Design and Tech

Experience British Columbia—From Your Living Room

Can't get to the slopes yourself? There's a virtual reality goggle for that.

Experience British Columbia—From Your Living Room

For about $550,000, Destination British Columbia found a way to bring the wilderness to you. Photo: Courtesy of The Wild Within

From world-class mountain biking to remote heli-skiing, the reasons to go to British Columbia seem self-evident. Used to be you had to visit the region to experience those adventures first-hand, but now Destination British Columbia wants to bring the action to your living room. The marketing agency is going after preview travel with its new virtual reality 18-minute film called The Wild Within, made exclusively for viewing on Oculus Rift goggles.

We'll pause to explain the technology. Oculus goggles let you see images projected on a set of displaced screens in front of you, offset to fool your brain into thinking the images are 3-D. The device tracks your head motions so you feel completely immersed in the space, and the images refresh as your eyes move, creating the simulation of looking around within the digital space.

That's the idea behind The Wild Within, shot on site at the Great Bear Rainforest on the central Pacific Coast and on a whale-watching boat out of Port McNeill on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. To capture the surround-view, seven GoPro cameras were mounted on a 3-D printed, spherical armature fixed to a stabilizing floating gimbal. The team used a special backpack in the rainforest (to get a POV feel), a six-rotor UAV for low-angle shots, and mounted the system to the underside of a helicopter for broader perspectives.

In spite of the technical wizardry, the film was not especially pricey to make.

Maya Lange, vice president of Global Marketing at Destination British Columbia, estimates the total production cost at $547,000. That's "well within the production costs of a commercial TV shoot," she says. As for the footage, it's no average commercial. You're floored and thrilled almost immediately. It's spectacular. You want to see these places in person, which is of course the point.

After Facebook purchased Oculus for $2 billion in July, many experts predicted the VR technology would become cheaper, more powerful, and thus more ubiquitous. It was inevitable that filmmakers would start to incorporate the tech into their movies—and not just 18-minute marketing shorts. 

Todd Jones, co-founder of Teton Gravity Research, says that while his company has yet to shoot for Oculus, the potential to film this way is hardly cost-prohibitive. The editing software makes auto-stitching the footage fairly easy, he says. 

And he sees another huge upside to the tech: democratizing tourism.

"We love the idea of flattening the barriers to entry," says Jones. "I might never get to dive in a sub to the bottom of the ocean, or get to the top of Everest, and so many people could never afford that, but if cameras let us experiment in a way that captures what's never been captured and share that in a totally immersive way, that's just awesome. That's what the technology is there for."

Now, you can't see the world as a virtual tourist or huck yourself off a virtual cliff unless you have the tools to see the footage—a headset from Oculus or another VR maker. Initially, Destination B.C. plans to roll out the Oculus experience to "influencers" in the tourism space, such as key marketers and media professionals. Sony and Samsung are debuting VR headsets in 2015, and they anticipate the barrier to entry falling. With VR headsets in the hands of more consumers, Destination B.C. plans to continue the The Wild Within as a series.

Oh, and if you just can't wait to get your mitts on a VR headset, hack your way there with Google Cardboard and an Android phone. It's a budget-friendly option that's a good deal less advanced than Oculus, but it will get you part of the way there. 

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