown in South Africa

New York Times paper subscribers woke up last week to a Google Cardboard VR viewer alongside their daily newspaper. Slowly we got up the nerve to download the app, unfold the box, put these strange but simple goggles to our face and immerse ourselves in a New York Times article, The Displaced - a story about the effects of war told through the story of three children.

It was powerfully moving. You don't simply see a bombed out school, you're in one.

At IE Brown we’re using this immersive storytelling approach in the classroom. Professor Dietrich Neumann, professor of history of art and architecture and director of urban studies at Brown, teaches Trends in Global Architecture and Urbanism Today at IE Brown. This year, he’ll be participating in the South Africa session and bringing his 360 degree panorama camera.
“I have been using hundreds of 360 images in my classes. It is an impactful way to explain architecture and urban space, as you can fluidly move around inside a space and demonstrate connections and relationships.”

To experience the emotional impact of immersive storytelling, click on the image on the left (Professor Neumann’s 360 photo) to roam around the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus – one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. The richness of this 360 image deepens our sense of loss of the Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo - modeled after the Damascus mosque – in the Syrian civil war. The destroyed mosque is captured in the photo on the right (from the Aleppo Media Center).

Professor Neumann also elaborated on his New York Times VR experience. “Being able to look above and behind you at any moment adds a spatial dimension to storytelling that no other medium can adequately convey. There is also an honesty and an immediacy to the experience, as there is no place for lights, a director in his/her chair, cables or green screens. You see everything that is contained in that room where the scene unfolds. An immense challenge for the director who has to stay entirely out of sight, and a great chance for the set designer who gets to design the entire space, not just one corner.”

Professor Neumann will soon launch a Brown website to share his 360 degree panorama shots, including South Africa pictures. Feel free to email to receive an alert when the site is launched.


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