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SA VR team beats world to great migration

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Virtual reality is still far from the South African mainstream, but a new documentary will help give it a kick-start, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Only a lucky few people ever get to witness the great wildebeest migration in the Maasai Mara national reserve in Kenya. Even fewer have been in the heart of that migration, surrounded by thousands of the animals.

Now, the producers of a ground breaking new documentary hope to bring people into the  midst of the experience, at least virtually.

Exodus: The Great Migration is the world’s first virtual reality (VR) documentary of what has been described as one of the greatest natural phenomena on Earth. And a  small studio in suburban Johannesburg, Deep VR, beat some of the best funded international film-makers to this landmark.

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Their achievement goes further: they also claim the world’s first narrated VR wildlife documentary.

“We decided that we couldn’t just wait for the future to happen, we have to become co-creators of it,” said Ulrico Grech-Cumbo, CEO of Deep VR. “We asked ourselves, how can we use this technology to foster appreciation, education and conservation for Mother Nature in a way no technology has ever allowed before? In a crazed leap of faith, we set out on the ultimate creative challenge for our first original piece: film the greatest mammal migration on the plains of the Maasai Mara, in VR.”

Grech-Cumbo has been a VR evangelist since long before commercial headsets were available to consumers He founded Deep VR in 2014, along with Telmo dos Reis, head of post-production.  It specialises in producing high-end 360 degree video in 2D, known as monoscopic for the fact that both eyes see the same image, meaning there is no sense of depth, and in 3D, referred to as stereoscopic, meaning it gives a perception of depth. The first gives the sense of merely viewing a virtual world, while the second gives the sense of being inside that world. It has made commercial VR in 10 countries using its own self-designed camera systems. The Msasai Mara was the company’s biggest challenge yet.

“Having to self-fund this passion project was a humbling experience,” says Grech-Cumbo. “We went to the US to pitch Exodus to a well-known wildlife broadcaster, but got turned down. We experimented with a crowdfunding campaign and managed to raise enough capital for a few plane tickets to Kenya. That was just enough for us to decide, to heck with it, let’s commit.”

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What followed was a case study in all that can go wrong on a film shoot. From authorities that wouldn’t cooperate to equipment that wouldn’t perform as expected to animals that did not conform to a timetable, it was a production that should never have been pulled off.

But, last week at the Circa gallery in Rosebank, the documentary finally saw its local premiere. The gallery was converted into a pop-up cinema for the screening of a documentary-about-a-documentary, which took viewers behind the scenes of the production – in regular 2D cinema.  The short film, Made in the Mara, was directed by American film-maker Amy Montalvo, who journeyed with the Deep VR crew into the Maasai Mara.

During the making of Exodus, 360-degree cameras were placed at strategic points on the migration route, supported by flying drones equipped with high-definition cameras. Together, they captured the frenzy and the fascination of the migration, almost eliciting the smell of the dust thrown up by the wildebeest.

The audience at Circa was fitted with Samsung Gear VR headsets, to experience the VR documentary. Public screenings were due to be held at the same venue.

This will be the first in a series of wildlife documentaries by Deep VR. The experience and success of Exodus has led to the establishment of a wildlife division at the company, aimed at “telling original, self-funded stories about natural history, wildlife and the environment”.

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To start with, it will film mass migrations of mammals, birds, invertebrates and insects across the globe. The most challenging of these is likely to be the story of the Amur falcon, a small raptor that breeds in Siberia, Mongolia and northern China. It then migrates in flocks across India and over the sea to South Africa.

The episode, to be called Exodus: Amur Falcons, will not only trace this 6 000km journey, but also introduce South Africans to a little-known aspect of their widlflife heritage.

* Further information about public screenings, as well as the VR documentary, Exodus: The Great Migration, and the Made in the Mara short film, can be viewed online at www.deepvr.co.za/exodus.

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As selfie cameras rise, so must selfie etiquette

Selfies were once a sign of narcissism or self-obsession. Now they are the new normal, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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You can blame Oxford Dictionaries for making the “selfie” respectable. After all, being named Word of the Year, as it was in 2013, does tend to soften some of the self-consciousness in this most self-conscious of actions.

Once seen as a symbol of narcissism and self-obsession, it is now the new normal, to the extent that most smartphones are sold on the basis of the front camera. Or, as that feature is now almost universally named by manufacturers, the “selfie camera”.

I was one of the hold-outs, having a near-allergy to the selfie. I still resist, but succumb more often than I would like. The reason for continued resistance is that it remains a big leap from the word becoming respectable to the action itself shedding its narcissistic image. 

