So this is a project I've had to keep under wraps for almost a half year now, and it's been hot darn damn difficult! I recently found myself shooting virtual reality (VR) footage for a week in March with a prototype high end VR camera system. The idea was to gather footage to demonstrate the system's capabilities at the Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) in San Francisco at the end of last month, as well as Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference (SVVR) in Palo Alto that same week.
That alone was exciting enough.
But thanks to travelista extraordinaire Joan Jetsetter, Samsung Research America and the Think Tank Team behind the Project Beyond virtual reality camera system, and Premium Retail Services, there was another element added that took this to the next level. Somehow, someway, we found ourselves doing it all in the middle of the Pacific, on the idyllic French Polynesian islands of Tahiti (thank you thank you thank you Tourism Board of Tahiti)!
Literally a dream gig!
How did it all come together? Not sure...it's still a bit of a blur, but here's the story in a coconut shell (thanks for that one Jonathan Reap...):
I was first introduced to Project Beyond back in October at DPReview.com's PIX2015 conference in Seattle, and I've been obsessed with it ever since...to the point of borderline psychotica (the Samsung team will probably attest to that...). For a bit of a background, I have been fortunate enough to be a Samsung Imagelogger - a brand ambassador for Samsung Imaging cameras and products - for the past few years, and after gauging our excitement at PIX, they had asked a few of us if we were interested in using the camera and putting together some footage to demonstrate at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. While the timing, among other factors, didn't quite work out for CES, soon after, they let us know that they had updated the specs of the camera, and asked us to come up with ideas to shoot in time to present at the Samsung Developer Conference at the end of April in San Francisco.
It just so happened that I recently reconnected with a good friend of mine when she had hired me to shoot a few editorial shoots for Citizine.Tv, the travel lifestyle site she was working with at the time. In the decade that I had know her, she's managed to make a name for herself in the travel industry as a writer, editor, blogger, and social media influencer. Because of this, Joan Jetsetter's network spanned the travel industry, and after I told her about the Project Beyond opportunity, we started brainstorming ideas. She started verbally listing out some of her contacts, and I stopped her as soon as she said uttered the words...
Tourism Board of Tahiti.
Chances are there's no way I'd ever be able to get to Tahiti without an opportunity like this, so it was on. And what did we really have to lose by trying? Nothing! So...all systems go. We put all of our energy into it, and after months and months of back-and-forths and proposals and ideas and logistics, Skye, myself, and Sergi Perdices, the brilliant engineering mind behind Project Beyond, finally got the e-tickets delivered to our inboxes in early March, just a week before we were scheduled to leave.
This is a new and emerging technology. That's very apparent. And while I've been in the 'story telling' business for all of my adult life, from working for and publishing print publications to video production to photography, the potential behind VR was the most exciting, and hit an adrenaline nerve like never before, as it seemed to bring everything together.
This, to me, represented the absolute best way to tell a story, because, for the first time ever, you can be physically engulfed in that story. Due to its immersive nature, VR creates both a physical and mental sense of presence. You can literally trick your mind into believing you're actually there. The implications this has on the future of how humankind connects and relates to each other on a deeper and more empathic, emotional level of awareness are intensely exciting to me. There's no better way to understand and feel what someone is going through, than to step right into their shoes, and this technology allows that. We've already seen it succeed in applications ranging from treating PTSD and depression, to helping us connect with Syrian refugees, to medical applications, to education. And obviously, there couldn't be a more perfect medium for travel and tourism.
Our adventure began the very moment we landed in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, located on the main island of Tahiti. The plan was to have the day to explore the Papenoo Valley on the main island, a playground of lush natural gardens and waterfalls in the center of the island, but after checking on the underwater housing we had shipped out to us, we realized it didn't travel well. It got loose in shipping and the entire inside of the housing unit was scratched up, rendering it unusable. It took the entire afternoon to coordinate between the island of Tahiti to the Think Tank Team research lab in Palo Alto, California to figure out how to get an additional underwater housing to us within 48 hours when we were scheduled to use it. 6 hours of phone calls, emails, texts and Skypes, tears, whines, foot stomping and frustration, coordinating with Tahiti Tourisme office in California, led us to finally find a route that involved 15 different people, ultimately leading to the President of Intercontinental Resorts and Paul Gauguin Cruises somehow serving as our mule...
The Islands of Tahiti are made up of 118 separate islands and atolls, and while I would have loved to visit all of them, we had 3 set up that we'd be spending time on.
The following day, we took an island hopper to Bora Bora, perhaps best known for its iconic overwater bungalows that dot the lagoon. Never have I experienced walking out of the airport baggage claim directly onto a beach and into a boat that served as your 'hotel shuttle.' That was a thing!? This was madness. And it was madness that we'd spend the next 3 days in. Shooting it all in full 3D virtual reality.
During our time in Bora Bora, we had the opportunity to shoot everything from a resort tour at the stunning Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa, including breakfast by canoe brought to one of their overwater bungalows, a private motu picnic, where we got to swim with black fin reef sharks, massive black stingrays, and tropical fish in the ridiculously crystal clear waters surrounding Mount Otemanu, the iconic mountain that sits in the middle of the massive reef protected lagoon that dons shades of blue that I never even knew existed, and would never believe existed, had I not had the opportunity to see them, swim in them, marinate in them, and frolic in them with my own being.
All...in full 3D Virtual Reality.
After our time in Bora Bora, we hopped over to our next island, Huahine. What Bora Bora is to super luxurious gluttonous 5 star resorts and spas, Huahine is to traditional authentic down to earth salt of the earth Polynesia. This was such a drastic difference, but so incredibly charming beautiful in its own unique way. This...this felt so real. We made our way around the island to our hotel, the Relais Mahana to settled in for a bit, dine on the beach, and make our plans for our stay on this charming island.
Over the next couple of days, we got a chance to shoot VR at some of the Huahine's main attractions - the archaeological sites that dot the island. We visited everything from ancient maraes (temples) and village ruins, some dating back over 1000 years, to the administrative center of the island and the shores where the Europeans first showed up in 1888. And if you go to Huahine, use Island Eco Tours and ask for Manava as your tour guide. He was so good, we ended up using him as our on-camera guide in the Huahine VR video we shot out there. Perfect.
Sadly, this marked our last night on the islands, so before heading back to Papeete for our flight back to the States, we marinated in the warm waters of Huahine's shores as we watched our a final Tahitian sun set upon the Pacific, and ended the evening with a bottle of champagne on those very same shores.
The next morning, we had a few hours to kill before our flight back to Papeete, so figured...why not get back in the water. We got a boat, and headed out for a couple rounds around the island and through the bay, savoring our final moments in French Polynesia with a few final fresh coconuts, beers, and dips in the legendary waters.
Thank you Tahiti! I SO guarantee you...I will be back. Hot damnit, I will be back.
And as far as all the virtual reality videos we shot out there, you'll soon be able to view them on MilkVR, Samsung's GearVR channel, and we'll also be posting them at www.superswellVR.com - a new virtual reality production company venture I've teamed up with Skye Mayring on to produce more VR in the very near future, so follow us on our journey on our Take The Ride VR Instagram account, Twitter account, and Facebook Page.
In the meantime, below is a gallery of images from that wonderful week in the middle of the Pacific. If you click on any of the images, it'll expand into a slideshow.
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