360ParkView.com, as an idea, started 12 years ago when my Grandmother was in hospice care. We had only visited Disneyland together a few times, but she expressed how special those trips had been to her, and how much she wished we could have gone together more. Oddly enough I had been a few years earlier working with local computer scientists on VR render engine projects, and realized that the technology, when developed, would be perfect for providing that kind of experience. But the technology adoption and development stagnated as the cost barrier to entry remained high and availability was almost non-existent even if you could afford it.
Two years ago, I started to see the convergence of multiple technologies leading to the current state of immersive video capacity, and in particular what the Vuze camera is, a low cost, immersive video production platform, that is portable enough to take viewers along almost anywhere. Around that same time, I attended the launch party of HorrorBuzz.com and convinced the site founder that the technologies would soon be available to produce high quality 3D and 360° virtual video for the site, knowing that Sony, Oculus, Google, Apple and others were already hard at work developing the perfect potential delivery platforms.
The partnership with HorrorBuzz was a perfect way to test the rapidly evolving content creation technology because the Southern California Haunt community is absolutely ripe with some of the best monster filled mazes anywhere in the world, and many of these experiences are totally inaccessible to anyone with even partial mobility disabilities. Especially at haunts like the one built (partially) onboard the historic Queen Mary ship, here in Long Beach, California. The highly creative team behind the annual “Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor” event manages to wedge dark, detailed, intense, and quite long mazes into several portions of the ship, with paths that often involve narrow wheelchair inaccessible passages and staircases that completely stop many people from experiencing them. So with the blessing of the Dark Harbor Creative Team and with the unwavering support of the founder of the HorrorBuzz.com website, Norm Gidney, we started filming the mazes with 3D cameras, 360° cameras, 4K cameras or whatever the latest most immersive technology was that we could find at the time, uploading portions or full walk-throughs (when permitted by the haunts) to get feedback on what worked and what didn’t, and while providing preloaded Google Cardboard viewing of these captured experiences to those that could not experience them.
While the positive impact for people with disabilities was great, the creation process was largely negative. I liken it to the films of the early flying machines, with so many crashing or catching on fire before or just after take-off, it seems like there were so many approaches (rigs, cameras, specialized software) developed for the task of immersive content creation and yet they all seemed lacking.
Some fisheye cameras showed great promise for ease of use under multiple conditions but the created content was hard to watch, while at opposite ends of the spectrum, 8 or 16 cameras rigs provided great immersive content if you could overcome once countless hours of processing and the hassle of trying to move the behemoth rig anywhere you needed to go.
This is precisely why I have been so excited for, and such a proponent of, the Vuze camera. It is exactly in the sweet spot of what is needed to capture a wide variety of content under many conditions, providing content that is not only viewable for longer periods of time, but best of all creates that “WOW” factor experience of seemingly being there in another place and an exact moment in time.
So now that the content creation technology pieces of the original idea have started to really come to fruition, the focus shifts to the development of partnerships with the parks to allow the creation and controlled distribution of the experiences, and to the development of better and easier to use methods of ongoing delivery.
The parks we are working with will retain control of the content and how it is shared outside of the “Magic Carpet” platform. In some cases, they only allow highlights of experiences to the public, while in others they are willing to let us share them entirely online, which in turn, allows us to promote the non-profit objectives of the project to providing ongoing high-quality immersive content, free-of-charge to as many hospitals/care facilities as we possibly can.
But while the standalone viewers are really starting to hit the marketplace now, we need better interface design to accommodate a variety of users with different physical capacity beyond just selecting files from a menu, and a delivery platform that doesn’t rely on the high-bandwidth limited availability of online providers, and that allows for ongoing secure update of new experiences as they become available. And right now, we need others to join and support the cause, and help get it out to a much wider audience. Currently you can sign up to for more information at 360ParkView.com, and we hope to share our first public content and the launch of our “Magic Carpet” platform in the next few months.
Finally, I really owe a huge thank you to inventors and innovators like the Humaneyes team, who see immersive video creation as a technology that should be easy to use, work in many different physical conditions, and not cost as much (or take up as much space) as a small car. We really are on the cusp of being able to virtually transport people, who really could use even a brief a change of scenery, on exciting journeys almost anywhere and everywhere.
About the Author
Ken Toghia started his career with Disney as a Jungle Cruise Skipper and has been producing video, in and around theme parks for almost 35 years. He holds patents on theme park mobile application technology, and has multiple certifications in digital character animation. For the last several years he has served as the Director of Technology for HorrorBuzz.com attempting to push the envelope of immersive video with 360°, 3D, and 4K video of haunts and horror experiences. He founded 360ParkView.com to provide an immersive VR “Magic Carpet” experience to hospital and care facilities, offering a virtual escape to theme parks for those who are unable visit and ride for themselves.