Inside COVID19 is a compelling chapter in the story of our times, in stereoscopic 360° video and VR
➨ Gary Yost, producer and co-director of Inside COVID19, speaks to VRWorldTech Magazine in the latest issue
➨ The documentary used a special camera and visualisation techniques to tell a highly personal story and bring the virus to life
➨ To read the full article, pick up the latest issue of VRWorldTech Magazine
There are two primary technological advances at play in the award winning 2020 documentary Inside COVID19 that expertly place audiences in a world they would not otherwise get to experience.
Inside COVID19 follows Dr Josiah Child (pictured, top), an emergency department director and physician, as he prepares staff in five hospitals for the arrival of COVID-19 cases. The doctor then contracts the virus himself and what follows is an immersive retelling of his experiences and those of his family. Watch the trailer below.
The documentary, produced and co-directed by Gary Yost and the WisdomVR Project, the Oculus-funded creators of a library of immersive cinematic experiences and an open source, global educational platform, uses stereoscopic 360° video, shot on the Z-CAM V1 Cinematic camera (a more affordable but limited edition version of the V1 Pro used on the International Space Station by Felix and Paul Studios for Space Explorers: The ISS Experience).
Speaking to VRWorldTech Magazine in the latest issue, Yost describes this camera as “our enabling technology”, explaining: “One of the hallmarks of our work is that we get very close to the subject being filmed, which just wasn’t possible before we started working with the V1 because of its closely-packed radial array of 10 cameras.”
The second is virtual reality (VR) and the various visualisation techniques and platforms that Yost and his team used to bring the SARS-CoV-2 virus alive in the film.
Yost’s background is in visualisation software, having led the team that invented Autodesk 3ds Max. He turned to this solution for Inside COVID19 after reading about the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using the software he invented to visualise the famous grey and red image of the virus in spring of 2020.
This kind of visualisation work is not as simple as one platform, however. It took a hastily assembled team of experts—“one of my superpowers is bringing small teams of creative people together very quickly and efficiently”, Yost says—lent computing power and borrowed technology to create a compelling representation of being infected by SARS-CoV-2.
XR visualisation company Surgical Theater also supported the film, by rendering volumetric reproductions of Dr Child’s actual CT scan data. This is presented by his friend and colleague, radiologist Dr Steven Abedon, who gives an impactful overview of the damage caused by the virus.
The final result is an immersive film that drops audiences into a world they would not otherwise get to experience—unless they contracted COVID-19 or treated those who had.
During the documentary, we visit temporary wards built to isolate COVID-19 patients from the rest of the hospital, tiny rooms where masked staff hold troubling conversations, contrasted against sprawling New Mexico landscapes and busy San Francisco streets.
Everyone experienced the height of the pandemic last year, but to relive it, particularly another part as yet unseen, so up close and personal, demonstrates the power of immersive technology as a storytelling medium.
Yost points to the VR elements of their film: “The virus itself is abstract, it’s invisible to the naked eye. So we aimed to take all of these abstractions and make them very concrete and real. A lot of the reaction to the film has been viewers wishing to be able to put a headset on other people and show them just how the virus spreads and what it does to the body. That’s the bottom line: we used this technology to make the subject matter viscerally real.”