For most, it’s already happened, and for that you can blame Ellen DeGeneres. She  choreographed the most famous group selfie yet at the 2014 Oscars, when she roped a bunch of actors into a group selfie, using the then-new Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. Her tweet of the photo became what was then the most retweeted posting ever on Twitter, and was estimated to have been worth a million dollars in marketing value to Samsung.

Ironically, it was Samsung’s up-and-coming challenger, Huawei, that came up with a new word for this type of selfie: the “groufie”. Thanks to an 8 Megapixel front camera on the new Huawei Ascend P7 camera that year which took the highest quality selfies – and groufies – possible on a smartphone at the time.

It didn’t end there, and selfies and groufies have morphed into variations like selfscapes (selfie in a landscape), skyfies (selfies from the air, using remote controlled devices) and jerkies (selfies to make an idiot out of yourself). I invented all of those on the fly, so it’s easy to imagine a new word emerging for every type of selfie.

Continue reading about selfie improvements through the years.

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Mickey’s 90th for SA

Disney Africa announced the local launch of the Mickey the True Original campaign, joining the global festivities honouring 9 decades of Mickey Mouse, his heritage, personality and status as a pop-culture icon.

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As 18 November 2018 marks 90 years since his first appearance in Steamboat Willie in November 1928, a series of world-wide celebrations will be taking place this year and South Africa is no different.

The campaign will come to life with engaging content and events that embrace Mickey’s impact on the past, present and future. The local festivities kick off in earnest this month, leading up to Mickey’s 90th anniversary on 18 November 2018 and beyond:

  • An exclusive local design project where ten highly talented South African artists will apply their own inspiration and artistic interpretation on 6-foot Mickey Mouse statues.
  • Once revealed to the public, the statues will form part of the Mickey the True Original South African Exhibition, inspired by Mickey’s status as a ‘true original’ and his global impact on popular culture. The exhibition will travel to 3 cities and delight fans and families alike as they journey with Mickey over the years. Featuring 4 sections highlighting Mickey’s innovation, his evolution, influence on fashion and also pop culture, the exhibition is in collaboration with Samsung and Edgars, and will visit:

o   Sandton City, Centre Court: 28 September – 14 October

o   Gateway Theatre of Shopping, Expo Explore Court: 19 October – 11 November

o   Canal Walk Shopping Centre. Centre Court: 16 November – 26 November

  • Samsung continues their collaboration with Disney as they honour Mickey’s 90th anniversary nationally at all Samsung and Edgars Stores. Entitled Unlocking the Imagination, fans are encouraged to visit these stores, take a selfie with a giant Mickey plush toy using their Samsung Galaxy Note9 and stand a chance to win not only a giant Mickey plush, but also an international family trip. Visit www.Samsung.com for more information
  • Mickey’s 90th Spectacular, a two-hour prime-time special, will be screened on M-Net 101 later this year. The elegant affair will feature star-studded musical performances, moving tributes and never-before-seen short films. Superstars from music, film and television will join the birthday fun for the internationally beloved character.
  • In addition, look out for special programming on Mickey’s birthday (18 November) across Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303), Disney XD (DStv, Channel 304) and Disney Junior (DStv, Channel 309).
  • In retailers, Edgars will be stocking a complete collection of trendy fashion, accessories and footwear for the whole family, inspired entirely by Mickey Mouse.
  • Mickey will be the central theme of an in-store campaign nationwide this November and December, with brand new products, apparel, toys, as well as titles from Disney Publishing Worldwide, including books, arts & crafts and comics
  • Discovery Vitality and Disney are celebrating healthy, happy families this festive season by offering helpful and exciting tips and tricks on how to eat nutritious, yet delicious, foods, all inspired by Mickey. There’s also a trip to Disneyland Paris up for grabs. Log on to www.discovery.co.za/vitality for information.
  • And much more – check the press for updates

“Binding generations together more than any other animated character, Mickey Mouse is the “True Original” who reminds people of all ages of the benefits of laughter, optimism and hope,” says Christine Service, Senior Vice President and Country Manager of The Walt Disney Company Africa. “With his universal appeal and ability to emotionally connect with generations all over the world, no other character quite occupies a similar space in the hearts and minds of a global fan base and we are thrilled to be sharing these local festivities.”

Mickey’s birthday is celebrated in honour of the release of his first theatrical film, Steamboat Willie, on 18th November 1928, at the Colony Theatre in New York City. Since then, he has starred in more than 100 cartoons and can currently be seen on Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303) in the Mickey Mouse cartoon series and on Disney Junior (DStv, Channel 309) in Mickey and the Roadster Racers.

South African fans are encouraged to share their Mickey Mouse moments on social media using the hashtag#Mickey90Africa.

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