2015 RJI Tech Showcase



Last week I presented with the 3D journalism team at the 2015 Reynolds Journalism Institute Technology showcase. I talked about some of the challenges with shooting 3D that I’ve discussed here before.

We didn’t have enough survey respondents to present our findings yet. If you want to help out I’d appreciate it a lot.

Here’s a survey link for news consumers, it should take around 5 minutes:


And here’s a survey for journalists and newsroom employees, it should take 5 to 10 minutes:


 Thanks so much!


Behind the scenes, the biggest challenge with putting the presentation together was exporting that brief clip we played into a 3D viewable format. Because of how I was precomposing my sequences in Sony Vegas, I tried over 12 different exported videos to watch a finished video in 3D but wasn’t having success. I couldn’t figure out the settings in Stereoscopic Player but it turns out the video I was exporting was in 2D. It really doesn’t matter what settings you have the player on or what file format your video is in if the video is in  2D, you not going to get any depth. In the future, I will make the entire video in one sequence until I can figure out how to precompose a different way in Vegas. Any advice would be appreciated!


Not so impossible a dream

Actual Boat Shoes

I have found my life’s work. My passion project. Very rarely does the universe open and exclaim “This is what I need from you in exchange for your existence.” These are the ultimate goals of my grand design:

  1. A consumer price point of up to $30
  2. A load bearing limit of up to 300 pounds (~136 kg)
  3. Portable for hiking

I don’t feel like I’ve wasted the last four years, or even the last 22 since I have only begun pursuing my project now. Instead I’d like to think that all this time has been preparation, mentally and physically. Who knows who I have met in my life that will help me ultimately accomplish my greatest task.

Looking back now, I wonder how close I’ve come to this thought. How often have I almost come up to the idea that I need to dedicate my life to designing boat shoes that will allow the wearing to stand a-top of still waters and maneuver themselves with a long pole only to be distracted by a less pressing issue? It doesn’t matter, I’m onboard now.

I have dug up some recent attempts but have noticed some similar problems my designs will have to improve upon. I am glad, however, to see I’m not alone in my quest.

The issues are as follow:

  1. The one commercially available model (or at least formerly available, the link no longer works) retails for $999. Unacceptable.
  2. All models are far too cumbersome to be portable. I’m envisioning a product you could wear on your back when not in use.

Earlier today I was excited about the possible use of aerogels, a material I came across when Googling for “what’s really buoyant?”. However, it appears for the time to be prohibitively expensive.

Marketing will also play a major role down the line. While the project is titled “Actual Boat Shoes” I’m still keeping “Jesus Sneakers” in the running for a final product name. I’m also open to suggestions.

Apps for audiophiles: NPR One



It’s Pandora but for NPR stories and I’m hooked. The app is not new but I can’t keep it to myself anymore, especially after talking to so many people that don’t use it or aren’t aware of it’s existence.

Recently I’ve put my finger on why I enjoy the app so much: it’s easy to use. The first time you fire it up you have to select your local station so they’ll know where to pull local stories from to mix with national pieces, news and podcasts. But after that you just press the play button and you’re done.

In contrast, today I downloaded the Stitcher radio app, which is also a pretty impressive app for listening to podcasts and news. But there are a lot of settings and the UI is busy. When I have the time and energy I’m sure I could customize the app’s sources of content to make it a really easy to push and play too.


But NPR is easy from the start. It’s become a routine before I do anything mindless: walking to class, dishes, laundry, playing NBA 2K11. My player puts up 44 points and I learn about overcoming medical obstacles in space on Fresh Air. It’s a win-win.

There are so many options for where to get media from. I’m overwhelmed sometimes. It’s nice to have a curated list of stories. Yes, it’s a solution newspapers provided before the Internet created the “problem” of too much information. But now that we’re in the thick of the Information Age, NPR One provides an elegant and user-friendly way to wade through the clutter and get news and entertainment.

Another benefit is the diverse mix of topics combats the bad news fatigue that many criticize the media for. TV news has been accused, especially, of portraying the world as crime and doom (“if it bleeds, it leads”). And the app obviously includes news reports of a campus massacre in Kenya or the war in Yemen. But there’s also Wait, Wait. . . Don’t Tell Me, book reviews and more.

