The Pokémon Go craze of 2016 did more than get fans outside searching for virtual creatures at specific landmarks. It pushed the technology behind augmented reality beyond the video gaming sector into the mainstream video industry. Three-dimensional filming, 360-degree live streaming, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality are changing the nature of visual experiences, with expectations on the rise as new ways to engage viewers emerge.
Heather Chandler decided to start her own video production company in 2007. Previously a news reporter (her last two years she was at KABB, San Antonio’s Fox network affiliate), she saw a need to create video content for her clients and host it on a cloud. Her husband James joined the studio to develop the websites and apps to host that video content.
“As a news reporter in different markets, I found myself wanting to tell meaningful stories of people who were making a difference,” Heather said. “As I have worked with nonprofits, what excites me is finding the essence of what people do and care about, discovering what ties them together, and sharing that using creative visual content.”
When Heather started in video production, the technology of storytelling was limited to shooting on tape. Since founding IMG Studio, Heather has experienced the sea change in storytelling methods, with available capabilities including shooting in high definition in 360 degrees and using animation along with virtual and augmented reality.
About 18 months ago, James Chandler, who is IMG's vice president of digital productions, noticed demand surging for more VR video content. After the Pokémon Go craze peaked, clients started asking for live action video filmed in 360. IMG Studio is one of the few studios producing live streaming VR video content on a regular basis.
“We created a video for Texas Biomed of their BSL-3 lab to show how scientists work inside that space,” James said. “We were suited up in protective gear and wrapped our equipment so we could capture their work inside the lab space.”
A recent project for Rackspace used 3D modeling of the inside of a computer plus VR walking tours of its headquarters to include closed areas such as the server and chiller rooms. Using this video content, IMG Studio developed an app Rackspace could share with its clients or new employees to explore areas not normally accessible to the public, including the inside of a server.
IMG Studio is also working with the nonprofit Watering Seeds, which provides people with mobility or health challenges the opportunity to enjoy experiences vicariously using VR googles.
“We’re embracing VR for inventive video content,” James said. “We’re not competing with gaming companies, we’re focused on producing VR video for activities that are dangerous or not physically possible to do to help you experience it without the hazards of being in that environment.”
Industries such as the medical community and the military are embracing augmented reality, he added. From allowing physicians to practice new medical procedures to helping veterans with PTSD cope with crowds, IMG Studio is looking to contribute immersive video content in new ways.
“I get the fun jobs, I get to do the R&D on what’s new, what’s next,” James said. “Heather is the experienced storyteller. To merge the two – the high-end tech with the high-quality storytelling and creative content development – that is a unique niche for us, especially here in San Antonio.”
The studio is a startup with a total of six employees located in the heart of the Medical Center area. Future plans center on leveraging immersive technologies to push the envelope on creative video content. Heather seeks to embrace local talent in order to produce original content for Netflix or Hulu viewers. Included in these plans is continuing her work on documentaries.
“One of the Emmys [IMG Studio has won] was for the SA2020 video, another for a feature documentary,” she said. “These newer capabilities allow us to tell stories in a more intimate way. We can now put you in the middle of the story to give you an intimate experience without being intrusive.”
The self-funded documentary A Question of Humanity, released in May, has been screened internationally and has won three film awards, including the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Lone Star Chapter Emmy for Topical Documentary in 2016. Filmed in northern Uganda, the documentary tells the story of children suffering from a mysterious illness and the government failing to take action. One of the first members at Geekdom, Heather created the documentary while working a full-time job.
“The way you can tell stories and connect with people has changed so much, the immersive technology is limitless,” Heather said. “We talk about how tech is pushing us farther apart, but it’s also pushing us closer together.”
Her advice for novice filmmakers is to focus on the story above everything else.
“If you have a passion to tell a story, you can learn how to edit and produce the story,” she said. "Don’t wait for an investor, go and find a way to get your story out there.”