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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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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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