I don’t think the news is any less substantive if it includes entertainment and human interest. If anything, I think that’s more accurate. The world is so much more than violence. A report about a firebombing can live side-by-side with a This American Life story about a toddler who bribes his brother into being a vegetarian for two weeks with toy cars. Because in reality, those two stories do live together. The content curated by the NPR One app informs, inspires and entertains in a simple and accessible way. It’s greatest strength is the power of its content is expanded through the app, not limited.

Beyond Google Glass


Augmentedreality.org rounded up the currently available technology and future of wearable AR glasses for the 2015 report.

Wearable tech is more popular now than ever before thanks in large part to the recent unveiling of the Apple Watch (with the ability to “keep time” among other miraculous features). The price point made for the watch an easy target for punchlines but I think wearable tech is no joke. Also, there’s plenty of alternative watches on the market already, including the kickstarted Pebble.

The first piece of wearable tech to get my attention was the possibly ill-fated Google Glass. The project has been recalled for now due to a Shakespearean tale of artistry, innovation, lust and pride but to my surprise there are many other AR glasses in every stage of development according to 2015 Smart Glasses Market Report.

For $1,000 you could get a pair of the Vuzix M100‘s right now . The Recon Jet comes in at $699 but the website warns the orders are filled on a first-come-first-served basis. The Optinvent Ora costs $949 and their website has a chart with slightly dubious categories going after their competitors directly.


Optinvent wants you to know that none of the other AR glasses have “Flip-Vu,” a feature they made up themselves. Not that it doesn’t actually seem like a great idea. If I understand correctly, you can adjust the display depending if you want the HUD directly in your field of vision or if you want it in a less obtrusive position lower in your field of vision.

After how revolutionary the iPhone and its smartphone ilk were I’m hesitant to understate the potential of wearable technology of both the wrist and face based variety. If I was Fitbit I would be weary about the future. There’s not a lot of reason for a stand-alone activity tracking device in the near future once wearables take hold.

Besides activity tracking and traditional media viewing, I think wearable tech has a lot to offer. AR comic books already exist and the experience would be even more immersive if you didn’t have to hold your phone in front of the page.

While wearable tech in the mainstream is still in the near future, the concept as we now know it has been in development since at least the early ’90s. One story on the sixth episode of the incredible podcast from NPR “Invisibillia” tells the story of Thad Starner, who has been experimenting with his own custom made wearables since 1993.   Wearables are going to be stuck on our bodies from here on out. And I think that’s pretty cool.

Reality Capture vs Reality Construction


When it comes it comes to 3D media, the difference between reality capture and reality construction is akin to the difference between a photographer and an illustrator. But the stakes are higher for 3D because a reader is much more likely to view a 3D construction as factual reality than they would assume a sketch is a photo.

Right now, media outlets are experimenting with reality capture and reality construction in different ways. In Columbia, Missouri the Missourian the Structure Scanners to capture masked attendees to the True/False Film Festival.

This kind of “pull you into the experience” example is a perfect test case for the technology. There is little chance the 3D scans in the story will mislead the reader, hopefully no one assumes there were floating torsos hanging around central Missouri.

So while reality capture has the advantage of being easier to manage ethically as we’re following photo ethics we’re used to, reality construction has the huge advantage of being basically limitless to what you can show. Whether it’s the Lincoln assassination or a supernova, a skilled user could create experiences that weren’t captured on film or currently aren’t physically able to be shared on film.

But that’s were the tough ethical questions come. If you create something and present it as reality, you’re taking a lot of responsibility for that model.

Bimal (the architectural professor speaking in the above video) explained that at some architecture firms, they purposefully don’t render their designs in the highest detail they’re capable of. There is software being used right now that makes photo realistic 3D possible. But because it is near impossible to match reality exactly with a 3D model, the firms will scale down the detail or add fantasy elements to the model so the client isn’t disappointed when their real building doesn’t perfectly match the 3D.

Both reality capture and reality construction can be powerful story telling tools, and the technology required is only getting cheaper and more accessible. As we enter into a new era of story presentation, it’s important to begin making ethical considerations and having debates and discussions on use cases.

I think there is a bright future for this technology. In many ways it’s already here. I believe we can bring similar standard practices like we have for photos and videos in order to ensure exciting new tech designed to better share the world and ideas doesn’t obscure the truth in the process.

