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Sharks! Skateboarders! Trees! Here's What Discovery Learned From Filming in VR.

Everything from video editing to not making people sick.

Discovery VR

It may not have a figurative “ocean of puppies” like MTV, but the Discovery Channel Communications is starting to experiment with virtual reality — in a literal ocean of sharks, among other places.

The cable network released a mobile app this week that features VR videos spun off from some of its top shows, such as “Mythbusters,” “Gold Rush” and “Survivorman.” These 360-degree videos can be viewed just by moving the phone around, but the app — made by VR video platform Littlstar — also features a Google Cardboard mode that splits the video in two, making it possible for Android and iOS users with a Cardboard or similar headset to watch the videos in VR.

The videos are also available on YouTube, on the Web and in one of the Samsung Gear VR’s dedicated video apps, Milk VR.

In an interview with Re/code, Discovery Senior VP Conal Byrne said the network has already shot months worth of unreleased VR content, and continues to produce new videos for the apps and sites, which are called Discovery VR.

“Every show that is featured on the Discovery VR app today will have a full-on VR series coming soon,” Byrne said. “We’ve already shot them in VR, but it’s just in post-production.”

And like other people coming from the traditional media world, Discovery has discovered (sorry) that post-production on VR videos can take three to five times as long as normal videos. That’s because there are “two layers of editing,” Byrne said: Stitching the videos captured from several cameras together, and then editing that captured footage like normal.

He added, though, that “not all VR clips are created equally.” Some, like a video shot in Muir Woods or of a sunset in Half Moon Bay, Calif., are tranquil experiences that keep the camera still. Others, like a video of skateboarders tearing down the steep and twisty Lombard Street in San Francisco, require the camera to move quickly to follow the action.

Which raises the question: Isn’t motion sickness a concern, since the viewer is not speeding down Lombard Street?

“Yes, it’s a new medium, and you don’t want to move too fast, too quickly,” Byrne said. “But it’s one thing to shoot VR where you’re freeboarding down Lombard and the camera is tied to a human, and you don’t experience a lot of motion sickness. When you start to actually move the camera around, you experience more.”

In other words, a viewer looking forward might fixate on the skateboarder in front of him or her, which is what I did. But regrettably, I did have to stop both of the “Mythbusters” shark-diving videos early because the camera’s motion made me dizzy. Personally, my most comfortable experience in the Discovery VR app (which I accessed on an iPhone 6, viewed through a Zeiss VR One headset) was the “Survivorman” video, which demanded only slow, subtle head movements.

Which leads to one of the most important things Discovery has learned. Byrne called mobile headsets like Google Cardboard “medium VR” and higher-end devices like the Gear VR and Oculus Rift “super VR.” The lowest end, he said, is no headset at all — which he said still offered a lot of the value of 360-degree video with no barrier to entry.

“Last night, I opened up the app and gave my phone to my 10-year-old son, with no goggles,” he said. “The experience, for him, was mind-blowing. For a second, he couldn’t fathom the possibility that he was suddenly controlling the point of view of this video. We forget how seismic a move that is.”

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