Youtube 3D


You can’t use Google Chrome or Safari to view this video in 3D. At least not at the time of this writing. Firefox will work but Chrome or Safari don’t have the options for some reason. The video will appear as two nearly identical videos side by side in Chrome, which is what the video looks like while I’m editing it, instead of the composite video.

The work flow for editing 3D video is very similar to 2D and doesn’t require much more time. The more I work with 3D video, the more I see the difference between 3D and 2D similarly to the difference between color and black and white pictures. Depth, like color, is an additional layer of information.

Aside from potentially having to adjust the positioning of the two videos in relation to each other, which is a breeze in Sony Vegas, there isn’t any difference I’ve found so far between the editing of 3D and 2D video.

Exporting the video may require an extra step. When I exported my 3D video it took a couple tries to find the codec that would work. I used the Sony codec that exported the file as an AVI. In Vegas. The video file I got would play fine, but it was also almost 10 GB (aka the same size as the newest iPod in 2002, advertised to hold “about 2,500 songs”).

That would have been a headache to upload to YouTube even on a reliable wireless network (no offense Mizzou Wireless) so I had to get the size down. I opened the AVI file in Adobe Premiere and exported the video again using the H.264 codec and checking the “match preset to source” box. This option might be available in Vegas but I’m less familiar with that program than I am with Premiere and in all my A/V classes we used H.264 and it hasn’t let me down yet.

The file Premiere exported was a much more manageable 90.5 MB MP4. To my knowledge, there has never been a 90 MB iPod.

To view the video, which lacks any impressive depth, you will need either analglyphic (blue and red) glasses or a 3D TV. The purpose of the video was to test how virtual reality apps on a phone would appear in a video. One day I’d like to composite a 3D model over the phone so there will be something interesting to look at. Until then, I present roughly two minutes of barely 3D hands using a iPad and then a phone.

The app in the video, by the way, is the Augment Virtual Reality app I described last week.

Augmented Reality in your pocket


Augmented Reality (AR) is super cool I don’t care what anyone says. I used a free AR app to digitally put a Santa hat on Mike. The pinnacle of technological achievement :


The app is called “Augment: 3D Augmented Reality.” Augment is the company that also makes crazy expensive software that’s let’s you do amazing things, as often is the case with technology.

But I’m just getting started. The most impressive feature of the app is the ability to scan symbols and images and have a pre-selected 3D model appear.

You can upload the picture or symbol to the Augment database you want to be the trigger through the software online on a computer or you can select a picture through the app. Then you pick what 3D model will appear.

Anyone who scans the image will see the 3D,even if the image is on a screen. In our test case, scanning the picture of a dress causes the (unfinished) 3D model of the dress to appear.


The advantage of this technology over something like a QR code is that the image you scan can stand alone without using a phone. It’s unobtrusive. And you have a better idea of what you’re getting.

You can browse through popular 3D objects in the app as well. Some of the suggested uses are to see how furniture would look in your house or what an article of clothing would look like on a person.

Like I said,  the app is free and pretty intuitive. Try it out on and augment your friends or dogs.

Blurring the line


As I work more with 3D  I notice how the concept blurs line between our physical world and the virtual one. The intersections between the worlds can created with something relative newer, such as the virtual reality device Oculus Rift which retails for $350.

Or there’s another tool that’s a little older that can replicate a 3D experience, for about five bucks: chalk.

In the right hands, of course. And in the hands of artist Julian Beaver, chalk turns a sidewalk into a window into another world.

As is often the case in 3D, our brains are being tricked. Julian’s trick is using a forced perspective. By stretching out images with his keen eye, he can trick our brains into creating depth. Here’s another example of one his works, as seen from the intended angle:

And here’s the spell-breaking view from another angle:

The once spherical globe is now firmly 2D. Here’s another picture set (a ton more can be found on his online gallery):

Bringing 3D elements to life in the physical world has limitations. In the case of chalk, the cost is low but the technical expertise is incredibly high. And the viewing angles are limited.

One work-around to the viewing angle dilemma is to create your own environment so you can control the experience completely.

Recently, artists Vincent Morisset, Caroline Robert and Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit created a project where you control a 3D character in a 3D environment. The environment is a combination of a forest they capture using 360 degree video as well as computer rendered elements.

The cool thing about this project is while you can view it in Oculus Rift and on 3D devices and all that, it is also very accessible because you can view it in your browser without downloading any plug-ins.

Well, “view” isn’t the perfect word, because you have a lot of control overthe character. Here’s  the trailer:

But nothing is better than being able to blur the line of the actual and virtual on your own, check out the website to explore yourself. And make sure you have the volume on, the music is half the experience.

Shooting 3D Video with a (surprise) 3D camera

Sony HDR-TD20

Sony HDR-TD20

The camera I’ve used for some 3D test footage yesterday looks just like any other Sony Handycam except for the two lenses in front and the video viewfinder is a glasses-free 3D screen. For a consumer product that is around $1,000 on Amazon, this is incredible.

This is my only experience with 3D cameras so I don’t have much to compare it to but a reviewer on Amazon said “. . .I also took footage of [a] turtle under the water from above the lake in the local park and it was just amazing.”

It’s hard to argue with amazing turtle footage.

Turtle-Cam 3D

Turtle-Cam 3D

In order to play back video in glorious 3D however, you’ll need a special program. I’m using Stereoscopic Player which has a free trial download but is only for Windows machines at the moment. Viewing is pretty simple, you just drag the video files in from whatever folder you saved them in and they play like any video player.

You do, however, need to be wearing active 3D glasses, otherwise the video looks a little blurry and decidedly two-dimensional.

3D test footage played back with the Stereoscopic Player program.

3D test footage played back with the Stereoscopic Player program. People walking in the background appear in doubles without 3D glasses. 

A pair of active 3D glasses are needed to view the video in 3D. As they are active, the glasses will require a power source. This pair has a rechargeable battery.

A pair of active 3D glasses are needed to view the video in 3D. As they are active, the glasses will require a power source. This pair has a rechargeable battery.

A 3D camera doesn’t magically make footage have depth, though it comes close. Without the right angle footage can still appear almost completely flat. I was able to achieve greater depth by following a few basics:

1. Have an something, anything,  in the foreground, middle ground, and background.

When all three of these areas have something for the eye, the contrast between their locations in 3D space is easily defined. If you remember from one of my previous posts, 3D is basically a big lie to our brains. Placing objects at different depths helps to fool our brains that the depth you’re recreating on the screen is real. Be careful not the clutter the scene up too much, or it will strain the viewers eyes and distract from the scene.

2. Be aware of large, especially horizontal, backgrounds.

A large, flat background can wash out the depth and make your subjects look flat against a screen. The more wide and monotonous the background, the flatter the whole frame appears to be. If you take a look at the screenshot above the glasses, you can see I tried to use the two buildings to frame the background and give it depth. The motion of people walking helps too. I was struggling to achieve depth when shooting the scene straight on. When I raised the camera more on the tripod and angle it down I think I got a better result.

3. Tight shots get more depth.

This is pretty similar to the last point but I think it bears repeating. It was very difficult to achieve the 3D effect from wide shots and even medium shots were a challenge without staging the scene.

4. Keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve.

3D is wicked cool on its own but think about what you’re trying to accomplish in that scene. I think 3D can help draw the eye to what you think it important in the scene. In some test footage, I wanted to make the screen of a cell phone the focal point. I tried to draw attention to it by having the phone move between the foreground and middle ground to make the 3D effect more noticeable.

This last points gives me a lot to think about. I understand a viewpoint that 3D in general makes a scene more real and thus more engaging but I’m sure there are more nuanced and varied applications. I will continue to look to others in the field for ideas and inspiration.

I got body scanned


I wasn’t even at the airport. I was at the iLab in the Mizzou College of architectural design. Though I could be anywhere as long as the light is right because the graduate students who skillfully operate the equipment can do it wirelessly.

Basically a sensor is attached to an iPad and it transfers data either through a cable or wirelessly to a laptop. The program on the laptop (we’re using Skanect) can utilize the iPad’s camera to capture textures, otherwise the tablet is simply an expensive grip to hold the sensor with.

Once a person or object is scanned in there are a ton of possibilities. My body could be 3D printed, for example. Which is of course the ultimate goal of any technology, to replicate myself as accurately as possible.

Of course there are more practical applications immediately available for architecture as well as journalism. Visual information can be shared utilizing every side. Whether building plans or a five-part series about agriculture , an extra dimension adds more perspective to any project.